Archives For February 2010

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Ahh, the spirit of love is in the air.  I’m settling in, thinking of what special meal I’m going to prepare and what lavish gifts I can expect from the one that I love.  Oh, you thought I was talking about Valentine’s Day?  No, it’s All-Star weekend!  Some random musings on my favorite sports weekend that is now upon us.

*The action starts tonight with the Rookie/Sophmore game and the quest to determine what team can play the least amount of defense ever seen in an organized basketball game.  When I take a look at the rosters of both teams, lets just say I see a decided advantage for one of the teams and think that the Sophmores will build on its seven game win streak in this showcase of young talent.  That’s not to say that there won’t be some interesting matchups.  I love the guard matchups that we’ll see when the combo of Westbrook/Mayo face off against Curry/Evans.  I’m also anxious to see the battle of the boards between Dejuan Blair and Kevin Love.  But in the end, I think that the frontline of Beasley/Love/Lopez/Gasol will dominate the inside against the rookie group of Casspi/Taj Gibson/Jerebko/Blair and that even an explosion from Brandon Jennings (and his throwback hairdo) won’t be enough to take down the more seasoned sophs. 

*Another “event” to watch this evening will be the dunk off between the Clips’ Eric Gordon and the Raptor’s DeMar DeRozan as they face off to determine who will compete in Saturday Night’s big boy contest.  In this one, my money is on DeRozan as he’s clearly the better athlete and would seemingly have more to offer the fans who vote on the winner.  That said, don’t count out Gordon who, despite his stout frame, does have hops.

*But, tommorrow is where the real action begins.  Highlighted by the 3 point shoot out and the (aforementioned) Dunk Contest this is the night that gets DVR’d just in case something special happens.  And I do expect something special.  Especially with this guy in the competition for all of us Lakers fans to cheer for (more on him tomorrow). 

*As for the 3 point contest, though the glory days of Larry Legend calmly sinking the money ball as he holds his follow through with a #1 in the air have gone and passed, I’m still interested in who wins this crown.  Is the field a bit uninspired?  Would I have liked to see a couple of other guys in this competition instead?  Sure.  But I love to see the long ball get buried and really love the sound of the swoosh when a shot gets nothing but net.  So, I’m tuning in.  And my pick…Steph Curry.

*But, this weekend isn’t all about the events and the games or even the 90,000+ fans that are expected to be in attendance.  This is also a weekend where the players union and owners will have their first substantive meetings about the expriring collective bargaining agreement and them laying the groundwork on establishing a new deal that both sides agree on.  Kurt’s got a good take over at his new digs, and I tend to agree with what he’s saying about the owners asking for the moon.  My (overall) take is that both sides know a labor agreement is tantamount to the future success of this league and if both sides drag this out or if a lockout ensues this sport will be in trouble for the long term.  It’s in everyone’s best interests to find a common ground and my hope is that they will do just that.  In the end, maybe a 50/50 split in basketball related income is on the horizon and with that a lowering in contract value and length.  But all fans care about is the league not missing a beat and the games going on without a hitch.  I know that’s all I care about. 

*One last thing – have you ever been to an All-Star game?  Are you going to this one (Texas reader Gr8 Scott has already said that he is)?  The closest I came was me and a couple of friends venturing down to Vegas a couple of years ago on the weekend of the big event.  We didn’t get tickets to the game (sadly) but we did check out the exhibits and saw our fair share of players doing it big that weekend.  We also were treated to plenty of crowds on the strip and complaining cabbies about all the people causing a raucous and all the lousy tippers.  Do you have a story?  Let’s hear ‘em in the comments (keep them somewhat family friendly, please).  In the end, enjoy this weekend.  We’ll get more stuff up over the next couple of days to keep the site going.

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The biggest news that didn’t really shock anyone yesterday was Kobe Bryant’s name being removed off of the Western Conference All-Star roster. As we all know, Bryant sat out of the Lakers’ previous three games – all wins – due his bum ankle. Although Sunday’s game has lost some of it’s luster, Lakers fans have to be pleased that Kobe is finally giving his body some proper time to rest, a healthy Kobe is what the Lakers are going to need most during this last two month push before the postseason.

