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.

-Xavier

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.