Archives For August 2009

Happy 50th Birthday Magic

Kurt —  August 14, 2009

Annual Harold Pump Foundation Gala Honoring Magic Johnson And Bill Russell
It seems fitting that today in downtown Los Angeles, a huge Lakers-sponsored 3-on-3 basketball tournament gets underway, one that is going to take over blocks of a revitalized downtown and bring hundreds and hundreds of people to play hoops. (You can go down and watch or still play, just follow the link.)

None of that may have been possible without Magic Johnson.

Sure, the Lakers were a popular team in LA, but they were sort of the Buffalo Bills of the NBA, having been beat (usually by the Celtics) everytime they went to the Finals until the ’72 breakthrough year. But the arrival of Magic Johnson (paired with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and later James Worthy as well) changed that. Magic was a winner, from his first game when he ran over and hugged a stunned Kareem, to his first NBA Finals when he played the deciding game in the post because Kareem was out, to the baby skyhook in the Boston Garden. Magic won, and did it with flare. Three MVPs, nine trips to the Finals and five rings. He changed the franchise.

There was the day Magic announced he had HIV, which at the time was generally thought of as a death sentence. He helped change that perception and brought real awareness of the ongoing fight against the disease and how to live with it to the public at large.

Really, for the good of Los Angeles, that is just half the story. After Magic left the Lakers he did not leave Los Angeles, he invested in it. He invested in the urban, poor neighborhoods that nobody else would, and got big name companies to join him (but not without considerable work). He showed corporations they could make money in areas that before they had feared to tread, and while those floodgates have never truly opened, they are more open now than they have been.

In that sense, what is going on today in Downtown Los Angeles is a credit to him. The Lakers would not be the Lakers without him, the passion and love of the team and the game in Los Angeles would not be as deep without him. Investment in urban areas such as downtown would be much less farther along without him.

Los Angeles would not be the same without him. Thank you Magic, and happy birthday.

Fast Break Thoughts

Kurt —  August 13, 2009

Celebrities arrive for the Lakers Game in Los Angeles, CA
Some things to catch up on after a long vacation for me:

• Really interesting post by a regular here and around the Lakers nation, over at the Lakers Usenet group Gary posted about the Lakers salary figure for this year:

(With the Odom deal) This makes the payroll $91,367,313 right now, with a potential luxury tax hit of an additional $21,447,313 if they are unable to shed any salary as the season unfolds, for a potential total payroll expense of $112,814,626.

Some of that has been recouped since the end of the season, with the $3 million coming from the Knicks for the 29 pick, the $1,660,400 salary + tax saved by selling that pick, the (estimated, I never saw a good figure but this is what Houston was giving for their 2R purchases) $1.5 for selling the 42 pick to Miami, and the $6,467,847 (escrow fund cash payment) and $363,087 (benefits payment reduction for the coming season) that they received on July 29.

Since all of this can rightly be seen as direct salary offset, that brings the real dollar payroll liability right now to…$99,823,292.

Remember when Larry (Coon) said the payroll budget for this year was $100 million? I think he was on to something, with a few table dances for Jerry to spare.

• Regarding Kwame a.’s fantastic post about the other contenders — after thinking about it, my contention is the Lakers are the contender with the largest margin for error. Last season they went into the playoffs with Bynum hobbling around on one leg and two key bench players (Vujacic and Farmar) shooting worse than I do in pickup games at the beach on a windy day. They still won the title. Going into next season they still have that cushion of not needing to have everything be perfect to win a ring.

You can’t say that for the Spurs or Celtics — if any of their key players are not 100% they are in trouble, and because of the age of those teams that is a serious concern. For Cleveland, having Shaq take up the minutes of the corpse of Ben Wallace is an upgrade. And for the record, I don’t buy the “Shaq will clog the lane theory” all that much — he won his titles with Kobe and Wade, two slashers who got to the rim. He can play with those guys (although Mike Brown’s offensive “system” is a concern for them). But what hurt Cleveland in the playoffs was a lack of consistent three point shooting and the inability to defend the pick-and-roll, and their off-season moves simply their off-season moves did not address the pick and roll issue. Basically, I still think you can attack Cleveland.

