Archives For July 2010

More Mailbag!

Darius Soriano —  July 17, 2010

Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol smiles during a team practice at the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Boston, Massachusetts June 12, 2010. The 2010 NBA Finals resumes June 13 when the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers meet in Game 5 in Boston, Massachusetts June 12, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Since I had so much fun answering the last set of questions that came in, here are a few more that were collecting dust in my inbox that I’ll drop my two cents on.  Again, if you’d like to send in a question (or more) for a future installment of the mailbag, click here and fire away.  Here we go…

The Lakers have been blessed w/ some of the best centers (Kareem, Wilt, Shaq, Mikan) to ever play the game. 2 of the top 3 two guards (Kobe & West). The best point guard in history in Magic. And hall of famers (top 50 all-time mo less) at small forward in Baylor & Worthy. However when it comes to the 4 spot, the power forward, our all time best read like this: post prime Bob MacAdoo; super sub Robert Horry; solid role players Happy Hairston, A. C. Green, Kurt Rambis, Rudy LaRusso; early era Vern Mikkelson; Clyde Lovellette anyone?  Yes I know Pau also plays the 5 spot, however as Andrew Bynum (boy would I love to one day include him on the all-time Laker great centers) continues to blossom, Pau will spend more time at the 4 spot.  I’ve been a Laker fan most of my life, since 1965, as a young lad of 13. Given all of that the question remains: is Pau Gasol the BEST POWER FORWARD to ever play for the Lakers?

-Big City Sid

This is an interesting question because as you point out, the Lakers have been blessed to have some all time greats at every other position save PF.  When I’ve built the All-Time Lakers team in my mind, I’ve often cheated and slid Baylor up or moved Kareem down to PF to fit in guys like Shaq or Kobe (or West) and make sure they made the team.  That said, Gasol is quickly earning a place on this list as all-time Laker and could easily be seen as the best PF to ever play for the franchise considering his talent level and what he’s accomplished so far.  I mean, in his three seasons with the Lakers he’s been a major contributor to a team that’s been to 3 NBA Finals and won 2 championships.  In the past two playoffs, he’s stepped up his game in a major way and had some huge games in contests that were quite important.  In the most recent NBA Finals against the Celtics, many pundits touted him as the MVP of the series as he had some very strong games both scoring and rebounding and averaged 2 blocks a game (with a high of 6 in game two).  The man has clearly established himself as one of the top players in the league and I happen to think that he’s the most complete big man in the game when you consider all facets to his game.  So at this point, I’d have to say yes – Pau Gasol is the best PF to ever play for the Lakers.

Do you think that the higher than anticipated cap will make the Lakers more bold in pursuing free agents like Matt Barnes and Raja Bell or will it just be used to lessen the distance between the Lakers and Fisher in their quest to make a deal?

-Arta

I don’t think the higher cap will influence the Lakers spending this off-season.  Because even though the cap is higher by a a couple of million dollars, the Luxury Tax threshold only went up by $500K.  So really, the Lakers aren’t looking at any significant savings when looking to bolster their roster.  I mean, the Lakers paid the highest luxury tax bill out of every team this past season ($21.43 million) and because the tax threshold stayed relatively flat, I don’t think the higher cap means much.  However, Dr. Buss has shown that he’s very much willing to spend money when building a championship team and he’s allowed Mitch Kupchak to offer the types of contracts that lure players to LA in hopes of winning that elusive ring.  So, whether it’s Raja Bell or some other role player, I think the Lakers will still look to fill out its roster with quality players and that they’ll spend in line with what they did last season.  And to summarize the Lakers payroll/cap situation right now, there is (approximately) 81.7 million allocated to Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Artest, Sasha, and Walton for next season.  Reports have been that Steve Blake signed a contract that will pay him 4 million a season for 4 years and that Fisher’s deal will pay him 3 million a year for 3 years.  That would put the Lakers payroll at nearly 89 million for 9 players.  When you add in rookie contracts (say, 1 million combined for both rookies next season) that pushes the total to 90 million.  Also note that the Lakers have 1.75 million remaining of their mid level exception and will likely look to sign at least one veteran big man at the mininum (an amount that will vary based off the service time of the player). If the team spends the rest of the MLE and does sign a veteran for, say 1.3 million, that would push the Lakers’ payroll up to approximately 92 million.  A number that compares to last season’s 91.4 million.

