Archives For June 2010

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In a week of waiting for Lakers fans, today is the day the entire league waits.  Today is the prelude to the free agent frenzy that teams have waited years for.  Stories about where Lebron, Wade, and Bosh would end up this Summer started circulating the day after they signed their short term deals back in the summer of 2006.  And now, big names like Dirk, Pierce, Amar’e, Boozer, and Joe Johnson have joined the party and are also high priority players that teams will look to add.  So when the clock strikes midnight on the east coast, the phone calls will begin and some of the league’s biggest stars will be courted and recruited and asked to changed teams (or stay with their current ones) to start their careers fresh with the goal of winning (and making a boatload of cash) at the front of everyone’s minds.

But the Lakers have their free agency questions as well.  They may not be looking at grabbing the big name to bolster their championship hopes – the rest of the league is trying to catch the Lakers in this regard – but they do have issues to work out in terms of their head coach, players to make decisions on, and a budget to look at when deciding what they plan to do in this summer of change.  So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at the Lakers situation on the eve of free agency.

What to do with your own free agents?
Here’s a quick review: The Lakers have six free agents. Farmar and Morrison are restricted free agents that the Lakers can either offer contract tenders or renounce their rights and turn into unrestricted free agents. Fisher, Powell, Mbenga, and Shannon will be unrestricted free agents that will be free to sign with whatever team offers them a contract once the clock strikes 12 tonight (9 on the west coast).

Now that we’re up to speed on the Lakers FA situation, the question is who stays and who goes. The only player that the front office has openly said they’d like to have back is Fisher. So, we can only assume that the Lakers will look to make a deal with Fish early in the process to make him a Laker for at least another year.

As for the other players, I would not be surprised to see them all on different teams next year. While Farmar and Brown have shown flashes and were solid contributors to the the Lakers in their two championship runs, they’re both players that are looking for more money and (for Farmar at least) bigger roles on whatever team they play for. I still think there’s a chance that Shannon comes back, but a lot of that will be determined by what offers he receives from other teams and what the Lakers are comfortable paying him beyond what he was slated to make next season had he not opted out. Sad to say, I expect both Mbenga and Powell to be on different teams next year. I liked both of these players for their hard working styles and positive attitudes, but both players are likely looking to provide more of a contribution than “practice player” and hope to see more playing time than they have in their tenure with the Lakers. Plus, money may be a factor as the Lakers drafted Derrick Carracter who, if he makes the team, could fill the same role that Powell or Mbenga provided the Lakers this past season.

So, by my calculations, the Lakers are likely to lose at least 5 of their free agents with the possibility that Brown and one of Powell/Mbenga (with Powell being the frontrunner) also returning. That means the Lakers have some holes to fill that were not addressed in the draft.

What free agents do the Lakers target?
If you haven’t done so already, you need to go read the posts that the K-Bros put together over at Land O’ Lakers on the free agent guards and front court players that the Lakers could be looking at as additions to the team. They’ve done their homework on this and have used solid criteria on paring down their list to reasonable and realistic options.

In my opinion, the Lakers will likely be looking to add at least one backcourt player and surely one frontcourt player in free agency. The key to these players will be their versatility and how many roles they can fill for a team that likes to has specific needs but still does have a lot of talent returning. For example, I think Steve Blake is a very good option for the Lakers as he can come in right away and play PG in relief or in place of Fisher (moving Fish to a back up role) and soak up 20-25 minutes a night of work at the point. I also think Raja Bell is a very good option for the Lakers as he’s a player that defends well, shoots the three at good clip, and can play SG and SF for sure, and may even be able to play some PG in the Triangle. Both Bell and Blake are practical players that make a lot of sense based off cost – neither should demand more than a portion of the mid-level exception, and Bell may even be a minimum salary player – and from the standpoint of their status as veteran, no nonsense players that are proven to be guys that only care about winning and playing their role the best way that they can. As for front court players, the names Kurt Thomas and Craig Smith are ones that I think would fit quite well with this particular group of Lakers. They too are hard working players that have proven their worth in this league and could contribute in part time roles.

