Archives For June 2009

Free Agent Feeding Frenzy

Kurt —  June 30, 2009

Hornets vs. Lakers
The chum has been in the waters for days and as of the stroke of Wednesday (or, 9 p.m. out here on the West Coast) the free agent feeding frenzy begins.

Like an actual feeding frenzy, the water is murky, there are sharks everywhere trying to get their piece, it’s really hard to tell who is doing what and what is actually happening. Rumors and reports will be flying around for the next week, many of them false as agents and teams try to game the system and gain leverage.

Through it all, the Lakers goals are really clear: Sign Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom and Shannon Brown. My gut read on the market — the Lakers shouldn’t have much trouble getting Brown and Odom back at a price management is comfortable with, while there is some demand for their services it is not out of line with what the Lakers would be willing to pay. Ariza, to me, is the one guy who could get a crazy offer.

But that’s my gut. Here’s what we know (and check back for updates) at the bottom:

• Kobe Bryant has chosen not opt out. It amuses me to read the occasional headline on this saying “Kobe chooses to stay with Lakers” as if that was actually in doubt. This was about business.

What this means is that he will save the Lakers no money next year. His two options are to sign an extension of the existing deal or he can opt out next summer, then re-sign a new Max deal. Rather than me explain it, read Larry Coon’s excellent primer. The bottom line is this — with an opt out next summer he makes about $135 million over five years, with an extension it is $127 million. That $8 million would be doubled by the luxury tax making it a nice savings for the Lakers, but only over the lasts few years of that deal. No money will be saved this year or next.

For the record, I know there are those that think Kobe should take less money for the good of the franchise. I’m not one of them. The money he is paid is but a small share of the money he makes this team because it is Kobe that fills the seats, sells the jerseys, gets people to watch on television. Right now he is the Lakers, and he is making the Buss family a lot of money. He deserves every penny he gets.

• For all the buzz of the free agent market, there seems to be a few teams taking on salary — ones in title contention — and ones shedding it due to the economy. It will be a rich get richer summer. The question is how rich they get in comparison to the current World Champs.

Thoughts on Ricky Rubio

Kurt —  June 30, 2009

Olympics Day 16 - Basketball
A couple years ago I got to meet and hang out with Xavier, FB&G’s defacto European corrispondent, and at the time he said I needed to see more of this 16 year old named Ricky Rubio. Now, Rubio and his future plans are the talk of the NBA, and Xavier (a professional youth team coach) kindly has provided us a perspective from Spain on the player and everything going on around him.

Since Ricky Rubio said he was planning to enter the 09 NBA draft I’ve been reading plenty of things about him, some of which I do not agree with. I’ve wanted to talk about him since before the playoff started but the Lakers where on the championship run and Rubio was not in team’s plan I decided to postpone this conversation to a better time. I think this time has come.

First of all, on the court basketball. Rubio is not NBA ready. He has incredible talent, feel for the game and has been playing pro since he was 15, 4 years ago. I read somewhere he has zero althletic ability and the PG transition from college to NBA is tough but from FIBA ball to NBA is even harder. Not every PG hits the league as ready as Rose or Paul. His shooting mechanic scares me, a lot; he has to work on it. Of course his shooting is a concern but so was Calderon’s and look at him right now. Ricky is the kind of kid that would hardly make the rookie all-star team but probably be starting with the sophomores a year later. I have no doubt that Ricky is the second best thing of this draft. He won’t save any franchise, nor will Griffin, but in this weak draft those two are the cream of the crop. Minnesota or the team that finally signs him if he makes it to the NBA, will have a gem to work on, but have to understand that his first year will be a transition year, he’s very young and will take a big leap upwards by his second NBA season. In the future I could see him being an above average defensive PG, Nash-like passing skills but not as close as a shooter.

But then there is the off court issue. Things could have been done better, for sure, but the situation is at a point that is impossible to go back.