The biggest news that did shock the blogosphere was Kobe’s replacement: Jason Kidd. The decision left hoops fans wondering why someone like a Monta Ellis, Carlos Boozer or O.J. Mayo didn’t get the nod. We all know what Kidd has done throughout his career, but his time has passed. Rob Mahoney of “The Two Man Game” explains:

“It’s not that Kidd’s not deserving; I think you could make the legitimate case that he has an absolutely tremendous positive impact on this Mavs team. Plus his numbers (9.3 PPG, 9.3 APG, 5.1 RPG, 1.8 SPG) are impressive enough, I suppose. But I’m honestly a bit shocked that David Stern didn’t select Monta Ellis or Tyreke Evans in this instance. Or even one of a few capable big men (Carlos Boozer, Nene, Marc Gasol). Or maybe even Russell Westbrook or O.J. Mayo. Kidd will have another All-Star selection on his resume, but he just seems out of place. And after listing off some of those candidates, I’ve come to a conclusion — he’s not deserving, relative to the competition. Good player for the Mavs, not great for the Western Conference All-Stars.”

And since Kobe’s not starting, our old friend Kurt, now at “Pro Basketball Talk”, gives us a little insight on what the Western Conference Starting offense might look like on Sunday without a true shooting guard in the mix. Reports are saying that Dirk Nowitzki will start in Kobe’s place.

On the Eastern Conference end, it was announced that Allen Iverson would not participate due to some family issues, and David Lee would be named in his place. David Lee has put up some great numbers this season, but there is no way he should have gotten the nod over Josh Smith. The fans deserve to see a Josh Smith-type player in the ASG, I thought Al Horford over Smith was unjustified, but Lee over Smith was just down right unlawful. At the “Wages of Wins Journal”, DJ informs us that, from last season until the date of the post (a very recent Feb. 2), Josh Smith is the second most improved player in terms of wins produced:

“The Josh Smith story has been noted before. If Josh Smith maintained what he did last season – and every other Atlanta player continued doing what they are doing this year – the Hawks would only be on pace to win 47 games this season (last year the Hawks won 47 games). So the improvement we see in Smith’s production is really driving the story we see in Atlanta in 2009-10. Interestingly enough, Smith’s shooting efficiency hasn’t changed much (50.8% adjusted field goal percentage last year, 51.2% adjusted field goal percentage after 41 games this year). No, Smith has improved with respect to offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots, and free throws. In essence, Smith has gotten better across the board. And now the Hawks are serious contenders in the East.”

On All Star Saturday, Shannon Brown is still slated to participate in the dunk contest. Andrew Kamenetzky posted this amazing feature on Brown’s up and down NBA career, taking us back to his Final Four trip with Michigan State (Magic stand up) to his tumultuous stops in Cleveland and Chicago, before finally being traded to the Lakers. It’s a great read for the Shannon fans, and for anyone who enjoys a semi-inspiring story about reaching goals.

Last, but most definitely not least, the basketball world was shook with another loss. Ex-Lakers and University of West Virginia coach, Fred Schaus, died Wednesday night in Morgantown, West Virginia. Schaus was 84. He coached UWV to the national championship game in 1959, a team led by Jerry West. He then followed West to the Lakers, leading them to four Finals appearances. He would become the Lakers General Manager that put together the 1972 title winning team, which was led by Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlin. On “Laker Noise”, Roland Lazenby posted an excerpt on his book about Jerry West, which ended with West sharing some words about Schaus:

“During his period of illness, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Fred and found that he still had that smile and his personality never seemed to change. He will be missed by all who know and love him, especially Barbara and his children. We have lost a great man and for me personally, someone who was so instrumental in my life. I will be forever grateful that he showed a special interest during my formidable years at the university and also his during my very difficult transition to professional basketball. For all of us fortunate enough to have been associated with Fred, he made our lives fuller and had great influence on our successes regardless of where they led us.”

Our thoughts go out to the Schaus family. May he Rest in Peace.

-Phillip

Appreciating What You Have

Darius Soriano —  February 11, 2010

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Much praise has been heaped on the Lakers the last three games and it’s well deserved.  Almost every player that’s been available to play against the Blazers, Spurs, and Jazz has raised his game and it’s led to quality wins over teams that are serious foes.

The credit starts with Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom.  Simply put, these two players have shown why they are two of the best players, not only on this team, but in the league.  For Gasol, that praise is a given – he’s a super talented player that has every needed  skill on offense and is an underrated defender. I mean, have you seen his block totals from the last two games?  Not to mention all the shots he’s contested and altered.  For Odom, this praise may seem far fetched until you really examine his marvelous skill set and see all the different ways he can affect a game.  His ability to handle the ball and initiate the offense while also being a tremendous rebounder and defender are an amalgamation of basketball talent that any coach would love have on his roster.  Said another way, when your power forward and center can dribble like guards, move around the court like wing players, and play in the paint like big men, you’ve really got something.  But these players are not without their faults and at times those seem to be the traits that fans would rather focus on.  Both players are not overly physical and can be pushed around by more physically imposing players.  Both players have had their moments when they have not ‘shown up’ for games and left us wanting more from them.  Both players fade in and out of the ‘attack mode’ that has made so many other of our basketball heroes the unforgettable legends that we’d like every current star to emulate. But, I think we need to ask ourselves, what really matters more – the good or the bad?

