You Do the Math

Darius Soriano —  March 5, 2009

Acquiring players and building a roster can be a tricky equation.  Teams are constantly trying to balance the draft, free agency, and trades all while dealing with the salary cap.  Teams are always looking for an edge in how to acquire more talent.  And in recent seasons, quality organizations have found a way to add this talent and do it cheaply.  Their method is the practice of signing players that have been let go by their respective teams late in the season.  Seemingly every year, there are a few veteran players that are bought out of their contracts or released and sent packing by their team.  And every year those players are tabbed and snatched up by a contending team looking for that one extra piece that can help them get over the top.  The attraction between these players and teams occurs for obvious reasons.  These newly freed players are normally veteran guys that are looking for a chance to win a championship after rarely playing for more than a different slot in the lottery.   And the contending team is usually one or two veterans short in their rotation and looking to fill that void with a player that can come in, play smart basketball, and not need his hand held through every detail of their team and system.  Sometimes it works to perfection (the obvious example is the Celtics signing Sam Cassell and with PJ Brown and winning the title with the help of their contributions) and sometimes it doesn’t (like last season when the Spurs picked up Damon Stoudamire and he had little impact in the post season).  This year the trend continues as several teams either already have or are looking to add some pretty good players that have been released and become free agents.  

So far, this is what we’ve seen and also what we’re hearing from the media:  Boston has already added Mikki Moore as the tall/long, back up big man they’ve been looking for since PJ Brown rode off into the sunset with his championship ring.  The Celtics have also added (right off the bus stop bench, apparently) former Knick, Stephon Marbury.  Marbury has his faults (obviously) but he should also provide back court insurance for injured Tony Allen and an extra ball handler/scorer to play behind/with Rondo and House.  Like the Celtics, the Cavs have also upgraded their front court by adding Joe Smith.  Smith is a familiar face to the Cavs, so even without the injury to Ben Wallace, Cleveland probably would have pursued Joe as he’s the type of steady veteran that every contender would want.  The fact that the Cavs have a real need for him with Wallace out made this signing almost inevitable.  The other name that fits the bill as a veteran player that could help a contender is the recently bought out Drew Gooden.  As for his destination, sources are putting him on a plane to San Antonio to sign with the Spurs at some point this week.  The Spurs are in need of another big man that can contribute and Gooden may fit that bill.  Even though he’s been slowed by a groin injury, Drew is a talented player that is a good rebounder and a solid mid-range shooter.

The Celtics, the Cavs, and the Spurs.  If you look at any set of NBA Power Rankings, these teams are at or near the top.  So, the signings by these teams look to greatly impact the eventual champion for this season.  But how will they, exactly?  

Before we look at any potential trip to or match up in the Finals, the playoffs come first.  Let’s start in the East.  All season long, the East has been a three team race with the aforementioned Cavs and Celtics, plus the Orlando Magic.  The race for the top spot is crucial in the East because in the second round of the playoffs the 2nd and 3rd seeds will face off (assuming they both win in the first round) and that will be brutal match up for the team that doesn’t gain the top spot.  I mean, if you were Cleveland, do you want to face Orlando in the second round or would you prefer facing Atlanta (the current 4th seed) or Miami (the current 5th seed)?  Even though I respect both the Hawks and the Heat, I think I’d rather face them than the team with the best Center in the league and shooters flanked all around him.  So, Boston’s signings of Moore and Marbury and Cleveland’s of Smith are directly tied to trying to continue the fantastic seasons that these teams have had and not take a step back in the pursuit of HCA in the East.  And I think this pursuit of home court (and the subsequent addition of any reinforcements) matters most for the Cavs and for several reasons.  First is the fact that they are the best home team in the league.  If they earn HCA they will have the inside track to an ECF appearance and a trip to the Finals.  Second is that the Celtics are the defending champs and with that comes a real belief in their ability to win on the road.  This being a Lakers blog, and us devout Lakers fans, makes it easy for us to knock the Celtics or take pot shots (like pointing to them struggling on the road in the playoffs last season even though it really didn’t matter in the end).  However, if you look back to recent history, championship teams always end up with a mental edge that carries them beyond the mental barriers that other teams who don’t have that history of winning struggle with.  Essentially, I think Boston believes it can win anywhere, even a game 7 on the road with a Finals trip on the line.  Getting back to Cleveland, I think they need the home court and their move to get Smith only bolsters their chance of getting it.  Smith will instantly either start next to Big Z or be the first big man off the bench and let the Cavs return to their normal rotations.  When the Lakers beat the Cavs in Cleveland, JJ Hickson received playing time that would have gone to other players (Big Z, mainly) had they not been injured.  Now, with Smith in the fold everyone can play a role that fits their skills.  (As for Orlando, I’m not sure they’re ready yet.  Yes they’ve beaten us, but they still struggle with Boston and have taken a step back with Jameer Nelson injured.  Sure, they’ve added Alston, but Jameer was an All-Star level player this season, Skip to my Lou is not.)

In the West, even though the Lakers are a virtual lock for the top seed, the conference really is a two team race that also includes the Spurs.  If last year’s playoff series against the Lakers showed the Spurs anything, it’s that they needed more talent to compete for a Finals trip.  Sure they didn’t have a healthy Ginobili, but they were also depending on Brent Barry and Ime Udoka for key stretches on the wing and Kurt Thomas, Bonner, and Oberto as front line support to Duncan.  They’ve solved their wing issues by having a healthy Ginobili (though he is banged up again), by bringing in Roger Mason Jr. as a free agent, and drafting George Hill.  However, their shaky front court is still a problem when matching up with the Lakers’ long and athletic front line (think they’re missing Scola and Spillter?).  This is where Gooden comes in.  Gooden may not have the height, but he hustles, is tough, and has more than a fair amount of talent.  Don’t let the fact that he’s played for a lot of teams mask the fact that he’s contributed everywhere he’s been.  And while injuries have set him back this season, his ability to post up AND hit the mid range jumper make his game a very good compliment to Duncan’s.  Not to mention he’s always been a good rebounder, especially on the offensive glass where he’s corralled over two and a half a game for his career (a real problem for us considering we have not been strong in controlling our defensive glass this season).  If the reports are true, and the Spurs do end up with Gooden, they just got a lot tougher.  If you don’t believe me, Dwyer is saying the same thing.   As for our Lakers, we’re looking at our own type of late season pick up.  By all accounts Andrew Bynum is recovering on schedule from his knee injury and is hopefully well on his way to a late season return.  We’ve talked at length about what his presence in our lineup means, so I won’t go into that now.  However, just know that we’ll be looking for him to provide a big lift to our team and that these other teams are also looking for a lift from their recent (or pending) signings.

