Kurt —  December 1, 2009

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It’s one of the little discussed themes emerging with the Lakers this year — this is a mature team in the important senses of the word. And in a couple of cases, it’s from people that a couple years ago we may not have expected it from.

One is the off-the-court Kobe Bryant. Yesterday I riffed at NBCLA on a story from the NY Times about Kobe Bryant serving as a mentor to the suddenly resurgent Vince Young. Young was a troubled athlete; Kobe had been through and navigated rough waters to return to the top of his sport. Everything — from Colorado to the trade demand tirade to the calming counsel of Phil Jackson — has matured Kobe in recent years. We Lakers fans who followed Kobe more closely realized this was simply and extension of who he already was, just a maturation; while those farther away tended to see it as some kind of miraculous transformation. It’s all perspective, one of the many lessons Kobe learned. So it’s not a shock that Young got in touch with Kobe, who essentially told the QB to tune out everybody else, do what you love and win. Now Young is doing that quite well.

The Lakers game on the court has matured just this season with the return of Pau Gasol. He, as Kevin Ding profiles, came to the Lakers (and frankly the United States) a mature person. But it is the maturity of his on-the-court game that makes the Lakers offense flow. He has an almost innate understanding of spacing and movement on the basketball court, and with that comes passing and a flow to the Lakers offense that was missing without it. He has to be defended because he can score with a jumper, or with his back to the basket using either hand, and he is efficient every way. So you bring the double team, or your center out 15 feet to defend Gasol in the high post, and that is when he really destroys you. With passing, with the shot anyway, but always with the smart play. The mature player’s play.

Ron Artest came to the Lakers with a public reputation of immaturity, but so far that seems to be a mislabeling of him. To borrow the words of Andrew Kamenetzky, no doubt Artest is a different cat. But he is very self aware and has learned things from his past experiences — maybe not the lessons some think he should have learned, but he learned. He is not repeating mistakes.

His game on the court is mature, more mature than we expected. He is a better playmaker and passer than we had seen in the past, in part because in previous stops he was asked to create more of the offense rather than just play a role within it. And he is finding that role fast. He is getting his three point attempts from the spots he likes on the floor. He is attacking the rim at the right times. His defense, as expected, is stifling and relentless. He is a strong physical presence to be accounted for used with some veteran experience now. With some maturity.

His off the court choices do not affect the team or the community here the way they would in other towns. If in Indiana or Sacramento he went on a locally done talk show in only his boxers it would have been THE topic of discussion for weeks, with questions about his sanity. Here, a guy walking around in Hollywood in just his underwear is called Tuesday. Ron has an understanding of this, that there is a fit here with the community accepting him — his combination of street toughness with quirks — and his teammates accepting him as a player. Some out there are waiting for the time bomb they think will still go off. Maybe. But more and more I get the feeling they will be sorely disappointed.

Maturity is the kind of thing that helps teams ride out storms. It’s the kind of thing that doesn’t panic. It’s the kind of thing that wins championships.

to Maturity

  1. I just want to say that my NorCal friends are as angry as ever about the Lakers.

    Because, in their words, the Lakers are the best team they have ever seen play the game.


  2. Ron Artest does FIT here in Los Angeles (Hollywood), no matter what he does off the court it seems like. As far as on the court goes, there is nothing else for him to do any other way or any better, other than what he is currently doing. He is just a great piece to this Lakers team, and will be remembered as such, IMHO.

    “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word – excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.” – Pearl S. Buck


  3. Man oh man I got chills at the end. Thanks Kurt. Very insightful. And definitely something no one is really talking about. Our team has grown up right before our eyes. This has been a great journey already. And the coolest thing is that I get a feeling that we’ve only gotten out of the driveway and down the street…. We’ve still got quite a journey ahead of us with this team. Man, there they go again…. Chills!


  4. This write up is beautiful, Kurt.

    We Laker fans always knew Kobe had what it took to be a truly great ball player. But some of the on-court struggle helped hasten Kobe’s maturity process. When the idea of bringing Phil back was tossed around back in 2005 I was sure Kobe would shoot it down. When he made it clear he was on board with Phil’s return and he could put the past behind him I knew he and the Lakers were on their way. I am sure missing the playoffs that year helped his decision.

