Archives For July 2010

Jan. 13, 2010: Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton during an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX Los Angeles defeated Dallas 100-95.

FB&G continues is player reviews for this past season with Luke Walton.  For a link to Luke’s exit interview, check out Phillip’s post from right after the season concluded.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

By any measure, Luke Walton had a disappointing season.  He suffered through a campaign marred by injuries and – when healthy – inconsistent minutes that saw his effectiveness drop from useful to nearly inconsequential on many nights.  For many fans of Walton’s game (like myself) this was a disconcerting year and I’m sure a very frustrating one for Walton himself.  Every player wants to be on the court and for a player like Luke – one that has basketball in his blood – it must of been tortuous to be relegated to spectator status as often as he was this past season.  And Luke was mostly a spectator this season.  He only played in 29 games and saw the court for an average of 9.4 minutes (the lowest of his career and down from 17.9 just last season) in those games that he did play in.

But by all statistical measures (and I’m sure the injuries played a part in this), Luke really didn’t deserve to play many minutes this past season.  He posted career lows in nearly every statistical category.  And while it’d be easy to equate his statistical lows with his reduced minutes, his stats across the board fell in his per 36 minutes averages as well.  Basically, Luke just wasn’t that effective when he saw the court.  Sure, his innate feel for the game and his passing ability were still on display.  And there were many times throughout the season (especially when Ron or the back up guards struggled to run the offense) that fans called for a return of Walton to help facilitate a better flow to the Triangle.  But, as an individual threat, Walton just wasn’t the same guy.  Gone were the effective post ups while operating from the hub of the Triangle.  And his knack for finding creases in the defense for easy buckets underneath also diminished.  This led to his career low in FG% and in his FT rate, and ultimately made his game even more one dimensional (a passer/set up man) than what it’s been in the past.  In order to be a real threat on the floor, every player has to show enough of a well rounded game where he can be a threat from both an individual standpoint and within the team concept.  This past season, Luke just couldn’t do enough as an individual threat to earn floor time.

However, this isn’t to say that Luke didn’t contribute this past season.  As I mentioned, he still did have his moments as a facilitator of the Lakers’ offense.  There were several games this season when Walton’s passing and knowledge of the Triangle helped stimulate the stagnant sets the Lakers were running.  Also, and maybe even more of a help, were Walton’s contributions on the sideline.  While Luke rehabbed his bad back, he often sat in on the coaches meetings and charted plays during the games.  This allowed him to be a part of the team and aid the coaches by giving them insight on some of things that he was seeing from the sideline.  And while some may scoff at how important this role is, Tex Winter often filled this same role for Phil Jackson and gave his honest opinion on what the Lakers were doing on the court and what could be done to improve.  And given Luke’s familiarity with the Triangle, filling this role really was an aid to the team while also giving Walton a sense of worth with this group (something that is quite familiar to Phil if you’ve read Sacred Hoops).

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

For a guy that only averaged 9 minutes a game, it’s tough to find a stand out performance.  However, if I had to choose one game where I think Luke really made an impact, I would choose game 3 of the Finals against the Celtics.  In this game, Walton played a playoff high 13 minutes and was second on the team (behind Odom) with a +13 on the night.  And while his stat line was modest (2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist), Luke played a very good all around game on both sides of the ball.  In typical fashion he ran the offense flawlessly by moving the ball around the court and consistently hitting the open man helping the Lakers break down the Boston D.  And on the other end of the court he played spirited defense on Paul Pierce by bodying him up and forcing him out of his sweet spots and to where his help was waiting.  Luke may not have been the difference maker in this game (that honor goes to Derek Fisher), but in a crucial contest where the Lakers were looking to take back home court advantage Luke played very well and helped secure a much needed win.  And with Ron Artest struggling mightily in this game (23 minutes, 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, -13 on the night), Luke’s timing in having a good game was also quite important.