The buyout issue: Back when he was 15, Ricky signed his first professional contract that settled a high buyout along with a high salary for a 15-year-old boy, which he approved. Joventut is mostly a club that creates players, finds them at 11-12 and teaches them basketball so they can someday play on the senior team (for the record, two Joventud players have been drafted this year in the first round, Rubio and Eyenga, and also Henk Norel in the second round, Rudy Fernández has also been raised in Joventud youth teams). The buyout is like a security for the team that all the money invested in raising the player will not be lost whenever a richer club comes and pays a few bucks for the kid. During 08 summer, Ricky asked the team to reduce the buyout. There were rumors of other top European teams trying to sign Rubio and Joventut offered him to lower by the half his NBA buyout by doubling the money an European team should pay. Rubio didn’t accept that saying he was planning to complete the whole contract with the team. A year later, he denounced the team that has created him for not lowering the buyout to let him play in the NBA. His agent says that his salary is too cheap compared with the high buyout. Usually, it’s the new team that pays the buyout or a compensation agreed with the club, but as the NBA do not allow teams to pay it, the player has to clear that issue. A friendly agreement was arranged last year with Rudy Fernández but after this public denouncing a friendly ending seems almost impossible.

Being the 5th selection: That was really a kick in his balls. If Minnesota jumped on the 2nd pick and drafted him there would be no problem (unless the second was Memphis where he wanted nothing to do with them, his feelings are that Mayo is Memphis PG of the future plus other Spaniards with similar winning mentality as him having trouble there). Don’t make any issue about the “Minnesota is cold” thing. He also said about OKC that his best friend lives nearby. As I read that I talked to that friend. After the conversation I had the impression that the answers where just that, quick answers. The important thing here is the money. Being a 2nd or 3rd pick guaranteed him an easy buyout payment in the case a friendly arrangement wasn’t possible. The 4th pick had more problems but he liked the situation for him (few pressure, nice weather and still an interesting contract) but then Sacramento took Evans and Sota just drafted the PG they wanted right after him. That doesn’t give him confidence. How would you feel if you had to pay to take a job and your new company just hired someone to do the same exact thing as you? With his contract set by the 5th pick, his chances of paying the buyout and still make some money rely on playing on a big city team where he could sign for bigger sponsor endorsements. But the reason the Kings or the Thunder didn’t select him is Dan Fegan. Rubio did few workouts because of his agent. A big buyout from Spain and no possibility to really test the kid against other players is what kept the Kings perfect fit away from him. His aggressiveness and bad ways were well reported as happened with Yi. When I found out that Rubio signed with Fegan my first thought was “Oooh god, that’s gonna be ugly”.

The future: in coming days we’ll know what the judge say about the buyout issue. That will determine how hard will it be to be free from Joventut. Coming back to his longtime club seems unlikely as team president said, “asking a judge to take part opens a wound which remains open” so he’ll probably be looking for another Euro team (Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Unicaja Malaga are considered frontrunners) or signing with the Wolves or the NBA team that hold his rights.

I’m a Joventut season ticket holder, I coach for the youth program that developed Ricky before he went to Joventut. I’ve seen a lot of this kid and he deserves being in the NBA. I fully understand that he doesn’t want to go to a losing team or a team he feels he don’t fit if he has to pay for it and I really wish him the best, but I’m not happy with how the things have evolved. Both Spanish and American agents have done a bad job and the kid is paying for it.

—Xavier

LA Lakers Trevor Ariza at LA Dodgers game.
Right about now basketball fans will listen to just about anything “to hold the terrible silence at bay.” So, here are a few thoughts to fill the void.

• First, as is a bit of an annual caution, here is my primer on the trade and free agent rumors you will hear swirling over the next months: When an insider gives a rumor to a reporter, they are doing so with an ulterior motive. Always. And what is being told that reporter may be anything from the entire truth to an entire falsehood, or some level in between (i.e. just telling them part of the story).

There are about 8 million reasons for this. An agent may tell Ric Bucher something to help his client gain some leverage in negotiations. (Say player X is heavy in negotiations with one team, when the agent gets a feeling out call with moderate interest from another team. Why wouldn’t the agent tell a reporter about that second call, let the first team read about it and hopefully drive up the price?) Often, there are different factions within a front office and one faction may leak their plans to gain fan support vs. another faction. Agents or front office people may tell something true as a sign of good faith to a reporter they like and so they believe them next time when the use the same reporter to gain leverage. And that list of reasons goes on and on.

When you look at what is in the media — for example, sudden reported interest of the Lakers in Jason Kidd or Nate Robinson — think about who gains from the information released. That almost always tells you where it came from. In those cases, it sounds to me like the player and his people are leaking this to gain some standing.