Like I said earlier, these late in the year additions are all the rave now for contenders.  Our chief rivals in both conferences have added players that sure up weaknesses and make them stronger not only for the playoffs, but in their pursuit of maintaining their stellar records to earn prime playoff seedings.  Last season, Boston does not win a title without their pickups of Cassell and Brown.  This season they’re banking on Moore/Marbury, the Cavs have added Smith, and the Spurs have added (or will soon add) Gooden.  Meanwhile our Lakers are hoping to get Bynum back and restore the team that started the season as a favorite for the title.  As the season enters it’s final six weeks and we start the countdown to the playoffs all these contending teams hope that their additions will equal a Larry O’Brien Trophy.  They’ve all added variables and tweaked their equations.  How does it add up to you?

-Darius

 

Darius Soriano

Posts

68 responses to You Do the Math

  1. Just wanted to share this with you guys. Funny post comparing the current Lakers to Rappers: http://passionweiss.com/2009/03/05/if-the-lakers-were-rappers-a-study-in-similitude/

  2. Of all the recent additions, Alston was by far the most important as far as the Magic’s contending chances go. Sure, he’s not Nelson’s equal by far, but he’s a far cry above Johnson and Lue. In my opinion though, Orlando will have the most problems in the playoffs simply because their offense tends to be streaky with all the three-point shooting, and Alston can’t penetrate and dish the same way Nelson did. Now, they could get hot and definitely give Cleveland or Boston a seven game series, but I wouldn’t place my money on them getting past either of them. Not with LeBron playing near 48 minutes and Boston in playoff mode.

    Boston’s additions seem like a wash and really just adds bodies to the bench. Moore is not even close to Brown’s equal. Marbury, as evinced by the last few games, has a lot of rust on his game, and was an extremely poor help defender even in his prime, so there’s going to be a big dropoff from Rondo the moment Marbury enters the floor. On top of all that, Marbury-House is an awfully small backcourt, especially against ours. Allen coming back from his injury will be important for them.

    Cleveland adding Smith was a fairly solid addition. Even when Wallace comes back, he gives ten solid bench minutes a game. At least for our purposes, Smith is probably a better defender than Hickson — meaning Odom won’t be able to sit next to the basket and box out Smith with impunity like he did Hickson — but he’s not a panacea on that end either.

    As for the Spurs, I thought Gooden was an excellent addition — although I think Nesterovic would probably be a better choice if he had gotten a buyout. He gives Duncan an excellent partner in the frontcourt, and he could contribute some pretty helpful bench minutes. He still is prone to mental gaffes — especially in missing defensive assignments — but with Pop lording over him, these likely will be minimized. This is still the team that can outright beat us in a seven game series when they’re firing on all cylinders, so let’s hope they hit Utah or Houston along the way.

    For all these additions though, nothing really compares to us getting a healthy Bynum back. Assuming he can play somewhat close to his form before he went down, it gives us an extremely strong frontcourt rotation come playoff time, and it’s hard for any of the above teams, even with their additions, to deal with that come playoff time. While some people have wondered about us adding a big man at the deadline, remember that whoever comes in simply replaces Mbenga’s minutes and then gets pushed to the end of the bench when Bynum comes back. Ensuring that Bynum comes back 100% and gets re-integrated into the rotation should be our first priority going into the playoffs.

  3. I’ll keep this brief…

    Mark my words….

    -If the Lakers face a healthy Spurs or Jazz team, they will not make it to the finals with or without Bynum.

    -Vladimir will be sorely missed.

    -Kobe and Pau are starting to feel tired from a very busy offseason in Beijing.

    -Lakers will choose Ariza over Odom in the offseason.

    -Lakers will explore the possibility of trading Farmar in the next year.

    -If the Lakers win a championship, PJ will call it quits.

  4. Oh goody! (#3) I’ll have someone to bet with during the playoffs…

  5. Yes Man the nostradamus of Lakers Basketball.

    I like the acquisition of Gooden by the Spurs and Smith by the Cavs. I think those two will help them out. Boston’s acquisitions don’t do much for me I think at best its a wash.

  6. Responding to Yes Man:

    1) Nothing that the Spurs have done or will do changes the fact that they suffer from droughts on the offensive end. We will capitalize on that deficiency once again, Bynum or not.

    2) Two extra 3s per game is negated by giving up three extra 3s and two extra layups. We won’t miss him.

    3) Good point.

    4) Kobe will restructure his contract so that we can keep Ariza and Odom. OK maybe not. See you later Lamah.

    5) Very possible…not sure how much longer Fisher can be the starting PG and Farmar doesn’t have it in him.

    6) What a way to go.

  7. Good post Darius. I think Marbury is an upgrade over what the C’s had, but doesn’t do much to help them. Moore is a good pick-up, he has more talent to bring to the table, but PJ Brown he is not. I’m not sure the C’s have enough to back up the Big 3 (plus Rondo and Perk). Posey and Brown were KEY components and they haven’t fully replaced either.

    The Cavs will go as far as the combination of Lebron, Big Z and Mo Will/Delonte West can take them. If the guys around Lebron make shots they are tough to beat.

    Magic have questions to answer in the playoffs, they need to hit 3’s to be effective and that is tough to do deep in May.

