Archives For July 2009

NBA: MAY 25 Western Conference Finals - Lakers at Nuggets - Game 4
Sometimes, those age-old adages are around because they’re accurate. Like the one often referred to when talking about congressional legislation — everyone loves sausage but you don’t want to see it get made.

Welcome to the Lamar Odom negotiations.

We all love how it ended (at least Lakers fans) — four years, 33 million with a Laker option on the fourth year. That works out to an average of $8.25 million a year, which before this entire process started is about what I and a number of people thought was the fair market value for Odom. Odom gave a little, the Lakers gave a little, everyone is happy. With him back in the fold, and the Lakers as title favorites, this is some tasty sausage.

But it was hard to watch get made.

What started out as a quiet negotiation became more and more public as Odom’s camp tried to use Portland (an alleged five year, $40 million offer, which Odom’s agent said later may not have been real) and most often Miami as leverage. Miami seemed realistic on some levels — it was a five-year deal (albeit for a couple million less per season), it’s a state without income tax, Odom has played in and likes Miami, D-Wade was very public in his lobbying. It made a good bluff (and may not have completely been one).

But Buss loves high stakes poker, and this is about as high stakes as it gets — millions in luxury tax and possible championships hanging in the balance. He made his read that Odom wanted to be here and would take his offer over being somewhere else. He pulled an offer out of frustration but he largely stuck to his guns.

Both sides played this pretty well, trying to leverage their positions and get as much as they could out of it.

It was the fans that were buffeted about, feeling like some feudal serf caught between two warring kings and just wanting peace and a happy outcome. It was the fans that fed most off the leaked information, really put out for leverage in the talks. It was the fans that over-analyzed every little bit of information.

Anyone who has been in a negotiation — buying a house, through work, at a bar at closing time — knows it is not a pretty process. Most basketball contract negotiations are like that, ugly and not something you want to be in the middle of. This was a rare glimpse for us fans into that world.

And come next June, we will have forgotten all about it, because the sausage will taste good.

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With the end of the Odom saga, I leave on vacation for 10 days (it’s a coincidence, I swear). I am heading East, spending some time on Martha’s Vineyard and in Boston (even taking in a minor league game at Fenway Park). As much as I hate its basketball team, Boston is a great city. Because I apparently don’t value the safety of myself or my family, I have my Lakers championship hat and other gear packed and ready to be worn.

Some of the regulars here will be putting up posts over the next week, so there will be more to talk about than Sun’s contract. Treat them with respect and when I get back it will be time to delve into some “Lakers I miss” columns and more off-season fun.

Kurt

Finals
There was only one position last season where the Lakers got below average offensive production — point guard. It’s the only position where when you compare the Lakers PER with the PER of their opponents at the position, the Lakers are a net negative — point guard. I could spend the next 500 words using stats to break down the problem, but nobody who watched the Lakers last season really needs convincing.

The one is an obvious problem going forward. The issue isn’t that the Lakers couldn’t stop Tony Parker, because nobody really can stop Tony Parker with the current rules. The problem was when Aaron Brooks looked like an All Star. And the parade of other Aaron Brookses from last season. Playing the Lakers was like Christmas Day for quick point guards.

Despite the cries of some, this issue is not one for the short term — this season Derek Fisher will start with Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown come off the bench. And, as last season proved, that combination is good enough to win an NBA title.

But this is the position that needs to be addressed as the Lakers championship window moves forward for the next several years. And there are a lot more questions than answers when addressing the long-term issues.

1) Can Farmar or Brown step up and be The Man?
This will be one of the biggest questions for the Lakers as they move through next season — can one of these two take the step forward and be good enough to challenge Fisher for the starting role and thereby take control of it for future seasons?

Reed had these thoughts:

I think that both have potential to be the starter provided we continue to play the triangle and have a healthy Kobe + Pau/Bynum/Odom offensive attack. All we need from a PG with our current roster is someone to hit open 3s and play serviceable defense. With our length inside and Kobe and Artest on the perimeter, we really don’t need an elite defender at the point, but we need someone that doesn’t make Aaron Brooks look like Nate Archibald. Brown has more size and upside defensively, but Farmar has shown flashes. They both have the skills offensively if they can turn into consistent high 30s 3-point shooters.

