Archives For June 2010

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!

ON DEVIN EBANKS

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 …

ON DERRICK CARACTER

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 …

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Heading into the draft, we all thought there was a need for a back court player (preferably and PG or a combo guard that could handle the ball) and potentially a big man (preferably a Center).  However, picking at #43 and #58 doesn’t afford the luxury of cherry picking positions and usually leads to just swooping up the best player available on a team’s draft board.  And if that player fits a need too, then great.   So when the Lakers’ picks came up in the mid, then late, second round they did just that by grabbing WVU’s SF, Devin Ebanks at #43 and UTEP’s PF, Derrick Caracter at #58. 

Ebanks is a pick that has grown on me the more I’ve seen of him and the more that I’ve read.  When the pick was announced my first thoughts were questions about if he’d make the team at all and if he did whether or not he’d ever see the floor at a position where Ron, Kobe, and even Odom will all see time next season.  However, after hearing Mitch Kupchak talk about Ebanks and how he may fit on this team, I understand more of why he was chosen when there were potentially other prospects on the board that filled more pressing needs.  Mitch talked openly about how Luke Walton’s back injury is an issue that is still up in the air and may affect his ability to reclaim his pre-injury form next season.  And if that’s the case, back up wing goes from slight need (in a replacing Ammo kind of way) to a much bigger need (in a we don’t want Kobe and Artest playing 40+ minutes a night kind of way). 

All season long the Lakers saw the effects of not having a capable (and healthy) back up SF on the roster.  And if Ebanks can end up being a guy that can play 5-10 minutes a night, it would go a long way towards ensuring that some of the Lakers main wing players don’t get worn out.  This isn’t to say that Ebanks will definitely fill this role, but he’s a talented young player that is capable and he’ll be given the chance to show that he can step in when he plays in Summer league and (hopefully) at training camp.  On a side note, it’s been mentioned many times but this kid is a dead on ringer for Ariza. Same build, similar skill set, and he even wears #3.  In the linked to interview, Kupchak mentions some of the similarities and differences between Ebanks and Ariza, but it’s clear that the Lakers are hopeful Ebanks can develop into an Ariza type of player that plays good defense and works on his shot to the point that he’s a capable threat from outside.  If the Lakers’ gamble pays off, we may look at Ebanks as a guy that fills a variety of holes in the Lakers roster as he’s a guy that can get out and run in the open court, can finish above the rim, and can provide some slashing in the Lakers half court sets.  With Farmar likely gone and Shannon potentially joining him, the Lakers could use an infusion of these particular skills and if Ebanks sticks on the roster, the team will get them.

As for Caracter, he seems to be a boom or bust type of pick.  However, that’s the exact type of player that you take at #58 in the second round.  If he shows he’s on the right path and plays well you’ve got a potential contributor for a very small investment; if he doesn’t perform, he gets cut and due to that small investment the team can go in a different direction without having to second guess.  Caracter’s undoubtedly a talented player that has the requisite offensive skills to play in the NBA.  By all accounts, he’s got good hands, strong footwork, a wide frame that he uses to effectively earn post up position, and even possesses a face up game out to 15 feet.  He’s also a very good rebounder on both ends of the court.   I mean, his college stats from his Junior (and most recent) season – 14 points, 8 rebounds, 56.7% shooting in 27 mpg - show a player that is efficient and worth taking a flyer on. 

However, there are some red flags with Caracter.  He reportedly clashed with Rick Pitino while at Louisville and showed questionable work ethic on the court and in the classroom to the point that he ended up transferring to UTEP after his Sophmore year.  He is a bit undersized, has struggled with his conditioning and weight, and there have been reports that he’s an immature player that isn’t the most solid of locker room presences.  Obviously these are all qualities that are difficult to take onto any team, but coming to an organization that is as structured and led by quality people as the Lakers can be a postive influence on a player with these question marks.  However, it will be on the player to show that he’s matured to the point that he warrants sticking around. 

Both of these players have NBA level talent, however it will be a matter of how they develop and if they have the work ethic to improve their respective games to the point that they can stick on the roster.  Mitch has already said that both players will be invited to training camp and both are expected to play on the Lakers summer league team.  And while both are long shots to be contributors (and Caracter may even be a long shot to make the team), I’m happy with both of these picks.  It’s never easy filling in the gaps of a top heavy roster and when attempting to do it from the mid/late second round of a draft with questionable depth, it’s even harder.  But I feel the Lakers have done well for themselves by drafting players with good skills and live, active games that could end up adding a dimension of youth and bounce to a team that, while not old, wasn’t getting any younger (especially if Farmar and Shannon leave).