Orlando really gets two new players — Vincanity and a healthy Jameer Nelson. Last playoffs, if you could force Orlando deep into the shot clock, the result was Hedo launching a contested shot 95% of the time, but with Carter and Nelson creating their own shots that is one flaw that goes away. The team will be better for just having reached the Finals and been through that experience. They added depth along the front line. Carter kind of ends up like I see Artest — I think it should work out well, but it could go really wrong, too. Time will tell. But I kind of think Orlando is my favorite to come out of the East.

• Interesting post over at basketball statistics about the Lakers shooting trends through the shot clock.

http://basketball-statistics.com/blog1/2009/08/13/exploring-shot-types-at-the-team-level-los-angeles-lakers/

• Maybe the highlight of my vacation was taking in a game at Fenway Park. Not the Red Sox, who were out of town, but the “Futures Games” featuring two Red Sox minor league affiliates (Pawtucket and Portland). Fenway is a fun, intimate ballpark where you really feel on top of the action. The crowd is knowledgeable and into it. Just a great setting. But for the record Fenway Franks do not compare to the grilled Dodger Dogs.

Lakers celebrate their 15th NBA Championship with a parade in Los Angeles
Welcome to the off-season, when little things become big things because there is nothing else to talk about.

To me, that’s the case with the two current “hot topics” around the Lakers this week.

First there is the finger injury to Pau Gasol, which according to the best report I’ve read a ruptured interphalangeal ligament on the index finger of his left hand. To be fair it is not nothing — they don’t do surgery on nothing (especially when you can consult your mom the doctor like Gasol, who apparently was good with the anti-Kobe approach). I’m no doctor, but the reading I did on this didn’t scare me, it seems easily reparable. It’s on his left hand, which is not his dominant had but with Gasol’s amazingly diversified attack he scores plenty of points and makes plenty of passes with that hand.

So he is going to be out of action for at least three weeks, and may or may not after that play for Spain in the European Championships. I wouldn’t go blaming this injury on his playing for Spain — this is the thing that could have happened at a pickup game in El Segundo. Gasol goes up for a block and things go bad, that’s just luck.

To me, here’s what matters: The Lakers do not report to training camp for about six weeks, and do not play a game that matters until October 27. Which means Gasol will be there when it matters and I bet his finger will be just fine when he slides that championship ring over it.

I feel sort of the same way about losing Kurt Rambis — I wish it didn’t happen but it’s not that big a deal for the Lakers. At least short term, in this case.

Yes, Rambis was essentially the defensive coordinator for the Lakers last season (and the Lakers finished sixth in the league in defensive efficiency), but what he devised was not of triangle offense level of complexity. Really, its focus was on simplicity and making it clear to the defender what his role and responsibilities were. This is the kind of thing that the rest of the staff should easily be able to take over.

I, for one, am glad Rambis finally got another chance — I think he is primed for this and is going to a good situation with core of good, young players and a GM willing to be aggressive. (How good a GM he is, the book is far from finished, but he will take chances,) And to me Rambis is a far, far better choice than the rumored other front-runner Mark Jackson.

Rambis could not sit around waiting for Jackson to retire and hoping that Buss decides to go with him instead of another big name from the outside. We may have thought Rambis the logical successor, but could he really bank on that? You have to take the opportunities in life when they present themselves, you can’t hold out for what might be.

The Lakers do have the “who’s next?” question, but first we have to see if Jackson really will walk away from the roughly $12 million Buss will offer for another season. Jackson has money, sure, but that is a lot to walk away from. Then the issue is simply Shaw — no experience but keeping things the same and a guy it is known the players like — or bringing in a big name from the outside. I would favor Shaw (although the leash would be pretty short) but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, it’s the off-season and the stories out there just aren’t really stories.

Fast Break Thoughts

Zephid —  August 9, 2009

Clothesline!

(Revenge is sweet, b****!)

