Archives For November 2009

Remembering Cazzie Russell

Gatinho —  November 25, 2009

“To be able to take over a game and be influential is a great feeling.”

Dubbed “Mr. Two-two-two-points” by legendary Times columnist Jim Murray , Cazzie Russell was a singular talent with a unique set of skills. Cazzie would make his name as a 6th man with a knack for coming in and filling it up. A streak shooter and crowd favorite, his NBA and basketball career would take him through many cities, one of which was the City of Angels.

As a standout at University of Michigan, he led the team to two Final Four appearances and was such a draw for the football-loving fans that the University built a new building. Crisler Arena, dubbed “The House that Cazzie Built” even though he would never play there, would signal the arrival of basketball at a historically football dominated school.

Yet another infamous NBA draft coin toss would decide the first pick in 1966. The flamboyance and spectacle of today’s draft day were not a part of Cazzie’s sojourn.

“I was standing by a payphone listening to the Knicks and the Pistons flip a coin.”

Cazzie would spend the first 4 years of his career with the Knicks, winning a championship in the year that Lakers felt that they might finally break their streak of despair that would define the ‘60’s. To Laker fans, the infamous “Willis Reed Game”, another 7th game heartbreak defeat, would add yet another scar to their so-close-yet-so-far fan experience. Cazzie wasn’t a deciding factor in that game, though he averaged 10 points those playoffs, due to Walt Frazier, the game’s true hero with 36 points and 19 assists, dominating the game. Russell would mark only one field goal presumably stuck to the bench as Frazier would play almost the whole way.

But even though Russell was a player on the rise, the Knicks would trade Russell to the then San Francisco Warriors the following season.

”Cazzie could score on anybody and from all over the floor,” former Warriors teammate Jim Barnett said. ‘‘I never saw anybody shoot the ball with less trajectory yet have so much success with it. It was the most amazing thing. He had a very flat shot but it was the softest shot on the rim I’ve ever seen. He always got bounces.”

Russell would see some more consistent time and contributions and enjoy the new surroundings of Northern California. He would make his only All-Star appearance while playing in the Bay but would be miffed by the Warriors failure to offer him a “no cut” that was becoming so coveted by the nascent free agency that was beginning to define the NBA.

“I was so hurt that the Warriors could have given me a no-cut contract for two to three years, So I opted for free agency. I was one of the first guys to ever go out on the free agent market.”

He would sign with the Lakers and find a team in transition. It was the mid ‘70’s and the shine from the ’72 team’s historic run had dimmed as Cazzie was signed and proceeded to get injured, watching the team have one of it’s worst seasons at 30-52 and seeing them fail to make the playoffs for the first time in 14 years.

Not only was Russell one of the first to test free agent waters, but his ankle injury would see him make a shift in how he ate and trained, another idea that was ahead of it’s time.”

“He treats his body as if it were something that might leave him if he took it for granted.”

But a new arrival in the form of Kareem the following season would mean the future was bright for Laker fans.

“When Cazzie is hot, he could score from a locked room.”

Cazzie would play three seasons as a Laker, averaging 14.5 pts in 26.8 minutes. His stats would sometimes reflect the production of a player that played triple the minutes. As he checked into a game, the Forum faithful would slide forward on their seats.

“Some nights Cazzie throws in so many points so fast the scoreboard is two baskets behind.”

When Cazzie came in the shots would go up. And this was before the days of the grind-it-out-every-possession-is-precious NBA. It was a fast-paced game and when Cazzie came in the pace quickened.

Cazzie was hailed for 6th man abilities and would define a new type of reserve. He wasn’t in the game to slow the opposing teams top scorer a la Michael Cooper. He came in to “punch a hole in the basket quickly, so that the temporary logjam of air balls isn’t terminal. Cazzie has to come in and get the team out of handcuffs.”

If Coach Sharman wanted offense in he brought in Cazzie. If he wanted defense, he brought in an energetic reserve named Pat Riley or even possibly young guard Stu Lantz.

Cazzie would be a precursor to guys like the Piston’s Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson, and we’ve seen the boost guys like Eddie House can give their team.

Cazzie Russell, a pivotal part of the NBA’s history, and a Laker to remember.

“I feel good about what Cazzie has done. I feel good about myself physically and mentally. I feel good that I got to do something I enjoy and get paid for it. I got a scholarship for it, an education.”

