Archives For October 2009

Mad Men: The Lakers Preview

Kurt —  October 12, 2009

mad-men-silouhette
In the first of several Lakers previews coming to this site, we pay homage to Mad Men (because it is the best thing on television). Sure, this post is a bit Simmonsesque, but if you are going to steal, steal from people who do things with a flair.

“Change isn’t good or bad. It just is.”
—Don Draper

Sometimes lost in the excitement over a new season and new challenges we forget one simple thing — the Lakers won the NBA championship last year. When you have a contending team, you don’t make a lot of changes. And the Lakers didn’t. Kobe, Gasol, Odom, Bynum, Fisher, almost everyone is back.

Of course, the one change they did make turned some heads — basically a trade of Ron Artest for Trevor Ariza. This is where Don Draper is right — this trade makes the Lakers a different team, but that is not good or bad. They get a better wing defender against strong threes, a more consistent three point guy, someone with a polished midrange and post game (something he has already started to display in the preseason), but they give up some athleticism and versatility. None of that alone is necessarily good or bad, it just is. What matters is how the Lakers adjust and make use of the changes. Do they play to their strengths or not? Do they get Artest enough touches in places he can be successful, do they encourage him to be the playmaker he can be? Is the team defense going to be better? Early hints are yes, but preseason games are meaningless.

The Lakers have one other change to consider — the transition from Derek Fisher to another point guard. The Lakers are not going to offer Jordan Farmar a new contract before Oct. 31, so come the end of this season he will be a restricted free agent. If he wants to get paid, he can go out this year and earn it by basically demanding the job with his play. Same is true of Shannon Brown, who will be a free agent at the end of the season. It’s a long season, and over the course of it Fisher will be the starter but both of the others will get their chance to prove they should have the role next year. If one does not, the Lakers will look elsewhere. But the job is there to be taken if someone can defend well, play within the offense, run the break and hit open threes.

“A man like you I’d follow into combat blindfolded, and I wouldn’t be the first. Am I right, buddy?”
—Pete Campbell

Sometimes we can forget just how great a coach Phil Jackson is. First and foremost, the team plays hard for him. Next, he is the one man that can make Ron Artest feel included, by getting him into positions where he can succeed. Jackson does that better than any coach in the game today, maybe ever. To use an example we’ve used here before, when Kwame Brown just rebounded and played defense, when he played in the role Phil gave him, he didn’t suck. He was probably a backup center still (forced into a starting role), but he could fill a role. He just didn’t want to work hard and stay in that role. Basically that is what happens with all the guys that don’t work out in the triangle, they don’t stay in their role.

The Ron Artest of eight years ago may not have stayed in his role. Today’s Artest — with Phil and Kobe and Fisher in the locker room — may. It may even be likely. But I would not make any definitive declarations until January; we need a body of work to look at.

One other thing about Phil’s teams — traditionally they play great defense. The Bulls did. The difference between the 1999 and 2000 Lakers was really all about improvement on defense. And last year’s Lakers were a good defensive team with a great offense. With the addition of Artest and a healthy Bynum, the Lakers could be a very good defensive team. It will be a key this year, something to look for as we move into the season.

On a quick side note here — Phil Jackson cares about winning preseason games like Don Draper cares about being faithful to his wife. Which is why the one ugly preseason loss is not a big deal (there will be a couple during the season, too). It was not pretty — the turnovers trying to force the ball inside, the known issues defending quick point guards — but if you check, the Lakers record in games that matter is still 0-0. The team talked about it, and Phil sees this as the start of a new team starting to find its way through a long grind to come. That game really does not matter.

“Look, we’ve got oysters Rockefeller! Beef Wellington! Napoleons! We leave this lunch alone, it’ll take over Europe.”
—Roger Sterling

A great line from my favorite character on the show. And it’s a reminder that the European influence and style of play the Lakers remains.

Pau Gasol is at the heart of this, because he is a versatile offensive player who can beat you with either hand at the basket, with a jumper out to about 20 feet, or with a deft pass. His basketball IQ is through the roof. But it is not just him. Kobe Bryant grew up watching his father play in Europe and has some of that same versatility and big picture view in his game. Like many in Europe, Lamar Odom will pass before shooting. Sasha certainly has that in his game. Farmar can pass beautifully. The entire team plays unselfish basketball (most of the time).

This team was constructed to run the triangle offense, with versatile players and guys who can make the pass. It should be a beautiful thing to watch this year.