• The news about Yao Ming maybe being done for all of next season — if not longer — is bad for basketball. Bad for us as fans who don’t get to see him play. Not many guys over 7 feet, let alone 7-6, with that kind of well rounded game.

• Why I think we’ll see a better Jordan Farmar next year — contract year.

• As for defending little point guards, a popular topic in Lakersland these days: The Lakers have had their best success not with small and quick but with bigger and longer. Look at it this way, under today’s rules Tony Parker could not defend Tony Parker, Jameer Nelson could not stop Jameer Nelson. Defending these guards with bigger, longer players allows some room for mistakes with good recovery. They Lakers had some of their best success this season when Trevor Ariza was switched to a PG. Just something to think about.

• If you want to relive the Lakers season and Finals run again — and why wouldn’t you? — here is a good tribute video.

• Here is a great — but long, 20 minutes — recap of the Lakers path to the title.

• Part two of a tribute to Magic well worth reading.

The End of the Bench

Zephid —  June 26, 2009

LAKERS

In the wake of our Lakers’ brilliant 2009 NBA Championship campaign and subsequent selling of draft picks, the league has sprung full-force into the off-season: Jefferson to the Spurs, Foye and Miller to the Wizards, Crawford to the Hawks, and most recently, Shaq to the Cavs, are just some of the big trades that have gone down. Here at FB&G, there has been much discussion about free agency, mostly dedicated to the luxury tax, Lamar Odom, and Trevor Ariza. But as we all know, there are the three “other” free agents on our team: Shannon Brown, Josh Powell, and DJ Mbenga. The consensus amongst us fans at least is that Shannon Brown must be brought back as “Farmar-insurance,” but not much has been made about re-signing Powell or Mbenga. While neither is nearly as important as Odom or Ariza, each brings his own special niche to the team. Powell had a solid regular season, going from a bench-warmer playing only during garbage time, to a rotation player, his high point coming 3/11 in Houston, starting in the place of suspended Lamar Odom (for taking half a step off the bench during the “scuffle” in Portland), dropping in 17 points on 8-14 shooting and grabbing 9 rebounds in a narrow 102-96 Lakers victory, including a very un-Josh-Powell-esque two dunks (he still needs some serious dunking practice). DJ was in a similar situation, playing 3 minutes through the first 3 months of the season, then getting good minutes after Bynum’s injury, leading to a couple “volume scorer” comments from Stu Lantz. Both were called upon in the crucial Game 4 win in Orlando in which Pau, Lamar, and Andrew all picked up 2 fouls in the first quarter. While neither played spectacularly, both played well enough to keep the game close and eventually lead to Fisher’s soon-to-be-legendary 4.6 shot. Yes, compared to Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Ariza, and even Fisher, these two had marginal contributions at best and unnoticeable contributions at worst. Yes, letting either walk this summer probably wouldn’t crush our title hopes for next year. But, perhaps more important than their on-court contributions are their off-court stories. Each has come through his own adversity, taking a long hard journey to the NBA. Neither deserves our pity; simply being basketball players in the NBA for a couple years will earn them more money than some of us will earn in a lifetime. But they have certainly earned our empathy, not only as players, but as hard working individuals who have come through adversity to achieve their dreams of an NBA championship.

Josh Powell spent two years at N.C. State, earning All-Rookie Honors in 2001-02, and earning N.C. State’s Most-Improved Player Award the following year. Yet, most likely due to the staff-induced ball-hogging by Julius Hodge, Powell chose to leave N.C. State after only his second year of eligibility, entering the NBA Draft in 2003. After going undrafted, Powell was the No. 1 pick in the CBA draft, but instead chose to play overseas, taking him on a two year journey through Russia and Italy. After playing for Lokomotiv Rostov in the Russian Super League, Eurorida Scafati (now Harem Scafati) in the Italian Lega 2 (formerly Serie A2), and Pepsi Caserta (now Eldo Caserta) in the Italian League (formerly Serie A), Powell returned to the NBA, signing with the Dallas Mavericks before the start of the 2005-06 season (you don’t want to know how long it took me to look those up). Within short order, Powell was relegated to the D-League, playing for the Fort-Worth Flyers before being recalled by Dallas for their 2006 postseason run (and to think, if not for some suspect officiating and a massive team meltdown, Josh Powell could have two more rings than Lebron James). In the ensuing offseason, Powell was traded to the Indiana Pacers along with Darrell Armstrong and Rawle Marshall for two bags of chips (aka Anthony Johnson). Powell was summarily included in the Stephen Jackson trade, landing him in Golden State as an expiring contract. The following season, Powell signed with the Clippers (talk about desperation), only to be waived when the Clippers signed Marcus Camby in the off-season. Finally, almost by some miracle, he was signed by the Lakers, winning a championship while playing a crucial 8 minutes in the critical Game 4 of the Finals, all this after being told by one Patrick Ewing that he would never make the league. And now, he’s got one more ring than Ewing.

