Archives For July 2009

Waiting For Lamar

Kurt —  July 20, 2009

As we all wait for Lamar Odom’s decision (and it’s guesswork on everyone’s part when that will come down) here is a little reminder of just how much fun he can be. And why Lakers fans love him.

Final Notes from Vegas

Kurt —  July 18, 2009

KINGS - Bucks
As the Lamar Odom saga unfolds, here is one reminder — nobody tells a reporter something without a motive. For example, the Jim Hill exclusive that Lamar Odom called Dr. Buss (which I’m sure happened), who would benefit from that being leaked? Odom would: The Lakers said Buss was angry they got no response at all to their offer, the way to counter that with PR is to not only make the call but leak that you made the call. We have no idea what actually was said on that call, by the way. Read Stein’s ESPN piece and he is clearly getting info from the Odom camp (including an inflated savings number on state income tax). Read Turner at the LA Times or Teaford at the Daily News and they are clearly plugged into the Lakers front office.

As I said before, in the end the Lakers and Odom need each other to get any kind of deal done that makes everyone happy (I still just don’t think he settles for a full MLE offer, and the Lakers don’t want him to go for nothing). They will be talking again because, at the end of the day, they have no choice.

• Rumor here in Vegas is the Lakers are going to offer Chinemelu Elonu and Tony Gaffney invites to training camp. Neither really has any chance to make the roster, but a camp invite is a good way to get noticed. I would love for the Lakers to find a way to keep Gaffney in their system; he has a world of potential athletically and has a great work ethic. He was slowed here in Vegas due to injury, but showed some flashes in the Lakers last game and people in the know are high on him. He’s the kind of guy who starts the season as the 14th man and by the end is getting regular minutes. He is going to be a fan favorite somewhere next year.

• Tyreke Evans could develop into a good NBA PG. He is long and quick for the position, and that could make him a good NBA defender. Something he showed flashes of here — he has caused problems for guys with his length changing shots and deflecting passes. He has a good first step on offense. The first few games it was if he forgot how to pass — at one point at the end of a close game he came down the court five straight possessions and never gave the ball up — but by Friday he was doing a better setting up teammates especially on penetration. Still some things to work on, like finishing among the NBA trees, but that should come.

Craftsteak at the MGM is amazing.

• The two bigs the Kings drafted, Casspi and Brockman, could turn out to be decent bench minute guys. Casspi really battles, particularly on the offensive boards. Needs some bulk but the fire is there and he has a nice outside shot.

• Jordan Hill, the Arizona product taken by the Knicks (after Curry was taken, crushing the hopes of Knicks fans) may be a good NBA power forward, or may be a bust, but we won’t know for a while. He doesn’t operate well in a crowd, but showed flashes in space. He needs to develop a jumper and a consistent passion for rebounding. Simply put, it will be two years before we really know if that was a good pick of not. That shouldn’t be a problem though, the fans in New York are renowned for their patience.

Game 5 - Magic vs. Lakers
Here’s what I think is the ultimate truth about the Lakers/Odom negotiations: They still need each other.

Unless Odom wants to walk away for the MLE — and he doesn’t, he already turned up his nose at more money than that from the Lakers — Odom and the Lakers have to agree on whatever deal gets done.

Here are the most-likely outcomes: 1) Odom signs some kind of deal with the Lakers; 2) Odom’s agent sets up a sign-and-trade with Miami (it will not be Dallas, the Lakers will not send Odom to a potential title contender in the West). Either of those options involves the Lakers signing off on the deal. So, to borrow Tom Ziller’s line, this is really more or less that the Lakers and Odom have hit the pause button on negotiations. They are going to have to talk again. Right now it sounds as if Buss and others are almost letting this get personal, a cooling off period could be good.

Don’t delude yourself into thinking the Lakers are better off without Odom — the best proof is that last season he led the Lakers in +/-, the Lakers outscored opponents by 16.4 points per 48 minutes when he was on the floor. Second was Kobe at 12.1. The simple truth is that good things happened for the Lakers when he was on the floor. He came up big in the playoffs. His versatility cannot easily be replaced. There are some intriguing pieces on the Heat roster (Chalmers, for one) but any move the Lakers make here is not going to make a title more likely.