“I shall be both dog and pony.”
—Roger Sterling

Ron Artest can be his own show off the basketball court (and at times on it, in both good and bad ways). Lamar Odom is now a mainstream celebrity. Defending NBA Champions always face increased distractions and time demands, but this years Lakers could set a new record for ways to distract themselves.

The lesson here is simple but needs to be repeated — they need to stay focused, they can’t just coast and expect to flip the switch. They got away with it last year (remember the Houston series?) but this year the price for that will be steeper.

“I’m living like there’s no tomorrow, because there isn’t one.”
—Don Draper

Phil Jackson has sort of distilled the Zen idea of mindfulness — of being aware of each moment and living in that moment — into a basketball philosophy with his mantra “you’re only successful the moment you perform a successful act.”

This ties into the point about added distractions above, but we need to also remember that the Lakers have a big target on their back every time they walk into an NBA arena. The other team’s fans have circled this date on the calendar. So has that team. The Lakers need to live in the moment this season, and not rest on past successful acts.

“Don’t you love the chase? Sometimes it doesn’t work out; those are the stakes. But when it does work out, it’s like having that first cigarette: your head gets all dizzy, your heart pounds, your knees go weak. Remember that?
—Roger Sterling

“Our worst fears lie in anticipation” (quoting Honore de Balzac)
—Don Draper

The last two quotes go out to Lakers fans. Sometimes we can get caught up in a championship-or-bust mentality and miss out on the beautiful, fun things that do happen. We can pick apart what went wrong in a win rather than accepting that it is a win and remembering they do all not have to be pretty. Not every win has to be a first round knockout. First round knockouts and strikeouts are boring and un-American anyway. Bottom line, we should not get to a point where a win is a relief, it should be a joy. That is especially true in the playoffs.

We are excited about a new season, but we also fear the unknown so we try to convince ourselves our team can’t be beat when it matters. But that is simply not true. As I’ve said before, I think the Lakers have the largest margin for error of any contender this season and would be very difficult to beat if healthy. But that is talking about June. Right now, we need to enjoy this ride, this team, this moment. Enjoy the chase, it is that which makes the kill fun, not the act itself.

la lakers media day9/29/2009
The Lakers are back at the Forum tonight. Gatinho did a great post on the building that is worth revisiting:

Cooke tabbed the architectural firm of Charles Luckman and Associates who had just designed the newly built Madison Square Garden and would later design the LAX Theme Building among other famous American structures. Cooke disliked the preliminary drawings that were presented and asked for something that recalled the architecture of antiquity, a modern day Roman Coliseum.

Cooke would end up spending upwards of $16 million dollars on the land and property combined for Hollywood Park’s new neighbor. It would be Chick that would dub it “Fabulous” and Cooke that would remark that for such a great idea, Hearn would receive “something extra” in his next paycheck. In a vintage Cooke maneuver, Hearn would open the envelope to find a wallet sized photo of the Laker owner.

The Kings would have the honor of playing first on December 30, 1967 with a win over the Philadelphia Flyers. A day later the Lakers would follow suit, christening the new building and the New Year by pounding the San Diego Rockets.

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A couple other things of note, from some of the smartest basketball writers on the Web.

First, the Basketball Prospectus preview book is out. Kevin Pelton remains one of my personal favorite hoop writers, and I got an advanced look at this and thought it was worth the time (particularly for the other teams, which we don’t know as well). I can also promise some more and interesting previews coming to this site.

Also, the brilliant Bethlehem Shoals wrote an open letter to Ron Artest that I think is more on point than the first.

Golden State Warriors vs Los Angeles Lakers

After one pre-season game the Lakers showed us some of what this team is capable of as they routed the Golden State Warriors 118 to 101.  Coming into this game, there seemed to be more questions than answers for a team coming off a title.  How would ‘Drew play?  What would our rotations look like?  How would our bench guards play?  Ron Artest!!??  Here are some thoughts on the game in general (and those questions specifically) from the game against the Dubs.  Keep in mind, though, this was only one game and an extremely small sample size:

*Andrew Bynum looks very much recovered from his injury that hampered him during the second half of the regular season and into the playoffs.  He ran the floor well and finished in the paint with ease.  He flashed some athleticism as he was able to play above the rim and he also showed some polish in working the low block.  He did a very good job of staying patient after he made his catch – reading the defense and acting accordingly.  He showed nice drop steps to both the middle and the baseline (finishing with both hands) and showed good passing back to the perimeter when nothing was there for him.  All of this work on offense led to a game high 24 points on 8-13 from the field and 8-9 from the FT line, all for a tidy +36 on the game.  Nice.  He also displayed good wind as he was the only Laker to play the entire 1st quarter while running post lane sprints and showing hustle on both the offensive and defensive glass (though he didn’t tally a high number of boards, gathering 5 total caroms).  Even for a pre-season game, I don’t think we could have asked for more and he definitely passed the eyeball test.