When Garbage Time is Garbage Time

Kurt —  November 25, 2009

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The Lakers are 11-3. They are fairly healthy in all key positions and are playing arguably their best ball of this early season. On top of all that, Andrew Bynum is developing into an elite Center. All of that is grand, but last night, in the 4th quarter, we saw some seriously bad basketball played by the Lakers. Some of it was with Kobe, LO and Drew on the court all at once, other reasons included our suddenly uber-selfish bench and a serious of weird mental errors that led to turnovers. The following is some of the hi….excuse me, low-lights of last night’s 4th quarter:

Turnover, LO-bad pass (11:07)
Turnover, ShanWOW-bad pass (10:08)
Turnover, Sasha (9:48)
Turnover, Shannon-traveling (8:59)
Missed Hook, Bynum (gotta agree with those in the comments, he is kinda becoming a black hole…(8:23)
Brick, Sasha (7:56)
Turnover, Bynum (he tried to pass!) (7:41)
Missed Hook, Bynum (back to black hole) (7:18)
Turnover, Bynum-bad pass (he tried passing again) (6:58)
Turnover, Odom-traveling (6:33)
Patented Sasha Brick save 2008 season (6:01)
Missed Shot, Morrison (5:20)
Another Patented Sasha Brick (5:16)
Turnover, Bynum-traveling (3:00)
Missed 3ball, Jordan (2:20)
Offensive Goaltending, Bynum (he stole Kobe’s bucket, ha) (1:08)

Sandwiched in between that was an and-1 for Drew, a pair of FT’s by Drew, an LO 3 ball, a couple more FT’s by Drew, a FT by Ron-Ron, a pair of layups for Ron-Ron and Kobe, and a FT by Kobe. Needless to say it was a tough watch. Aside from the mental errors which led to turnovers, our problems in the 4th quarter was the inability to reverse the ball on offense. The ball stuck, it stuck to players hands, it stuck to one side of the court and it led to some awful offense.

17 pts, 4 baskets, 9 turnovers, lots of fodder for 3 days of practice.

— Kwame A.

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Records: Lakers 10-3 Knicks 3-10
Offensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 106 (16th in league), Knicks 101.8 (26th in league)
Defensive points per 100 possessions: Lakers 100.8 (5th in league) Knicks 108.4 (21st in league)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Knicks: Chris Duhon, Larry Hughes, David Lee, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari

What’s In A Name: Two teams with two of the more interesting names in the NBA tonight. Sure, Knickerbocker is a pair of pants usually worn by young boys or flamboyant golfers, but there are other meanings to the name (that make more sense as to how the team got that name), as firefly pointed out in the comments

Knickerbocker was a term used to refer to old Dutch families in New York. The connotation was one of a respectable class and status. It’s actually a touch snobbish.

Gatinho added this.

The Knickerbocker name is also derived from Washington Irving’s collection of short stories where he referred to Diedrich Knickerbocker as a founding father of the Dutch colonies of New York. He is mentioned in the first line of “Rip van Winkle”.

“The following Tale was found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker…”

Lakers are the men who worked on the ships (also referred to as Lakers) that populated the lakes of Minnesota, “The Land of 10,000 Lakes”.

The Lakers Coming in: After the last couple of games, there is not a lot more to say other than “keep it up.” With the Knicks, Warriors and Nets on the schedule it is time for Thanksgiving, as we should see some comfortable wins. And you know what that means — Shannon Brown’s spectacular garbage-time dunk show.

There are a couple good Kobe stories worth reading. One from a guy who took some heat around here today but I’ve always liked to read in Matt Moore, and another from a SoCal guy now living back east and working for a little publication called the NY Times.

And if you can’t get enough Kobe, he and Spike Lee are doing a roundtable on Kobe Doin’ Work after the game over at the ESPNZoneLALive.

If you want more, there’s always Ron Artest in his underwear.

The Knicks Coming in: Here’s what I think the 2009-10 Knicks have taught us: It takes more than one season to undo the damage Isaiah Thomas did.

The fastest way to undo the damage would be to get someone — anyone — to take Eddy Curry’s contract off their hands (and books). That’s why you’ll see a fair amount of the new, thinner Curry tonight, he is being showcased. He looked decent scoring 10 points in his first game back but has struggled the last couple games (he is shooting just 40%).

In addition to the weight loss, one thing that is different is that Curry seems to be enthusiastic about playing. The problem is his offensive game — getting the ball in the low post — is not a great fit with the 7-seconds-or-less offense. Plus, the Knicks guards do not make great entry passes, and when they have Curry has fumbled them away like his first name should be Kwame.

