Archives For July 2009

Odom Equilibrium

Zephid —  July 14, 2009


In Game Theory, there is a canonical game known in the academic world as “Hawk-Dove.”  Colloquially, however, it is more commonly known as the game of chicken.  For those who have never experienced such an event (and those who have stupidly attempted to perform this game using automobiles), the game entails two players engaging in some activity until one person stops, in which case the other person wins.  One of the most common versions of chicken is to drive two cars at one another on a road, and the first person to veer off the road loses (yet, stupid, I know).  This game has been used to model numerous events, from possible nuclear conflict (dramatized in Dr. Strangelove), or in our case, contract negotiation.

We’ve had plenty of discussion regarding the arrival of Ron Artest, the departure of our dear Trevor Ariza, and articulated some thoughts about Shannon Brown’s new deal. Yet, the question of which we covet the most clarity, but remains the most enigmatic is, “What the heck is going on with Lamar Odom?” Many fans have grown frustrated with the prolonged process, often seeking the comfort in even the bleakest of certainties, growing more and more restless with each passing day. Many attempt to rationalize the thoughts of each side, analyzing Odom’s free-market value as compared to our championship probabilities. Yet, in the end, it all comes down to two players: Lamar Odom vs. the Lakers front office.  As both parties rumble headlong towards one another, it is a question of who will blink first and give in to the others demands: Will the front office acquiesce to Lamar’s $10 million dollar demand, or will Lamar come to accept his paycut and come back to his championship teammates?  For that, as always, we must find out who has the most to gain, and who has the most to lose.

While there is debating as to how much Lamar Odom’s presence impacts our success, there is no question that his presence improves our chances of winning the championship; A line-up with Lamar Odom is no doubt better than a line-up without Lamar Odom. Yet, with an eye to the future, remaining financially flexible is a huge issue, especially during this economic downturn in which the salary cap is anticipated to decrease by as much as 15%. Because of this, it is important to sign Odom to an economically sound value, both in a financial sense and a tradability sense.

It is here that we have a conflict of interest. As in the rest of rational free-market economics, it is Lamar Odom’s right to seek the maximum possible value from his employer, and it is the employer’s right to receive the greatest utility from Odom, this being the value Odom adds on the court less the value of his contract. In this manner, the front office is trying to gain Odom’s services at the least possible cost, and Lamar is trying to hold out as long as possible until the Lakers will not offer any more money. The question that many of us have is how high the Lakers should go. Back in December, I (in retrospect, rather foolishly) made the conjecture that at least some team would offer Odom a max contract. This is obviously not the case anymore, and the most any team outside of Portland and Oklahoma City has at most the Mid-Level Exception to offer. Many have claimed that this gives Odom little leverage, and thus the Lakers straying too far above the mid-level would be a complete blunder.

However, we need to consider exactly how much leverage the Lakers have. Having already used the Mid-Level Exception on Ron Artest, the Bi-Annual Exception on Shannon Brown, the Lakers are left with sign-and-trading Odom and minimum salary players as options outside of re-signing Odom. Given that the Lakers are already deep in the luxury tax, they won’t sign-and-trade Odom unless they receive an absolutely absurd offer (think a high-profile young player, a #1 pick, and an expiring contract) or non/partially guaranteed contract). And as for minimum salary players, well, they won’t come anywhere close to fulfilling the roles that Odom plays on our team.

Odom and his camp know this fact full and well and are exploiting it to no end. Even with reports of Odom refusing an offer upwards of $8mil per year, Odom still knows that the Lakers need him more than he needs the Lakers, or at least that is the front office’s perception. This led to them repeatedly upping their offers, with some rumblings that Lamar will stubbornly hold out for his $10 mil per year till the bitter end.

I recently bought an apartment and the one thing my real estate agent told me is to not make incrementally increasing bids. If you initially bid $220,000 and they refuse, don’t continually up your offer by $5000. If you bid $225,000, then $230,000, then $230,000, the seller will realize that you are willing to pay more and just keep refusing to squeeze as much money out of you as possible. The correct play is to make an initial bid, and if that bid is refused, make a final offer and be prepared to walk away. This forces the seller to make a decision and either accept your offer or face the uncertainty of having to accept something less at a later date.