NEXT SEASON:

Going into next season, there are more questions than answers about what role Walton will play with the team.  By all accounts, his injured back is a real issue and there may be tough decisions ahead on whether or not Walton can even suit up for the team next season.  But don’t take my word for it, take Lakers’ GM Mitch Kupchak’s:

It’s not your run of the mill type back problem. We don’t know where it’s going to end up. He’s a gamer and he loves to play. He wants to be a part of the team, and he’ll do whatever it takes to get back on the court. That’s a positive, to have the kind of player that’s motivated to get well. That’s not always the case…The most important thing is that Luke make the correct decision for his life, not for basketball.  The aging process of a healthy athlete is difficult enough as it is. So we counsel Luke, and our trainers do, to try to keep the big picture in the forefront of any decision. But like most young players they want to play. Sometimes they don’t [listen.]

And based off some of the moves that the the Lakers have made this off-season, you can see that contingencies are in place in case Luke can not play.  The Lakers have inked Matt Barnes to be the primary back up to Ron Artest – the role that we’re accustomed to seeing Luke filling.  The team is also in negotiations to bring back Shannon Brown who, while not a SF, is a guy that often plays SG with Kobe sliding up to play small forward.  Lamar Odom also made comments in his exit interview that he’d like to play more SF next season.  And the Lakers drafted Devin Ebanks, a promising prospect that will primarily play SF.  So, realistically, the Lakers may have 5 players capable of playing SF on next season’s roster not counting Walton.  And if all 5 of those players do see minutes at the position (which while not likely, is still possible), that’s quite the log jam of players at a position that Walton sees all of his minutes at.

Whatever next season brings for Luke, I think we can all agree that we wish him the best and hope he has a full recovery.  Yes, his contract is one that is easy to complain about.  And sure, Walton’s limited offensive aresenal (outside of his passing/play making), questionable defense, and injury history make him a whipping boy of sorts for many fans.  However, I’ve always viewed Walton as a player that helps more than he hurts when he’s healthy enough to play.  His feel for the game and his ability to run the Lakers sets give him a value to this team that he likely wouldn’t have with another outfit.  And while that may not appease those that dislike Luke’s game or question his ability as a player, it doesn’t change the fact that Walton is a player that is quite useful when he’s right.  And while I’m not sure we’ll see that player next season, I’m hopeful that he makes a decision that is best for him and his long term health.  If that’s on the court, great.  If it’s not, then I can say that I was a fan of his game and hope things work out for him in whatever is next for him.

Fast Break Thoughts

Phillip Barnett —  July 30, 2010

June 10, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02195866 Boston Celtics player Tony Allen (R) tries to stop a drive against Los Angeles Lakers player Shannon Brown (L) during the first half of game four of the NBA Finals at TD Gardens in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 10 June 2010. The Lakers lead the series over the Celtics 2-1.

*It’s Friday and there still isn’t any word on whether or not the Lakers are going to bring back Shannon Brown, however, Land O’ Lakers have taken the liberty of breaking down all of Brown’s possible options along with the pros and cons of each one. As Chibi mentioned in the last thread, “[it] seems like there’ll be a bit of a minutes crunch at the swing position. If you’re an agent, that could significantly impact a client’s value the next time they become free agents.” Shannon Brown will have these kind of arguments presented in front of him, and he’ll definitely get more minutes with the Cavs or Knicks, but that also comes at a costly price: the opportunity to continue winning. We should know Brown’s decision within a week.

*I really enjoyed this piece, which is also from Land O’ Lakers, on the way the Lakers have slowly changed the image of the franchise from 2008 through this offseason. This shows just how committed the Lakers are to winning championships. Even after winning a title, the Lakers don’t remain content with their basketball team, and just like we’ve been hearing about Kobe for the past 14 years, the Lakers off season has been doing what they can to make the team better. Last season, the Lakers addressed their toughness issue by bringing in Ron Artest. This off-season, they’ve addressed their need for a steady handed back up point guard and more consistency off of the bench. With the signings of Steve Blake and Matt Barnes, the Lakers have addressed those issues and more. It’s all about who can improve in the NBA, and even as two-time defending champions, the Lakers have improved once again.

*Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times has a piece about how the attitudes of Lakers fans on Ron Artest and Matt Barnes. Media features comments from readers before and after the signing of each ball player. It’s a pretty interesting post and we really get to see how much putting on the Forum Blue and Gold changes the perception of players.

