Archives For August 2009

Lakers Teams I Miss: 1979-80

Kurt —  August 28, 2009

It was the worst of times. Then it was the best of times.

There may never have been a more defining season in the history of the Lakers franchise than that of 1979-80 — it set the table for Showtime and the legend of Magic, it had Kareem near his peak, it had luck both good and bad, it started to define Jerry Buss as the ultimate sports team owner. Simply, it had everything.

The tale of that season really starts in the summer of 1976, when Tall Ships dominated New York Harbor while out in California Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak deiced to start a company called Apple Computers. In Los Angeles, the brain-trust of the then Jack Kent Cooke owned Lakers decided to let aging star Gail Goodrich walk in free agency — no small decision, Goodrich had just averaged 19.5 points per game and was one of the team’s best players. The NBA rules at that time meant the Lakers got compensated when a player left, even via free agency. Goodrich signed with the New Orleans Jazz, who gave the Lakers three picks, including their first pick in 1979.

Goodrich played in just 27 games that first year with the Jazz and by the 78-79 season was a shell of himself. He averaged 12.7 points per game that season, a role player behind Pistol Pete and Spencer Haywood. The Jazz were terrible that year, winning just 26 games. That gave the Lakers the top pick in the NBA draft.

That gave the Lakers Magic Johnson.

And that was the team that Jerry Buss bought from Cook in the 1979 summer (he also got the Forum and the LA Kings all for $67.5 million). The Lakers were a team that had the best center in the game in Kareem Abdul Jabbar, had a powerful front line that included Jim Chones, great role players like Norm Nixon and Jamal Wilkes who could step up, and they had depth (Michael Cooper and Spencer Haywood came off the bench).

Buss made changes, moving Jerry West from the coach’s seat to the front office and brought in Jack McKinney as coach. McKinney was of the school that you change the system to fit the talent you have (as opposed to Phil Jackson, who comes in with a system and the team needs to be molded to fit it).

Jack took all our skills and developed the perfect system for us… He knew we could run, and he didn’t mind giving us the freedom to run every chance we got.
—Magic Johnson

Magic brought not only his amazing skills as a passer and playmaker, but his unfettered love of the game to the table, something that started to change the city.

The moment Magic started smiling, I guess LA started smiling.
—Lou Adler

Opening night the Lakers are playing the Clippers on national television (just like the start of this season, although the number one pick is on the other team this time). It was a tight, back-and-forth game but Kareem hit a skyhook to win the game in the final second. Magic rushed down the court with all that enthusiasm and hugged a stunned Kareem.

Magic baptized him. He transformed him into an enthusiastic player.
—Paul Westhead on magic and Kareem

The Lakers raced out to a 10-4 start. Then on an off day, November 8, assistant coach Paul Westhead called McKinney and asked if he wanted to play tennis. He did, but his wife had the car, so McKinney hoped on his son’s bike and started riding through Palos Verdes to Westhead’s condo (where the courts were). Going down a hill, McKinney got to much momentum, and when he tapped the breaks to stop, McKinney went flying over the handlebar. The accident was something McKinney barely survived; he was slowed by a severe concussion and many injuries. He could not coach the Lakers in the short term, so Buss tapped Westhead. (Later that year McKinney would return to scout for the Lakers, but Buss never put him back in the coach’s chair. He eventually went on to coach Indiana the next season.)

Westhead stuck with McKinney’s system — the Lakers ran at every opportunity. But make no mistake, this was Kareem’s Lakers team. And he was dominant — he averaged 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game, his true shooting percentage was 61.6%. He went on to win his sixth and final MVP trophy that season.

For us, everything revolved around Kareem Abdul Jabbar from the moment I arrived for my first training camp until the 1986-87 season, when Pat Riley restructured our attack, and focused most of it around me. As the team’s point guard, I almost always had the basketball, but the screens, the cuts, the openings, they all keyed on Kareem. He was my anchor during my first 10 seasons.
—Magic Johnson.

The Lakers went on to win 60 games, with a league-best offense that scored 109.5 points per 100 possessions (for comparison, that great Lakers offense last season averaged 112.9, but played at a muh slower pace). They steamrolled through the Suns and defeated Sonics in the playoffs. They looked in control in the West. Then they ran in to Dr. J and the 76ers in the NBA Finals.

The two teams were evenly matched — the two teams split the first four games of that series. But the Lakers seemed to have the advantage, the difference maker seemed to be Kareem, the Sixers had no good answer for him (nobody did).