We all have guesses — I tend to think Brown may physically be better suited to the gig, but I don’t discount anyone with Farmar’s work ethic. Plus, remember that Farmar injured his knee in Miami in December, was forced to sit out a few games, and a lot of his issues with shooting started after that (and mentally started to creep into other parts of his game). I had expected Farmar to take a step forward last season that he did not take, but rather he regressed in every offensive category (the easy example, his PER fell from pretty much the league average of 15.4 to 9.9, evidence of his across the board slips). But he is fully capable of bouncing back; it’s on him (and his next contract depends on it). He and Brown will both get their chances, but do they grab it?

2) What about Derek Fisher? He is slowing, noticeably. That said, his +/- numbers were better than either Brown (by a little) or Farmar (by a lot) last season. In the playoffs it was he who made a key speech the team rallied around, he who hit key threes in the Finals. It was also he that was a defensive liability against the fastest PGs.

This coming year is the last year of his contract, and there is a fair chance that he retires at the end of it. But what if he wants to come back? Zephid had thoughts on this:

I think bringing back Fisher would be a good thing, both sentimentally and basketball-wise. But, it needs to be at the right price. I think a maximum offer of a 2-yr, bi-annual exception level offer would be fair (I know we gave it to Shannon Brown, but something similar in value), but the veteran’s minimum would obviously be preferable. If Fisher is willing to come back for the vet’s minimum, I don’t think there’s any reason why we shouldn’t bring him back.

Basketball-wise, bringing back Fisher after next season only makes sense if we still need one of three things from him: leadership, stability, or mentorship. Our team is still very young and guys like Farmar, Bynum, and Sasha still need some maturing to do before we can allow as strong a vocal leader as Fisher go. Our team needs someone who can keep Kobe in check, not allowing his personality to dominate our offense or our team, and Fisher is the only guy capable of that at this point.

But he — and everyone — admits that if he did come back, it would need to be as the third PG off the bench. His playing days are limited.

3) Who is coaching the Lakers in 2010-11? This, to me, is the biggest (and least discussed) feature in the long term PG decision making. Simply put, if Phil Jackson remains on and the Lakers stick with the triangle, then there is one set of PG needs. If Jackson steps down and the Buss family decides to bring in someone like Byron Scott (just a hypothetical) and the Lakers are moving to a different offensive system, then the needs at that position will be totally different.

This variable alone makes it very hard to say what the long term PG answer is. Reed adds along these lines:

I would probably not address the PG position until we figure out the next coach. PG is so different in the triangle and in other systems. They demand totally different kinds of players. So I say ride Fisher/Brown/Farmar this year and see what Phil does before making a big move for a long-term solution.

Next summer there are going to be a lot of free agents on the move, and with the salary cap expected to fall there will be teams looking to trade assets if a team will take on some salary. The options are seemingly endless.

Eventually the Lakers will move away from the triangle — but will they keep it around while Kobe and Pau are still playing together (even if Rambis or Shaw is in the big seat)? Eventually the Lakers will need a more traditional PG, but when is a question nobody can really answer right now.

So what do the Lakers need to do about the PG spot? Wait and see. Which sucks for fans as we prefer decisive action. But patience has been a hand the Lakers have played very often and very effectively in recent years.

Wait and see if Brown or Farmar can make a case to be the starter next year. Wait and see who will be coach and what system is going to be run after next season. Wait and see if other good options come available.

And wait and see if the Fisher/Farmar/Brown three-headed monster can get the Lakers back into the Finals this coming season.