However, there are sexier names out there – namely, Tracy McGrady and Mike Miller. Both of their names have been linked to the Lakers over the past few weeks as both have said that they’d like to join a “winner” and are willing to take pay cuts to do so. Personally, I like Miller much more than McGrady. Miller possesses an all-around game, is a great shooter, and has a pedigree as a performer that could really help the Lakers on the wing and in the back court. In certain situations, I could even see him as a primary ball handler on offense (a de facto PG) while defending wings and having another player (Sasha?) defend the opposing teams’ point man. But, realistically this is a pipe dream. Miller is still a serviceable player that could help a lot of teams at both SG and SF. He’s a starting caliber player that would maybe see 20 minutes a night from the Lakers. There’s a dollar value on those types of players and, for a tax paying team like the Lakers, it’s less than the mid-level that Miller could demand from several other teams. As for T-Mac, I’d be okay if he signed for the minimum, but would not want the Lakers to pay any more than that. He’s injury prone and would be making a big adjustment from being the player with the ball in his hands a great deal to the player that spots up and slashes from the weakside. How well he’d fit in that role is a mystery, but for a cheap price, I’d be willing to find out.

So much still depends on Phil’s decision.
Despite everything that’s been said in the above paragraphs, the biggest free agent of them all is Phil Jackson. The Lakers are a different team without him at the helm and if he doesn’t return it’s a step backwards for the Lakers franchise. This entire roster is built for the Triangle and has been groomed to play in that system. So, while it’s nice to discuss if Blake, Bell, T-Mac, or Miller are the next Lakers, the bigger question is if Phil will remain one. We should know the answer to that question on Friday, but this really is the biggest decision of them all. Here’s hoping that Phil gives it one last run and that he can come to an agreement with Dr. Buss to coach the Lakers at least one more year and try to lead this team to a third straight championship.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Farmar (R) goes to the basket past Boston Celtics center Rasheed Wallace (L) during Game 5 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Boston, Massachusetts June 13, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)
Yup, the Lakers just might bring Farmar back.

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: Doc Rivers’ great contribution to the American sporting lexicon, before introducing most of us to the glory of Ubuntu, was his “deodorant” quote. Something that went along the lines of, “winning is a great deodorant, because it covers up all the stink.” Or something possibly close to that, because all my internet searches led me to this quote: “Winning is like deodorant – it comes up and a lot of things don’t stink.” And I guess that works. Or not, as it appears Rivers is a little off these days. Because in Phil Jackson’s case, with the people that pay Phil Jackson the sort of money he needs to buy enough deodorant to sweat through a hundred games a year? Winning appears to be the great, “that pompous jerk, I can do this without him!”

From Trey Kerby, Ball Don’t Lie: We all remember Kobe Bryant’s 6-24 shooting performance in Game 7 of this year’s NBA Finals. It was not a very good shooting performance, obviously, as he did not make very many shots but continued to take shots. Basically, it was the very definition of a bad shooting performance, and I heard that Kobe Bryant’s face will be added next to that phrase in a completely nonexistent dictionary of basketball terms.

From Gil Merikin, Silver Screen and Roll: Much ado has been made by a significant subsection of irate Celtics fans about the foul discrepancy in the 2010 Finals versus the Lakers, a number that may astonish at first glance: 174-156 personal fouls, a difference of 18 fouls called in the Lakers favor. News flash: if you foul a lot, you will get called a for a lot of fouls. This unfortunate consequence has nothing to do with conspiring officials or David Stern machinations.

From Roland Lazenby, Laker Noise: If Jerry Buss really wants Phil Jackson back to coach the Los Angeles Lakers, now would be the time for the team owner to speak up. Don’t hold your breath. Although Buss could have lauded Jackson any time over the past two years as the Lakers won back-to-back NBA titles, the owner’s silence on the matter has been deafening. I’ve been pointing this out for months, by the way. And Mark Heisler of the L.A. Times, who just this week has offered a ringing endorsement of Byron Scott as a Jackson replacement, has repeatedly taken me to task for it.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Yesterday, I took a look at the potential — and realistic — free agent options at the guard spots for the Lakers this offseason. Part II tackles the forwards and centers on the market. The list of bigs is shorter. The taller the player, the more money he generally stands to make. And the Lakers don’t have much to toss around. Still, with D.J. Mbenga and Josh Powell unlikely to return, Andrew Bynum’s medical history and Derrick Caracter hardly a lock to make the team (much less a dent), a new reserve big is probably a must. Mitch Kupchak also noted the uncertain status of Luke Walton’s back, meaning more than Devin Ebanks may be needed at the wing next season.

From Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner, Los Angeles Times: While their coach debates whether to return or retire, the Lakers press onward. They have no choice. The NBA calendar calls for the free-agency period to begin Wednesday at 9:01 p.m. The Lakers might not only lose Phil Jackson and assistant coach Brian Shaw, who is edging closer to becoming Cleveland’s head coach, but they also have six free agents on their roster, almost half their team.

From Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times: Visiting his native Democratic Republic of Congo, Lakers center D.J. Mbenga sported his 2010 championship ring for all the citizens to see. Even if played a marginal role in securing the Lakers’ second consecutive title, Mbenga’s ring symbolized hope for a country ravaged by poverty, violence and corruption. “All we have are sports,” Mbenga said. “That’s why all these kids listen to you easily. But they won’t listen to politicians. They don’t trust the political people.”

From Mark Medina, Los Angeles: Lakers Coach Phil Jackson contended during his exit interview that he was leaning toward retirement because of health concerns. He reiterated that sentiment over the weekend in Montana at the Western Governors’ Assn. annual meeting, pointing to George Karl’s situation in which throat cancer prompted the Denver coach to miss the last part of the 2009-10 season as a reason why he wouldn’t come back another year unless he knows he can last an entire season. Jackson also brought up the grind of the NBA season and how it becomes increasingly difficult each year to go through it.

From Chris Erskine, Los Angeles Times: We’ve had champion athletes thank their mothers, their fathers, their teammates, their deities. They’ve thanked their coaches, their team owners, their children, their wives. After the Lakers won their second consecutive championship recently, Ron Artest thanked his shrink. Welcome to Los Angeles, Mr. Artest. At last, you are one of us.

From Ramona Shelbourne, ESPN Los Angeles: By now Phil Jackson is home by his lake, thinking and feeling with his head, heart and guts. There is never going to be an easy way for him to leave his life’s work, to look back on his time the NBA fondly but not longingly. For those who play and coach this game at its highest level, as Jackson has in his Hall of Fame career, it is an addiction that gets into the blood stream with an uncompromising virulence.

Regular readers here at FB&G know Xavier, our friend the professional coach in Barcelona. In the wake of the draft, he was kind enough to throw a few words together for us on 2009 Lakers draftee Chinemelu Elonu. Elonu currently plays professionally in Spain, so Xavier is familiar with Elonu’s game and progress.  A special thanks to Xavier for taking the time to give us some insight on the Lakers’ oversees prospect. —Darius

Chinemelu Elonu is the Nigerian 6-10 Power Forward the Lakers drafted in the 2nd round (59th overall) in the 2009 NBA Draft.

Elonu, 23 years old, played for Texas A&M for 3 seasons, and only his junior season was remarkable, posting 9.8 points on 66.5% FG, 7.3 rebounds (2.9 off) and 1.6 blocks in less than 24 minutes.

After that, he moved to Spain to play for CAI Zaragoza in Spanish 2nd division league. Zaragoza is a pretty competitive team for a 2nd division team and they proved that by promoting to ACB (1st league in Spain) for the 2010/11 season. In 09/10, Elonu averaged 6.3 points on 60.2% FG, 5.8 rebounds (2 off) and 1.5 blocks in 19 minutes.

The guy I compare him to, Ibaka (24th overall in ’08), had a similar path in pro basketball. He also played a season in LEB Oro (Spanish 2nd division) for Hospitalet (this is a team you may know as their U-18 team holds an international tournament every year where one of the invitations is always for Oak Hill Academy) playing at an outstanding level (12 pts 8 reb and 3 blocks). Then he played for ACB team Ricoh Manresa posting solid numbers and showing his athletic ability and potential. That earned him his trip to the 1st round of the draft and lately playing against the Lakers in the playoff in his rookie season.

At 6-10 and 235lbs is quite an athlete. Dunks the ball with power and takes pride for being a good offensive rebounder and shot blocker. That’s why you can compare him to OKC’s Serge Ibaka. But don’t get too excited with that, he’s a poorman’s Ibaka (not just poor but almost homeless). Elonu is athletic but not as much as Serge, can dunk the ball but that’s the only move he has and he has to prove yet he can play at least at an ACB level, which he hasn’t. More over, he’s 23 (Ibaka is 20 right now, 21 in September) and has nowhere near the potential of other 23 years old international players.