This same type of examination can be made for several of our other players too.  I mean, I’ve been a person that has been hard on Jordan Farmar over the years.  To me, he’s shown too much hard headedness and an unwillingness in fitting his game into our offense.  For someone with so much physical talent, he’s played uninspired defense for long stretches that have hurt his team.  But, he’s also an explosive player with an athleticism that brings an added dimension to this team.  He’s an outstanding attack guard that can get into the lane and finish in the paint while also showing a capable enough jumpshot that either keeps defenses guarding him closely or makes them pay if they don’t.  You add to that better defense of late and a knack for making some big shots and I’m becoming a believer on Farmar. Against the Jazz last night, the Lakers lead had gone from 19 to 12 as the Jazz were making their push in the 4th quarter.  On the next possession, Farmar makes a three pointer from the extended wing that pushes the lead back to 15 – even the Jazz announcers were calling this a dagger – ultimately ending any chance at a Jazz comeback.  Farmar is helping this team and as a fan I’m learning that appreciating him for what he is will make me enjoy this season even more. Similar recognition could be given to Sasha for persevering through some very rough patches over the past two seasons to now playing well in limited minutes in recent weeks. Really, every player fits into this mold – no one is perfect. But too often, as fans we choose to either highlight one extreme or the other. Does it really have to be that way?

If you take this same approach to the macro level we can examine this team as a whole and see the same mentality currently taking hold.  Kobe and Bynum have (essentially, for Bynum at least) missed the last three games and in their absences the team has performed very well.  Better than expected, even.  But, does this mean that Kobe and Bynum aren’t important to the success of this team?  Of course not.  It may mean that roles need to be redefined and that playing styles need to be adjusted or re-examined in order to get this team to reach its full potential, but it doesn’t mean that either one of these players is any less valuable than what they’ve proven to be this season.  A season where Kobe has hit miraculous game winners or Bynum has come up big and helped lead us to victory. But, too many have seen the recent success and still want to assign blame. “Why can’t the team play like this all the time? It must be (insert either Bynum or Kobe)’s fault.” Really? Why can’t the credit be given to those that play with no blame assigned for what is gone and in the past?

My point in all of this is to appreciate what you have as a fan of this team.  With two fifths of our starting five missing this team has won some hard fought games with a level of teamwork and determination on both ends of the floor that should be applauded.  But, with the complete starting five, this same team had earned a first place position in the Western Conference and was tight on the heels of the Cavs for the best record in the entire NBA.  We Laker fans are spoiled at times – we have great players, an all time coach, and a franchise history that is one of the most celebrated in all of professional sports.  But too often we take that for granted and want even more.  We want perfection and rarely is that possible.  Over the past two seasons we at Forum Blue and Gold have talked about enjoying the journey.  I make that plea once again.  I will never tell anyone how to be a fan.  We all have our own view on things and respond differently to what we see when we watch the games.  But, as we go into the all-star break and prepare ourselves to root for this team down the home stretch and into the playoffs, I do ask that we forget for a moment what the team could be doing better and embrace what this team is doing well.  Because whether you look at the last three games or this season on the whole, they deserve that from us.

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(Editors Note: Long time reader and new contributor Phillip is the author of this post.  He’ll be joining us here at FB&G more frequently this season with lots of goodies for all of you.  Please welcome him and enjoy his first post.)

The Lakers went into Wednesday night’s wire-to-wire rout of the Jazz winners of two consecutive games without Kobe Bryant. The Jazz came into the game winners of nine straight and 13 of their last 14 games.

The Lakers came out firing on all cylinders and closed out the first quarter with two huge stops with a fast break dunk and a buzzer beating three after each stop to take a 31-18 lead going into the second. At the half, the Lakers would have a 56-41 lead, but didn’t go into intermission until D.J. Mbenga got loose on two fast break dunks. The Lakers took advantage of Utah’s lack of energy coming out of the half to raise the Jazz deficit to 19 going into the final period. And, after a Utah run at the beginning of the fourth, the Lakers were able to close out the last 6:50 of the fourth quarter out scoring the Jazz 17-13.

This third straight win can be attributed to how well Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom have played together on the floor. For the second straight night, both Gasol and Odom lit up the box score, both bigs recording double-doubles in the 96-81 victory. Gasol dropped 22 points while adding 19 rebounds and five blocks for the second straight night. Odom finished with a game high 25 points and chipped in 11 rebounds.