Hello, fellow FB&Gers. Kurt has given up trying to figure out why the site’s spam filter hates me so much, and has given me moderating privileges in order to let my posts through easier. Yes, my handle is The Dude Abides. As one might guess, my favorite comedy is The Big Lebowski, and I like to sprinkle in some quotes from the movie every so often in my comments here. Some of my favorite childhood memories involve swiping my dad’s transistor radio from the garage every afternoon I got home from school, hiding it under my bed, then turning it on to listen to Chick call the Laker games after I’d been sent to bed. I started doing this during that magical 1971-72 season, with the 33-game win streak and the first LA Laker championship.

Anyway, there’s been an ongoing discussion on this and other boards about the merits of one Andrew Bynum. I’d like to compare Drew’s numbers with the numbers of a Hall of Fame center who was named to the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time Team in 1996. This comparison is at similar stages of their careers. What should be taken into account in this comparison is that Drew played approximately 1.5 to 2 full seasons of high school ball and zero college ball, while our Hall of Famer played either 3 or 4 full years in high school, one year of frosh college ball, and three years of Division One NCAA ball. Also, Drew hardly played any minutes in his rookie season. So to compensate for these factors, I’m comparing the stats from Drew’s third and fourth seasons to the Hall of Famer’s second and third seasons.

Bynum, 3rd season, Age 20
Gm Min/G   Pts     Reb      Ast     Blk    FG%    FT%
35__28.8__13.1__10.2___2.2___2.6__63.6__69.5

Hall of Famer, 2nd season, Age 24
Gm Min/G   Pts     Reb      Ast     Blk    FG%    FT%
82__24.0__12.5___8.3___1.2___1.5__47.2__62.5

Bynum, 4th season, Age 21
Gm Min/G   Pts     Reb      Ast     Blk    FG%    FT%
50__28.9__14.3___8.0___1.8___2.2__56.0__70.7

Hall of Famer, 3rd season, Age 25
Gm Min/G   Pts     Reb      Ast     Blk    FG%    FT%
76__31.7__17.2___12.1__1.5___2.9__49.9__69.8

So, the Hall of Famer made a big leap from his second to his third season. Also, bear in mind that in both of these seasons shown here, the HOFer’s team did not make the playoffs, and he was one of the two main weapons in his team’s attack during his third season, finishing second in points per game (but first in pts per 36 minutes). A couple years after his third season, this Hall of Famer was part of arguably the most lopsided NBA trade of all time, going from the Warriors to the Celtics along with Kevin McHale, in return for Joe Barry Carroll. I’m talking of course about Robert Parish.

Now, we saw that big jump in Parish’s stats from his second to his third season, and we see that he averaged 17.2 PPG and 12.1 RPB in his third season vs Drew’s 14.3 and 8.0 in his fourth. However, if we calculate points and rebounds per 36 minutes, the gap is closed slightly, with Parish at 19.5 and 13.7, and Drew at 17.8 and 9.9. In addition, Parish was basically the first option on offense for the Warriors, with Drew being the third option behind Kobe and Pau. Also, at these comparable stages of their careers, Parish was four years older than Drew and had eight years of pre-NBA experience to Drew’s two. So, let’s give Drew some time to develop (and more importantly, to get healthy). While the odds are against his having a career as great as the Chief’s, he sure has the potential to develop into a consistent All Star.

Well, that’s my first post. I promised Kurt that I wouldn’t abuse my new moderator privileges, but his mailbox is full so I’ll make that promise here. Also, there’s no way that I’ll let Walter have anything to do with this site. That guy is way too volatile….and profane.

Bert R, aka The Dude Abides

California v UCLA

As part of an ongoing series, we have asked a few more questions of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the greatest center to ever play the game. Be sure to check out his Web site, which always has fascinating stuff.

Q: You played on two legendary championship teams: The Bucks with Oscar Robertson and the Showtime era Lakers. How would those two teams have stacked up against each other and how similar or different were they in terms of style and personnel?

Kareem Abdul Jabbar: Both teams were very efficient in their own style. The Bucks at the time set the record for efficiency by only played 3 playoff series and losing only 3 games. The Lakers were just extremely talented and consistent in 10 seasons by making it the finals 8 times and winning it 5.