Elonu would need (not just he would benefit of it, he NEEDS it) of a year or two competing at ACB level of competition – which is, by the way much higher than D-League or even Italian Lega, where Jennings couldn’t get on the floor because he was not a team player – before even trying the NBA. He doesn’t have Ibaka’s potential and is 2 years older than his fellow African. At 23, you’d better be a beast or very smart to make the NBA, and he’s neither of those things. But hey! Mbenga is still eating tacos and now-actor Stanislav Medvedenko (appearing along with Carmen Electra in this movie) made it and they both got championship rings, right?

Bottom line, Elonu is a great guy, worker, banger who goes hard on the glass but limited offensively and potential wise. A couple more years in Europe could make him earn a spot on an NBA roster but at the moment, I can’t see him making the team as 4th or 5th big man over Caracter or Powell.


May 04, 2010 - Los Angeles, California, U.S. - Los Angeles Lakers head coach PHIL JACKSON (center), assistant coaches BRIAN SHAW (L) and FRANK HAMBLEN in the Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series. The Lakers won 111-103.

In Darius’ “Fast Break Thoughts” post yesterday, he mentioned that Brian Shaw was granted permission to talk to the Cleveland Cavaliers about potentially coaching their franchise. Well, there were early reports by NBA Fanhouse’s Sam Amick saying that Brian Shaw had been offered the Cavs job. However, Brian Windhorst of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is saying that there is no deal done yet, although the Cavs were impressed with Shaw in the interview. The Cavs have said that they plan on offering the coaching job to either Brian Shaw or Byron Scott by Thursday, and as of right now, it looks as if Brian Shaw is the front-runner. If anything else comes up, we’ll keep you updated with a full post dedicated to this topic if Shaw does in fact get offered the position and takes it.

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register has a column about Kobe Bryant’s finger. It looks as if Kobe may never play without a splint on his finger again. From the column: “And now that Bryant played out the season with the splint and heavy tape job compensating for the lack of strength in the finger, perhaps he can never live without it. Cartilage damage in a finger joint simply isn’t easily fixed because there is so little cartilage with which to work. For Bryant’s purposes of shooting and handling a basketball, fusing the joint is hardly a viable option.” I don’t think the finger will be a big an issue next season as it seemingly was this past season, but it will be something to pay attention to as we get closer to next season.

A lot of us are concerned with what the Lakers are going to do in regards to the back up guard position. With Jordan Farmar pretty much gone already and Shannon Brown deciding to opt out of his contract, the Lakers need to take a serious look at what’s available. Andy Kamenetzky of Land O’ Lakers has compiled a list of guards who are not only available, but fit within the scope of the Lakers’ cap.

I know it’s a little early, but I think I may end up really liking this Devin Ebanks kid out of West Virginia. So far, he’s said all of the right things, he seems hungry to work hard – especially on the defensive end of the floor, and he’s awfully athletic. I don’t see him playing any major minutes next season, but I think he’ll be able to work his way into the rotation over these next couple of years. Mike Trudell of Basket Blog got a chance to sit down with Ebanks and shared a few quotes from his interview.

Also from Trudell, the Josh Powell exit interview is up.

Finally, we get to relive the Lakers post season one last time with this video from The Lakers Nation which captures the Lakers’ Top 10 moments from the post season. And if you haven’t been sold on Derek Fisher returning for one more season, look at how often – and in what situations – Fish appears on this count down. It’s a fantastic video.

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Welcome to the longest week of our lives, Lakers fans…

*Phil Jackson is set to make a decision on his coaching future at the end of this week and honestly the waiting is going to kill me.  In the same way that Cavs fans are wondering if Lebron is going to stay or go, I’m wondering what Phil is going to decide.  Last week he said he’s leaning towards retiring, but recently also said that his 13 total championships (11 as a coach, 2 as a player with the Knicks) may be an unlucky number to stop at.  So, as like everything else with Phil, who knows what his decision is going to be.  I’m hopeful that he returns for at least one more season as an unprecedented 4th three-peat as coach is an achievement that he has the inside track on.  But as a fan of the Lakers, I’m selfish like that.  I want the best chance possible for the Lakers to win and that means a team led by Phil.  However, all we can do now is wait on his decision.