For those who missed the game, the Lakers Blog at Lakers.com had a running diary of the game, highlighting all of the major events by quarter.

Here, Brian Kamenetzky over at Land O’ Lakers explains how the Lakers got back to moving the ball and making better decisions sans Kobe.

“You could see it in the final sequence of the first quarter. With 27.4 seconds remaining, the Jazz came up the floor looking to get the frame’s final points. Utah’s Ronnie Price waited just past half court, allowing time to come off the clock before making his move against Jordan Farmar. With about 10 ticks left, he did, trying to come over a Carlos Boozer screen at the top of the arc.

Rather than lose Price on the drive, Farmar delivered a foul the Lakers had available. Off the inbound with 8.4 seconds remaining, Ronnie Brewer tried to penetrate, and was blocked at the rim by Pau Gasol.

Pau fed Sasha Vujacic, streaking up court with under four seconds to play. With just over a second remaining, Sasha dished to Farmar, who alertly had filled the right wing behind the arc. Farmar stepped into a rhythm triple, which he drilled, putting the Lakers up 31-18.”

Also, the K-Bros discuss Kobe’s injury and the Lakers’ reserves collective mindsets going into games without KB on their podcast.

Over at the Salt Lake Tribune, Gordon Monson does a great job in putting the Jazz’s nine-game winning streak in perspective and some analysis of Utah’s streak-ending woes for the Utah’s faithful:

“Still, playing the Lakers without Bryant is better than most of what the Jazz had accomplished in their hot streak, a span during which they had won 13 of 14 games. There were, indeed, some nice victories mixed in, but beating New Jersey, Sacramento, Milwaukee, the Nuggets without Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony, Portland without its big men and Brandon Roy, and the Clips, doesn’t inspire a whole lot of legitimate chatter about a bona fide move toward greatness.”

Just a couple of other game notes:

*Against Utah, Lakers point guard Derek Fisher competed in the 1,000th regular season game of his career. Both Fisher and Bryant, who were both drafted in 1996, were sitting on 999 wins going into the game against the Jazz. Maybe, for the first time in their long histories together, this was the first time Fish was able to beat Kobe to something.

*Also, the Lakers Lamar Odom, along with Kobe was named as one of 27 players to the 2010-2012 USA National Team. This summer, the team will be competing in the World Championship tournament in Turkey. The U.S. National team hasn’t won the tournament since 1944. Andrew Bynum declined a spot on the team.

-Phillip

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Records: Lakers 40-13 (1st in the West), Jazz 32-18 (3rd in the West, 6.5 behind the Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.6 (9th in the NBA), Jazz 110.0 (7th in the NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 102.5 (2nd in the NBA), Jazz 104.6 (9th in the NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol
Jazz: Deron Williams, Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur

Will they play?: The big question surrounding the Lakers right now is the injury status of Kobe and Bynum and whether either or both will be ready to suit up for tonight’s contest.  It’s already looking unlikely that Bynum will participate as he’s listed as doubtful.  As for Kobe, he’s put down his Carnac hat and can no longer see into the future – so he’s unable to determine how he’ll feel when tip off arrives.  My guess is that he sits, but I was the same guy that thought he’d play against the Spurs so take that for what it’s worth.  In the end, my take is that they should both stay home and get treatment on what ails them.  At this point, they’ve both missed games so they’re obviously not feeling anywhere close to 100% and if that is still the case I see no need to rush back for a game that will be immediately followed by the all-star break.  Let those bodies heal and come back feeling healthy and fresh for the stretch run.  Plus, as our last two games have proven, who needs ‘em?  (I kid, I kid.)

The Jazz Coming in:  Winners of 9 in a row and 14 of their last 16 games, there isn’t a hotter team in the NBA than the Utah Jazz (besides maybe, Cleveland).  Lately, the Jazz have been showing the form of the team that was in the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago and not the one that finished 8th in the West last season after stumbling down the stretch.  This Jazz team is for real and seem to be showing their potential as a squad going into the home stretch and the push for the playoffs.

Much of the Jazz’s resurgence this season can be attributed to the improved play of Carlos Boozer.  A legitimate all-star snub, Boozer is looking smarter every day for opting-in to the last year of his contract in order to become an UFA after this season.  Next year, some team that doesn’t land one of the marquee guys (Lebron, Wade, Bosh) is going to look to Boozer as a real alternative and he’s going to cash in on this season’s success.  He’s averaging almost 20 points and 11 rebounds with percentages of 55 from the field and 77 from the line and found the groove that eluded him last season while he battled injuries and inconsistency.  Another player that has found his stride in recent weeks is Andrei Kirilenko.  He’s slid back into the starting line up at SF and is really helping the Jazz in every area of the stat sheet.  The man with the best nickname in all of basketball has scored in double digits in his last 9 games while also giving the Jazz a handful or boards to go with his typical output of steals and blocks.