Q: You also had to face off against some of the game’s legendary centers, including former Laker Wilt Chamberlain. What did Wilt force you to differently and how did you go about attacking him from the post?

Kareem Abdul Jabbar: Wilt could score at will but was also a great shot blocker so I had to always be careful to not let him sucker me into taking a poor shot but I would attack him as much as possible.

17th Annual ESPY Awards - Show
Finally, the Forum Blue & Gold Special edition Lakers championship T-shirts are here. At the suggestion of sT (one of our regular contributors), the phrase on the back of the shirt comes again from Chick Hearn: “This is your World Champion Lakers basketball network!” (This was always Chick’s station ID when the Lakers were champions.) As with all the shirts, you can change the style of shirt, the color and whatever else you want to make it your own.

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Chris J. sent me a very interesting email about how the financial landscape of the NBA in this economy is a little like turning back the clock. It’s well worth the read for the history and the comparisons to what is happening this summer and for the next few NBA seasons. Enjoy:

As the 2009-2010 season approaches, few would question that current economic conditions will soon bring big changes to the National Basketball Association.

Since the Lakers wrapped up their 15th title a month ago, most NBA fans have been preoccupied with the usual off-season fodder including free agency, the draft and the pros and cons of so many potential off-season trades.

This summer, however, the greater question for Lakers fans involves what role the purple and gold will assume in the forthcoming NBA landscape — and what steps must occur to set our favorite franchise on its desired course over the next several years.

And like it or not, the answer to the question could largely be determined by whether Lamar Odom and the Lakers front office reach an accord.

BACK TO THE FUTURE

When he penned the phrase “What’s past is prologue” nearly 400 years ago, William Shakespeare wasn’t referencing a sport that wouldn’t be invented for another 280 years. But those famous four words could certainly apply when looking ahead to what’s in store for the NBA.

Let’s start with the past, namely the 1980s. People rightly hearken back to that era as the decade of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Dr. J. But really, a more accurate description would be to term that time the Era of the Superpowers.

Magic had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Byron Scott and Michael Cooper. Bird played alongside greats like Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish and for a brief stint, Bill Walton. Julius Erving ran with Mo Cheeks, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney and later, Charles Barkley. Those teams were far from one-man shows.

From 1980 through 1989, only five franchises made it to the NBA Finals. Think about that for a moment – two teams per year, over the course of 10 years, meant up to 20 different franchises could have potentially filled a Finals slot. But only five were good enough to get there.

And those five teams which were fortunate enough to survive until the Finals did so knowing they’d have another monumental challenge to overcome before they could go home with a championship.

In eight of the 10 Finals played in the 1980s, the winning squad had to beat a team whose core players had already won, or would go on to win an NBA title of their own. Four of the five franchises to play in the Finals that decade won it all at least once; only the Houston Rockets (led by Moses Malone in 1981 and Hakeem Olajuwon/Ralph Sampson in 1986) came away empty.

There were no mismatched Finals; no Davids vs. Goliaths. The Superpowers – the Lakers and Celtics, and to a lesser extent the 76ers and Pistons – made the playoffs their own annual battle royale, with no one team able to consistently remain on top.

By comparison, in the 1990s a total of 11 different franchises made a Finals appearance, and just one champion in that decade took its title at the expense of another past or future champ (the ’91 Bulls, which beat the remnants of the Showtime-era Lakers).

From 2000 through 2009, 11 different franchises again made the Finals, and again, only one (the 2004 Pistons) took its championship by defeating the core of a fellow Finals winner.

(Yes, the 2008 Celtics did defeat a Lakers franchise that had won a title earlier in that decade. But no one would rightfully say the 2008 Lakers were similar to L.A.’s 2000-02 title teams. Aside from Kobe and Fisher, those were completely different units.)

No matter how one slices it, the NBA of the 1980s was much more competitive when it mattered most, with great teams filled with lineups of great players – Hall of Famer players – regularly challenging one another come June.

There’s simply no way to compare that era to the 1990s or 2000s, when a handful of great teams (the Bulls, Shaq-Kobe Lakers and Spurs) took on and slapped aside a revolving door of good teams that were never quite good enough to win a title of their own.