*Ron Artest played a nice, controlled game.  He showed off his strong mid-range game with a couple of pull up jumpers from the top of the key area and he even hit a corner three (not his best shooting spot, as we’ve detailed before).  Ron also played some pretty good defense – using that strong body to disrupt dribblers trying to attack the rim and showing good hands by getting his mits on some loose balls in his vicinity.  Ron also showed his capabilities on the glass, pulling in 9 total rebounds including 3 offensive.  However, where Ron surprised many was with his playmaking.  He had a beautifully placed lob to Andrew as Bynum flashed to the post, reverse spun back to the middle, and caught the ball that Ron delivered from the corner (reminded me of that Shaw/Shaq redemption play circa 2000).  He had a fantastic off the dribble left handed bounce pass to Bynum after penetrating the baseline that set up an easy finish for ‘Drew.  He then had a very nice shovel hand off to Lamar after driving the lane from the top of the key that set LO up for a nice dunk.  In all, Artest had 7 assists and several of those were very good plays that he made for his mates (not just post entries where Pau makes a jump hook).  Basically, Ron made the right play almost every time he touched the ball and created well when he had his chances.  It bares repeating that this was only one game, but this was an encouraging start for #37.

*Phil stuck to somewhat traditional rotations.  Odom was the first big off the bench and Farmar the first guard.  He let Kobe play most of the first quarter before going to Sasha.  Ammo got into the game before Luke, but it’s the pre-season and Phil is likely looking to see how Morrison plays when he’s not just in the game with scrubs.  Powell got some extened minutes as well but I think that is more the result of wanting to rest Pau than any indicator of what the regular season may look like.  All in all, the substitutions were pretty formulaic and there wasn’t anything I would really call a surprise.  But if there was one thing Phil did show that may or may not become a trend it was the backcourt pairing of Farmar/WOW.  They got extended minutes together in the 4th quarter and played well with and off of each other.  Maybe we’ll see more of that.  Or, again, maybe this is just the pre-season.

*Speaking of WOW and Farmar, our bench guards played a very good game.  The new, clean cut Machine was making jumpers.  I was especially happy that on his first shot attempt, he passed up a wide open three and took one dribble inside the arc to take a 20 footer.  He buried that shot and then proceeded to knock down his next two jumpers (finishing 3 of 4 from the field).  Farmar played a nice blend of uptempo and half court styles.  He was able to push the pace when the fast break presented itself, but also ran our sets pretty well.  He flashed his quick first step on offense to attack to the basket and also get into the gaps of the Warriors defense to create for teammates.  He still showed a penchant for dribbling a bit too much on a few possessions and also took one or two jumpers out of the flow of our sets, but overall I was pleased with his play.  He seemed focussed and confident – which is a big departure from where he was in March, April, and May of last season.  And everyone’s favorite backup guard WOW also played a pretty solid game.  He had a fantastic dunk over Mikki Moore – getting the ball in the open court, reading the defense, and demoralizing the dreadlocked Moore for a one handed flush when no one stopped the ball.  He also showed that he’s still got confidence in his jumper, nailing a three pointer and taking a few other jumpers in rhythm and without hesitation.   If our back up guards can play even remotely close to this well over the course of the season we will not be giving up the big leads that we did in the middle portion of last season.

*The rest of the team played well.  Kobe was his typical self – scoring when he wanted to and in the manner that he wanted to.  He focussed on his post game a lot as he often found himself being guarded by the smallish guards Curry and Morrow.  Neither of those guys can come close to battling Kobe on the block and he was pretty relentless in trying to punish them whenever they found themselves matched up with our boy Bean.  One thing I did notice about Kobe was his desire to stick it to the young Curry whenever he got the chance.  Kobe pressured him on defense (often leaving his own man to double the new Dub’s PG when he crossed half court) and (as I mentioned) he was trying to attack him on offense whenever they were matched up against each other.  If I was Curry, I’d actually take Kobe’s actions as a compliment as Kobe rarely makes the effort against players he doesn’t deem worthy, so obviously #24 thinks this kid could play or he wouldn’t have sought him out in the manner that he did.