    Gooden helps the Spurs inside, but doesn’t address the glaring problem they have against us…they have nodoby to guard Kobe.

    Anyway, this is my round-about way of saying I think we play the C’s in the Finals again, and I think we can win with or without Drew (although with him will be easier)

    BTW-Didn’t we beat the Cavs with Big Z at their place (he didn’t play when we beat them in LA)

  8. I’ll keep this brief…

    Mark my words…

    1) If the Lakers face the grizzlies in the playoffs, they will not make it to the finals with Bynum. There’s curses, and then there’s Curses.

    2) On the issue of the Marbury trade, this just in:

    http://www.theonion.com/content/news/stephon_marbury_embroils_celtics?utm_source=a-section

    (I figured in light of Yes Man’s comment, nobody needs to give any actual substantiation to their opinions, so a similarly authoritative news source like theonion should do it.)

    Marbury will scheme and plot and bring down the big 3.

    2) Joe Smith is a big deal. Cleveland now has all the pieces and if they can have eastern-HCA Boston is going home early, imo.

    3) Bynum returning (and not in some symbolic Willis Reed form, but actually being able to play 25+ minutes) is critical. If he does, I think we win and HCA doesn’t even play a role in the west.

    4) I want to believe in Alston. I want the eastern conference 1-2 race to remain a “big deal” since it means having to face dwight howard. Is that really so much of a stretch at this point?

  9. #7. Kwame,
    You are correct. I had my games mixed up. The Cavs had their entire front line for their home game against us, but were missing Big Z in their loss at Staples. I blame all my mistakes on the rain in Oakland.

  10. Sorry to say this..but Boston, Cleveland and San Antonion just got better with their acquisitions. Its really time for the Lakers to panic because right now they’re struggling @ both ends of the floor going in to the playoffs.

    This is going to be the toughest season yet. Right now you have four teams all vying for that championship in June.

    Eventually i think our Lakers will play the Cavs in the finals it won’t be the Celtics this year(sorry guys) because the Cavs will beat them this year.

    Lakers are standing pat..i still think with the pieces we have right now its possible that we can win a championship w/o Bynum. I’m not saying we will win this year but this year is the toughest yet….

    but wutever……………..everybody just needs go back to the basics…stick to the fundamentals and of course rebound…everything else will play itself.

    we’ll see…

    – jay

  11. j.d. Hastings March 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    The Joe Smith and Gooden signing did not make me happy. The Spurs and Jazz may be coming around right as the long season and offseason, and Bynum’s injury are striking us. I worry about the Lakers petering out in the playoffs.

    Apparently the Lakers also made a push to sign Joe Smith, according to Bucher on Simmons’s podcast the other day. That might have helped.

    I actually agree that the Lakers miss Vlade a little. While PT at the 3 would still be limited, I feel like our bench might be better off now if we could start Vlade and have walton out there with the subs to make the offense flow better. It may not have been an option to play him and Ariza together, but I think we also miss the ability to play Vlade at the 4 occasionally like we did last year. I just feel like a little extra non-kobe-pau scoring would be helping the team out right now, no matter how it’s swung to accomodate it.

    But it’s a moot point, so I don’t know why I’m thinking about it.

  12. Winning a championship is ALWAYS a crapshoot and is NEVER guaranteed.

    This was true for Boston last year and it is equally true for us this year. Sure we are favored, but we still have win the darn thing. No one is going to lay down and give it to us. The reason other teams made moves was because they had holes and didn’t think they could compete properly with us – or others in their conference – not because they were even with us and just wanted to take out some insurance – The financial situation today doesn’t allow that kind of luxury.

    Yea, it is going to be a bit of a bumpy ride, but that’s life in the NBA. Let’s not go all crazy because we don’t have the thing locked up.

  13. The Cavs and Spurs adding Smith and Gooden will help those teams, no question. I’m not sold on Marbury, but Moore at least gives Boston some size off of the pine. So based on his addition, I’ll concede that the Celtics have improved their squad.

    Rafer going to Orlando is a nice stop-gap move, but I just don’t see that team having the guts to topple Boston or LeBron. They remind me of the 1980s-era Hawks or 1990s-era Blazers — lots of talent, but just not enough to get over the bigger, better bully in their conference.

    I don’t think the loss of Radmonovich will haunt the Lakers, nor do I pin their chances come June on the return of a healthy Bynum at 25 minutes per game. If Bynum can play 10-15 minutes, off the bench adding a solid scoring threat to the second unit, I think that would be huge for L.A.’s chances. But even if he’s out until the fall (not likely, but for argument’s sake), I still think the Lakers are the team to beat so long as their bench provides anything close to what it’s capable of. Keep in mind what they’ve done since Bynum went down, last weekend’s losses notwithstanding.

    This is the time of year when Phil really begins to pull the strings and find a unit that meshes. Look over his history, as recent as last year, and you’ll see the team begin to assert itself on a regular basis in mid-March through April. Hell, he even got Kwame Brown to make a contribution down the stretch in 2006 heading into anear-upset of No. 1 seeded Phoenix.

    L.A. beat the same Utah team last year with virtually the same squad it has no. The Spurs are still the Big Three and spare parts, and I don’t see them beating the Lakers over seven games.

    Let’s not panic; just watch this team gel under Phil at the right time, and hopefully work AB17 back into the mix.

  14. It depends on Odom and Bynum. If Bynum comes back, the Lakers (IMO) are the heavy favorites. If Bynum doesn’t come back, then Odom needs to play well. If he doesn’t, the Lakers won’t win. Of course, being favorites doesn’t give you any extra points once the game starts.

  15. Lamar is Lamar. He isn’t going to change and I doubt Phil is planning on any great improvement – that would be a receipt for losing in the playoffs. Phil will play him for being inconsistent. When he is on Phil will let him run. When he is off I suspect we will see more of Powell – like last year when we saw more of Vlade.