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We already know that John Wall will go #1 to the Wizards. But who will the Lakers take? Tonight we find out.

Before we get into the draft, the big news of the day for the Lakers has to do with Phil Jackson’s statement that he’s leaning towards retiring and not returning to coach the Lakers next season.  We’ll have more on this topic as we get closer to Phil’s self imposed deadline for a decision of next Friday, but we bring it up now because whether or not Phil returns has ripple effects on what the Lakers do tonight in the draft.  Phil runs a specific system – the Triangle offense – and nearly every player on the roster has been brought in because his skill set in some way can be adapted and incorporated into the Lakers’ schemes.  Whether it’s the slashing of Shannon Brown, the shooting of Sasha, or the shooting and subsequent spacing from the PF position of Josh Powell, the players that the Lakers look to add to the roster are guys that can play in this offense and for this coach. Now as we enter the 2010 draft, some of that is up in the air with the future of Phil and the Lakers a bit murky.

That said, the Lakers are still going to need to make some picks tonight and when they’re on the clock, they’ll need to be ready to call a name.  The Lakers have 2 second round picks this year at numbers 43 and 58 and will be looking at the best available player that also fills a need.  And despite the Lakers just winning their second straight championship, there are needs.  The Lakers have 6 potential free agents at nearly every position on their roster.  In the back court, Farmar (restricted FA), Shannon (player option), and Fisher (unrestricted FA) could all be gone next season (though it’s likely that Fisher returns).  Plus Morrison on the wing and Powell/Mbenga in the front court are also unrestricted FA’s that could all be on another roster next season.  That’s 6 players from the Lakers roster of 13 and the team will surely look to replace one or more of these guys tonight with a prospect that can potentially develop into a contributor down the line.

However, problem is with picks this late in the draft it’s unlikely that the Lakers will find that capable player.  As Mitch Kupchak stated in a conversation with Mike Trudell over at Lakers.com, the likelihood of the Lakers finding a contributor at #43 is slim.  And there’s only a sliver of hope that the player drafted at #58 will even make the team.  So while the draft is typically a place where teams look to restock its roster, the Lakers are really only looking for a player (or two) that can hopefully make the team or become a contributor in a couple of seasons.  However, that’s not to say it’s impossible.

The Lakers have had some success with second round picks and will look to find that diamond in the rough or that niche player that can fill a role.  Remember, Ronny Turiaf was taken at #37 and Von Wafer was taken at #39.  Marc Gasol was taken at #48.  So there is hope that a capable player can be found and molded into a guy that can soak up some minutes and do it on the cheap.

So, who are the players the Lakers are looking at?  As I mentioned earlier, the Lakers are likely losing role players (or at least warm bodies that could be called on in a pinch) at PG and in the front court.  So, look for the Lakers to draft a player (or two) at these positions to try and find a replacement for these potential losses.  Some of the guys that the Lakers (reportedly) brought in for workouts (note that this list may not be complete) play these positions and include recognizable names like Sherron Collins (PG, Kansas), Jon Scheyer (PG/SG, Duke), Jerome Randall (PG, Cal), Dexter Pittman (C, Texas), and Brian Zoubek (C, Duke).  All of these guys fit in one way or another, but none of them are truly wow prospects that I see as potential starters down the road or even rotation players in their first season.  However, they’re all guys that could end up playing for us down the line as they fit a need or fill a hole that is likely to be present sometime after July 1st.

Honestly though, I’m no expert on this.  The guys that are – the mockers at several sites – break down the Lakers’ selections as so:

Draft Express: #43 – Brian Zoubek (C, Duke), #58 – Dexter Pittman (C, Texas)

Chad Ford, ESPN: #43 – Willie Warren (SG, Oklahoma), #58 – Brian Zoubek (C, Duke)

NBADraft.net: #43 – Greivis Vasquez (PG, Maryland), #58 – Alexey Shved (PG/SG, Russia)

So, this is where we’re at.  Maybe the Lakers end up with Zoubek and/or Pittman (I’d be okay with either).  Or maybe one of the picks is Warren, Randall, Vasquez, Scheyer, or Collins (who all have qualities that make them draftable and potentially solid pros, but none that make them stand out).  I have no clue, but that’s what the draft is about.  It’s the intrigue of the night and the suspense of who will be the next Laker that will have me watching.  And I’m sure that you’ll be watching too.  So, who’s your pet guy?  Who would you like to see the Lakers draft?  Let me know in the comments and why you think he’d be the right pick.  If your guy ends up being the pick, we may just use your words of wisdom when we recap this entire thing.