Among the many post-80s pretenders to the throne were the Clyde Drexler-era Trailblazers; Patrick Ewing’s Knicks; the KJ/Barkley Suns; the Gary Payton-era Sonics and Malone/Stockton Jazz; the Mourning/Hardaway-era Heat; and later on, Jason Kidd’s Nets; the Dirk Nowitzki-led Mavericks; as well as the Reggie Miller-era Pacers. All good, but never quite Larry O’Brien Trophy good.

BREAKUP OF THE SUPERPOWERS

Several factors eventually came together to take the NBA from a league with a few recurring contenders to one filled with so many would-be heirs to the throne. Among the key driving forces of this change were:

• The salary cap: Implemented for the 1984-85 season, it somewhat leveled the economic playing field between big-market teams and those with lesser revenue bases.
• Television exposure: In the 70s and early 80s, there was the CBS Sunday game of the week and …. not much else. If a player wanted to become a national household name, he’d better have been on a marquee team. You didn’t get the 7Up or Converse ads if you played in Kansas City, Milwaukee or San Antonio. But as TBS and later TNT, ESPN and the myriad regional cable outlets began to blossom, a player didn’t have to play on a marquee team to become a nationwide star (Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, David Robinson, etc.) Which lead in part to the growth of…
• Unrestricted Free Agency: Tom Chambers’ move from Seattle to Phoenix in 1988 helped kicked open the door for big name player movement. Thanks to the cap’s limits on contending teams’ payrolls, second-tier teams often had more money to spend on guys who could be their No. 1 or 2 options, often luring away players who in the past would have added depth to a contender as its third or fourth option. (Sound familiar, Lamar?)
• Expansion: The NBA had only 23 teams until 1988, when a crush of league growth gradually introduced us to the Heat, Hornets, Magic, Wolves, Raptors, Grizzlies and Bobcats. Just imagine how the competitive landscape would have been different if guys such as Larry Johnson, Glen Rice, Alonzo Mourning or Shaquille O’Neal would have been divided among the previous 23 franchises, paired with established stars rather than being asked to lead their own groups of castoffs as those new franchises became established.

Thanks in part to those four factors, the NBA changed beginning in the late 1980s.

When Pat Riley stood on the steps of the Great Western Forum in June 1987 and guaranteed that the Lakers would repeat as champions in 1988, people looked at him as if he were insane. And with reason, for as great as those Lakers were, no NBA team had repeated as champion in two decades. The Superpower structure simply would not let a repeat happen easily.

But after the Lakers won it all again in ’88 – and then went 11-0 in the playoffs the following year before injuries to Magic and Byron Scott likely cost the team a third-straight title – back-to-back was no longer abnormal. In fact, starting with Riley’s ’87-’88 Lakers, 14 of 15 NBA Finals winners would claim more than one consecutive championship. And the lone team that failed to win back-to-backs in that run, the ’99 Spurs, still managed to form its own mini dynasty years later.

Free agency, TV, the cap and expansion killed off the age of the Superpowers for the better part of two decades. In its place, we saw an NBA where a great team with three or four good-to-great players became an abnormality — and when such teams came together, few were equipped to challenge them.

Jordan’s Bulls, Duncan’s Spurs and the Shaq-Kobe Lakers were all very good teams – but were their titles achieved at the stake of beating the talented and competitive playing fields such as those overcome by the teams in the 80s? Hardly, as evidenced by the lack of past or future champions among the 90’s and 2000-era teams topped in the Finals.

COMING FULL CIRCLE

Which brings us to 2009. Free agency, the cap, expansion teams and TV exposure are all still in play. But due to the current economic crisis, we’ve already seem a pattern that suggests the Era of the Superpower is making its return.

The NBA has already started becoming a league filled with haves and have-nots. This past season and summer have shown that some organizations will take on salary because A) they can afford to and/or B) they’re close enough to take a shot at a title. Others are cutting contracts as quickly as possible, recognizing that they’ve no shot to win so they’re opting to play it conservatively with the money until the economy rebounds.