Now I know why Kurt went on vacation: now is the most difficult time of the year for basketball fans.  Summer league is over, most of free agency is over, and camp is around the corner but not quite near enough to begin discussing the next season.  Needless to say, we basketball fanatics are pining for any scrap of bball we can get, and there is, quite frankly, nothing going on.  Some of the little tid bits flying around are…

  • It seems it is finally official that Kurt Rambis is taking over as head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves.  Kurt (Rambis, not Helin) was always one of the big potential answers to, “who the heck do we turn to when Phil Jackson finally decides he’s done winning championships?”  I, for one, think that Minnesota is a half-way decent place for a fairly neophytic head coach to go (not quite as appealing as OKC or Chicago), considering expectations will be low, he won’t be in the LA lime-light, and the Wolves seem to have a nice core going around Jefferson and Love.
  • Now the question becomes, “If not Kurt, then who?”  The obvious answer is Brian Shaw, and he does seem like a good candidate, considering he’s both coached and played in the system.  But, he would be a first-time head coach, 0 games coached compared to Rambis’ 37.  Yea, Brian Shaw knows the system, but assuming PJ retires within 2-3 years (cross your fingers he stays that long), will Shaw be able to capture the respect of guys like Lamar Odom, Kobe Bryant, and of course, Ron “Crazy Pills” Artest.
  • Now that Odom has finally been re-signed, really the only issue left unresolved is Kobe’s extension.  This is just a personal hunch with no factual backing whatsoever, but I get the feeling the Kobe has always felt a little left out of the Summer 2010 Lebronanza.  Really, the ball is in Kobe’s court, as the Lakers will give in to whatever demands he wants, barring a unicorn ride onto the court.  He can re-sign this summer, next summer, the summer after, whenever.  And the Lakers will give him whatever he wants, whenever he wants, because he’s Kobe Bryant.  But, just for the heck of it, I think Kobe wants to inject a little of himself and crash Lebron’s big party in 2010.  And the funny thing is, we know he’s coming back, he knows he’s coming back, the Lakers know he’s coming back, the rest of the league knows he’s coming back, and anyone in the whole world with any semblance of knowledge about basketball knows he’s coming back.
  • This last one is just for fun, and is a little old, but you’d think a freakish athlete like Shannon Brown would have some sort of crazy workout regimen to maintain or improve his crazy athleticism.  Then, you find out, he doesn’t lift weights, and you just feel like life’s skills/attributes distribution is completely unfair.

Edit: I wish I had the photo-shopping skills to switch Rambis and McHale in their infamous mid-air meeting, with Rambis and McHale in suits, except with Rambis taking McHale on a face-first trip to the hardwood.  Trust me, if someone does this, we’ll find some way to get it into a post.

Edit: Thanks to Chad for the above pic.  Exactly what I was looking for.

Game 5 - Magic vs. Lakers

Numb to the moment, we see Kobe Bryant walk off the floor, his head down in shame.  Eerily similar to what had happened the year before, Bryant again walks off the court with streamers falling over his head, his opponents triumphant at his expense.  We can see the rage burning in his eyes, the frustration, the pain from having come so far and failing yet again when he was so close.  They had climbed the summit, just as they had done the year before, only to fall at the last possible step, when the goal seemed so attainable.  It is June 14, 2009, and the Orlando Magic have just won the 2009 NBA Title.

Following the blow-out loss in Game 1, the Magic came back with intense passion, Rashard Lewis leading the way with 34 strong points and shooting 6-12 from the three point line, squeaking out a Game 2 win on Courtney Lee’s last second lay-up, shifting the entire dynamic of the series and stealing the precious home court advantage that the Lakers played 82 long, hard games to earn.  After a Game 3 barrage which saw the Magic victorious, shooting 75% from the field in the first half, the Magic snuck out of Game 4 with a win after a near-collapse, culminating in Derek Fisher missing a last second desperation three, going 0-6 from the three point line for the night.  With the Lakers down 3-1 on the ropes, the Magic closed out in Game 5 with a strong performance from Dwight Howard, garnering a record 9 blocks, and Rashard Lewis, who scored 33 points including 7-12 from the three point line.