The Knicks offense is a lot of ball screens and quick shots. And they have been terrible this year, but like any team they can get hot — they did against the Celtics recently.

The guy carrying the offensive load is Al Harrington, who comes in as the sixth man but often plays the most minutes. He’s been shooting fairly well — true shooting percentage of 55.7% — but he’s probably not the guy you want as your best offensive weapon. Nate Robinson comes in off the bench and provides a spark as well, and then there is David Lee, the hustling forward providing rebounding as well as some points.

The one guy I find interesting to watch is Danilo Gallinari, who is maybe the one guy on the roster really built for D’Antoni’s style of play. He is 6-10 with range and is shooting 60.5% (eFG%) and 44% from three this year. He is taking steps forward but he is on a short leash — D’Antoni is quick to bench him for mistakes. Quicker than any other Knick. I don’t know why that is, but it’s true.

Also check out Toney Douglas, the rookie the Lakers picked then traded to the Knicks last draft. I saw him at Summer League and thought him very mature and making the right plays, something rare for a rookie. He has some game, and while he will never be CP3 he can be a solid guard in this league for years.

Blogs and Links: Mike and the team at Knickerblogger have been at this longer than I have, and I still am a regular on his stat page.

Keys to game: Rule one of playing a D’Antoni team: Do not get sucked into their style. If the Lakers start taking long jumpers early in the clock, this game will stay close.

When the Lakers have the ball. David Lee and Eddy Curry are no match for Gasol and Bynum on the block, and the Lakers need to exploit that. Pounding the ball inside is part of controlling the pace, but bottom line the Lakers need to run their offense and they will get the shots they want.

As for defending the Knicks, Chris Duhon is no Steve Nash. Lee and Harrington love to do the Amare and slip the high pick — meaning they start to set it but then roll to the basket before Duhon uses the pick, and they get the ball back going to the rim. As you would with the Suns, you want to keep the ball in the point guard’s hand and make him the shooter. Don’t let him get the ball to opponents in spots they want it, make them work for their chances.

Where you can watch: This game tips off at 7:30 pm Pacific, on Fox Sports, and on the radio at 710 ESPN.

Sunday Favortism? Not that simple

nomuskles —  November 24, 2009

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Hardwood Paroxysm recently dug into the scheduling oddities and discovered that the Lakers play 29% of their home games on Sunday.  Matt wonders if something fishy is going on. Is the league favoring the Lakers by playing them on Sundays more often than other days? His discussion covered the following:

1. Traveling west is harder for East teams than traveling east is for West teams.

2. The league wants a big market / marquee team on national television more often

3. Playing on Sunday after spending a Saturday (party) night in LA is setting a team up for failure.

4. 29% of games played on a single day of the week is too many. (Games evenly split among the days of the week would fall close to 14%.

I disagree with points 1 and 4. Number 2 is probably true, in my opinion. And number 3 is not exactly cut and dry.

Traveling west is NOT more difficult for the NBA teams. You gain hours traveling west, which means more hours to sleep before shootaround or the game (early Sunday games). A team traveling west might arrive late at night and then have to play the 12:30PT/3:30ET game. Their bodies feel like it’s 3:30pm. There is plenty of time for them to rest after flying in. Conversely, if the Lakers travel to the Eastern time zone and play the 12:30ET game, they are playing at 9:30 am according to their bodies. Have you ever tried to play at 9:30 in the morning? Not an easy task, especially after traveling and sleeping in a hotel.

The league probably does want the Lakers to play on Sundays more often than other teams. Not really a surprise.

As far as the concern that Sunday follows Saturday, I’m not sure how we could figure out if that is a big factor or not. For one, the Lakers are also available on Saturday night to go out and do whatever it is that young multimillionaires do. Secondly, wouldn’t teams be having the same problem during the week as well? It’s not like parties can’t be had on a Monday night in LA. Perhaps the only part of that argument that I buy is that the other teams may take part in the revelry more than the Lakers because the Lakers are used to the scene already.

Lastly, I don’t doubt that it’s a little suspicious that the Lakers play 29% of their games on Sunday. However, since they share Staples Center with The Kings and The Clippers, the team schedules tend to be similar every week. For instance, the Lakers usually play at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays and only have two home games on Wednesday and two on Monday. Is that suspicious as well? It’s not if you consider the Clippers tend to play on Monday and Wednesday. The Clippers only play 2 Tuesday games and 1 Thursday game this year. I think the scheduling overload on Sunday is caused as much by the wish to get the Lakers on ABC sunday games as it is to fit three teams into the same building.