The Lakers have already made this mistake, and Lamar has caught onto it. His holdout may end today, or tomorrow, but it may last until next week, next month. Lamar senses weakness in the Laker camp, and his plan to hold out from the beginning has worked. With respect to the free-market, Odom was expected to command at most a little bit above the MLE, a slight premium for giving the Lakers certainty that he’ll sign with them. Yet, he has gained much, much more than that, and is even holding out for more. Even the staunchest of Lamar Odom supporters feel that $9 mil per year is too much, especially given how deep we are in the luxury tax, but the fact that the negotiations have gotten to this point is indicative to the success of Lamar Odom’s strategy.

Personally, I believe that Lamar brings enough assets to our team to justify the tax bill.  Yes, I agree that $9 mil per year is too much, and we should be careful to make sure the deal isn’t too long term, as Odom’s production is highly correlated with his natural ability and athleticism, which are bound to deteriorate with age.  But, now that it has come to this, the Lakers have to bite the bullet and take the luxury tax hit.  If winning a championship is the ultimate goal, and nothing comes close to it, there’s no question that the right move is to re-sign Odom, regardless of the price.  Re-signing Odom gives us the best chance to win a championship, and when it comes to choosing between dollars or glory, I choose the glory.  Then again, it’s not my money either.

Whatever the case may be, we as fans can only wait.  We may gripe with the front office’s unwillingness to pay Lamar his due, or Lamar’s unwillingness to give a discount to the team that never lost faith in him, but in the end, it all comes down to who’s willing to stay the course longest in this proverbial game of chicken.


Notes from the Summer League

Kurt —  July 13, 2009

NBA: FEB 17 Hawks at Lakers
First, regarding the news on Odom that Mitch Kupchak said the Lakers are more pessimistic about a deal. If I were the Lakers and I went to Odom and upped my offer to $8.5 mil (the number I heard here at Summer League) and he took his sweet time making a decision, I would be a little disappointed. And I might well try a little negotiating through the media to get my point across. Simply put, Odom is not getting a better offer anywhere at this point, so if he wants to wait out the Portland/Utah thing, go ahead. I think the Lakers are done negotiating.


I spent the Lakers game sitting between David Thorpe and Mike Moreau (both of IMG and ESPN) so anything that follows and sounds vaguely smart, assume it came from them:

• The bottom line with Adam Morrison, I’m not sure he becomes the regular rotation guy some hoped.

When he just spots up and shoots from three, Morrison is deadeye. He has a very pretty little stepback shot from the baseline 10-feet out, and made that move other spots. When he plays within that role, doing those things, he was good.

When he put the ball on the floor though, it was an adventure. And he likes to drive. His decision making was spotty — he had Eric Gordon on him but consistently tried to go off the dribble and try to finish in the paint rather then use the step back to shoot over him and use his height. Morrison does not finish well off the drive. If he put on some weight, I could see him posting up some smaller threes then using the step back to shoot over them. But he is thin and could not move (the strong) Eric Gordon around.

The question is can Morrison mentally adjust and do the things he needs to at the NBA level? Can he spend a quarter and a half on the bench then come out and drain two threes in 45 seconds? Can he be a guy who can exploit specific matchups and just accept the minutes when he gets them? If he can, he will be fine as a10-minutes a night, off the bench gunner. I’m not sure he’s going to be much more than that. I’ll see him again tomorrow, maybe I will feel differently.

• The Clippers were a tough test — at one point they had a lineup of Eric Gordon and Mike Taylor in the back court, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan with just one guy you don’t know (Nik Caner-Medley, who has been playing in the Summer League since it was in Long Beach). That is a lineup they can basically run out comfortably in the season.

• Blake Griffin is the real deal. Amazingly strong and balanced in the post and in the air. He finishes strong at the rim. He drained a three and clearly has been working on his shot since the last public workout. He got a rebound, dribbled it coast-to-coast and finished with a spin move. He finished with 27 and 12 (although against suspect competition). I’d say there was no way they could screw this up if it were any other franchise.

• Chinemelu Elonu is not going to be playing for the Lakers.

• For those of you who were high on Rodrigue Beaubois — You were right. Much better in person than expected. Absolutely lighting quick off the dribble, can shoot the three, and most impressively made really smart decisions. Not just me saying that, I was standing next to a front office guy (not Lakers) who was saying “We didn’t know he could shoot like that.”

• The other underafted (he went 56th) guy on the Mavs roster I liked was Ahmad Nivins, who had a great season at St. Joseph’s but still flew under the radar. Great hops and energy, I could see him as a bench energy four in the Ronny Turiaf mold, but with less strength and better handles.