Do you feel signing Kyle Korver and Lou Amundson would be a great addition for the back to back defending champions?  I feel the Lakers need a solid 3 point shooter who can come off the bench when Kobe sits down and I feel Sasha hasn’t been as consistent as we had hoped.  Korver is a hard worker who has a great shot and plays good defense.  Secondly, I feel Amundson would be a perfect fit in purple and gold.  A shot blocker, high energy player coming off the bench has always been a huge hit in Los Angeles.  Turiaf and Madson are examples of that.  Do you feel there are two better players for the money the Lakers could acquire this off-season.

-Buck

Even though Kyle Korver has been signed by the Bulls, I posted this question because I think it speaks to the remaining Lakers needs quite nicely.  I still think another shooter and another big man that could defend and rebound – even if they’re only asked to play limited minutes – are a must.  If looking for an effort/energy big off the bench, I’m actually hopeful that second round pick Derick Caracter can provide that spark.  We’ve recently touched on his progress shown in Summer League, but he’s shown good rebounding instincts and has been very active in the games that I’ve seen.   Not to say that I don’t like Amundson, but he’s a bit undersized for the Lakers and lacks some of the polish that the Lakers like in their PF’s.  He’s got a questionable jump shot and is most effective as a screener in the P&R and a guy that fills the lane in the open court while crashing the class in the half court.  So in the end, I don’t like him as much for the Lakers system.  So if the Lakers are still looking to grab an additional big man for their roster – as I believe they are because they can’t just rely on Caracter – the usual names of  Kurt Thomas, Joe Smith, Craig Smith, Nesterovich, Brad Miller, etc are all still out there.  I see some of those guys as better fits than others, but as a 4th or 5th big that won’t see too many minutes you could do a lot worse than any of those guys.  As for the shooter, I was hopeful the Lakers could sign Raja Bell to fill that role.  Unfortunately (at least in my eyes) he signed a more lucrative contract to go back to the Jazz and the Lakers may now look to fill their open spot on the wing by bringing back Shannon Brown.  Brown may not fill the role as a long range threat, but he does have the athleticism that many fans crave for this team, has shown improvement in his jump shot, and now has nearly two years of system knowledge that goes a long way in determining playing time.  If looking for a shooter though, a name that is still out there is Rasual Butler.  While not necessarily a player in the Redick mold (career 3 point FG% is 36.3%), Butler shot 39% the season before last and is a guy that I’ve always thought of as a gamer – though that’s probably influenced by some of the big shots he hit while with the Hornets.  Other “shooters” that are still available as free agents are Eddie House and Roger Mason Jr., but House is really a PG (not a lot of minutes at that spot after Fish/Blake) and Mason is really a SG that had quite the down year last season.  So, I wonder if any of these options are really better than Brown.

I truly value Lamar’s role on the team, I want us to keep him for the length of his contract and if he’ll eat more broccoli instead of candy, the sky is the limit.  But I still have these concerns: why does he get so many frustrating, momentum-swinging charges, why does he throw the ball away on so many length of the court passes, and why does he miss so many key defensive rotations late in games to allow dagger open threes? And don’t the coaches work with him on this?

-Mike

Another relevant topic after Jeff’s recent player review on LO.  Many who follow this site know that I’ve been one of Odom’s biggest supporters over the last few years and while I understand the frustration with some aspects of his game, I think fans need to adjust and appreciate Odom for what he does well rather than nitpick the things he doesn’t or focus too much on his mistakes.  That said, while I think some of faults pointed out are exaggerated, I do recognize his flaws as a player.  Odom is the type of ball handler that doesn’t change direction well when he’s made up his mind – hence the charges.  And since penetrating to either create a shot for himself or a teammate is such a big part of his game, I think we see this more often with him than we do with other players.  I also think he’s a player that is consistently looking for the play that gives the Lakers a true advantage (it’s one of the traits that makes him a play maker in the Triangle) and it’s why he’s always looking up-court for the “homerun” pass that will get the Lakers a quick bucket – a play that works a fair amount too, by the way. As for the defensive lapses, I think Odom’s natural instinct is to protect against the drive and hence the leaving of shooters behind the arc.  However this same instinct to help is what made Odom such a natural fit for the strong side zone scheme the Lakers employed during their 2009 title run.  His ability to recognize the penetration (as well as his ability to recover back to the weak side after showing help on the strong side) by using his length and defensive range was vital to this scheme and it was all aided by his desire to be a helper in a way that maximizes his skills.