While Josh Powell’s story is one of perseverance, never quitting on his journey to achieve success in the NBA, DJ Mbenga’s is a story of strength and hope. Born Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, DJ was raised in the war-torn Zaire, officially known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (which is almost as ironic as “The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”). When President Mobutu Sese Seko was ousted by rebel forces led by Laurent-Desire Kabila (a Marxist, surprise!) with support from Rwanda and Uganda, DJ’s father, who worked for the former regime, was thrown into a political prison along with DJ and his brothers (for more information, Wikipedia “First Congo War.”). His father, who later died during imprisonment, negotiated the release of DJ and his brothers, who fled as refugees to Belgium (which draws on the rather sad point that DJ’s Laker teammates don’t know where he’s from, showing their ignorance on national television on Jimmy Kimmel). After being discovered by Belgian basketball player Willy Steveniers, DJ began playing for the Antwerp Diamond Giants in the Belgian Junior Youth League, the Spirou Gilly in the Belgian Second Division, then the Basket Groot Leuven and Spirou Charleroi in the Belgian First Division (I have no idea how to pronounce any of those). In 2004, DJ was signed by the Dallas Mavericks, a three year tenure that would include an ACL tear, going into the stands, and the same championship run enjoyed by Josh Powell (and to think, he could have two more rings than Lebron James). After a short sign-and-waive contract with the Warriors, DJ signed two consecutive 10-day contracts with the Lakers before inking a one-year deal in 2007-2008. DJ was re-signed this past fall, and we all know what happened after that. And yes, he also has one more ring than Patrick Ewing.

Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga are not stars, not by any stretch of the imagination. Neither of them are even solid contributors, both being relegated to mostly garbage minutes and the occasional 1st quarter cameo due to foul trouble for Bynum/Gasol/Odom. Yes, most of their value comes in practice, making Bynum and Gasol work(according to Mbenga, at least). But you can’t grow heart; you can’t practice effort, or get better at determination. You either have them or you don’t. Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga have heart, effort, and determination, not just in basketball, but in life. And that is a rare skill indeed.

-Zephid

PS: For the regulars, this is my first post here, so please, any constructive thoughts are welcomed and appreciated.

Lakers Draft Day Trades Abound

Kurt —  June 25, 2009

NCAA
In the first round, exactly what was supposed to happen, happened. The Lakers selected Toney Douglas, who very soon was traded to the Knicks for much needed cash (rumored to be $3 million) and a future second rounder (2011?).

The second round, the Lakers took an American in the Ukraine — Patrick Beverley. Then, just as we were learning about him, the Lakers traded him to the Miami Heat for a future second rounder and more cash.

It’s all about the cash — we want Ariza and Odom both back.

With the 59th pick, the Lakers took Chinemelu Elonu — a 6-10 F/C out of Texas A&M who likes to bang and has a real NBA body, but who apparently is very raw. Let’s be honest, this is the kind of guy the Lakers likely bring to Summer League and in as camp fodder, but who will likely spend a year at least in the D-League before making an impact. The Lakers front office is saying he can compete for a job, that they had him the 34th best guy in the draft, but to get a roster spot he is going to have to beat out DJ Mbenga or Josh Powell, two proven pros with some diversity to their games. And they are guys who know the system. Elonu has a real uphill climb. The fact of the matter is, the Lakers are not going to pay the luxury tax money for some guy to learn on the job, he has to prove he can contribute.

No, the Lakers did not take Nick Calathes, the one guy a lot of us wanted at 42. But to be honest, we wanted him because he is a known quantity. He played at Florida and worked out with David Thorpe (who promotes his guys hard). But the fact is, we never really see any of these guys. We don’t really know, it’s all second hand stuff. So, we need to trust the judgment of the Lakers overseas scouts.