    My big concern was mentioned earlier – by Yes Man – Kobe and Pau slowing a bit at this time of year because of the Olympics. I think he has to find a way to rest them over the remaining games. This may result in some losses – and we may not have HCA over the east in the finals – but I really see no choice, if we are going to have them at full power in the playoffs. Yeah, I do expect to hear some explosions about this on this blog and others.

  16. I don’t believe Spurs are good enough to come out of the West. They were beaten last season and they won’t be better this season (while Lakers will – even without Bynum healthy Ariza and Gasol more prepared to play triangles guarantee that).

    The opponent I’m afraid the most – Jazz. When healthy – they are the second strongest team in the West. I like their frontline better than Spurs. I like Williams better than Parker. I like Sloan better than Popovich. They are younger and deeper.

    I disagree that last season Celtics have won because of PJ or Cassell. They’ve won because of KG, RA, PP and RR. Frankly I’d rather play Boston with Marbury and Moore than with healthy Allen and whoever backup they play at PF/C. And I’m not talking about “cancer” or “team chemistry” – I just think Marbury is a great example of a big fish in a little pond. He can amass a meaningless stats while playing with lousy teams, but I couldn’t find the evidency he could be an efficient role player. I wouldn’t exchange Farmar for Marbury.

    Even without Bynum the championship is Lakers to lose (assuming the rest of the rotation is healthy). We are the only top team in the league who’s stronger than it was last season, and last season we were in the finals. If Bynum returns before the play-offs – it shouldn’t be close. This team is that good.

  17. I’ll keep this brief…

    Mark my words….

    -If the Lakers face a healthy Spurs or Jazz team, they will beat either of them in 6 games or less.

    -Vladimir will be missed, but it will be overcome.

    -Busy off seasons are overrated.

    -If the Lakers will choose Ariza over Odom in the off season, it’s fairly obvious, due to economics.

    -Lakers will explore the possibility of trading Farmar in the next year. I agree.

    -If the Lakers win a championship, PJ will call it quits. Maybe.

    I think the moves the Cavs, Spurs and Celtics made are lateral at best, with the possibility of the Steph signing being able to make the most impact. Although, I don’t think Steph will help the Celtics against the Lakers. It is frontline depth that the Celtics will need this year against us, and Mikki Moore is not that, and Steph is not a good defender a la James Posey, so how does he hurt us if we meet Boston in he Finals? I’m not sure he does.

    joe Smith is not better than Ben Wallace, even if he is more versatile offensively, and Gooden does not address the matchup problems in LO and Kobe that gives SA fits.

    I think these moves help these teams overall against OTHER teams. Not us.

  18. I fail to grasp how player that couldn’t even contribute to bad teams have somehow changed the face of the NBA playoffs. True, they are not bad to have but I think people put too much stock into them.

    People don’t realize just how good this Lakers team is, ask Kelly Dwyer.

  19. A bit off topic, but can any team call up a D-League player and sign them for the rest of season including the playoffs?

  20. E-ROC

    I don’t think it could. As I understand top be play-off eligible a player has to be on roster on March 1st, period.

  21. 19) 20)

    Any NBA player that was released before March 1st is eligible. You can sign somebody the day before playoffs start and he will be eligible for the playoffs.

    Since NBDL players that aren’t currently tied to an nba team are not on an nba roster they can also be signed and be eligible for the playoffs.

  22. The Dude Abides March 5, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    19. If a D-League guy has not been on the roster of an NBA team since the start of the regular season, then he can join a team anytime before the end of the regular season and be eligible for the playoffs. I think also the same thing applies if he was waived anytime before the March 1st deadline.

  23. Ok, thanx for the responses. :)

  24. The Dude Abides March 5, 2009 at 4:20 pm

    Kurt, from the last thread: next time you’re at Staples on assignment, can you ask around about whether or not Andrew has already had PRP therapy for his MCL, or whether or not he’s at least considering it?

    Thanks in advance. Ever since I first read about it, I haven’t been able to get anyone to give me an answer regarding PRP therapy/Andrew Bynum.

  25. who give’s a crap whatever that Kelly Dwyer says. He’s just known to love the Lakers and Kobe Bryant(secretly)

    but yeah back to my point. the lakers have all the pieces to win this championship now. its a matter of them having the intensity to step up defensively and rebound effectively at both ends of the floor.

    i’ve been saying this a million times…they have the offense top to bottom…everything. they can run the half-court set in the beginning w/ the starter and of course the energy that the bench brings with the fast-break offense led by Jordan Farmar and T.A. our key to success this season for a championship is the bench due to the fact that they take so much pressure off the starters..

    which brings me to having Andrew Bynum off the bench. immediately this will make the lakers better defensively with his presence on the the paint. and what’s wrong with having AB17 come off the bench?? this is actually could be a blessing disguise for the lakers.

    keep it the way it is with the Starters now in the front-court feat pau and l.o. that way were not putting too much pressure on Drew to do a lot. when he does he’ll struggle and when he struggles he commits silly fouls that would get him into foul trouble putting the lakers in a bind. so its best if we have him come off the bench..he too is dominant offensively in the paint which the bench would need to compete physically.

  26. 24. I will, although if I don’t get to the game on the 15th I won’t get to one this month due to the combo of road trips and my day job.

  27. 15-Craig, I gotta disagree with you. Not about Odom being unpredictable, that is a fact after 9-10 seasons of what he produces. I disagree that Phil will look elsewhere. If Drew doesn’t come back LO is our 3rd most important player and Phil will use him as such. This means that a lot (as Ex noted) will depend on how he performs (assuming Drew doesn’t come back).

    However, if we lose it is not all on LO. For instance, last year in the Finals we lost as a team. Many single out LO and Pau, but Kobe was basically absymal…yet we still almost won the damn series. I think the team has learned from last year, and I expect the next road trip to begin a key transition into sharp-focused basketball that will help jump-start going into the playoffs.

  28. 16. I agree that championships are won on the shoulders of the teams best players. But role players often play a major part in earning those rings. I know that Cassell wasn’t a major force, but he contributed in Game one when Rondo was struggling. And PJ Brown was a major contributor. He played big minutes for Perkins and for KG.