This isn’t to make excuses for Odom as I’m often frustrated by these same flaws in his game.  However, when looking at LO objectively and in the big picture, I can think of few big men that would fit on this particular Lakers team better.  Odom is a player that moves well off the ball and thus can take advantage of the attention that Pau, Kobe, and Bynum draw.  He’s a very good rebounder and is excellent at turning defensive rebounds into transition baskets going the other way.  He’s a “stretch PF” that has a play making mentality and it allows him to be an offensive initiator while also giving space to the Lakers main offensive threats to operate.  Not to mention he’s the consumate team player that consistently looks to make the play that helps his mates, doesn’t have an ego that demands that he get a ton of credit, and is always preaching that the team needs to play the right way in order to be successful.  He could easily be a starter on countless other teams but he accepts his role on this team and helps it win at the highest level.  I can understand that others want a more consistent player and that Odom’s game can be the personification of an up and down season where the highs are fantastic and the lows are frustrating.  However, I think we can all agree that he helps this team a great deal and that his presence has helped earn back to back championships.  And for that, I’m very grateful to my favorite candy eating southpaw.

Certainly Ron Artest’s effect on the Laker defense was substantial – the proof is in the product.  Would you say the improvement in our defense was more manifested in a) Artest’s individual defense vs. Ariza/Walton/VladRad (in descending order) or b) his ability to make his teammate’s defend better in terms of establishing a defense-oriented mindset and setting an example or others to follow?

-kehntangibles

I would say it’s more a product of Artest’s individual defense and, specifically, the type of defender that he was.  Obviously Walton and RadMan weren’t what we’d call good defenders so we’ll leave them out of the discussion.  However, Ariza was a good defender, but his expertise came more in the form of ball denials, anticipation in the passing lanes, and an on ball defender in the P&R (remember his performance against Turkoglu in the 2009 Finals).  But, Artest is a different type of defender and one that is better suited to consistently producing stops in the half court.  Ron’s strength allowed him to push offensive players further from the hoop when making the catch.  His quick hands meant that the Lakers got more deflections and on ball steals.  His bigger body meant that players could not as easily drive by him without getting knocked off their dribble while his long reach was able to produce a lot of steals with his poke away move when offensive players actually did get by him.  So, I would say that his more well rounded defensive game served the Lakers very well over the course of the season and that compared to his predecessors, the improvement that Artest offered correlated to better team success.

I should add, though, that a healthy and more-committed-to-defense Bynum also helped the Lakers defense a great deal.  After playing in only 50 games in the 2009 season (while returning for the playoffs), Bynum played in 65 contests this season and was definitely more focussed on protecting the paint than he’s been in the past.  So, when you combine the presence of Bynum paired with Gasol and add a defender of Artest’s quality, I think the results are the top 5 defensive outfit the Lakers were able to field this past season.

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Forum Blue & Gold reflects back on the season that was for Lamar Odom and what we can expect from him in 2010-2011. Check out Phillip’s exit interviews post to hear it from the forward in his own words.

SEASON REVIEW:

As the old adage says: as Lamar Odom goes, the Lakers go. If truer words have spoken during the Lakers’ most recent run of NBA finals berths, I haven’t heard them. The always entertaining 6’10” forward has represented something of an enigma during his six-year tenure with the forum blue and gold. When he first joined Kobe and Co., Lamar was immediately anointed as the second coming of Scottie Pippen. He now stands tall as a vital, yet still underrated sixth man and two-time NBA champion.

Odom has faced a lion’s share of criticism over the course of that transition process, some deserved, some not. His surprising willingness to agree to a bench role before the 2008-2009 season deserves unanimous praise, though. For Odom, the 2009-2010 season was about perfecting his new role after the addition of Ron Artest to an already formidable front line. Despite his now somewhat expected consistent inconsistency during the regular season, the results of his big-game performances in a must-win Game 5 against the Suns and Game 7 against the Celtics are hard to argue.