But the real key to the Jazz success, night in and night out, is one of the best point guards in the world.  Deron Williams is a monster that can shoot from anywhere, pass, drive, finish in traffic, and has the body to defend any type of guard that you throw up against him.  He’s finally been rewarded with his first all-star appearance and it’s really overdue.  He’s often overshadowed by Paul and even Nash, but Deron is for real and he is the engine of the Jazz car.  Tonight will be a real test for the Lakers as they are facing the best team they’ve had to play since the match up with Cleveland.

Jazz Blogs: Salt City Hoops always has the lowdown on their home team.  Also check out SLC Dunk for good breakdowns and information on the Jazz.

Keys to game:  The Jazz run one of the best executed offenses in the NBA.  Completely stopping it can be difficult when they are passing and moving as a unit and making the right reads in their sets.  If you want a fantastic breakdown with examples of what the Jazz can do to a team when they’re operating on all cylanders on offense, check out the wrap up that Kevin from Clipperblog has from last night’s Jazz/Clips game (seriously, go read it).  Now that you’re back, you understand that the Lakers will need to be disciplined on defense.  They’ll need their ‘A’ game on P&R defense and can’t get overaggressive in the passing lanes becuase they’ll get beat by the back door.  When it comes to individual defense, Boozer loves to operate on the mid post/elbow area where he can either turn and face or shoot is jumper.  When he drives, he loves to go left so Pau/Odom/Powell will need to be aware of this and shade him to his right hand.  Deron Williams loves to go opposite of the P&R so our guards will need to be aware that the screen may just be a decoy and ensure that Deron doens’t go away from where the help is positioned.  If he gets a head of steam to the basket, he will do damage in the paint and he’ll also make the correct pass to open teammates in the (Joel Meyers sponsored) short corner.

On offense, the Lakers need to push the ball like they have been in the last two games.  The Jazz are coming off a back to back and had to make the same flight from LA to Salt Lake that the Lakers did, so make them run and see if they wear down by the 4th quarter.  Plus, the Lakers have a speed advantage in the front court and should utilize it.  Boozer and Okur can’t run with Odom and Pau so we should see plenty of Odom turning defensive rebounds into fast break chances and Pau running post lane sprints to try and get easy buckets against the slow footed Jazz big men.  This is a tactic that has worked in the playoffs the past two seasons and I expect to see more of it tonight.

When the running opportunity is not there, the Lakers need to play fundamental Triangle basketball and initiate the offense through the post and then cut, screen, and continue to move the ball.  Get the defense moving and get good  shots or make the them foul.  Because the Jazz will foul.   Utah is still one of the highest fouling teams in the league and will not hesitate to reach and grab if they are beat.  That means, be prepared to take the hit and finish shots.  We can’t be rattled by contact or get frustrated by the fouling (especially on no-calls) and must play through the whistle (or lack thereof).  Also be prepared for a hostile crowd.  The Jazz fans hate the Lakers and will boo incessantly when we have the ball and cheer wildly just for Kyle Korver removing his warmups.  This is a tough environment to play in and the Lakers will need to be ready.

Where you can watch: 6:00 pm start time out West on KCAL 9. Also on ESPN Radio 710 AM.

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Some morning links to tie you over until the game

*We’re winding down to the All-Star break and the Lakers will play their last game before some much needed rest tonight against the Jazz.  For those counting at home, tonight will be the Lakers’ 14th game in 24 days and they have not had more than one day off in a row since they traveled from LA to Cleveland to start the Grammy Trip.  I’m surprised more Lakers don’t look like Dirk in this picture (or Ammo in the one above).

*In the last couple of games, we’ve all seen a revitalized Lamar Odom.  Apparently, he’s changed his diet.  I think we know why he’s been dunking more lately. (Hat Tip to Ball Don’t Lie)

*The trade deadline is still more than a week away.  We’ve covered this topic before in this space.  But Pincus is bringing you his most recent thoughts on what the Lakers might be thinking as the deadline approaches.