Relive The Finals

Kurt —  July 11, 2009

World Champion Los Angeles Lakers.

I am nowhere near close to being tired of typing that, and I am nowhere near close to being done reliving last season. What follows is a video clip from the official Los Angeles Lakers Championship DVD, which gets released Tuesday.


You can pick up the DVD just about anywhere starting Tuesday (and know that the video is much higher quality than what I had to reduce it to for it to fit here, and I’m trying to fix the size and automatic launch).

If you want you copy of the DVD signed by a Laker, you have a couple of chances Tuesday:

Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton, Wal-Mart, 7250 Carson Blvd. Long Beach, CA 90808 (Signing will take place from 11:00 am – 1:00 pm)

Derek Fisher, Best Buy, 740 S. Sepulveda Blvd El Segundo, CA 90245 (Signing will take place from 6:00-7:30 PM)

Breaking down #37

Bill Bridges —  July 9, 2009

Can there be yet another post about Ron Artest? Answer: There can never be enough posts about #37! This post will try to find evidence to support some popular hypotheses – some posed by yours truly.

Let’s start on defense.

Hypothesis #1. Ron is an excellent on-ball defender.

Seems silly to doubt this point as Ron has been a Defensive Player of the Year. But let’s see if the numbers back this up.  Of course defensive stats are notoriously hard to quantify.  One stat is opponent’s PER.

We see from that Cleveland has the best PER against small forwards at 12.6 and Houston was second at 13.5. So far so good. Looking into the Cavs and Rockets in more detail shows that Lebron’s defensive PER was a good 13.5. Of course the Rockets also have Battier who was at 12.3. However Artest was even better at 12.2. By the PER-against metric, it is safe to say that Ron is an elite on-ball defender. (Bowen was 16.3 and Ariza 23.0). Versus Ariza, a significant upgrade.

Hypothesis #2. Ron’s true value will be evident against the top teams in the league.

How does Ron play against Lebron, Melo, and Pierce. The three best players on the best teams in the NBA not called the Lakers?

We see that all three performed below their career averages. Pierce came closest to matching his career numbers. Lebron especially has had problems with Artest (No wonder he recruited Artest so hard). James’ 5.1 turnovers per game really stand out. Impressively, Artest’s team has a win/loss advantage against all three players. 7-3 against Lebron is no joke. These records include results when Artest was with losing teams in Chicago and Sacramento. By the way, Lebron’s record against Bruce Bowen with over 50% shooting and at 29 ppg.

Contrast these results with Artest’s record against Kobe.
Kobe has being torching Artest ever since Artest came into the league. 48% shooting, 41% from 3 and a 15-5 record. Are you kidding. No wonder Ron wanted to join the Lakers.

Back to the study. The results seem to support hypothesis #2. Ron seems to be as an effective defender against the big three as there is in the league. check.

What about on offense?

Can Artest fit into the triangle and assume Ariza’s role and possibly even extend it?

Let’s first look at Ariza’s shot chart over the past year. First of all, Trevor has no mid-range or low post game. Almost all of his shots came from the 3 point line or at the hoop via penetration.

Before seeing this chart, I’d thought that most of his threes came from the wing – especially the left. In fact, (by a small amount) Trevor took more corner threes than wing threes. I guess our memories want to retain successful events as his corner 3 percentage was horrible. He shot 31.9% from three point range. But crucially was at 40% from the wing. In the playoffs, it seemed as if Phil tweaked the angle of the triangle to get Trevor wing three pointers rather than corners.

Fortunately Artest has almost exactly the same profile as Ariza from the three point line – but better. Simply great from either wing and straight ahead. The left corner let him down but overall a .399 result is one of the league’s best. He shot alot of wing 3’s and should get wide open shots off of passes from Pau and Kobe – especially on the left wing where he shot 126 3’s and made 44%. Can you picture it? Kobe posts down on the right low block. Double comes. Kick out to Artest for the wing 3…. nothing but net.

That is the good news.

Unfortunately, at least during the last year, Ron was awful shooting from virtually every other location. Most troubling is Ron’s inability to finish at the hoop. A .451 at the hoop is almost Fishesque. Compare this to Ariza’s .619 (Kobe was a stud at .622). Except in Ron’s case, he doggedly takes it to the rim – and misses.  Others have written about these strange numbers. Tom Martin’s hypothesis is that Ron’s ankle injury early in the season eroded explosiveness. This seems to have some validity as previous to 08/09, Artest’s success rate at the rim has been about 55%.