Over the course of an impressive 82 games, Lamar averaged almost 11 points and 10 rebounds, while playing a starter-like 32 minutes. Those numbers easily represent the lowest of his career, but with the offensive arsenal behind him, he provided the Lakers with exactly what they needed on most nights. However, Odom struggled mightily against the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, bringing in a disappointing eight points and seven rebounds on only 41% shooting from the field. Luckily for Lamar, his untimely disappearing act was largely overlooked after Pau Gasol’s series-clinching put-back in Game 6.

Against a more familiar foe in the Phoenix Suns, Mr. Kardashian thrived, posting much-improved averages of 14 points to go along with 12 boards. In fact, with the series hanging in the balance in Game 5, it was the chameleonesque Odom who slithered his way to a difference-making 17 points and 13 rebounds. His up-and-down post-season continued against Boston’s significantly tougher front line in the Finals, though. However, give Lamar credit for being a leading instigator in L.A.’s second half comeback from 13 down in Game 7.

SINGLE PERFORMANCE:

Odom had better statistical games during the regular season, but none that had anywhere near the impact of his aforementioned 17-point, 13-rebound (including five offensive boards) performance against Phoenix in Game 5 of the Conference Finals. With the Lakers lollygagging around in the second half, allowing the Suns to eventually tie the game, it was often Odom who jolted the team back into the moment. Without his rugged play, there is no Ron Artest game-winner and we are looking at an entirely different series.

NEXT SEASON:

I think that both sports media and fans make a habit out of painting “pictures” for our favorite athletes early on in their careers. In many ways, we are watching it happen right now with LeBron James; through seven NBA seasons, he remains ringless and for fans of the former Cavaliers superstar, his legacy, which was once a foregone conclusion, is suddenly very much in doubt. To a lesser extent, Lamar also falls into this group thanks to an eye-opening college career at Rhode Island and a stellar first few seasons with the Clippers. At his height, his ball-handling skills and passing ability instantly drew comparisons to Lakers great Magic Johnson. That’s the problem with setting such lofty expectations early on in a player’s career, though; what happens when they are not always met? Do you render that player’s career an automatic failure because they did not live up to the potential that fans and media prognosticated?

In the case of Odom, I think that our ideal vision for his end destiny as an NBA player has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts over the past few seasons. It seems odd that consistency issues are even a topic of conversation for an 11-year veteran, but it remains—and probably always will—an issue for the forward. The difference now is that most of his fans—and teammates for that matter—are not looking for Lamar to produce a 20-10 night in every game over the course of a grueling nine-month season. Coach Jackson understands this better than anyone, which is why he was arguably the leading champion of Lamar’s understated value when Jerry Buss initially seemed reluctant to dive deeper into luxury tax territory to re-sign Odom last summer. Without the burden of playing up to a near-max level contract and as option B on offense, the Candy Man has excelled at filling in the gaps during the Lakers’ past three Finals runs, both as a super-sub and impromptu starter.

This will not change next season, as the team brings back virtually the same core of players that has already led them to consecutive NBA titles. If anything, I look for Lamar to improve on his 2009-2010 campaign with a bolstered bench that now includes steady point guard Steve Blake to replace the often-erratic Jordan Farmar. I fully expect Coach Jackson to continue to utilize Odom over Andrew Bynum in late-game situations too, depending on match-ups and which player(s) the team signs between now and training camp to fill out the front line. Regardless of his specific role, if we have learned anything over the years, it is that Lamar can adapt to any environment. His contributions as a key role player and valued teammate cannot be overlooked as the Lakers look forward to defending their crown.

Caracter

As you’ve probably read from a lot of the Lakers blogs and websites out there, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter have impressed many – including us here at Forum Blue and Gold. While there was much that I saw that both of the Lakers second round draft picks need to improve on, this post will focus mainly on the positive that both ball players have brought to the table with some thoughts from Darius intertwined with mine.

Off top, I really enjoyed watching both of them play through their first three games. The Lakers Summer League team implemented some of the triangle offense principles and it was nice to see both Ebanks and Caracter have some comfort within the offense. What I noticed early and often was that both of them really wanted to make sure that they kept the right spacing within the offense, filled gaps and moved well without the ball. There were moments where they seemed confused about where to go in the offense, but for the most part they did a great job at being in the right place at the right time. As Darius had gone on record to say before, the triangle offense is perfect for developing various skills for each individual player. With that being said, I thought we were able to see multiple talents from each player during the course of the first couple of games. I’ll start with Caracter.