*Forget the trade deadline, though.  Some have already moved on to potential matchups in the playoffs.  My take on this?  I’m not sure if the Lakers are yet a “lock” to win the West (there still is a fair amount of season left to play), but whoever the Lakers play, I don’t expect a cakewalk.  If the playoffs started today, the Lakers would face Portland (yikes).  But with only 4.5 games separating the 5th and 11th seeds in the West, the opponent could be anyone, litterally.

*You want Kobe to sit out?  You want him to play?  You think he’d be better off retiring tomorrow to join the front office? The K-Bros poll at Land O’ Lakers is for you!

*UPDATED:  Go check out Kurt’s take on Plaschke’s latest “article”.  As usual, I agree with what Kurt is saying on this one.  Plaschke may not envision fans being upset when Phil decides he’d rather write books on his ranch in Montana, but I (and many, many other fans will be).  How can you not love the guy that brought you four titles and six trips to the Finals?  How could not love the guy that got a team with Kwame and Smush to the playoffs?

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Something interesting has occurred the last two games. Lamar Odom has made his yearly renaissance. This season marks the third in a row where LO is making his mid-season push as one of the indispensable Lakers. However, there is a catch that comes with this improved play.  In all these seasons that LO has turned up his game, it’s been because one specific Laker has missed extended time with injuries. That Laker is Andrew Bynum.

Over the past few seasons, some Lakers fans (myself included) have had a “can’t live with him, can’t live without him” mentality about Bynum.  On the one hand, we all see that he’s a fantastic young Center with an incredible skill set – he’s a giant of a (young) man with pterodactyl arms and soft hands attached, he’s got a myriad of post moves that allow him to score with elite level efficiency, he’s a capable rebounder, and he’s a presence in the paint on defense that alters and blocks shots.  Every time I see ‘Drew give Tim Duncan the business or when I see him body up big men and make guys like Kendrick Perkins look small, I can’t imagine not having this guy around. On the other hand, despite his offensive efficiency he has not yet developed a “feel” for passing that would take his game to the next level, he doesn’t always seem engaged in the game, his in-game effort is seemingly completely dependent on how he’s doing on offense, and for all his size he’s still not the rebounder/defender that he could be (though he is effective at both of those things). So when I see missed opportunities to make the extra pass or see big ‘Drew hang his head because a play didn’t go his way, I wonder what his future on this team really is. It’s these thoughts and this quasi pro’s/con’s list that goes through my mind whenever I think about Bynum and what is best for the Lakers’ future.  And I’m not alone.

After the last couple of games, the discussion of what to do with Bynum is heating up (on this site). Again, we love him, we love him not.  Here’s what we’re saying about our immensely talented, but sometimes mismatched big man:

T.Rogers -I hope people aren’t starting to think Bynum is expendable. No doubt there are spacing issues when him and Pau are on the floor together. It is up to the coaching staff to figure that out. But let’s not get too hasty here. The Lakers will need Bynum’s big body if they are to complete their title defense. Every front court is not as undersized as San Antonio’s.

There will nights and teams where the Lakers front court will have to out-muscle the opposing front court. And there is nothing about a Gasol+Odom combination that says “muscle.” And that’s okay. The Lakers won last year because of versatility. There will be nights were they need Pau and Lamar to run circles around the opposition.

But dismissing Bynum+Gasol is like getting rid of your uppercut to fight solely with the jab. It’s the combination of punches that ultimately KO’s the opponent. And for that reason the Lakers still very much need Andrew Bynum.”

Don - “I would rather put Gasol and Bynum out there together at the cost of a few games so that they can play better off one another in time for the playoffs. To bench Bynum and say that they’ve plateaued in terms of their chemistry together is underestimating these professionals and PJ. Besides, the first quarters of NBA games don’t matter anyway. How many times have you seen teams dominate the first quarter and lose?”

Craig W. -In American football there is an adage that the quarterback gets to much credit in a win and too much blame in a loss, despite being the key component of almost all teams.  We may be coming to the same conclusion with the Lakers.  I too am beginning to think it is not the loss of Kobe that is revealing what the other players can do in the triangle, but the loss of both Bryant and Bynum. It’s the combination that seems to point the way.  This is a hard conclusion because I have been in the Bynum camp almost from the beginning.”

Bynumite – It seems pretty evident to me at least, that the offense is less stagnant with Bynum out. Mostly because of the two-man game of Lamar and Pau. While the idea of bringing Bynum off the bench is tantalizing (he would wreck shop on 95% of backup centers in the NBA), I don’t think PJ is looking to do that. There is a way of integrating Bynum into this offense with Pau out there as well. These players are too smart and too skilled to for the Lakers to be average by our standards offensively. Maybe it has to do with Bynum being a more willing passer or reading the play better, I am not entirely sure.”