*Lastly, I ran across this piece on Magic Johnson’s business success after basketball from HoopsAddict.com. The piece is featured in Success Magazine’s August issue and really highlights Johnson’s business mind. Here’s a small piece of the feature:

Armed with that anecdotal information as well as statistics about the demo- graphic he believed he could open for Starbucks, Johnson requested a meeting with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. He showed Schultz that the minority population in America is growing at a rate seven times as fast as the majority population and that African-Americans now spend almost $1 trillion annually. Latinos, America’s largest minority at 15.1 percent of the population, have a spending power in excess of $980 million.

“I asked him if he wanted to leave all that on the table or if he wanted to reach those populations with a partner who under- stood them,” Johnson recalls. “He went to his board and we joined forces.”

Now Johnson’s company owns 125 Starbucks franchises, “and our per capita spending at our stores is outstanding. We proved everyone who said that minorities wouldn’t spend $3 for a cup of coffee wrong.”

June 15, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02204195 Los Angeles Lakers' Andrew Bynum wraps up his leg before his game against the Boston Celtics at the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 15 June 2010. The Celtics lead the series 3-2.

On Wednesday, Andrew Bynum had surgery on his right knee to repair a tear of the lateral meniscus. Dr. David Altchek, who is the Medical Director for the New York Mets and a medical consultant for the NBA, completed the surgery. Andrew Bynum is expected to make a full recovery by the start of the season and is expected to be available on a “limited basis” for the Lakers training camp in late September.

Bynum hurt tore his meniscus in the first round of the playoffs against the Thunder and worked through the pain for the remainder of the post season earning the respect of his teammates and fans alike. He had the knee drained three times since the injury (twice during the post season and once more after the Lakers championship parade). After his exit interviews, Bynum said that “he planned to work out with a Lakers trainer in L.A. and Vancouver following the surgery to rehab his knee and improve his core strength as a preventative measure against injuries in the future.”

This news comes only days after the Lakers released a statement saying that Kobe Bryant underwent arthroscopic surgery on a knee that he also had to have drained during the post season. Kobe is expected to be fully recovered by the start of training camp and has already began his rehab.

Health will be one of the biggest obstacles that the Lakers will have to overcome next season. Getting both Kobe and Drew to take care of their respective knees months before training camp is just one of many huge steps the Lakers have taken this off-season to begin their two-time title defense journey. Taking care of these injuries were every bit as important as brining back Derek Fisher and the signings of Steve Blake, Theo Ratliff and Matt Barnes. It’s hard to be satisfied with every way the Lakers have handled this off-season. If they’re able to bring back Shannon Brown, the Lakers will have essentially done everything they set out to do. Lets just hope for full, timely recoveries.

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By most fans’ standards, LeBron James’ much-ballyhooed departure from the Cavaliers earlier this month not only tarnished his carefully crafted image, but also any notion of loyalty. In fact, if there is one overarching theme to this topsy-turvy NBA offseason, it is probably just that—loyalty. At what point though, are players released from the burden placed by fans and media and allowed to move on to a better opportunity? If a superstar like Chris Paul officially demands a trade from the mediocre Hornets—a team and city he has almost single-handedly revived over the past few years—is he automatically deemed disloyal? To that end, what happens when a less known role player switches teams? Are they spared the wrath of fans’ since they didn’t mean as much to their teams? Were the Lakers virtually obligated to give in to Derek Fisher’s contract demands this offseason out of loyalty to the wily veteran?

While L.A. hasn’t participated in this offseason’s flurry of superstar moves, the acquisition of Matt Barnes, on the heels of last season’s pick-up of Ron Artest—two players that drew the ire of Lakers fans prior to them donning the forum blue and gold—calls into light the nature by which we judge free agents and trades. A little over one year ago, STAPLES Center roared as a belligerent Artest was thrown out of Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals. This past season, Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes engaged in a good ol’ fashioned no-holds barred Twitter war after a contentious road game in Orlando. Flash forward one year later and crazy Ron Ron has cemented a [positive] place in Lakers lore and Barnes just wrapped up a two-week romance with Kobe that eventually led to him signing with the Lake Show.

Former foe Raja Bell nearly joined the team in similar fashion this offseason before signing with the Jazz. Laker circles across the nation even raised the possibility of signing hated Celtic Ray Allen with the mid-level exception—the same Ray Allen who almost single-handedly won Game 2 of this year’s NBA Finals and was an invaluable part of the 2008 championship team that bloodied up Kobe and Co.