Before Caracter played any summer league games, the back-story on his game was that he was very good around the rim and could finish with both hands. As early as the first quarter of his first summer league game, we saw flashes of what scouts were talking about. I haven’t seen a defined go to move for Caracter yet, but he has shown a propensity to go to the right block and finish with either his right or left hand with jump hooks. He’s been extremely patient when he’s had the ball and is very confident in operating around bigger players. He’s shown the ability to create space with his body and can finish when contact has been made. These first two clips show Caracter operating on the right block, finishing with both his right and left hand. In the second clip, pay attention to how he feels the double team. At first he kicks the ball out to repost, then turns away from the second double team to finish with his right hand. There are a lot of veteran post players in the NBA who cannot make these kind of plays.

These next two clips show that Character has the ability to also stretch defenses. The reason I’m showing a lot of these clips is because they’re looks they’ll actually get within the scope of the Lakers offense. The first clip features Caracter spotting up at the pinch post and knocking down the shot. We’ve seen Pau Gasol take this shot hundreds of times during the course of these last two and a half seasons. Seeing Caracter being able to knock down a shot like this has to make the Lakers coaching staff extremely excited about the 58th pick in the draft. I included this second clip not only because he knocks down a 17-footer as the shot clock expires, but because he kept the possession alive twice – once grabbing an offensive rebound and the second time chasing down a deflected pass. As the Lakers continue to age, a youthful ability to come off the bench and produce high energy plays that not only give your team an extra possession, but also leads to points, is exactly how you make NBA teams after being drafted late in the second round. From Darius:

His mid-range jumper is even better than I anticipated and he seems comfortable facing up out to 17 feet and canning the jumper.  Multiple times I’ve seen him execute the high post flash from the weak side, make the catch, and then turn and bury the jumper against a late close out.  This action is a staple of the Triangle for the PF/C and the fact that he’s already showing comfort with this is a very good sign.

For Devin Ebanks, his story thus far is that he is of the mold of Trevor Ariza, and those comparisons are very fair. Ebanks has been one of those guys who does all of the little things, but has also been able to score, too. He’s grabbed rebounds, has had some steals, moves very well without the basketball and is very athletic. He’s been a bit awkward with some of his finishes around the basket, but the most important part is the fact that he’s finished. The first two clips feature Ebanks show that athleticism and why he’s been compared to Trevor Ariza. The first one shows him picking up a loose ball, taking it to the rim, absorbing the contact and finishing. The second shows him turning Denver over at the top of the key and going coast-to-coast and finishing with his left hand.

These next two clips are what I enjoyed the most from Ebanks. The first clip shows Ebanks feeding the pinch post and cutting ball side to receive a pass and drive to the hoop. Again, we’ve seen Kobe run this play with Pau Gasol hundreds of times. This is the triangle offense in its most basic form, but it’s still the triangle and is something that he could feasibly see in real game time action with the Lakers. The second clip features Ebanks spotting up for a three-pointer and knocking it down. Again, if Ebanks finds the floor with any kind of significant minutes, he’s going to see a lot of wide-open three pointers because of the rest of the talent of this Lakers team. From Darius:

He’s been a much smoother offensive player than I thought he’d be and has shown a comfort level shooting the ball that I did not expect.  And while the results have not always been there, I think his willingness to shoot the ball and his confidence to be an offensive threat is something that some players that are labeled as “offensively challenged” never quite show.  So, his mindset is something I’ve been impressed with.

For both Darius and me, Caracter has impressed more than Ebanks has, but that isn’t saying that Ebanks hasn’t impressed at all. I think both of them are a year or two away from seeing significant minutes on a regular basis with the Lakers, but that goes without being said considering the talent already on this Lakers team. I think spending some time in the D-League will be extremely beneficial for both guys. I’ll let Darius close things out with a few thoughts on each player.

On Caracter: Besides the skills he’s flashed, I think I’ve just as impressed with his competitive drive.  He’s been changing ends well when transitioning from offense to defense.  He’s active on the glass and goes after balls that are out of his area – a trait exhibited by the very good rebounders.  He’s willing to bang in the post for both offensive and defensive position and will fight a player for loose balls when it’s a toss up play.  And while it’s difficult to put too much stock in the success of a player in Summer League, I can say that watching a player compete is one aspect of the game that translates to actual games.  If a player is willing to fight for court space and ball here, he’s likely to do it when the games actually matter.  And the fact that Caracter is showing that now bodes well for the Lakers down the line.