Then in game five, Kareem sprained his ankle. He played through it, and scored 40 points in the Lakers 108-103 win. But there would be no Captain for game six.

It was Magic that took the opening tip for the Lakers, and it was Magic that played center (and more).

On the first play, he came down in the low post and took a turnaround hook shot. He took a Kareem hook shot. The rest of the game he played everywhere. He played guard. He played forward. Everyone sees him as playing center. That helped us. People forget Jamal Wilkes had 37 points in that game.
—Paul Westhead

Magic, a 20-year-old rookie, finished the game with 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists, and the Lakers won the title 123-107.

I felt like I could do anything
—Magic on game six

From there, Showtime grew. The Lakers and Celtics rivalry grew the NBA. Magic grew the love of basketball and the Lakers in Los Angeles. Buss kept making smart moves, and largely letting his basketball people handle the basketball things.

It was the start of the Lakers we think of today. And it all came together in one season.

Quotes taken from Lakers Glory.

Eurobasket preview

Xavier Sánchez —  August 25, 2009

FIBA World Basketball Championship - Day 15
Regular readers here at FB&G know Xavier, our friend the professional coach in Barcelona. He was kind enough to throw a few words together for us previewing Eurobasket starting in just a little over a week. I did make some edits around Sasha, who is off that team now, but the points are Xavier’s. —Kurt

On September 7th the FIBA Eurobasket 2009 tournament in Poland starts [link to the schedule]. I was talking to Kurt about it and he asked me which teams were worthy of seeing and I offered myself to write a small piece about it. In this long summer without any basketball, getting some international action will please us basketball junkies.
I’m disappointed that some teams are missing key players but are still pretty interesting to watch. Let’s have a look at what teams are bringing to Poland.

CONTENDERS

Greece: They have lost 4 players that could perfectly fit in their starting 5, top playmakers Papaloukas and Diamantidis, and frontcourt players Papadopoulus and Tsartsaris, but they still can put a very competitive five on the floor most of the time, lead by star SG the explosive scorer Vassilis Spanoulis. With Papaloukas out the team won’t play that much the high pick&roll, which you Americans might remember from 2006 in Japan. I’m intrigued to see them integrating two young upcoming players: Calathes and Koufos. You both know them, greek players with American education and college experience. I’ve been disappointed by Koufos season in Utah but I believe he’ll eventually flourish. Two years ago, in the U18 Euro tournament he was the MVP followed by Rubio and dominated every single post player, I think he’s gonna do good.

Slovenia: They are missing two players, but will be a big threat without them. One is Nesterovic, if you consider him an important player. The other was Sasha Vujacic, who was trying to play for his national team for the first time, playing in that European style for the first time, and apparently did not blend that well (also, his knee could have been part of the problem). Only scoring PG Lakovic, former NBA Nachbar and post player Matjas Smodis can be considered big names but the rest of players are above average. Slovenia is the country in the world that has more professional basketball players per habitant, it might give you a hint of the passion they have for this sport. It will be interesting to see Suns young PG Goran Dragic and Primoz Brezec who returns to the NBA this year to play for the 76ers.

Spain: This team has lost Calderon this summer and former captain Jimenez but the Spaniards are so deep and talent that anything but gold would be a big failure. Marc Gasol will make us look back at the Pau trade and think it wasn’t that lopsided. Navarro is coming of a ACB MVP season and Rudy Fernandez is nothing but a rising star. Then you also have seasoned veterans and young upcoming talent as Portland draftee Victor Claver (remember I talked about him by draft time), Sergio Llull and the guy Bill Simmons and half of the basketball world is enamored with Ricky Rubio. It’s a delight watching this team play ball and with no USA playing in euros tournament, there’s no way any team can upset them.

UNDERDOGS

Lietuva (Lithuania):
As did Greece, Lithuania has lost too many important players such as Jasikevicius, Macijauskas or Siskauskas. Jasikevicius will be missed, a lot. He’s the heart and soul of the team but he really needed a summer off. The team will present a very interesting frontcourt with Lavrinovic twins and Robertas Javtokas holding the fort and Jasaitis and Kleiza will provide 3 point shooting. At the end, I think the Jasikevicius absence will be too much. If they overcome that loss, they could be in the top level.

Croatia: A very solid team but without flashy names. Pretty consistent and above average. Nikola Vujcic comes back to the national team after 4 years and seeing how Roko Ukic does when he’s getting big minutes might be the big two storylines following this team.