    There is a deeper lesson to be found in the fact that he and Phil were able to turn the corner and win together. I think that is one theme that many have not explored. What was once a very sour and choppy relationship is now one of mutual respect, understanding and definition. Kobe’s greatness (like Jordan’s) is now defined in part by his relationship with Phil Jackson.

    Before the arrival of Gasol or the arrival of Trevor or the return of Fish, Kobe and Phil’s willingness to bury the hatchet was the beginning of the Lakers resurrection. Both men have shown incredible maturity in the way they rebuilt their relationship and this team.


  5. 2 – The Warriors’ TV guys (who are very good IMHO) were talking us up hugely on Saturday night. They were saying we looked like the best team in the league by far.


  6. Yup. Maturity.
    Last year, Bynum had a Playboy Bunny on his sholders. This year, he carries the offense.

    Last year, Pau wore the label of “soft”. This year, he is a “World Champion.”

    Last year, Artest was labelled as “cancerous.” This year, he is a “contributor.”

    Finally, last year Lamar was a carefree bachelor. This year, he is a married family man. (This is a joke).

    Finally, last year we complained about not enough D and too much offense. This year… well, we do the oppossite.


  7. Kevin Ding’s article had a good quote from Pau which (i think) explains his maturity..

    “It was tough (in Memphis). At the end I was really down on myself. I was losing my spark, my motivation, the passion I always had for the game. I was getting really frustrated. That’s why when this (trade) happened, I was so thankful. I was so thrilled I had this opportunity. I still am – and probably will be for the rest of my life.”


  8. The Warriors announcers also gave us this tidbit during the game yesterday:

    In recent years, teams that play in Denver on the second night of a back to back after playing in the Pacific Time Zone (where games go later) are 1-17.



    • JD, thanks for that, I actually heard them say that last night and was going to post it, because somebody asked about that when the Lakers did the Denver back-to-back and picked up a loss. That one win, by the way, was Orlando.


  9. j.d.

    I wonder what Denvers record is in that scenario?


  10. Never mind, I looked it up. I only looked at last year, arguably their best season ever. They were 1-3 when coming home after playing the night before in the Pacific Time Zone.

    Very interesting.


  11. Since I’ve climbed aboard the Monta Chuck Wagon, I’ve had a chance to really appreciate the Dubs’ announcers. Pretty knowledgeable dudes, not homers in any real sense, and they have (unfortunately) had to keep people entertained through many long seasons. Aside from the guys calling the Kings, I think Cali has some of the best TV guys doing basketball.


  12. I’m sorry, 0-3 in that scenario.


  13. So teams including the nuggets are a total of 1-20 (just counting the nuggets last season) in the second game of a back to back in Denver when traveling from the pacific time zone.

    That’s extremely interesting. I hope Denver fans realize that since they think the Nuggets are better than the Lakers because they beat them this season.

    But regarding the article, yes the Lakers are a mature, veteran and experienced team. And Ron Artest was made for L.A. It’s the only city where Ron can be himself without being crucified. Its also nice to see someone finally giving some Ron credit for being a decent guy, a different, but decent guy.


  14. RE: 9

    If Denver has such an absurdly obvious advantage in that situation, why does the league keep scheduling those second night of a back to back games?

    Just another reason to hate Denver.


  15. 6 – Saw Lakers vs Warriors in person last Saturday.

    The Lakers were scary good.

    Their mastery reminds me of the Magic -era champions. And even – dare I say it – the Celtic team that featured Luke’s dad.

    If they stay healthy … whew!


  16. Does that mean we’ll stop hearing complaints from Denver fans how the league favors the Lakers with the scheduling?

    Didn’t think so.


  17. T. Rogers,

    It will be interesting to see if PJ attends Kobe’s Hall of Fame Induction. If he does, we’ll know who he preferred to coach.


  18. K Ding is slowly becoming my favorite writer behind Kurt :). His articles are usually well thought out and well written.