The data indicates that Artest is not a good low post player. Nor does he post up often. This could possibly be due to the systems he played in. In Indiana, O’Neal dominated the post. Sacramento didn’t emphasize it. In Houston, obviously Yao was down low. One thing we can agree on is that if Ron stays on the wing and shoots wide open catch n shoot 3’s we will be happy.

Putting it all together. Artest is a significant upgrade as an on-ball defender versus Ariza. He might not be as effective as a weakside help defender. While data to prove or disprove this point does not exist, his high on/off court differential of +5.9. (Ariza is a -5.3) indicates that Artest is a very good team defender. And as we saw, he is as much of a King-stopper as there is in the league.

On offense he plugs in as the wing shooter. And while we have all seen him bully his way past Walton or Lamar from the low block, the data simply doesn’t indicate that he is effective consistently from there. The key question is whether he can run the pinch post drop pass sequence with Pau and finish at the rim as successfuly as Trevor did.

Finally, will he be a black hole on offense?  Maybe. First why he might actually move the ball; he played the triangle for 3 seasons under Tim Floyd. Second, with Kobe and Pau he isn’t likely to be the initiator. If he remains as the finisher and safety valve the Laker’s highly efficient offense should remain so. With the counter; why might he still dribble for 12 seconds before forcing a contested jumper? He is Ron Artest. #37

Oh and here’s is Kobe’s sick shooting chart.  The man can finish at the rim.

—Bill Bridges

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  July 8, 2009

2009 BET Awards - Arrivals
So many things to get to today, we go to the bullet points….

• The real numbers that should concern us about Ron Artest: 56, 70, 57, 69. Commenter Stephen pointed out that is how many games Artest has played in each of the last four seasons. Meaning in his best year he missed 12 games, and he has missed as many as 26 in that span (and the last time he played nearly a full season was his second year in the league). It seems weird to think of Artest as injury prone, but the numbers don’t lie (can you imagine the calls of “soft” if Gasol or Dirk had those stats?). As long as he is healthy come playoff time this is not the end of the world, but we should expect him to miss some games this season. We really will need Odom as well.

• Artest said all the right things at his press conference. That the conference took place on a basketball court is about all the impact that has on the court, but at least he said it. My favorite line, when asked how he is different after the Brawl: “”I don’t lay on tables no more.”

• I know the pace of the Odom signing has frustrated some Lakers fans — Hey, they got Shannon Brown done! — but I’m not one of them. I think Brian hit the nail on the head. Odom’s people have patiently waited out the market so they could get some offers on Odom and try to drive up the price (a good idea but a strategy that has not worked as well as they planned). Soon, the Lakers and Odom’s people will hammer out a fair deal, my guess is in the $7 mil range. He wants to be here, he was texting with Artest already, the Lakers should be fair, I think this gets done fairly soon.

• I love how professional the Odom negotiations have been, especially from Odom’s agents — no whining in the media about what he deserved or a perceved respect. Just working hard quietly to get the best deal they can for their client, and trying to land him in a place that makes him happy.

• Yes, Artest will be wearing #37 in honor of how long Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” sat on top of the charts. One thing we can say about next season — the Lakers are going to be more entertaining with Artest around. The ogranization is pretty button down. Kobe is pretty corporate. Artest is not.

• If you fancy yourself a baller, the Lakers are sponsoring a 3-on-3 tournament at LA Live the weekend of Aug. 14. If you want to show how you could have dunked on LeBron (and had Nike confiscate the tapes) you can register here.

• I think Sheed in Boston is a little like Shaq in Cleveland — anyone who thinks these are the guys from their prime will be sorely disapointed. That said, they still have some game and will be an upgrade over the minutes they are taking from scrubs. Basically, I think both teams got better, but enough better?

Kelly Dwyer has my click as the first hoops blogger I read every mornong,

• I just bought this (via BDL).

Kareem Talks To FB&G

Kurt —  July 6, 2009

We are exceedingly fortunate to have the a new relationship here at Forum Blue and Gold with the greatest center to ever play the game — the six time NBA champion, six time MVP, leading scorer in the history of the game Kareem Abdul Jabbar. A great player, more importantly a great person who has lived (and is living) a rich and full life, a man who brings thoughtfulness to whatever he does. No enough of those kind of people in the world. Plus he’s a huge jazz fan, always a plus in my book.