*Speaking of Curry, this kid can flat out shoot (funny to say this on a 5-15 night, but it’s true).  His jumper looks just as pure as his Pops’ and his release is pure beauty.  He’s also an underrated playmaker, showing that he has good court vision and good instincts when playing the P&R.  A couple of times he successfully split the double team on the P&R and found an open teammate for a free look at a jumper.  Yes, Curry can improve his strength and yes, he will need to protect the ball better as guards try to see if he really is a ball handling PG, but overall I was impressed.  His range is limitless and he’s undoubtedly got guts.

*The rest of the Warriors were okay.  There’s only so much you can learn from the losing end of a blowout so maybe this isn’t the best time to objectively look at their team.  They didn’t have Brandon Wright, Azubuike, or former Laker and fan favorite Turiaf, whose presence would have helped on the glass and with their interior D.  They also lost Ellis very early to an ankle sprain and that definitely hurt their chances and limited their ability to push pace.  Some of their other guys looked good, but did not impress as much as I would have hoped (I do live in Oakland, so I have an interest in some of these kids).  Randolph flashed his versatility, skill set, and overall freakishness with 18 points, 12 rebounds, and a very good block on Kobe in the open court.  Biedrins worked the glass and was his usual slippery self around the basket.  Morrow showed that the shooting prowess he showed last season was not a fluke.  But overall?  Meh (especially you Capt. Jack).  They’ll surely want a better effort when they face the Lakers again at the Fabulous Forum on Friday.

-Darius

Preseaon Game 1: Lakers/Warriors

Kurt —  October 7, 2009

Finally! An actual game rather than just speculation. Action, not just talk.

But remember, it is preseason so don’t read too much into anything. That starts with wins and losses — very good teams have had off preseasons and visa-versa. Also, because Gafney plays 22 minutes and looks good does not mean Buss will spend $1 mil to keep him for the season. Just because Sasha is/isn’t hot shooting tonight doesn’t matter, let’s see him in 10 regular seaon games before we say much about that.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Enjoy finally seeing Lakers basketball again, but see it for what it is.

LAKERS
First, some quick thoughts on the most interesting thing to come out of Lakers training camp so far (and no, letters to Ron Artest are not close, but because he loves to interact with the public and can be direct, we can expect more of that this season, sometimes with people baiting him because they can).

Andrew Bynum could come off the bench.

UPDATE: Probably not, Phil Jackson said after practice today it will still be Odom most likely. But let’s got back to the post, because the discussion still has some merit.

I think that is a fascinating idea, you think other teams had a hard time matching up with Odom off the bench? Plus, Farmar and Bynum have shown chemistry in the past and if that continues it could provide a real spark to the second unit again. Bynum says he just wants to get some burn at the end of games. My comment to Bynum: Then you’ve got to earn that over the course of each game. Part of the end of game lineups will be match-up based, one night Odom may sit, another night Fisher, another night Bynum, another night Artest. But I expect Phil will go with the lineup he thinks gives him the best chance to win each night (except on the nights he decides to experiment or teach a lesson). You want the burn, with this talented and versatile roster, everyone is going to have to earn it. Each game.

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Once again bloggers are banding together to do team previews, there will be a few here. But for those that want a look at the Atlantic, here are some link:

Here’s the full list of Atlantic Division Previews.

Boston Celtics

CelticsBlog | LOY’s Place | Celtics17 | Red’s Army | Hoops Addict | Celtics Central | Celtics Hub | Gino’s Jungle

New Jersey Nets

Slippery When Nets | Barkley’s Mouth

New York Knicks

Posting and ToastingBandwagon Knick

Philadelphia 76ers

Liberty Ballers

Toronto Raptors

RaptorsHQ.com | Hoops Addict

Bonus Links

See full schedule here

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You’ll here more about this, but mark your Google Calendars for Oct. 23, as a rare Lakers bloggers round table is taking place at ESPN Zone at LA Live, right across from Staples Center. From 6-7 we’ll be talking Lakers, then we’ll be watching that night’s Lakers preseason game against the Nuggets.

I’m going to be there, along with Brian Kamentzky from LATimes.com, Kam Pashai from TheLakersNation.com, Eric Pincus from HoopsWorld.com, Brett Pollakoff from FanHouse.com, Colin Ward-Henniger from Examiner.com, Ryan Kane from LakeShowLife.com, and Gary Lee from LakersNation.com.

It should be a fun night, come watch all of us stare lovingly into Pincus’s eyes.