Can the Lakers win a title without Odom? Yes, but the margin of error is now non-existent. Bynum has to be healthy and playing at his peak. Artest has to fit in swimmingly. Bench guys like Sasha and Jordan cannot struggle for long stretches. Everything has to go right. And that’s a lot to ask.

• By the way, people keep talking about the state tax issue in Texas and Florida. That is not as big a deal as you think — the players are taxed per game at the rates in the states they play. Meaning, when the Heat come and play the Lakers, Wade et al get taxed at California rates. When the Lakers go to Dallas, they get taxed at Texas rates. Basically, to play in a state with no income tax impacts only 50% of your checks, and while there are some savings it’s not as dramatic as some lead to believe.

• Watched two Lakers Summer League games now and here’s what I’ve learned about Adam Morrison: His knee is healthy. Everything else that he has shown we already knew.

When he is given space, his shot is still pure. Part of the challenge for Morrison in Summer League is that while his role should be spot-up shooter, he is the guy expected to create offense in Vegas. He is crowded by defenders and is having to create off the dribble, which he cannot do at the NBA (or even Summer League) level. When he is just asked to shoot — Tuesday there was one inbounds play where he comes off two screens and gets a baseline 18-foot catch-and-shoot — he looks good. But when asked here to show off more dimensions to his game he struggles.

The question going forward a simple one: Come training camp can he prove he can play to his strengths 10 minutes a night? When out with the second unit and Odom/Artest/Gasol draws the double and kicks out, does he understand his role well enough to get to the open space then can he drain the open shot. Two years ago Sasha played that role well, and if he gets his shot back it could be hard for Morrison to get the minutes (Sasha is the better defender). But that is all that Morrison is going to be — a 10-minute-a-night gunner. Don’t think the scoring totals from Vegas means anything more.

• James Harden is smooth. Strong first step and made some nice plays coming off the high pick, can finish in traffic, has the great J. On several occasions he was the outlet and led the fast break. Pretty much loved everything he did, and he is going to be a great fit next to Westbrook. I think I underestimated him at Arizona State but as Ty from lakers.com pointed out, in college he was constantly tripled teamed because, well, who else did you fear on that squad?

• Toney Douglas, the Florida State guard the Lakers drafted in the first round then traded to the Knicks, impressed. He was confident and making smart decisions with the ball, had some nice drive and kicks, just ran the offense like a pro (although much slower than D’Antonio must have wanted, it was basically an “at least 7 seconds” system). He had a rough game shooting (2-11) but nobody thought that was the trend. He’s not super athletic, he’s not going to be the next Chris Paul, but he will be a serviceable, smart backup PG for years in the league.

• Another guy in that same mold is Ty Lawson, who will be backing up Billups in Denver this year. Smart choices, especially in transition. Real floor general.

• Eric Gordon and Blake Griffin make a deadly pick-and-roll combo. Often bigs coming out of college are not very good at setting picks, but Griffin is a wall. Gordon hugs tighter off the pick than most guards than explodes, and is great at keeping his defender on his hip. Blake rolls hard to the basket and has great hands. They are going to score a lot of points with that next season.

• Tweet of the day from David Thorpe (and expressed what I thought exactly): I’m not sure what Hasheem means in his native language, but I’d guess it’s not “plays with fire”.

• Maybe the two best dunks I’ve seen here came from Anthony Randolph in one game (a game where he scored 42 to tie the Vegas Summer League record). First he got the ball on the wing (left alone) and made a big one dribble-move, the help defender rotated over late and Randolph pushed him out of the way with a Dwight Howard like move and threw down the tomahawk. Later in the same game Stephen Curry is leading the break and does the off-the-backboard pass to a trailing Randolph. The guy can finish.

• By the way, the other two guys to score 42 in a Summer League game? Von Wafer and Marcus Banks. That should tell you all you need to know about the level of play in Vegas.

Odom Equilibrium

Zephid —  July 14, 2009

LAKERS

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.

-Zephid

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.

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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.