You need to visit his Web site, where he talks everything from basketball to Michael Jackson. Most athlete web sites are little more than PR vehicles, rarely to you get genuine thoughts and an understanding of the man. This is real.

We will be asking the living legend a couple questions regularly around here, and this is the first installment:

How has the role of center changed in the NBA from when you played to now? How has that manifested working with Andrew Bynum?

KAJ ANSWERS: The role of the center has not changed at all but people feel that it has because there are so few centers playing the game effectively but the requirements have remained the same. I try to give Andrew a clear understanding of what he can do to help his team win basketball games.

You have had a friendship with Red Auerbach, were coached by John Wooden and have watched Phil Jackson up close — maybe the three greatest coaches the game has ever seen. Can you compare and contrast them, and say what similar traits they shared?

KAJ: Its impossible to contrast them because they have all played in different eras of the game. Coach Auerbach coached when the NBA had only had 8 teams. Coach Wooden coached at the University level and Coach Jackson coached in the modern NBA which has 30 teams, so each area required different management skills. I don’t think they had much in common because the needs of their jobs were different in each case.


I hate to add a little free agent note to the bottom of the post, but this the season. Good signing by the Lakers to bring back Shannon Brown and his potential — two years at $4.2 million, with a player option for the second year. I don’t know if he is the long term answer at PG, but after last season he deserves a chance to see.

Most importantly, this is a guy who does what we fans seem to always call for — he took less money to play here. One thing in today’s age of free agency we rarely see is person who is puts wanting to play for a specific team ahead of money. I am comfortable with the deal, it is a little less than market value and if he has a great year and opts out to get a payday, well, he will have earned it. Not going to begrudge a man his money.

A fan’s relationship with a sports team is something like his or her relationship with their family — there are times it is strained, times of anger, times of frustration, but ultimately you almost always come back to them because, well, they are your family. The bond there is strong, built up over years and decades, one too strong to be broken for anything but the worst of offenses.

The signing of Ron Artest has had me thinking about all that this past weekend. Any regular visitor to this blog in the last couple years will tell you I have been ardently opposed to the Lakers getting Ron Artest. I am rarely someone who thinks in terms of absolutes — that something is all good or all bad. But on this blog, Artest was about as absolute as I got, I didn’t want him here. In the past few days I have had to step back, look at myself and that stance, compromise in my mind and move forward.

There are things that are very different than when I ranted against Artest in the past. First, the talk at the time was trading Odom for Artest, something I would still oppose. But that is not what has happened here — this essentially turned out to be a swap of Artest for Trevor Ariza. And Artest is coming in here at what only can be described as a fantastic price for the talent. It’s hard to be unhappy at a good deal.

Still the loss of Ariza saddens me. It has been amazing to see on this and other boards people dismissing Ariza — those people must have a foggy memory of the playoffs and finals. The Lakers would not be champions without Ariza, who hit timely threes and did things on defense like frustrate Hedo Turkoglu that nobody else had done to Orlando before. And he was a player that had really grown on the court in the past year, we (or at least I) have a very fond spot for players we watch mature and develop in our team’s uniforms. While I intellectually understand what happened, there is a bit of a mourning process.

But we have to move on as fans.

Ultimately, it will come down to me accepting Artest, someone I had preached against the Lakers getting. While I don’t like to be wrong, this is one of those moments for he as a fan when my heart must overrule my head. I have to root for Artest now, and that is an adjustment mentally.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand on paper just what a great fit Artest is in the triangle — he adds another very versatile weapon to a team and system predicated on versatility. He can drain the three and should get more open looks to do so. He can post up almost any three in the league (and you can’t move your four over to cover him unless you want Pau Gasol in a mismatch). He is the kind of physical defender the Lakers need so Kobe Bryant isn’t spending all game playing ball-denial defense on LeBron or trying to keep Carmelo out of the post.

But I don’t think you can follow his history and just dismiss it as the meaningless past. I don’t see how you can watch how he played in Houston (yelling at PGs to get him the ball regardless of the hot hand, shooting them out of games against us) or Sacramento or Indiana or Chicago and say with certainty be different this time. Change happens but it is almost always a tumultuous process. Like all of us, Artest is the sum of his past experiences, and at this point I think Artest largely is who he is. I’m curious to see how a guy who posts cell phone conversations with his agent on Youtube fits in with the rather button-down management of the Lakers.