*If Phil does indeed step down as head man, the two names out there as potential replacements are Byron Scott and Brian Shaw.  Both of these guys are qualified head coaches in this league, but I’d definitely lean towards Shaw.  As Wondahbap detailed over at Silver Screen and Roll (with some opinions from other folks including yours truly),  Scott is a coach that has had good results as a defensive minded coach but often faltered with a grating style and  suspect offensive schemes.  I don’t think Scott is a bad coach (the Lakers could do much worse), but I think the continuity that Shaw would provide is an invaluable ingredient towards continuing the Lakers current run of success (an idea that Kurt over at PBT also makes quite well).

*However, if the Lakers really do want Shaw they’ll (potentially) have some competition for his services as the current Lakers #2 has been granted permission to speak with the Cavs as a candidate to fill their vacant head coaching post.  Uh, I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to keep Shaw in house.  Even if Phil does return, I’d like to keep Shaw on the Lakers bench as a potential replacement whenever Phil does call it quits and so here’s hoping that Shaw stays in LA regardless of what transpires with Phil.

*The other big deadline looming is the beginning of free agency on July 1st.  And while the Lakers don’t have the cap space to pursue the big names of Lebron, Wade, Bosh, or Dirk, there will be things for the Lakers to consider when the clock strikes midnight Eastern (or 9pm Pacific) on Wednesday.  It’s now being reported and confirmed by his agent that Shannon Brown will opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent.  My two cents on Shannon are good for him.  He’s now been a solid contributor on a team that won back to back titles and he’s looking to parlay that into a more secure financial future.  Remember, Shannon’s a player that was drafted late in the first round, never had his 3rd and 4th year options picked up and ended up playing for the bi-anual exception this past season.  He’s made about as much money in his career as Luke Walton did this past season.  So, I don’t blame him for trying to maximize his value, especially since after next season the collective bargaining agreement will likely affect the structure and pay scale of player contracts.  He really should try and get a good contract now.  The Lakers will also have to deal with the UFA status of Derek Fisher.  Not to mention making decisions on the restricted status of Ammo and Farmar (likely renouncing the rights to both players) and whether or not they want to offer contracts to Powell and Mbenga.  Lots of decisions around Laker land right now on what the composition of the roster will be next season.

*If the Lakers did have some money to spend on the big name free agents, it’s at least good to know that they’ve got the owner and the franchise that players would want to play for first.  This is where Dr. Buss really does deserve credit as he’s a smart business man that has truly capitalized on a great market (look at the Knicks and the Clippers as examples of how this can go wrong), has allowed other smart people to do their jobs, and has been loyal to current and former players while also not allowing himself to be walked on by any one.  Just a great, great owner.

*Lastly, I’m thinking of doing a mailbag every once and while but would like some feedback from you guys on whether or not this is something that you’d like to see.  I’d answer questions about the Lakers or the league in general and turn them into a post either once a month or every other week depending on the volume of questions.  Is this something you guys would be interested in?  Let me know in the comments.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (R) holds the MVP trophy as Derek Fisher holds the Larry O'Brien championship trophy after the Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California June 17, 2010.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Whether or not Phil Jackson decides to return at the end of this week, the Lakers are approaching a time of change. The draft was just completed and the Lakers have selected two players that they hope can make the team and contribute in limited roles next season. The free agency period starts on Thursday (or late Wednesday at midnight) and the Lakers will look to add one or more players to their roster while potentially losing as many as six players from a group of guys that just won its second consecutive championship. Soon after the frenzy of free agency begins, Summer League will take place and then after that there will be a short lull before training camp begins. And before we know it another campaign will get started and the Lakers franchise will be looking to successfully complete a three-peat for the second time in the last decade. So, before the winds of change sweep through this organization and we’re fully engulfed in another season of ups and downs, losses and victories I think we should pay this past season its proper due and take a final look at the year that was.

The One New Face
The big story heading into the 2009-10 season was the one new player that the Lakers picked up: Ron Artest. The story of how the Lakers came to acquire Ron has been told countless times already. There was the meeting in the shower after the 2008 loss to Boston. Then there was the messy negotiation with Trevor Ariza in the attempt to keep the entire championship roster together. And then there was that fateful call to Ron’s agent inquiring about Artest’s potential want to join the team as a role player du jour focusing on defense and a reduced role on offense. Everything came together quickly and the Lakers had themselves a new starting small forward.

But when a player with Artest’s back-story is acquired, there are always questions. Would Ron fit in? Would he be content playing a complimentary role after being a featured player his entire career? Would his penchant to be a ball stopper on offense disrupt his integration into a system that demanded fluidity of ball and player movement? No one knew, but most everyone had a speculative answer that typically tilted towards the glass half empty response. I mean, this was Ron Artest we were talking about.