    Speaking of maturity, we are playing like a team on a mission. Not a mission to just get to the top but a mission to be the best. Its different from last year when our mission was to get back to the finals to beat the celtics. This is a different mission, a mission that says we are the best team and we are about to let everyone know.

    I am honored to be watching the great ride.


  19. “Here, a guy walking around in Hollywood in just his underwear is called Tuesday.”

    Nice line Kurt. That one, as a longtime Hollywood resident, killed me.

    By the by, with the Denver Back to Backs… I wonder if that single win was an automatic, “someone has to win” scenario, where BOTH teams came into Denver playing Back to Backs?


  20. Look, the GSW have beaten some very good teams (DAL, PDX) and I think that Jackson trade was addition by subtraction for them. They get their center back and they should be an okay team. The Nets are just horrible. They have two very good players and two very good complementary players but not much else. It’s nice to see the Lakers do to these teams what a champion should do to them, and I do like the maturity we are seeing. Lets see how we handle Orlando, Denver (on a more reasonable schedule point), Portland (we win in Portland and I’ll be really impressed), and, of course, the Lepers. If we beat those teams with a similar show of maturity, then I’ll start thinking this is building into something particularly special. I guess I’m still not totally recovered from the difference in perception leading to the ’08 Finals and to their execution. Last season was great but I’m thirsty for some green blood. I want to see Pau take away Garnett’s Dog Chow. I want Drew to keep Perkins busy. I want Artest to fit PP for a Zimmer Frame. I want Kobe to make Allen dream of retirement and I want LO to destroy Wallace inside and off the dribble. I want to see Rondo collapse time and time again, empty handed after going up against our bigs for a rebound. I want #16, #17, and #18 to happen while Simmons is still relevant, so we can read as he keeps having to put our latest crop of Lakers in higher and higher levels of his pyramid and Kobe ejects Bird from his top 5.


  21. Well, Melo has been on a tear as of late AND he always brings his A+ game when playing the Lakers. Second night of a back-to-back or not, he’s going to make sure our team has a hard time beating his Nuggets no matter what.


  22. Kurt, kudos to the great post. What is your take on the bench’s maturity and whether their lack thereof can be compensated by our starters’ great maturity?

    Guys like Odom and Walton display deep maturity and understanding of both the game and their respective roles. With younger guys (including Bynum) and the younger bench players, I just hope their growth is in tandem with the starters’ maturity and not in resentment of it.

    I suppose the old Bulls team had that starters + bench maturity, with guys coming off the bench completely understanding their roles. Hopefully our bench can become like that.


  23. It’s hard to discuss maturity in terms of the Lakers personnel and not mention Fish. That guy basically defines the word, from the locker room and beyond. He’s not the president of the NBA PA for nothing.


  24. I didn’t catch how long a stretch the 1-17 stat measured. Not sure if its 1,2 or 3 seasons or if the Nuggets are included. It’d be interesting if they were because then if you have a home and home b2b, they could advertise it as “SOMEONE MUST WIN!”

    Its an incredible stat though. How does it inflate their record (if at all?)? Does it inflate their confidence at home in the playoffs, so they get caught off guard? Basically it seems like any team in this situation should bring that stat up before they ever play to put it in perspective.


    • JD, it was two years, and below Franky looked it up and Denver has had to do the trip 3 times last season and lost all 3. So we are at 1-20 with teams making that trip (heading into tonight).

      And by the way, Lakers have a back-to-back second game in Utah coming up. That’s a tough one, too.


  25. The reason Denver gets the 2nd half of back2back’s at home so often may be because Denver is one of three teams in the Mountain Time Zone. By rule, NBA teams cannot play a game, cross two time zones, then play another game the next night; they have to have a day off in between. However, if it is only one timezone, they can play back2back. Thus, lots of teams that go on West Coast trips will play the 2nd half of a back2back in Denver, Phoenix, or Utah at the end of their road trip before going back East.

    Don’t know for sure if this is true, but it seems feasible.


  26. The most important indication and result of that maturity are the consistent wins against teams with bad records.

    As we all know, it’s been a really long time since we’ve had a team that really went out and took care of business night in and night out, or as Phil so memorably put it, a team willing and able to put a foot on the neck of an opponent in jeopardy.