I cannot just ignore or dismiss my concerns. That he has been an offensive black hole coming to a team that is about ball and player movement. That he could struggle to deal with being offensive option three or four on the court at any given time.

But sometimes, whether it be as a fan or a family member, we need to move on from what is done and embrace the future. Embrace the possibilities. Embrace the hope. I’m a Lakers fan. I want the team to win. And that means as of today I am an Artest fan. I have his back. I can see the positive possibilities and I will cheer for them. I hope he gets a ring as a member of the Lakers.

I have hope that it can be so. For once I don’t want to be right.

NBA: MAY 06 Conference Semifinals - Rockets at Lakers - Game 2

I want to preface this post with the fact that I am truly going to miss Trevor Ariza.  I wrote about Ariza a little while back and expressed my opinion that we should keep him.  So, losing Trevor is a blow to me as a Lakers fan.  At this moment, I have strong opinions about his agent, the manner in which Trevor has departed our team, and having to defend a title without a player that I truly thought of as a core contributor to our success.  Losing Ariza is a sad turn of events for me.  I can only wish him the best and hope he continues to grow into the player that we all think he can be.  All that said, we are moving on (but before we do – one more look at what we did!).  So the focus of this post is only on the newest Laker: Ron Artest.

There are so many variables to the Lakers’ acquisition of Ron Artest that my head is spinning.  I am excited and terrified at the same time.  The only comparison I can make is being at the top of a climb on a roller coaster and we are about to start the dashing descent that is both exhilarating and fear inducing at the same time.  As Kurt said so simply (and yet aptly) Ron Artest will be a Laker.  Six simple words and suddenly a swell of thoughts, emotions, gut reactions, and rationalizations hit these boards and media outlets all at once.

Personally, I don’t have a fully defined opinion yet.  In the past, whenever talks swirled around a potential Artest acquisition, I was firmly against it.  For one, those talks always centered on replacing Odom with Artest and I was flat out opposed to that.  Secondly, any potential trade for Artest usually involved the Lakers taking back some awful contract that would have killed our cap flexibility for that and future seasons.  Third, I wondered whether his game would mesh with the team we had in place and whether or not all the previously mentioned factors would skew his role and make him out to be some sort of savior to our team and its championship aspirations (which is the exact type of mentality that inspires the dreaded “hero mode” from Artest that we all cheered for as opponents).  Basically, acquiring this type of player under these circumstances was a non-starter for me; I didn’t even want to have the conversation.

All that said, I have always been a fan of Artest’s talent and ability.  I’ve always viewed him as a very good player that could be a contributor on a title contender.  Though that belief was always dependent on what team he went to and if that team would have the requisite players, coaches, offensive and defensive systems, and environment to inspire Ron to contribute in a meaningful way.  You see, not all contenders are built the same.  And while they share many of the same ingredients, they don’t always have the same personalities or egos or schemes that would enable a player like Artest to make a positive, sustained impact.  But now, there is no more debating – Artest is a Laker.  He will be a member of this team and be depended on to contribute.  So, the question is: are the Lakers the team that can inspire the best that Artest has to offer?  Lets explore some of the variables on our team and how Ron will fit in.

Offense: It’s well understood that the Lakers are Triangle team.  Almost all of our players have either been brought in specifically because they provide the skills to contribute in this offense or because their talent level is so high that the coaches have seamlessly integrated them and gotten the most out of them as contributors.  Whether we’re discussing Luke or Gasol, Sasha or Odom, our guys have been viewed within the context of what roles they can fill in making our offense successful.  So, where does Ron fit in?

If we’re talking offensive skills, Ron Artest is the prototypical Triangle SF.  He can handle the ball to initiate offense, shoot the jumpshot from long or midrange, pass well, move well without the ball, set good screens, be a beast on the offensive glass, and a bull on the low block.  He’s just a fundamentally sound basketball player.  So within our offense, he should be able to utilize his full skill set and operate with a high level of efficiency.  I mean, Ron will have plenty of opportunities to shoot wide open jumpshots as the ball gets swung from strong to weak side after sideline Triangle initiations or pressure releases.  He should also see plenty of post up isolations at the elbow and the low block (ala Kobe) after he cuts to the weakside, sets down screens, and then looks to pin his man.  I would not be surprised to also see Ron operate out of the hub of the Triangle, have the strong side wings cut off of him, and then see Ron use his strength to get high percentage shots at the basket (ala Luke Walton).  Plus, with his perimeter skills, Ron provides the Lakers with another player that can run the P&R and make a good play for either himself or a teammate.  Needless to say, we’ve been looking for this type of all court and multi-skilled player to play SF for us for a long time as he can be a strong finisher in most, if not all, of our sets.