    18. The players mentioned were contributing. Even though Gooden’s been injured he was playing well. Joe Smith was playing well. However, these guys are on the last year of their contracts and were playing for teams that would rather play their young players. They were cut because they didn’t fit into their teams’ plans, not because they could no longer play.

  29. Re: PJ
    Darius

    Brown has played 341 minutes in 25 postseason games (13.6 mpg). More or less the same as Powe. For my money Powe gave much more Celtics than PJ. He had better TS%, lower TOV%, better TReb%.

    Powe had 0.9 WinShare in 270 minutes.
    Brown had 0.7 WinShare in 341 minutes.

    Powe had 14.6 PER.
    Brown had 8.2 PER.

    OK, I don’t like PER but come on, 8.2 is abysmal. And please, no stories about team spirit and leadership.

    My view of last season Celtics team is that after the Big Four there were Three Pee (Perkins, Posey and Powe) and only after them House and Brown.

    I have no idea why Brown is singled out as _the_ role player of that team. I think we are getting more from Josh Powell – and he is fungible. I guess that it was a good, sentimental story: old pro coming from retirement to help a team.

  30. Picture this…..game 7 – Boston at Lakers and the score is 99-97 Lakers with 2 seconds to play and Starbury hits a go-ahead 3-pointer to win the championship. Pierce claims himself better than Kobe.

    That’s my worst nightmare.

  31. Adding players late in this season is like shuffling your hand and hoping for that magic card that will complete your hand.

    1. Boston – they’ve got three aces, but are looking for a pair of good bodies to spell full house. Last season they were more like a straight flush – each of the Big 3 defering to play the roles of King and Queen to somebody else’s Ace, but able to step it up a bit and be a full house if that’s all that was required. Problem thus far has been that they’re reduced to two pairs at best if one of their Big3 rests; they’re looking for a bench that could give them something better than two-pair. Marbury, at best, is a King of a different suite; not sure how he will fit.

    2. Cleveland – they have ‘the’ Joker, a wild card that can dominate in any way imaginable along with any set of teammates. Problem is, what do they have in Big Z and others? Their defense make me think that they’re more of a flush even with LBJ being what he is. Maybe Smith will be their 10 or 9 that can spell a straight flush in some situations, maybe he will be of a different color but get them a straight at least. Having the Joker, though, their acquisition is more likely to play a role in creating some sort of a hand.

    3. Spurs – the guy that always seem to have at least two pairs, often with Aces, and rolls out a full house every other round ;) Anyway, they’re looking for low pairs and know how to get that ‘pair’ contribution from their players; we’ll have to see if they play it up to a full house or have two pairs.

    And us, well…

    We have somebody that can be a Joker in the first three quarters but turns into a big fat ace of spades regardless of the other cards in the fourth.

    We have a King of clubs up our sleeve that we may or may not be able to sneak into the table.

    We have another King of Hearts who just looks oozing soft, but if asked to play Queen, can do so rather beautifully. We got him for a two of clubs, which makes his output so much more delightful.

    We have a Queen of Hearts, who unfortunately sometimes just doesn’t show up and plays like a 6 of clubs, but sometimes can elevate his play to Joker levels.

    We have an one-eyed Jack of diamond-in-the-rough, also a wild card under certain house rules. He normally gives us a solid Jack of Diamonds performance, but sometimes reverts to ‘rough’ status. But as often he does that, he also goes wild and produces game changing plays. Much better than the cards we traded for at least.

    And we have a steady, solid 10 of hearts as well. Nothing splashy, but needed to complete our hand that will let us compete.

    PJ is a master player who can sometimes even get cards to change their suit, and can insert seemingly worthless cards to complete a hand when others go for Ace high. It will be interesting if our players can all be of the same defensive suit to provide a flush at all times which will greatly increase our chances.

  32. TRad,
    I don’t deny the numbers. However, I would point out that Powe was primarily playing in place of KG, while Brown was playing in place of Perkins. My point being that they had entirely different roles and were asked to do different things by their coaches. I think it’s also relevant that Brown often found himself playing in crunch time as a replacement to Perkins. In essence, I don’t expect Browns statistical contributions to be high…in a way, I see his contributions to that team as being very similar to what Bruce Bowen has provided all these years to the Spurs. In the end, we can go back and forth on this. But just to be clear, I’m not saying that any of these players are stars or are going to be *the* difference makers. But they can be the difference in a game or two and that can be the difference between advancing in a series or not.

  33. All this discussion about the Cavs or Celtics seems a bit far fetched. They are in the eastern division and we don’t play either for the rest of the year. If we meet one it will be in the finals and an awful lot has to happen between now and then.

    I think most of our discussion should be about the western conference and who and how we play in the first 3 rounds of the playoffs. We have to get through those first.

  34. Harold, buddy – Thank you for that!!

    Hell of a comment

  35. Darius, I liked the post. Basically, I agree with the sentiment that these additions “shore up” and “fortify” already well-established teams. Marbury bulks the backcourt, Moore adds a little length to the front. Joe Smith, basically the same as Moore (especially w/ Bwallace out).

    For the Spurs, though, I see Gooden as being a more intriguing newcomer. He has some stand-out talents, whether it be his midrange jumpshot, or offensive put backs. I sense a lot of people think the Spurs should not be too much trouble. But I argue that they still possess the attributes that can beat our Lakers. First – experience, they won’t let last year get them down. Second – TP, quick, disruptive point guard. Duncan is practically a wash, except his great interior defense. And I get the feeling we’ll see a more capable Manu.

    I am by no means intimidated by the Spurs, but I do think we should adjust the lens and respect their team as the champions they have been in the past – and not take them lightly. We need to remember, we haven’t won nothing yet. But Phil & Co. know all of this, we should be good.

    Anybody else already ready for March to end?? Bynum back, PLAYOFF TIME!