As we see the streamers falling down around our players, we can’t help but wonder, “Will this team ever get it done?  How many times will we come this far only to fail?”  With off-season issues looming, especially the re-signing of Trevor Ariza and Lamar Odom, how long will it be till we get another chance like this?

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

We all know this isn’t what happened.  The Lakers got the bounces, made the big shots when they mattered, and came out with some hard-fought wins over a damn good Magic team.  But imagine if that had happened.

Now, we hear a report that Rashard Lewis was found to have an elevated testosterone level sometime last season.  I’ve yet to read any reliable sources as to when the actual sample was taken, so we don’t really know what time frame we’re working with.  But, Lewis was hurt at the end of the regular season and actually missed a couple of games against the Sixers in the first round, and he made a surprisingly quick recovery.  The supplement Lewis claims to have taken, DHEA, has disputed effects on testosterone levels and seems to have no intended use in athletics (the Mayo Clinic tells me that DHEA is mostly used for patients with low natural DHEA levels, depression, induction of labor, and the treatment of lupus).

So what if?  What if the Lakers had lost the championship, our entire 2008-2009 campaign going down in flames?  We hear that a possible steroid user was (highly) involved in the games that decided our championship fate as well as the fates of several other teams.  The league has suspended Lewis 10 measly games, but he stole our championship!  Probably most, if not all of us, would be decrying the use of steroids as the work of the devil and all things evil.  But is that really the case, and how heinous is the use of steroids in sports?

Steroid use is no where near as big a deal in the NBA as it is in the NFL and not even close to the level of the MLB.  Many experts argue that the effects of steroids, such as muscle growth, aren’t as desirable in basketball as they are in other, more brutish sports, like rugby or American football.  The list of NBA steroid offenders is relatively small, the list including Matt Geiger, Don McLean, Soumaila Samake, Lindsey Hunter, and possibly the most famous, Darius Miles.  But, none of these players are bona fide stars of Rashard Lewis’ level: an All-Star caliber player, playing a big role on a high-profile team, and easily one of the top 50 players in the league.  And none of the other player’s affected the league as much as Rashard Lewis did last season, where it was his shooting and his match-up problems that eliminated were huge reasons as to why Orlando eliminated both the Boston Celtics and the heavily-favored Cleveland Cavaliers.

Perhaps those with more knowledge of biology and chemistry can fill us in as to what exactly steroids like DHEA do, and how do they affect a sport like basketball, where brute strength is not the most desirable quality (unless you’re Shaquille O’Neal).  Now I am against the use of steroids to make yourself stronger or faster or whatever, but where do we draw the line?  I am all for the use of steroids and other medications to help an athlete recover from injury, but where does recovering stop and juicing start?  If an athlete (say, Andrew Bynum) was hurt and could halve his recovery time by using steroids, I would not be against it. Would you?  But if someone were juicing in order to get bigger and stronger, which we know aids in things like absorbing contact while driving to the basket, getting position for rebounds, and banging in the low-post, that constitutes an unfair advantage and violates my sense of fair-play. And what about drugs that improve your hand-eye coordination, reaction time, mental clarity, and performance under stress?  They certainly give basketball players advantages over those who don’t use them, so are they meant to be outlawed as well?  Perhaps if they are not detrimental to a player’s long-term heatlh, they are ok, but again the question is, where do you draw the line?  Your ideas are as good as mine, as most of us (hopefully someone is) are not experts in this field.

I for one am inclined to believe Lewis when he says he took a supplement that he believed to be sanctioned by the league.  By all accounts, he seems to be a good guy, doesn’t play dirty and can’t honestly be considered enough of a bruiser to seriously consider that the steroids really gave him a huge advantage.  But I also believe that Lewis was tip-toeing the line of what is allowed and what is forbidden by the league.  For Lewis, a stretch-4 playing virtually out of position, being strong enough to rebound and defend the post is something he faces every day.  If I were him, I’d want to get stronger, so long as it didn’t compromise the other strengths of my game.  But at what cost do these advantages come?  How far are we willing to push the limits of our anatomy until it becomes too much? At what cost are we willing to win, and when does that cost outweigh victory?

-Zephid