If the Lakers hardly ever play at home on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday, that only leaves four days to handle 90% of the games. It is not unthinkable then that a big market team with marquee players would be scheduled a little more often on Sunday than their other days, but it’s not exactly lopsided. Splitting their games evenly among the four days would be 25%. Compare that to the 29% calculated by the ESPN stats department and it’s not too far off.

As always, the answers probably lies somewhere in between two extreme arguments.


Buss Family Kremlinology

Kurt —  November 23, 2009

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Jerry Buss had his annual early-season media sit down last night before the Lakers destroyed the Thunder and said… basically nothing new.

As it tends to be with the Buss family, it becomes less about what he said and more about what can be inferred from what he said. It’s the Buss family Kremlinology, but without all the fur hats and vodka (well, there probably is vodka). And so what follows are a few of his comments followed by some thoughts.

This year marked the first time that Jim Buss joined his father for the annual sit-down with Lakers beat reporters, perhaps symbolic of the ownership transition the franchise has undergone the past few years. Not only does Jeanie Buss run the business side of the organization, Jerry Buss also revealed that Jim has taken over “around 90 percent” of the day-to-day operations of the franchise.

It’s clear that the power is shifting, although since Jerry Buss still owns the team he is in on all the fun — read big — decisions. But as we knew the grooming is well underway, and maybe farther along than we thought. Someday, Jim will take over as the head man but Jeanie runs the businesses side and has pull as she orchestrated Phil Jackson’s return (something needed at the time not only on the court but to calm angry season ticket holders in the wake of the Shaq trade). There are other Buss children in other roles — running the D-Fenders — and some of that could change when the power fully vests in Jim.

So far, the transition of power seems to be going smoothly, possibly in part because Jerry is still around Hopefully the longer he stays in that role, the smoother things will go when he does pass the baton. That, as Lakers fans, is all we can hope for. A Buss family power struggle behind closed doors would severely harm this franchise (I’m a big believer that good ownership is the key to long-term winning). And if there is a power struggle, we fans would be about as helpless to change it as Russian peasants were to stop infighting in the Kremlin. You just have to hope for a benevolent ruler.

Although Buss admitted he’s not thrilled to have the league’s highest payroll this season, he described $91.3 million in player salary and $21.4 million luxury taxes as money well spent if it delivers a 16th title. … “If we could find a way to save some money and stay at the level of competition we’re at, obviously we’ll try to do that,” Buss said. “But I think in this particular case, all the dollars were well-spent.”

Not sure there is anything new here outside of the Buss pattern we have seen for decades — he will spend to win, but you need to convince him it was a smart move. And get a good deal. Hence the drawn out Odom negotiations and jumping at Artest when Ariza balked. The tea leaves long term here is that while this team is in a championship window, we can continue to expect them to retain top talent.

Buss said he and Jim have spoken about potential replacements for Jackson should he retire after this season, but said he remains optimistic the future Hall-of-Fame coach will return. “He likes to wait until he sees physically how he is at the end of the season,” Buss said. “I think he’s healthier than he was. He was on his motorcycle this summer. That’s always a good sign.”

Not much to read into here, it’s all pretty logical and prudent. Everyone hopes Jackson stays on, but predicting Jackson’s health and the wear and tear of all that travel on a man who had both hips replaced is foolish. In the eventuality he does leave, you need to have a backup plan at least thought out Of course, no discussion of what that plan would be came out of the Buss family mouths.

Among the most pressing issues facing the Lakers is the status of Bryant, who has yet to sign an extension worth up to $91 million that would keep him in purple and gold through 2013-14. Buss declined to comment specifically on the status of the extension out of respect for Bryant’s wishes to keep negotiations private, but he left no doubt the Lakers intend to keep their star well after his current contract expires next season. “We certainly hope so,” he said.

Well, Duh. Who do you think fills Staples Center?

“If he wants to represent Spain, I think he’s entitled to that,” Buss said. “It would be nice if there was more time in between [the European championships and the start of NBA camps] so that he wasn’t overworked . . . . But I think there’s room for all kinds of basketball internationally.”

I’m with Buss here. The Club vs. Country debate is a long and storied one. In this summer’s soccer World Cup some club will lose its highly paid star player for the next season due to injury. But I don’t think that means you can tell a healthy player he can’t go play internationally. For me, that extends beyond the Olympics to other major events That said, I’d still hope Gasol takes this summer off.