Rudy – Eventhough Phil Jackson would never do this, I am of the feeling that we would be better off making Bynum come off the bench. In watching these 2 games it is obvious Odom has looked much more energetic in starting alongside Gasol. Although I do think Bynum is needed to play against the powerhouses of the east, there does seem to be more space for our offense to operate more effectively with him out.”

The Dude Abides -Hmm…do people remember a huge factor in our win over Boston nine days ago? Bynum was a beast who pwned Perkins on offense, grabbed a ton of rebounds, and contested seemingly every Celtic shot from 12 feet and in. All this happened as the Celtics played much better for the first 39 minutes than they had been doing in their recent stretch of games, and then the Lakers overcame an 11-point deficit with nine minutes to go. Pau was on the bench while Drew was on the court for most of this fourth quarter comeback.

We all know that Pau is Option #1A along with Kobe on offense, as the offense frequently runs best through Pau. However, a healthy Bynum is another huge factor in the team’s success and versatility. Let’s not forget that.”

And on and on we go.  Let me state this now and in no uncertain terms: I love Andrew Bynum.  I think his combination of size and skill is a rarity in this league and you don’t just give that away – you foster it and develop it in order to unleash it on the rest of the NBA.  That said, Bynum is not the only capable player on this team and he is only one part of its success.  Bynum is flanked by all-stars and all NBA performers.  He’s teamed with talents with all around game(s) and players who do whatever it takes to win.  And that is the rub.  I have no doubts that if Bynum had been drafted onto a team that didn’t have the leagues premier perimeter talent of this generation, but still given the same level of coaching and time to develop he’d be spoken of in the same manner that we speak of Dwight Howard or (pre-injury) Greg Oden.  He’d be one of the players that we thought was the future of this league.  However, just like in real estate, location matters in the NBA.  You are shaped by your environment and have to deal with the circumstances that you are brought into.  And right now, Bynum is on a contender that needs certain things from him – things that may change from night to night.  One night we may need the offensive beast that shoots a high percentage and can be an anchor on offense in the post.  While on other nights, we may need fifteen rebounds and 5 blocks with only a handful of points to go along with all that defensive impact.  Can Bynum play this way?  I’m not sure if he’s mature enough at this point in his career.

There are also X’s and O’s to consider.  As I mentioned at the top of this post, Lamar Odom is a key player for this team.  Much of our success over the past two seasons is at least partly attributed to the versatility of Odom’s game and how he meshes so well into what we hope to get out of the Triangle offense and our help schemes on defense.  Offensively, Odom opens up space for every other player on the court.  The fact that he can play on the perimeter and slash/cut like a SF while finishing in the lane and rebounding on both ends like a PF is priceless to this team.  His ability to be an offensive initiator means that our guards (including Kobe) are forced into more strict roles on offense where they are put into a position where they must to play off the ball more and use the motions of the offense to receive the ball and take shots.  Odom is also a player that is one of our better post-entry passers and can run the elbow P&R that more times that not forces switches on defense and enables our Center to get matched up with a PF on the block or allows LO to use his speed to penetrate against a slow footed defender.  And since Odom has a pass first mentality he’s not only looking for his own offense on any given play, but looking to set up one of his mates for an easy look.  Meanwhile, Bynum is strictly a post player.  While he’s flashing an improved jumpshot, he still lives on the low block and that means whenever he is on the floor, at least one side of the floor will not be penetrable by the dribble.  And when Bynum and Pau share the floor, we will always have at least one of our bigs not in their comfort zone as one of them will almost always be parked at the high post where his offensive efficiency suffers.  And until these two bigs develop more chemistry in playing two man game through either high low or block to block passing, our overall offensive efficiency will suffer.

There is no easy answer here.  Bynum is a young player that needs to be nurtured and given more and more responsibility if we expect him to grow and develop into the player we think he can be.  That means more post touches, more shot attempts, more crunch time minutes, and more understanding when he doesn’t play up to expectations.  However, the Lakers are a team that is built to win now.  And since that is the case, we also need clearly defined roles or players with the ability to play a variety of styles that compliment each other in order to create a balance and generate wins.  Right now, I think it’s clear that Bynum is a player that needs touches while our team seems to perform its best when touches don’t come into the equation.  Bynum is a player that doesn’t compliment Pau in the same way that a perimeter oriented, slashing, passing big man does – but Bynum is a player that can supplant Gasol as a post up weapon that can get us easy points when others are struggling to score the ball.  In the end, I think it’s a nice problem to have.  I’d rather have too much talent, than not enough.  But in order to win as a team, that talent needs to mesh.  These last two games with Bynum and Kobe sitting have shown that to be true more than ever.  Like I said, there is no easy answer here but one must still be figured out anyway if we hope to get the most out of this team.