However, finishing is only one aspect of how the SF needs to be effective within our offense.  How will Artest operate within this offense when it’s a teammate and not him that’s in the best position to score?  As many have mentioned before, Ron is the type of player that likes the ball in his hands and likes to make decisions while he holds the ball.  Those instincts will have to be reeled in for him to be successful in this offense.  The Triangle is a system based off ball and player movement where reading and reacting to the opponents defensive tendencies create easy offense and quality shots.  As Michael Jordan once described it, the Triangle is an equal opportunity offense.  And when one player decides he’s going to hold the ball and search and probe for an opening, the offense can easily fall apart (or at least be greatly hampered and then very dependent on high level shot making – like the shots that Kobe takes and makes).  I mean, when Ron is at the pinch post and the cutting wing comes across looking for the hand off, will he deliver the ball or will he hold it and look for his own opportunity?  When he’s in the hub of the Triangle and the player that feeds the post cuts off his shoulder to the baseline side and is open, will he execute the drop pass or will he pound the rock and try to forcefully take his man?  When he has the ball on the extended wing will he make the post entry or will he motion for the big man to come out and set the screen so he can run P&R?  As I stated before, this is an offense with infinite options based off the reads made by the players on the floor.  If one player (especially the player with the ball) reads the defense a certain way, that will dictate the direction of the offense for that possession.  It’s a real concern that Ron will stall our offense as he’ll have ample opportunities to be a decision maker in determining how a possession unfolds.  Will he learn to read the defense in the manner that we need him to and in the manner that his role dictates?  These are all questions that concern me.

Defense: This is the area of the game where Artest will seemingly have his biggest impact.  Perennially considered one of the best defenders in the league and even winning the DPOY award in his career, Artest is used to having tough defensive assignments and revels in these challenges.  Artest’s combination of size, strength, length, anticipation, and good (but not great) lateral quickness has enabled him to excel defensively for his entire career.  But, how will all of these skills and attributes translate to the defensive scheme that we run?

Here is where it’s important to re-emphasize that the Lakers do not run a typical defensive scheme.  Yes, they play plenty of straight up man to man on ball handlers.  But behind the ball handler, the Lakers consistently played a strong side zone.  Ron will often be put in positions while guarding the ball where his goal isn’t only to stay between his man and the basket, but do so while funneling that man to where his help defense is located.  And while this all sounds quite standard, understand that the Lakers help defenders are often positioned in different positions than players in a traditional scheme.  Realize too that for elite on ball defenders, the main goal is to only clamp down their man – not necessarily to contain and shade them in a manner that maximizes the team’s defensive scheme.  He’ll also be asked to trap more than he has in the past and do so without fouling.

Plus, when he’s not guarding the ball and on the weakside, he’ll also be asked to be the helper in a non-traditional way.  Essentially, he’ll be put in situations where his first instinct on where to help may be incorrect.  For example, imagine Ron is on the weakside with Kobe (away from the ball) and then Fisher (guarding the ballhandler), Lamar, and Pau are forming our SSZ.  Now envision a skip pass is executed to Ron’s man (the SF) who is on the opposite wing.  Is it really Ron’s job to rotate to “his” man?  The answer may depend on where Kobe is and the positioning of the players that LO and Pau are matched up with while zoning up the strong side.  In this instance, Ron may actually have lane help responsibilities or he may need to replace (a vacated) Kobe and find the SG.  For such a strong defensive player, it seems strange to question if he’ll be able to play strong defense for us.  But, we are going to ask him to play a scheme that he’s never played before and with that comes a learning curve and also some mistakes.  And considering he’s such a headstrong player, will he be willing to buy into what our defensive concepts are and execute them in the manner that we need him to?  In the end, I think he will be, but it will take patience and teaching from our coaches and acceptance from the player.  This leads us to…

Coaching and Chemistry: It’s been reported that Phil Jackson will return for the final year of his contract.  This confirmation puts to end the rumors of Rambis or Coach K taking over and allows us to concentrate on how Phil will get the most out of Artest.  I actually think a move like this will invigorate Phil in that Artest is the type of player that is a challenge to coach – but challenges that lead to success are often the most rewarding.  In a previous post, Bill Bridges made two key points in regards to Phil and the (potential) mindset of the coaches going into next season:

Given PJ’s track record dealing with Rodman, he is the only one the Lakers could trust to capitalize on the Artest experiment. In other hands, this is a dangerous combustible experiment…The Lakers with Artest loses more regular season games while he learns the triangle and gets integrated into the defensive scheme but has a better chance controlling Denver and Cleveland.  I’ll take that.