Don’t underestimate how much this economy has hurt the pocketbooks of many NBA owners. From New Orleans to Charlotte to Sacramento and Oklahoma City, teams just aren’t flush with cash anymore, as evidenced by the line of credit the NBA recently extended to many franchise. Just because a great free agent is available doesn’t mean everyone (or anyone) will be willing to spend to bring them into the fold.

With max contracts more difficult to come by, good players are faced with a choice: do I take a lesser contract to play for a contender, or sign a lesser contract to go with a team that’s got no shot to win. And the answer, at least for everyone not named Trevor Ariza, should seemingly be a no-brainer.

Ron Artest took a pay cut to play for the Lakers. Rasheed Wallace did the same to go to Boston. Orlando got Vince Carter for a song as New Jersey realized its short-term title chances aren’t existent; Phoenix shipped of Shaq to Cleveland, and the Spurs snagged Richard Jefferson from going-nowhere Milwaukee.

Yes, there’s great anxiousness surrounding next summer’s free agents. But ask yourself this – is a Dwayne Wade or LeBron James going to take max money from a team that has no shot at winning? Time will tell, but why would they?

It’s more likely we’ll see lesser players opting to take pay-cuts in order to go where the LeBrons or Kobes or D-Wades are, and when that happens, we’re going to see a full-blown return to the Superpower era – an NBA where a handful of franchises battle it out for the chances to dance in June, while others sit back and watch the Finals on TV.

WHO’S ELITE?

It’s too soon to predict which teams will play the role of Superpower in the decade to come, but at least for the next three to four years, the Lakers seem to be a lock with Kobe, Gasol and Bynum all locked down. L.A.’s lifestyle will always be a draw for free agents, and the Buss family has historically kept a good team on the court.

Boston has already reloaded its Big Three with a fourth All-Star in Rasheed, and Rajon Rondo give the green guys a fifth star. Likewise, San Antonio’s Big Three has added Jefferson and Antonio McDyess, with help on the horizon from DeJuan Blair and perhaps someday, Tiago Splitter. While age will eventually a role in slowing all three franchises, history suggests they’ll be in the mix in for seasons to come.

I’d also say wherever Wade, LeBron and perhaps Kevin Durant call home would have to be included among the potential powerhouses, particularly if any land in the New York area, or if Wade stays in Miami, which has good ownership and a lot of drawing power. Orlando’s also got a lot going for it with Dwight Howard & Co.

Maybe, just maybe, one or two others may creep into the list, but there’s little to suggest that NBA will again see a revolving door of Finals contenders year after year as was the case in the past 20 years. Instead, get to know a few squads well, because we’ll be seeing a lot of them, particularly as stars migrate toward other stars. The key players will follow suit, and moves like Artest taking less to join L.A. will replace the past norm, such as when Posey left a title in Boston for more cash (and more losses) in New Orleans.

With so much uncertainty on the horizon, I look at the prospect of L.A. adding Odom as they type of move that would put the Lakers as the favorite in the west for the next two, three or perhaps four years. Maybe, just maybe, they’d be good enough to be the Superpower of Superpowers. For that reason, I hope that Odom and Buss can come together and find a way to move forward that benefits the Lakers.

But with or without Lamar, the Lakers will clearly be among the class of the league until No. 24 is no longer effective. Whether or not Kobe will have enough horses alongside him to overcome a field of loaded playoff contenders remains to be seen.

Regardless, the days in which the Utahs, Sacramentos or Indianas of the world could effectively match up with the greats are coming to an end, barring one of those second-tier squads drafting an all-world rookie (of the Magic, Jordan or LeBron-caliber) who’d project them into the elite.

With luxury taxes, reduced ticket and luxury box sales, less ad revenue and other elements of the economic pinch coming to a head, the have nots simply won’t be close enough to the haves to justify spending top dollar. And without the will to spend to contend, the rich are only going to get richer.

Welcome to the new NBA. Same as the old one.