But what we quickly found out was that Ron was willing to do what was asked of him. He may not have completely changed, but what we witnessed was a hard working player that played every possession on defense like it was his last. And while his integration into the offense was a rocky one all season, he rarely (if ever) went off the reservation with his shot attempts or in his want to contribute within the confines of the scheme. Sure, there were times of forced shots. And yes there were many times where he had to literally be directed to where he should move to or pass the ball. But there was never a lack of trying to fit in from Ron. In fact, throughout his first season Artest almost tried to fit in too much, often passing up open shots and too frequently deferring to Kobe or Fisher or Gasol rather than being assertive with his own offense.

But in the end, Ron found his stride – working relentlessly on defense the entire season and finding redemption in some of the biggest games of his career (and of the Lakers season). His inaugural season will be remembered for his stifling defense on some of the league’s best scorers, a remarkable put back in the Conference Finals, and a post game press conference that could only have occurred after he had one of his best games of the year in a 7th contest to claim the trophy. All in all, the one new face was the one that made a huge difference.

Hampered By Injuries
The other big theme from this season was the injury bug that struck this team. Coming into the year, there were many that thought the Lakers could challenge the Bulls’ single season win record of 72 wins (I wasn’t one of those people, but the thought was a popular one amongst the media). However, in order to win at that clip you need a healthy team. And that is something the Lakers did not have this year.

The list of Lakers’ injuries this past season borders on the comical. Pau’s hamstring strains (on both legs) cost him 17 games. Kobe’s allotment of ailments and injuries included a broken finger on his shooting hand, a badly sprained ankle that was re-aggravated more than once during the year, back spasms, an arthritic knee, and a banged up elbow. All of these conspired to cost Kobe 9 games and render him a fraction of the player he could be in countless others. Andrew Bynum, like Pau, also missed 17 games this season with an injured hip around the all-star break and a strained Achilles tendon at the end of the year. Plus there were the other nicks and bruises including Shannon’s thumb, Ron’s thumb and finger, Odom’s shoulder, and Walton’s back.

Throughout the season the Lakers never seemed to have their full compliment of players healthy and available to play at the same time. But through it all, they persevered. Sure, it cost the Lakers some wins but in the end, these injuries also taught the Lakers that they’d have to endure some hard times on the way to repeating. They’d never have a fully healthy team this year, but the lessons learned in coping with their injuries would play a role in their success during the playoffs. When we saw Kobe fighting through a bad knee early and Bynum dragging his leg around for most of the playoffs, I was reminded that this mentality was spawned through some hard times during the season.

Kobe Heroics
You just read how Kobe gutted out this season while dealing with some pretty tough injuries. I mean, the guy played with a broken/arthritic finger for the majority of the year and found a way to rework his shot and change his release to compensate. And while this season will definitely be remembered for Kobe playing through things that would put other players on the shelf for weeks, the major memories from this year will be of Kobe making game winning shots. Multiple game winning shots. Game winning shots from all angles. Ones of ridiculous difficulty. Against hated rivals. Ones off trademarked shots. Game winners after missing earlier attempts to win. And winners after great play designs. There wasn’t another season that I can remember where a player hit so many shots to win games. Maybe the Lakers shouldn’t have needed Kobe to bail them out so often. I mean, should this team really need a game winner against the Bucks? But, in the end, Kobe delivered in the moments that his team needed him the most and added to the legend of his ability in the clutch. Man, what a season from Mr. Bean.

Late Season (Really, In Season) Struggles
I’ve mentioned it already, but this season could also be defined by severe ups and downs. This team was constructed in a manner – with supreme talent at the top of the roster – to be an all time great. Instead what we saw was inconsistency. Inconsistency in effort and execution. Losing streaks that they hadn’t seen in 3 seasons. The questioning of its leaders’ ability to still get the job done, the mindset of its best players, and whether or not they had the mental fortitude to actually repeat.

Whether we’re talking Fisher, Kobe, Phil, Gasol, Bynum, Farmar, Brown, Artest, or Odom the fans found ways to wonder if this team really had it in them to win. I mean, how many times did we revisit the themes of Fisher’s age and ability, Kobe’s selfishness, Phil’s coaching style, Gasol’s toughness, Bynum’s injury history, etc, etc? Seemingly every other bad performance was pinned on someone new and the level of frustration amongst the fans (and even the players, at times) was palpable.