  36. Adam T,
    I agree with your thoughts on the Spurs. I know we handled them last season and as Kwame a. pointed out they will struggle with defending Kobe, but I still have concerns about them because of the factors that you mentioned.

    The funny thing about the West is that I can also see a rock/paper/scissors game playing out with the teams beneath us. I mean, just based off record, there is not much separating the 2-8 teams and that matchups will play a key role in who advances. I do think the Spurs are the class of that group, but could I see Utah knocking them off? Sure. Just like I could see Utah taking out New Orleans. I could also see the Suns giving the Spurs problems if they were to play. I am by no means handing us a trip to the Finals, but I do think we have advantages over all these other teams and that those advantages are clear and the types that lead to series victories.

  37. Great post Darius. I think your piece really puts into perspective what all the top teams are looking for from the waiver wire. I’m really happy with the lakers lineup and don’t long for a new body. The other thing that works against the Lakers acquiring a difference maker in the middle of the season is the difficulty of mastering the triangle. Pau was the rare case of someone intuitively understanding how the offense works without needing seasons of tutelage.

  38. Since we’re all making predictions –
    1. Cleveland will beat Boston. Forget midseason pickups, the offseason pickup of Mo Williams and a LeBron who plays D versus the loss of PJ Brown and Posey will be the difference makers. Mo will be a huge factor and Mikki Moore / Marbury will essentially be nonfactors. LeBron has improved his jumpshot enough. Cavs have gotten enough reps and are poised for a breakthrough.
    2. Utah is the second best team in the West by far, but they cannot beat the Lakers. The other teams are not as complete, do not have as good chemistry, and will be out-executed. The Spurs used to be in the elite conversation, but I believe they have lost their dominance which is more a predictor of success in the postseason than winning close games. As for the second part of the prediction, the Jazz cannot defend without fouling, it’s in their DNA. They have no one who can match up to Kobe, and he will kill them from the line.
    3. Houston is the dark horse. New Orleans will return to last season’s form. The Rockets have defined roles, great chemistry, and obviously pure, unadulterated, dominance on defense. Their lack of a ballhandler in the clutch will be an issue though. New Orleans needs better D, but has enough time to get there. Plus, Rasual Butler has become a more consistent third scorer, for lack of which was why they lost the series last year.
    For me, the seeds will be something like Lakers, Jazz, New Orleans, San Antonio, Houston, last few don’t matter since they’ll lose in the first round. Depending on which is 2-3 matchup and which is 4-5.. actually it doesn’t really matter because we’ll probably see the Jazz in the conference finals and that’s fine by me.
    4. Bynum will be back. Lakers will win the championship. His rehab is progressing nicely, the original prognosis was very conservative, and he will be in back in time to have some reps before the playoffs. Too much talent + chemistry + even mediocre defense (but will be good in the playoffs) if that’s the bottomline will get it done against the lesser Cavs.

  39. j. d. hastings March 5, 2009 at 11:39 pm

    these sorts of moves can sometimes haave the most playoff impact in the regular season. Simply by having fresh bodies to play, you can take some of the pressure off the guys you will be riding in 2 months. If the Lakers could get wins now while playing Pau, Kobe and Odom less, that would be a huge boon into the playoffs, even if Bynum came back and took all of the minutes from Fictional Free Agent A, that pickup would have payed dividends.

    I don’t think any bigmen are left that fit the bill, but I have heard that Smush is still available…

  40. Random note, but:

    If we are the best team, why shoot for HCA at all?

    The west’s 2-8 look about the same, so might as well conserve energy and start at the 8 by developing our bench big time.

    Then again, HCA is fairly big…

  41. i liked the card analysis though i got lost at the end. forgive me as i do not play poker.

    doing the math, those other 3 contenders including perhaps the magic did at best some upward spikes. the key with spikes is that we can’t be sure of the height of that upward swing until proven and spikes are known to last for a short time, meaning when the dust settles, they go down for a bit or (when chemistry becomes a problem) lower than status quo. but there are spikes that do last and do last until the final line. they plateau at the peak and they dominate from that vantage point. i think the lakers are getting to the latter. we have claimed to have so much talent and constantly improving chemistry and these two with other intangibles tend to hit the peak for longer durations. the other 3 also have their upper ceiling but it is yet to be seen and we don’t know if things do get better for them.

    better means more Ws and a solid chance at the trophy. right now, though they are reaching our plateau, we are still on top of the race and the return of bynum can only generate a new upward spike to leave the competition.

    i am all for bynum off the bench. he gives us too legit lineups that don’t let down. GO LAKERS!

  42. two legit lineups that is

  43. Darius,

    I agree the West is like rock/paper/scissors. Other than hoping PHX gets the 8th seed (which I don’t think will happen), I’m not sure how much seeding matters for us. I think each team is equally dangerous in their own right, but I like our team against any of them.

    I’m guessing the other teams want a 2,3, 6,7 seed to avoid the Lakers until the WCF.

    I’d like to see it shakeout like this:

    1. Lakers
    2. Spurs
    3. Utah
    4. Denver
    5. Portland
    6. Houston
    7. New Orleans
    8. PHX

    If everything played out perfectly, I’d like to see PHX in the 1st Rd, Denver in the 2nd, and I’m assuming SA or Utah makes the WCF, although I would prefer New Orleans makes a couple of upsets.

  44. dj mbenga is the next mark madsen!

  45. The Dude Abides March 6, 2009 at 10:10 am

    43. I like that playoff shakeout as well, with one exception: I prefer Dallas over Phoenix in the 8th spot, simply because with Dallas it’s definitely four and out, while PHX is capable of winning a game, resulting in Kobe and Pau getting less rest.

    Utah has a road-heavy schedule remaining, so I just don’t think they can make it as high as 3rd. A couple weeks ago I thought they could, but I just don’t see it now, although I’d love it if they could. Sixth would be by next preference for them.

    The Spurs will finish 2nd, and the Mavs will finish 8th. Third through 7th will remain incredibly bunched up.