    Not they’re necessarily all the way there, but this certainly has been a nice run, and hopefully a good start. When they decide not to take luggage for a close-out away game, that is when they will have fully arrived (is that even possible anymore with playoff scheduling?). I actually think that this team is capable, even if that actual event is unlikely…


  27. Re playing in Denver the night after a game in the Pacific Time Zone: the Nuggets just defeated the Bulls in Denver recently, one night after losing to the Clippers in Staples. But that stat is very compelling.

    It should be less of an advantage for Utah. Salt Lake City is approximately 1,000 feet lower than Denver, is perhaps 45 minutes closer to the West Coast cities, and the SLC airport is not a full hour outside the city as the Denver airport is. Teams probably get to their SLC hotel about 90 minutes earlier than when they arrive at their Denver hotel.


  28. the other Stephen December 1, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    …so how ’bout them bees tonight? =P


  29. There should be at least 24 hours between games, time zone factored in.


  30. Not Charlie Rosen December 1, 2009 at 3:53 pm

    @19 – If I remember correctly, PJ didn’t go to Jordan’s induction not because of Jordan, but because he’s pissed at the HoF for not inducting Tex, and refuses to have anything to do with any of their events (except his own induction). Though, it would be especially sweet if the HoF gets their heads on straight and inducts Tex between now and Kobe’s induction, so PJ could be there.


  31. had an article with review on the top 15 free agents.

    Artest was number 10:

    “10. Ron Artest to the Lakers

    After all the hype, this marriage has been a slight disappointment, both in production and potential for chaos. All the Lakers care about is what Artest can do against Carmelo Anthony or another big scorer come playoff time”

    What games are they watching? And for a frame of reference, the Big Viscosity (for killing the flow of their offense) in Cleveland was ranked ninth.


  32. Kurt- but the first game in that b2b is against the Wolves, so the team should be able to leave for the airport at half time and still have a good shot at winning. And if they don’t they can call it giving a hand to an old friend in Rambis.


  33. 34. Sedale – at least it’s nice to see the media admit to being disappointed that there’s yet to be any chaos.


  34. The Big Viscosity, I like that. As much as I love seeing the Lakers this year finally start crushing bad teams like they should- I’m getting sick of how soft their schedule is up to this point in terms of really weighing them against the better teams in the conference. I certainly believe both the Mavs and Nuggets losses were flukes largely due to the absence of Pau and that with Pau in the lineup, we dominate both those teams…but, I want to see THAT, not another massacre of NO. I know, I know…it’s coming…


  35. #31, the other Stephen, I’m with you…isn’t there a game tonight?
    shouldn’t we have a preview up already?
    I’m jonesin’ Kurt….


  36. How has Artest’s production been disappointing at all?

    Where do people find the raw +/- stats that tell you who leads the league in that? I can’t find it anywhere. 82games has adjusted, net and other stuff, but even that isn’t ranked for the league. No 1 source of stats has everything. It’s annoying.


  37. I dont know if anyone caught Chris Sheridan’s chat on yesterday but he also made reference to how poorly Ron Artest is playing and how his frustration could boil over. I just dont get what these people are watching. I have watched every Laker game so far and Ron has played great lately. He did get off to a slow start but recently he has had some great games. I just dont get it


  38. (40) Follow up
    Q. Here is the exacty question and answer from the chat:
    Based upon what you have seen so far with Ron Artest come playoff time will the Ariza/Artest trade benefit the Lakers. Assuming they play either the Celtics or Cavs. in the finals.

    Based on what I’ve seen so far? He’ll be a tremendous asset in the finals, should they get there. He’s going to be an even bigger distraction sometime in the meantime — especially if he keeps playing as poorly as he has been and his frustration boils over — and his going on Jimmy Kimmel in boxers will look tame by comparison. I’m with Hollinger on this one and believe the Rockets got the better end of this deal. If I’m wrong, we’ll see why in the finals.



  39. Drew,

    Check out the last post.