Latvia and Turkey: Both teams are led by NBA stars, Biedrins and Turkoglu, and have interesting core of players around. Maybe Turkoglu has the better sidekick in Ersan Ilyasova, who had a one year stint in The Bucks in 06-07 and spend the last to years in Spain. This year he’s back in a Bucks uniform and will battle for the starting PF position.

OTHER TEAMS THAT MAY BE WORTH SEEING

Russia: The current Eurobasket champ, only has one of their previous starting five. No Holden, Savrasenko, Kirilenko or Pashutin. Imagine the 2004 Pistons champions losing Billups, Hamilton, Prince and Sheed, well that’s this Russian team. They still have Khryapa and they have recently made an express passport to the American Kelly McCarthy but that’s not enough. Its their time to show the world something good if they want to be considered a team to be feared, but I’m not confident they will.

Israel: They have a couple interesting players worth of seeing: SG Yotam Halperim, a very skilled scorer and Lior Eliyahu, that has been teasing with the idea of going to the NBA for some years. It’s a shame Omri Casspi isn’t playing this year but he’s decided to devote him to his new team the Kings.

Serbia: Outside of Nenad Krstic, Popovic (26) and Kecman (33), every single player is under 24. Milicic, after ripping the Italian referees in 07 Eurobasket [ video] will never play again for its NT, Stojakovic, Jaric, Vujanic and Radmanovic are too old for this and the sensational scorer Rakocevic finished this season injured so he decided to have a summer off. This team will show up the future of the country and I can tell you its pretty bright.

THE REST


Germany,
Without Dirk and Kaman, who is a no show. What the hell, even with them the team is a no show! I hope Dirkmania brings Germany some basketball fever.

Great Britain has very little talent. Well, there is the NBA’s Azubuike, Deng and Gordon, but none of them are playing. It might only be worth watching new Rocket Pops Mensah-Bonsu jumping up and down and one of many Blazers draftees Freeland.

Magic fans will be rooting for the home team, Poland, as the polish hammer is playing for them. But that’s all what you’ll see, Marcin Gortat. And if they are lucky, they may also have flashes of Maciej Lampe, former NBA who did not much in the states.

And as for Macedonia, I have very few things to say other than they have a couple of American guys with Macedonian passport, Massey and Washington that can play some ball and that a “macedonia” is a dessert consisting of a salad of different fruits cut in small pieces with its juice pretty common in Spain.

The qualifying tournament hasn’t finished yet so we don’t know which team will get the final berth, once I know it I’ll give Kurt some new information.
Let me know if any of you plans on catching any action and if you are interested we could discuss some of it.
– Xavier Sánchez.

NBA 2009 - Lakers Beat Clippers 88-85
Looking for an off-season topic for a day, most of the members of the TrueHoop Network are putting up a post about their second favorite team for this season. During the D’Antoni years, even though they were serious competition for the Lakers, it was the Suns that I would watch no matter whom they played. The Bulls were fun for about a year. This year, I think I found my team.

My second favorite NBA team changes season to season, but bottom line is I just want to be entertained. And this go around, no underdog is going to be more entertaining than the Clippers.

They have one my favorite players in Baron Davis who, when his body isn’t betraying him or when he hasn’t mentally checked out, is just flat out fun to watch. Davis went to India this off-season, had some sort of epiphany (we can all hope that enlightenment involves ignoring Mike Dunleavy when he tells Davis to slow it down), and he promises to try this season. Then there’s Blake Griffin, who was fun to watch at Summer League and made me a believer, and he seemed to have instant chemistry with Eric Gordon.

And the list goes on — they’ve got emerging young guys like Al Thornton, plus a front-line combo of Marcus Camby and DeAndre Jordan that promises to give you one coming-from-the-weakside shot block into the third row every game. If all else fails, you can just mock Chris Kaman and Mark Madsen.

I can hear it now: “But you’re a Lakers fan, you can’t root for the rival Clippers.” Yes I can, the Clippers are not rivals. Rivals are relatively equal teams battling for something important. The Celtics are rivals. The Clippers are more like roommates.

Since it’s the Clippers, there’s the strong possibility this season will go wrong in a spectacular fashion. That’s fun to watch too, in a Macbeth sort of way. Either way, I’m good with the Clippers this season. I want them to get the eighth seed in the West, so the first round is a Hallway Series at Staples Center. I really, really want that.

Fast Break Thoughts.

Kurt —  August 18, 2009

NBA Playoffs Los Angeles Lakers vs Houston Rockets in Houston
Tis’ summer, when the sun shines bright and NBA bloggers turn to bullet points.