And the questions only got more pronounced as the regular season came to a close. Kobe was banged up and looking more mortal than ever. Bynum was on the shelf again. The team was losing at a rate that had every fan worried about their playoff prospects and there was a hesitation to even say that the Lakers were the favorites to advance in the Western Conference considering the way that they were playing. If this season’s themes have been laid out in earlier paragraphs, the overall theme of the year (for many) was concern. Did they have enough? I don’t think anyone knew for sure. Yes there were those that had faith, but no one truly knew if this team could pull it out. Only the playoffs would reveal what this team was made of. But honestly, I don’t think any of us would have had it any other way.

The Playoffs & Flipping The Switch
Throughout the regular season I argued against there being a switch the Lakers could flip to turn their game around. And while I still believe that to be true, what this team did have was an ability to re-focus and center themselves on the task at hand. The playoffs proved that through all the adversity, the leadership of this team was strong enough to get everyone on the same page and moving in the same direction together.

Whether facing the youth and poise of the upstart Thunder, the execution and precision of the Jazz, the fast pace and open court artistry of the Suns, or the physical toughness and lock down defensive schemes of the Celtics, the Lakers responded with strong effort and even better execution to beat the varying styles.

The Lakers showed that they were a team to beat all comers in whatever style was needed. Whether relying on their size up front, the masterful Kobe Bryant, or the steadiness and clutch ability of Fisher, the Lakers found a way. It wasn’t always pretty, but it was nonetheless effective. Over the course of 23 playoff games, the Lakers once again showed that they were the cream of the crop and the deserved champions of the NBA. And the fact that championship #16 came against the hated Celtics in a game 7 that was as physically and mentally taxing as it was made only that much sweeter. Through all the ups and downs, the Lakers were able to dig deep one last time and overcome a 13 point third quarter deficit to pull out the win. The fact that I’m still smiling over a week after the journey ended says it all. Simply put, the Lakers ended the season exactly how they started it – as NBA Champions. It never gets old saying that.

While We Look Ahead, Enjoy What’s Happened
There’s no way of knowing what will happen over the next few weeks. At this point, we don’t know if Phil will return and if he doesn’t who his replacement will be. We don’t know what free agents will be retained or what new players will be added on or after July 1st. And we don’t know if the Lakers draft picks will pan out or if a hidden gem (or the return of a former draft pick) will come out of the Lakers Summer League team.

I don’t have any answers about the future. But we will be here to discuss and cover it all as it unfolds. So, for now all I ask – one last time – is too enjoy what we have experienced. Despite the Lakers winning consecutive championships and participating in three straight Finals, these moments are rare. Us fans are lucky to be able to root for this team and this specific group of players should be celebrated for what they achieved. The journey it took to get to this point was a tremendous experience and I enjoyed it as much as possible. Through all the ups and downs the Lakers came out on top and while nothing is sweeter than the final outcome the path to this point was simply amazing. So, before the changes that are sure to come in the next few weeks sweep through this franchise, join me one last time in celebrating this team and this group. It was a special year and I’m glad that all of you were here with me to enjoy it.

World Cup Watching

Darius Soriano —  June 26, 2010

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This is your official FB&G World Cup thread for USA vs. Ghana.

There’ll be an entire off-season to continue our discussion on all things Lakers and the going ons around the rest of the league, but today I’m watching what happens on the pitch and rooting for the red, white, and blue to get the win.  Kobe’s on site in South Africa and doing the same, so if you need a Lakers’ connection there you go.

I’m hoping the U.S. can pull this out, but Ghana should provide a strong challenge especially if they can control the tempo of the game and turn this into an up and down affair.  So, I’m hoping the U.S. can hold possession and create a tactical advantage to generate enough scoring chances to put the ball in the back of the net.

But I’m no expert on this.  Who do you got?  What are the keys of the match for you?  Let me know in the comments and go USA!