  40. Also, Artest wasn’t wearing Boxers on Kimmel- as he pointed out, they were shorts. Draw-string and all. He had a pair of boxers on underneath and in a kind of brilliant PR move, he used them to explain the whole infamous “houston team bus” incident from last year.

    I gained even more appreciation of Artest after watching that Kimmel stint. And I think he’s a huuuuge upgrade on Ariza. I just hope he doesn’t let the nitpicking bother him. We don’t need him to score 17 ppg. We need him to lock down guys and be an enforcer and nail those corner 3’s…but he also has shown that he’s a great passer, which is a huge bonus.


  41. Some interesting things I noticed in Hollinger’s rankings, specifically the strength of sched stats.

    Before the Lakers played the Nets, they had a pretty tough ranking. Something like .524, despite having played easy teams recently. NJN singlehandedly dropped them to .496, which is right in the middle of the league. Add it to their home-away numbers and they’ve had an easy go of it so far.

    Okay, but other teams on the extreme, where you might expect to see some shifting in perception as the schedules regress to the mean. The easiest records so far this season (with win %):

    1- Denver: .401
    2- Bucks: .412
    3- Portland: .420
    4- Sacramento: .443
    5- Cleveland: .450
    6- Indiana: .451
    7-Boston: .453
    8- Clippers: .455
    9- Phoenix: .457
    10- Orlando: .466

    Okay, now hardest scheds:
    1- New Orleans: .605
    2- Houston: .595
    3- Toronto: .587
    4- Chicago: .582
    5- Oklahoma: .578
    6-Detroit: 577
    7- Minnesota: .545
    8- Atlanta: .534
    9- Golden State: .528

    Anyways, you get the picture. What I don’t know is: Will these all gradually revert closer to .500? Is this more or less important than home-away numbers (which you usually hear more about)?

    If so, then I think we can look at those with the easiest records as being overrated right now, while those with the toughest records being underrated.

    Speaks well for what Houston and Okalhoma are doing, while predicting brighter days ahead for the Hornets (whose schedule will only be rated harder after tonight). Meanwhile, Denver and Portland may not be as good as they’ve seen and the good starts for the Bucks and Kings could be illusory.

    I’m interested to watch.


  42. Does Hollinger’s strength of schedule adjust for the stronger teams not having to play themselves? (i.e. the Net’s playing the Lakers is extremely high “strength of schedule”, while the Lakers playing the Nets is extremely low, even though it’s the same game.)


  43. With regards to Ron Artest… not only have these people not been actually watching the games and seen him play rather than merely watching numbers, they apparently didn’t read ESPN’s daily dime early in the season either, where Ron was quoted as saying he doesn’t care what his numbers are because his job on the Lakers is not to be the primary scorer. He suggested judging his performance based on how the opponents he is guarding are doing instead… how well they shoot and score.

    Another point on him, before I go make dinner: Yes, it’s great that Ron can do a talk show interviews in his underwear without being crucified, but it’s nearly as important that he’s not being celebrated for his antics either.

    As Kurt pointed out, a guy walking around in Hollywood in just his underwear is called Tuesday, and it’s not a big deal. When you’re a bit different (and let’s not mince words, with Artest that’s a bit of an understatement) having everyone around you constantly gush over how great it is that you’re so comfortable with being different, and how much they support you being able to be yourself, can be just as bad as the crucifixion would be.

    But when you can go home from work and relax completely and just be you… without anyone around you making a huge deal out it in any way… then all of a sudden, all those frustrating things at work that used to drive you crazy, that you never could let go of, that eventually piled up until the pressure was too great and everything exploded, all those little things just don’t seem that bad anymore. Because when you get home, you are finally able to just relax and be yourself, and forget all about that work stress.

    I am now going to make dinner. Wearing sweats and fluffy slippers. 🙂


  44. Also, I finally had a chance to watch the Artest-Kimmel interview, and the man is hilarious! He is well on his way to become my new favorite Laker.


  45. Finally getting around to the game and FB&G after my Astronomy class, to see the real Stars tonight. You want to know something Mimsy? You just seem to have really cool things to say about things…