In 2003-2004, the Lakers signed two of the franchise’s longtime rivals—Karl Malone and Gary Payton—effectively creating one of the first “super teams” of the decade. For years, Malone was public enemy number one in L.A. for his alleged dirty play, yet all it took was a few months for the Lakers faithful to embrace the Hall-of-Fame forward. One of Karl’s former Lakers teammates, Shaquille O’Neal, finds himself in a somewhat similar position this offseason—clearly aging, but still longing to become a part of a championship team. That state of mind has apparently led to the center’s rumored interest in playing for the Celtics—a potentially traitorous development that has angered many Lakers fans. If there aren’t any other viable title contenders who desire his services though, is Shaq a little less disloyal if he winds up in Boston?

Loyalty is undoubtedly an important quality in life and in a lot of ways, sports acts as a microcosm for the world we live in. However, the truth of the matter is that sports isn’t completely reflective of real life, as much as fans want to believe. NBA players and front offices play by different rules and can’t always be held to the same standards. While outsiders may claim the Lakers are hypocritical by signing or trading for players with whom their fans and current roster have expressed wide-spread discontent, the team’s brain trust consistently bases its basketball decisions on whether or not they will improve the team on-the-floor. In that sense, the Lakers straddle the line between allegiance and disloyalty as well as any team, with Bryant taking the lead.

At the end of the day, Kobe respects players like Artest and Barnes for their gritty play, going so far as to tell Barnes via text that if the forward was crazy enough to mess with him, he was crazy enough to play with him. Instead of professing his animosity toward the Lakers, Barnes excitedly told the world just a few weeks later that playing for L.A. was a lifelong dream. Such is the current state of loyalty in the NBA—both for individual players, fans and teams. At times, it is understandably maddening for fans, while others are more forgiving. Ultimately though, it is a subjective business for all parties involved.

Fast Break Thoughts

Phillip Barnett —  July 27, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant celebrates after defeating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California June 17, 2010.    REUTERS/Alex Gallardo (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

If there is something that never gets old it’s reliving championship seasons. Thanks to Alex Klenert, who worked with Bombo Sports & Entertainment and NBA Entertainment, the Lakers Championship DVD is now available at the NBAStore.com or on iTunes. Alex was kind enough to release a couple of previews to the DVD, the first showing the first two minutes of the DVD followed by a clip highlighting the Lakers/Celtics rivalry. Be sure to check out these two previews and grab your copy.

When talking about Ron Artest, I believe that we’ve reached a point to where any conceivable story reported is instantly believable just because of his recent history. He has a remix to his song “Champions with T-Pain”? Where can I download it? He threw a parade in his Queens Bridge hood? I wish I could have gone. He plays dodge ball? How can I watch? The Los Angeles times has a collection of videos that show Ron Artest playing dodge ball. Just watching his entrance, red headband included, is quite possibly one of the funniest moments of my summer. Ron Ron isn’t the greatest dodgeball player I’ve ever seen, but it’s definitely worth the watch if you have the time.

Hoopsworld’s Eric Pincus has put together a nice column about how the Lakers look better on paper than they during their previous two championship ending seasons. With what Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers have done this off season, the Lakers are in prime position to compete for a third straight title. Pincus begins the column by pointing out Kupchak’s early GM mistakes and goes on to say that he’s learned from his mistakes before getting into the Lakers offseason moves. It’s a fantastic read.

Here is a nice fluff piece on Kobe’s time in Beijing, China. He participated in a “talk show-style forum dubbed ‘Kobe 24’” where he answered questions about his athletic exploits, mentoring, street basketball, pressure and constant practice. Forums like this is a huge part of the reason why Kobe has been able to take his brand world wide. The people of China have always been a huge supporter of Kobe and this was a huge gesture to show his appreciation to some of his global fans.

Last, but not least, Matt Barnes was introduced as a Laker today. He’ll wear Nick Van Exel’s old number 9. Lakers.com plan on posting his whole press conference on their website later on today. Last Friday, Theo Ratliff was introduced. You can watch his introductory press conference here.