From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: With the 43rd pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Lakers selected Devin Ebanks, a 6-9, 215-pound sophomore out of West Virgina. “I’m so happy right now, you don’t understand,” said Ebanks to L.A. media members over the phone. “The world champions … I get to play with the best player in the world, Kobe Bryant … I don’t really have too many words to say, I’m just happy.” Ebanks was named to the All-Big East Third Team as a sophomore after making the Big East All-Rookie and All-Tournament teams as a freshman.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: It took three hours or so to get there, but when the Lakers finally had an opportunity to participate in the 2010 NBA Draft, they managed to snag a reasonably interesting prospect. With the 43rd pick, they selected 6’9″ forward Devin Ebanks, who played two seasons at West Virginia. He’s not a polished offensive player, but Ebanks is considered a very effective perimeter defender and averaged over eight rebounds a game as a sophomore with the Mountaineers. Rebounding is considered one of the better-translating skills from the college level to the pros, so his numbers are a positive sign. He’s very raw offensively and can’t shoot- Ebanks hit only eight of the 70 three-pointers launched in his collegiate career- and is also a skinny fella, making the comparisons to Trevor Ariza pretty natural.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angleles: Ever since Oklahoma City was eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by Los Angeles’ Pau Gasol on a last-second Game 6 putback, it’s been hard for Kevin Durant to watch anything basketball-related. Why? Because he would inevitably hear something about those Lakers. “It was tough,” Durant said Thursday at the Theater at Madison Square Garden, where the 2009-10 scoring champ was on hand as a special NBA draft correspondent for NBA TV. “I would go places, and I had to watch it because that was the only thing on TV. It was tough to watch it. I was very upset; it fueled me to keep working.”

From Jainis Carr, Orange County Register: Devin Ebanks wasn’t expecting much from the NBA draft. He simply wanted to be picked — first round, second round — it didn’t matter. So the West Virginia forward was ecstatic when the Lakers made him the 43rd pick overall Thursday. “I just wanted to be picked,” Ebanks said on a conference call. “But I’m really happy. I don’t have too many words (to describe this).” Ebanks is a versatile forward and solid defender, but he also can be an effective shooter from mid-range. He averaged 12.0 points last season and led the Mountaineers in rebounding with an average of 8.1 a game. He helped West Virginia to its first Final Four appearance since 1951 and the most victories in school history (31).

From Jains Carr, Orange County Register (with video): Imagine the dunk contests the Lakers could stage if Shannon Brown and newly drafted Devin Ebanks if both are around Staples Center next season. Brown, who could opt out, has established himself as the team’s premiere dunker with his high-flying act. Ebanks, if he makes the team, could challenge him for supremacy.

From Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times: The Lakers selected West Virginia sophomore forward Devin Ebanks in the second round of the NBA draft with the 43rd pick overall, adding a frontcourt player who prides himself on rebounding and locking down opponents’ top scorers. He helped the Mountaineers to their first Final Four since 1951 and the most wins in school history as he led the team in rebounding at 8.1 a game.

From Adam Ganales, NBA Draft: Long and lean small forward possessing a ‘smooth’ game … His wingspan is incredible and he seemingly gets his paws on every ball … Prolific rebounder (8.5 RPG). Particularly innate offensive rebounder (3 per game) … Grabs boards outside of his area. Quick off his feet and anticipates caroms extremely well. Breaks for the ball before anyone else on the court … High percentage shooter, rarely takes a bad shot (47%) … Very soft touch around the basket. Crafty with a variety of release points … Knows how to get shots off in the paint …


From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: After selecting forward Devin Ebanks with the 43rd pick of the second round, the Lakers picked UTEP big man Derrick Caracter at No. 58. Caracter was named to the All-Conference USA Second Team after averaging 14 points and eight rebounds as a junior, and ranked 16th in the country in field goal percentage (56.7 percent). Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said that the team wasn’t expecting Caracter to be available as late as No. 58.

From Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times: The Lakers selected Texas El Paso junior forward Derrick Caracter with their second selection in the second round, the 58th pick overarll, despite General Manager Mitch Kupchak’s earlier contention that the team’s backcourt served as the team’s biggest need. Caracter, who spent his first two seasons at Louisville, averaged 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds as he earned second-team All-Conference USA honors and shot a second-best 56.7% from the field during league play. He’s known to have good footwork, post moves and agility.

From Aran Smith, NBA Draft: NBA body and strength, very skilled for his size, has a nice game facing the basket with range to the college 3-point line, good rebounder in and out of area … Shows soft hands and can make catches in traffic … Has good athleticism for a man his size and will surprise you with his bounce … Can establish great position down low do to his brute strength and shows a mean streak at times and scores at will when motivated … Skill level and feel for the game are actually at a high level. A solid passer and understands how to use pump fakes and his strength to score on longer opponents …