As Bill Bridges implies, the Artest acquisition is where Phil’s player management skills will be depended on most.  With Ron now in the fold the rhetoric from Kobe, Fish, and Phil about this team being an easy one to coach or all the players being on the same page is (seemingly) obsolete.  Phil must not only reign in Ron’s penchant for breaking plays and playing outside the system, but he will also need to be patient and accepting of the inevitable growing pains that come with any addition of a new player (especially one the caliber of Artest).  I mean, we all marveled at Gasol’s ability to pick up our offense when he was traded for a season and a half ago.  But many forget Phil’s comments about us running a watered down/simplified version of the Triangle so that Pau would not have to endure such a large learning curve.  Phil may need to make similar adjustments (even with a full training camp) to incorporate Artest into the structure of the team.  As Bill Bridges notes, this may lead to less success in the regular season with the hope that we can grow as a team and gain momentum for another deep playoff run in defense of our championship.  As fans, many will see the addition of Artest and start to talk dynasty.  However, we must understand all facets of integrating a player like Artest and adjust our expectations accordingly.

Again, there will be a transition and adjustments to be made.  So, just like the coaches did with Pau, I can envision Phil using different strategies to take advantage of Ron’s strengths as a player – especially on defense.  Before this past season (particularly with the Bulls), Phil often used a switching man to man defense – relying heavily on versatile defenders that could cover multiple positions.  I would not be surprised to see the Lakers use this type of scheme more this season, especially if we have any combination of Kobe, Artest, Odom, Walton, Pau, Bynum, Fisher, and Sasha on the court.  All of these players have the athleticism, size, and/or strength to guard multiple positions with diverse skills.  I could also see Phil using Ron in the Odom role in our SSZ and using his instincts and defensive presence to maximize our defensive strategy.  In other words, I look for even more impact from the coaches this season whether they’re related to player management or strategic adjustments.

But it will not just be on the coaches.  The players are going to need to help Artest in his assimilation by accepting him into the team while also not being enveloped by his strong personality.  I think this will be easier with Kobe, Fisher, and Odom being forceful and/or charismatic leaders and deserving of respect (assuming that Ron’s long time friend Odom is retained).  But for the younger more impressionable Lakers, this may be more of a challenge and will need constant monitoring.  By all accounts, Ron is a very good teammate that is willing to back up his mates at any and all costs.  However, that type of recklessness can also inspire people to act in similar ways and I’d prefer that we take on the personality of our coach or Kobe or Fisher than that of the fiery (and borderline loose cannon) Artest.  One of the major strengths of our team has been our chemistry and any new acquisition will test that togetherness.  Will he fit in?  Will he be the chameleon or the peacock?  This aspect of him coming to the team may be just as important to his success on the Lakers as Ron will need to understand that he’s coming to a championship winning team that has a clear number one AND number two player.  And even after Kobe and Gasol, we have (hopefully) Odom and an up and coming Bynum.  Artest must adapt to his mates and his role and the team must be accepting of him and integrate him in a way where he’s also not completely neutered of the traits that make him the player he is.  It will take a balance and this is truly something to pay attention to.

In the end, there are many potential positives and pitfalls that come with this acquisition.  And there are many questions that remain unanswered.  On talent alone, we’ve added a high level contributor that is one of the best two way players in the league.  However, with all that talent comes the short fuse, the disregard of structure, and the potential mindset that he, the player knows best.  Over the past several seasons, we have grown as a team and went from not making the playoffs to eventually winning the title.  That type of growth can only come with a mindset that promotes the team over the individual and the acceptance of roles over the chase for glory.  We’re now going to see how a championship team does with Ron Artest as a key player to its success.  As I said before, I’m excited and terrified at the same time.  It truly is the gift and the curse.  We, as Lakers fans, must be prepared for any outcome to the upcoming season as we enter these uncharted waters.  One thing I do know is that it won’t be boring.  But will the end to next season look like the end to the most recent one?  Obviously that depends on more than just the newest Laker, but he will play a big role in the outcome.  I know we’ll all be watching to see how he does.