    A healthy Bynum who has already been playing in games for three weeks will result in a run like the team’s 2001 postseason. That’s my prediction, and I also believe that we should continue pushing for HCA. The guys should get plenty of rest after sweeping the Mavs in the first round.

  46. 15. This is not the old LO. First of all, 2 stinkers out of 12 games is normal even for all-stars. Second, these stinkers were due to errors of commission than errors of ommission. The old LO just disappeared due to inactivity. New LO disappeared due to the fouls he got because of activity.

    24. Dude. He must be getting PRP right? How can he not?

    30. The shot will be taken by Pierce or Allen so same dream, different actors…

    If the Lakers thought they needed another big for the stretch run, they would have kept Mihm, who when healthy fits the team better than Gooden or Smith (who is a skinnier Powell) right?

  47. The Dude Abides March 6, 2009 at 10:17 am

    My two favorite Q&A’s from the recent Sports Guy mailbag:
    ———————————————-
    Q: My office is having a blood donation drive. All blood donors get two free tickets to an upcoming Clippers game. Do you think we should make clear to people that they DON’T have to actually go watch the Clips play? I would hate it if the Red Cross lost blood donors — and innocent people died — because they were threatened with going to see the Clippers.
    — Mike Wilner, Los Angeles

    SG: Ladies and gentlemen, one more time, your 2009 Los Angeles Clippers!

    Q: I thought you should know that I have discovered the male equivalent to Jennifer Love Hewitt — a guy that most women find attractive, but when guys hear any girl say it, they get seriously pissed off. Brace yourself … it’s Luke Walton. Go ahead, test the theory with your male and female friends, but I think you will find the same results.
    — Jacki, San Diego

    SG: I can only tell you my reaction: Whaaaaaaaaaaat??? Luke Walton? Really? How can this be possible? THIS MAKES ME ANGRY!!!!!!!! I always pictured Luke, Sasha Vujacic and Vlad Radmanovic hanging outside some Sunset Strip club at 2:30 a.m. trying to convince three Albanian girls to come back to Walton’s beach house with them, while Vlad bums cigarettes off a homeless guy, and Sasha tells the girl who might like him that whatever happens, she’s not allowed to touch his hair. Now you’re telling me women like Luke Walton? I’m flabbergasted. My gast is flabbered. This can’t be true. You’re just trying to make me angry.
    ———————————————
    There’s also an excellent slapdown of someone from Tulsa complaining about Simmons always referring to the state’s NBA franchise as The Team That Shall Not Be Named.

  48. The Dude Abides March 6, 2009 at 10:19 am

    Drats! Forgot to include the link to the Mailbag. Internet heresy!
    http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=simmons/090306

  49. If Bynum comes back the way he was playing… Get ur brooms out.. Kobe might have to worry abt getting finals mvp lol. I kno a title for him would solidify his legacy but if he doesnt get that MVP his haters are going to have even more fire.

  50. Is Stephon Marbury the strangest/worst Celtic ever?

    With his past history of strange and egomanic behavior, it makes us wonder why did the Celtics pick Marbury to join them. Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix, tries to figure this out.
    To read article, please go to – http://thephoenix.com/Boston/RecRoom/77680-How-weird-is-Stephon-Marbury/

  51. The Dude Abides March 6, 2009 at 12:00 pm

    50. It’s going to be like T.O. Only more weird. Pass the popcorn!

  52. 43-

    I would definitely like the seedings to shake out in that order. However, the Hornets have been a mess for most of the year, but I would have no doubt that Chris Paul could get two wins at home. Not an easy series, but I guess neither is a healthy Utah or San Antonio.

    My two biggest concerns are getting Bynum back healthy and ready to contribute 20 mins.

    The other concern is that come playoff time I’d hope Phil shortens the rotations. I like Josh Powell’s hustle, but I really hope Pau and Lamar can avg 40+ mins per game b/c Powell still doesn’t look comfortable in the Triangle.

  53. Travis-I agree.

    No AB Playoff Rotation: 8 deep with a smidgen of JP

    Pau/Powell (no more than 8 minutes)
    LO/Luke
    Luke/Trevor
    Kobe/Sasha
    FIsh/Jordan

    AB Playoff Rotation: 9 deep

    Pau/AB
    LO/Pau
    Luke/Trevor
    Kobe/Sasha
    Fish/Jordan

  54. 53. That rotation with AB looks quite formidable. How do you think it matches up with what the Spurs would have with Gooden (and a healthy Manu)?

    Parker/Mason/Hill
    Mason/Manu
    Finley/Bowen
    Duncan/Gooden/
    Bonner/Duncan/Thomas/Oberto

  55. I’m watching “Inside the NBA” and Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith thinking the Lakers “need” Andrew’s toughness is comical. They think the Lakers are better then last year (when we walked through the West), but now we need Andrew’s toughness for Utah or SA? Haha.

    Since when has Bynum given us toughness? Don’t get me wrong, I think Bynum makes us a better team – a more talented team, but how does he make us tougher? If by “tough,” they mean tougher to score on because we have a 7’1″ shot blocker and rebounder, then yes, I would agree. If they mean “tough,” as in Detroit Pistons Bad Boy tough, they are off the mark. They should say “presence.”

    I guess they still need an angle, though. They still need people to watch the Western playoffs.

  56. Sorry to double post…

    I would imagine Gooden will take some of Matt Bonner’s minutes. I know he can hit the 3, but I am confused as to why Pop plays him so much, other than maybe save his guys for the playoffs. Now that Gooden is in the fold, he has to be better a piece than Bonner in the starting unit. Giving them more low post presence, and allowing them to go smaller and spread the floor for Manu with the 2nd Unit. Oberto get cut out.

    I think SA will eventually look like:

    Parker/Mason/Hill
    Mason/Manu
    Finley/Bowen
    Duncan/Thomas
    Gooden/Bonner

  57. Its basketball, so nothin is for sure…but the whole idea that the Jazz are better equipped to deal with the Lakers this year just doesn’t hold water with me. This Jazz team is still too porus on D to deal with us. It is quite clear that trying to outscore the Lakers is a recipe for disaster and trying to do that for a 7 game series will get you knocked out of the playoffs (probably in 6 games or less).