• During the Magic 50th birthday celebration, NBATV went on the Magic marathon, which Darius watched:

One thing that has struck me while watching all of his classic performances on NBA TV over the past several days is how quickly he advanced the ball on almost every single possession. He covered so much ground because of his size, but he also was always unselfish enough to pass the ball ahead much more than what PG’s do today. On many possessions, he would take one dribble and then just pass ahead – to Cooper, to Scott, to Norm Nixon, to Worthy, to whoever was open or had a step on his man. Nowadays, primary ball handlers or offensivie iniators feel the need to monopolize the ball and trust *their* decision to make the play rather than give the ball up to an advancing teammate. Magic was just the opposite in that any player that was in a better position then him to make a play with the ball was the guy that he sought out. Sure, Magic would walk the ball up or call out a half court set or run the break in a traditional way where he was the primary play maker. But so many times he would make a baseball pass to an open teammate streaking up the sideline or he would throw a chest pass ahead to someone who only had a few inches of separation in order to create an easy bucket. Just an amazing player when it came to understanding who was in a position to hurt the opponent

• Back to our earlier discussion about the Lakers salaries, and Gary’s calculations that Buss really is only paying out about $100 million. The master of all things NBA/Lakers financial, Larry Coon, had a comment:

I don’t think it’s kosher to subtract the salary of the first round pick from a total that never included that salary to begin with.

Likewise, the escrow reimbursement mitigated 2008-09 expenses, so shouldn’t be applied to 2009-10.

That said, in addition to the windfall from the 2008-09 escrow, the owners are pretty certain to get all the 2009-10 escrow money — which means the payroll (but not the tax) will actually be 9% cheaper.

So with a payroll of $91,341,066 (the similar amount that was listed above is incorrect), the net payroll cost is $83,120,370. Add the tax of $21,421,066 and you get $104,541,436. Subtract the “found” $4.5M for the draft pick trades, and the end result is $100,041,436. Close enough to $100M to deem it “mission accomplished” for Kupchak — especially since the true payroll costs (and therefore the true tax costs) are inexact, and rely on end-of-year reconciliations like adjusting for bonuses that were earned or not earned.

• By the way, really interesting numbers here from CBS Sports. The Lakers take in nearly $2 million per home game. They also have the lowest number of people who don’t show up to use their tickets. These numbers also show what Rambis is up against in Minny.

• Great stuff from the Brothers K linking to an old Jim Murray article about Chick Hearn, a fantastic trip down memory lane.

• If you haven’t done it already, check out Kids in Seats. A fantastic program and their twitter fundraiser is still going on.

• Man am I happy to see Don Draper back on my television.

This photo touch-up cracked me up.

• The Lakers want you to have a shot of tequila.

• Finally, I’m late to this (I think Eric Pincus found it first), but if you have not seen this video, it is more than worth the 9+ minutes. Amazingly slick and well done, a great trip through Lakers history.

David Beckham and sons at the LA Lakers game
I’ve been lucky. Growing up in Los Angeles I got to go to the occasional Lakers game because the company seats where my mom worked would fall to her once or twice a season. As I got older and had a little disposable income, shares of season tickets and purchases for individual games were within my reach.

But with the price of Lakers tickets, for a lot of the team’s young fans seeing the Lakers play in person is a nearly impossible dream.

That’s where Kids in Seats comes in. The new company gets season ticket holders — both personal and corporate — to donate their unused season tickets to them, and that donation is tax deductible. In turn they pass those tickets off to organizations that work with underprivileged youth, and that kid also gets a hot dog and a drink. Basically, the ticket that nobody at a law firm can use instead goes to a needy kid for whom a trip to see the Lakers play Sacramento on a Tuesday night is a cherished childhood memory. KIS also does this for Dodgers and other sporting events in town.

It’s a great cause, the kind Forum Blue & Gold supports.

And you can support too — Kids in Seats is doing a Twitter fundraiser starting tomorrow (Saturday, Aug. 15) and running for 10 days. They are asking people to make a small donation for each new twitter follower they pick up starting Saturday. One little thing you can do is log on and become a follower of theirs on Twitter. Or, you can donate for each new twitter follower they pick up.

As part of this, they also are doing a virtual bake sale — you can donate for each cupcake their twitter followers send. And some lucky twitter followers will get a real cupcake from Essential Chocolate Desserts in Culver City.

Or, just log on and donate directly. And if you have access to season tickets that don’t always get used, here’s a way to get a tax write off and help a needy youth at the same time.

Anything you can do helps. Because to me, getting to see a Lakers game live should be part of growing up in Los Angeles, and we can help make that happen.