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Teamwork.

It’s a simple word that has a vast meaning.  It’s what creates a dynamic where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  And in basketball, it results in a beautiful style of play where no one player is king, but all players make an impact.  That’s what we’re seeing from the Lakers and it’s something that I (and I’m sure every other Laker fan) can get used to.

On a night where Kobe missed his second consecutive game and Andrew Bynum was out for his sixth consecutive quarter, the Lakers are playing with less talent but with more togetherness.  Two games is an extremely small sample size, but oh what a two games.  Facing two teams that have traditionally been tough foes, the Lakers have two wins.

Once again, the credit can’t go to just one player and we can’t identify a single play that was the difference in this game.  It was a total team effort and one where the contributions from every player that saw meaningful minutes added up to a double digit victory and tacos for the home fans.  But if we’re going to give out credit, let’s start down low and then work our way out (just like our offense – it just works best).  Pau Gasol was just tremendous.  I don’t care that he missed some easy ones.  The fact that he was even in position to miss those easy ones was an indicator of the work that he was doing to establish position and skill he possesses to get himself a good shot.  Plus, when he’s doing all the other things that he can do to affect a game, I’ll take some missed shots. He didn’t miss ‘em all though.  21 points, 19 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 blocks for the big Spaniard.  That’s putting in work.  Add to that Tim Duncan needing 17 shots to get his 16 points (no FT’s!) and give me more of that Pau, missed shots and all.

Then there was Odom doing his “I’m in complete control of this game with the ball in my hands” thing.  Another double-double for my favorite lefty (16 and 10) with 3 dimes (could have been more if Pau had made some of those bunnies or didn’t get fouled on a couple of others) and too many to count rebound turned fast breaks for LO.  Tonight, we all saw the Odom that I thought was a can’t lose player when he was a FA this off-season.  I really can’t say enough about the way that Odom pushed the ball against the slow-to-change-ends bigs of the Spurs while also making the right reads with the ball – choosing to either force the action or set up in the half court.  And since we’re talking front court players, Artest continues to play the all around, two way game that Lakers fans (and Phil Jackson, I’m sure) were hoping to see when we acquired ol’ crazy pills.  A nice and tidy line of 16/5/4 for Ron and more of his trademark take no prisoners defense on Richard Jefferson (who by the way started oh fer 7 and ended up with 9 points on as many shots).

But this game wasn’t just about our bigs; the guards chipped in their fair share as well.  Derek Fisher has earned much of the (when it’s fair minded) criticism he’s gotten this season.  But tonight he played a controlled game by taking the shots that were there for him and making them.  You can call it coincidence, but in the last two games – games that Kobe has been out – Fisher has had two of his better games all season and really stepped up to fill the void in leadership by playing steady and even more calm than normal.  There will be fans that will still want more from Fish or will call this game fluky but I think he’s been playing well and I am happy for a player that I respect a great deal.  

But, just as with our bigs the credit doled out to our backcourt must also be spread out.  Shannon Brown got the start in Kobe’s place and he filled in admirably.  WOW may not have shot well, but he made a big 3 when the Spurs were making a run and converted an alley oop dunk to open the 2nd half that really got the crowd and the team going.  But, the really solid game(s) were had by Farmar and Sasha.  Farmar really is putting together some good performances of late.  He’s found his groove on offense (still too many P&R’s for my taste, but those are the plays that allow him to get into the lane and create separation for his jumper) and is playing better defense.  Nothing all world about his D, but just solid position defense that was highlighted by an end of the first half stop against Parker where Tony waived off the Duncan screen and tried to cross over Jordan only to have Farmar stick with him, make him reverse his dribble, and then forcing Parker lose his handle when Jordan pressured him.  Overall, I like what Jordan is doing.  Last, but not least, we had a Machine sighting.  Sasha continues to lobby for more minutes (the Boston game aside) by playing under control, making the shots that are available to him, and playing hard in his limited minutes.  He’s still fouling a bit too much, but he’s aggressive on defense so fouls are going to come.

Overall, this was another very good win from our guys.  When the game started and Tony Parker was going crazy and the Spurs put up a 34 spot in the first 12 minutes, I thought this might be a long night.  But the Lakers defense tightened, we started to push the ball and the game started to turn.  And as the game developed, every Spurs run was answered and the game was in control for the entire second half.  Against a solid opponent – one at full health – I couldn’t have asked for a better performance from our team.  The teamwork shined tonight and that is something that I can get used to.