    The way to beat the Lakers is to stop them from scoring at-will. Boston was able to do this. The Spurs and Cavs may be able to do this too, but I doubt the Spurs have the wing defenders to deal with KB24.

    I still think that the toughest playoff matchup for the Lakers in the West is NO, followed by Houston. If you don’t have somebody to mark Kobe, you will not get past the Lakers.

  58. PeanutButterSpread March 6, 2009 at 2:33 pm

    I’m not worried about the starters, I feel our starters are one of the best in the league … but I do feel if Drew doesn’t come back in time * knocks on wood* our bench will be relatively weak compared to the league’s top leading teams (including the Jazz, whose bench is crazy deep).

    Three teams worry me the most in the West:

    Jazz, Houston and Spur (would be the Hornets, but just from how the Spurs win every other year, they’re still a threat)

  59. Kwame a, I think you hit it right on the head. The only reason the Jazz give us trouble is their constant physical play and their excessive fouling that takes the Lakers out of their offensive rhythm. And in my estimation that only works in Utah where they get the benefit of the doubt from the refs and feed off the emotion of that raucous crowd. And for the Spurs?…well, they’re all a year older and they really don’t look that different to me from last year.

    The Hornets could be formidable, but to reference one of your key points, they don’t really have anyone to mark Kobe like the Rockets do with Battier/Artest.

  60. Oops, I suppose the Hornets have Posey now, but I still don’t see their team defense allowing him to be as effective on Kobe as he was in Boston with excellent team defenders surrounding him.

  61. The Jazz are overrated. They can’t win on the road, their defense is mediocre (and foul-prone), and they only have one player (Williams) who can create his own shot with any consistency. I wouldn’t want to face them in the first round but I don’t buy them as a threat to win the conference.

  62. 60-Good point about Posey. However, this all kinda depends on how Kobe and the rest of the team approach the matchup. When NO beat us at Staples it was a combination of CP3 brillance (which is to be expected), David West’s deadly mid-range game (which usually is there) and a 4th quarter that saw Kobe take hard shot after hard shot because he tried to go at Posey one-on-one. This doesn’t even take into account what Chanlder can bring and the “threat” of Peja going off for a game where he drills 6 3’s.

    My point is that, aside from the fact one year CP3 will hoist a team on his shoulders and win a chip, if the Lakers play NO, Kobe (as Craig. W has pointed out) cannot get bogged down into a one-on-one matchup with Posey-because that plays into NO’s game plan.

  63. hey kurt,
    I read this in the Times today…so this is what happened to ol’ John R.

    Q: I’m a sportswriter in North Dakota, of all places, and a Laker fan as well. I write a lot of basketball stories and I enjoy reading your stories to see how you keep each game fresh, and a story of its own. Here’s hoping this season ends on a better note than last year.

    — John R.

    A: The A&Q is back!

    Did you read my stories last week? And you didn’t fall asleep?

    Moving forward, people ask me all the time if the Lakers are going to win the championship this season. They remain favorites in Las Vegas and, well, in my mind too.

    This week, Cleveland signed veteran forward Joe Smith, who will help, and San Antonio signed Drew Gooden, who will also help. Boston signed Mikki Moore and Stephon Marbury, who might or might not help.

    The Lakers didn’t sign any of the waived free agents this week, but they’ll have the best late-season roster addition of them all when Bynum comes back.

    That, in my mind, is enough to push them over the top.

    In fact, can we just fast-forward to June right now, to the finals against Boston or Cleveland.

    What else is there to do, other than end the A&Q with a Q?

    Readers can e-mail their questions about the NBA or the Lakers to our beat writers Mike Bresnahan or Broderick Turner. But please put “Q&A” in the subject field.

  64. New Orleans still has absolutely no answer for Pau, Lamar, and/or hopefully Andrew. Until they do, they have no shot at beating us.

    The Jazz only have shot if they get a 5 game series that is played ONLY in Utah.

  65. wondahbap-I agree we got the edge on them in the front-court…by a decent margin with AB, but they would have a shot. With CP3 they will have a shot in any series, I think he’s that good.

  66. While I don’t think we need Andrew to beat NO, he sure does help. Not only because of his offense and how he matches up with Chandler, but also because of his ability to contest Paul’s drives to the basket and his little floater coming off the P&R. I also think Pau’s length can be a difference maker against West in the same way that he bothers KG’s midrange game.

  67. Preview for tonight finally up

  68. The Dude Abides March 6, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    One aspect of the Utah, Houston, and New Orleans injuries this season is that their benches have gotten more seasoning (no pun intended). All three present different potential problems for the Lakers.

    Utah is the deepest of the three, and DWill can just about do anything he wants against our PGs. Houston has two guys who can alternate on Kobe, and on Lamar if he plays starter’s minutes in the playoffs. NOLA has the Chris Paul matchup problem, and David West may be in the top three of mid-range jump shooters in the league along with Kobe and Pierce.

    I do think the ideal circumstance would be a Denver-Portland first round series, as that would surely result in another sweep for the Lakers. UTA, NOLA, and HOU finishing in the 3, 6, and 7 spots would be great. Let them fight it out with the Spurs in the other half of the draw. Of course, having the Jazz and Hornets fight it out in the first round at 4-5 would be OK as well. That series could easily go seven games.

    I simply can’t see any team staying with us if Andrew comes back healthy for 24-28 minutes a game and plays with the second unit. How many backup centers will be able to defend him one-on-one? Teams will be forced to double him, giving Sasha, Jordan, and Trevor more space for their threes, LO more room for his dives to the basket, and when Pau is on the court with Drew, more opportunities for Trevor to cut to the hoop. Drew’s presence on defense will allow our wing defenders to stay closer to the 3-pt line, as Drew can guard most bigs with single coverage.