On Ebanks: While his overall skill level still needs work (the release on his jumper can be awkward at times and his footwork needs some polish), I think from an athletic standpoint he’s ready to play in the NBA.  He shows good quickness to the ball and excellent body control when attacking and finishing at the rim.  His length is just tremendous and in his match up with Donte Green and Omri Casspi, I was quite impressed with his ability to simultaneously contain penetration while still recovering to contest (and even block) the shot attempt.  I’d like to see constistently stronger perfromances on defense from Ebanks, but in a scrimmage environment, I can live with some mistakes and some uneven results.  It’s not like he’s loafing out there – he’s just not always doing the technically correct thing.

Yesterday afternoon and through this morning FB&G had some server issues that disrupted the site, leaving the site down for that time period.  My sincerest apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused to all of you looking to talk Lakers with us.

This issue is now resolved and we will continue putting up posts this afternoon, starting with some thoughts on Summer League in preparation for today’s game between the Lakers and the Spurs.  Over the next couple of days, we’ll catch up with all the latest news including Raja Bell spurning the Lakers for the Jazz and the likely return of Shannon Brown.  We’ll also continue with our player evals and may even throw in another mailbag.

I was having serious FB&G withdrawls, so I’m happy things are back in order and we’ll update the site soon with some new thoughts.

Los Angeles Lakers' Derek Fisher (L) and teammate Pau Gasol celebrate in the second quarter of their game against the Boston Celtics during Game 6 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California, June 15, 2010 .   REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

To be honest, I was never really concerned with Derek Fisher leaving the Lakers.  The Lakers were the team that could offer him the best situation – the most money (if needed), the leadership role, the offense that maximizes his skill set, and the coaches/teammates that he was comfortable interacting with.  Really, no other team could combine all of these factors and even if the Lakers played hard ball with his salary “demands”, the other factors were sure to provide a pull that other teams just couldn’t match.  Plus, Fisher’s relationship with that Kobe guy is pretty strong and in the end it was that relationship that tipped the scales in the Lakers’ favor.

We all know what Fisher provides so I won’t explore that too much here.  And though I will say that while Fisher is clearly on the decline, he’s still the exact type of player this specific Lakers team needs.  His ability to play crunch time minutes and hit big shots in the clutch is second to only Kobe Bryant on this team.  And when you look around the league, there may be other superstar caliber players you’d want with the ball and taking that last second jumper, but I struggle to find another role player that I’d prefer to have taking that big shot to tie or win the game.  The trust that his teammates have in him is second to none and his ability to say the right thing to inspire his mates is alone worth the salary the Lakers will pay him over the next three seasons.

And while we can go back and forth on whether or not a three year contract is the most prudent deal for a player that will soon see his 36th birthday, understand that his deal will essentially keep this Lakers championship core together for extended runs with Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Artest, and Odom.  The Lakers will have their core 6 players for at least next season and the one beyond that and locking up one of the key leaders for that stretch was imperative.  And while the contract details are not official, if the deal is in the 3 year/$10.5 mil as has been reported (with the 3rd year being a player option), I think that’s a fair contract for what Derek provides to this team.  Sure it’s a step up from the reported $2.5 million that was originally offered, but it’s not so far above that it can’t be explained by PG still being a position of need and the fact that the Lakers are retaining a player that hasn’t missed a game in 5 seasons while providing some discernible skills and a bunch of intangibles that have directly helped this team succeed to the level that it has in the past three seasons.

But now that Derek is back in the fold, what is next for the Lakers?  The team now has 9 players under contract (Fisher, Kobe, Artest, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Blake, Sasha, and Walton) and has two rookies that are performing well in the Vegas Summer League (more on them in a future post).  If both the rookies make the final roster after training camp – which is looking more and more likely by the day – then the Lakers have to add at least two more players to reach the mandated league minimum of 13.  As we mentioned this morning, Kobe will meet with Raja Bell tomorrow in hopes of convincing him of joining the Lakers as a reserve wing player.  Many have mixed views of adding Bell, but I’m not one of those people.  While Bell is older, he’s a defensive player that is a very good three point shooter.  He’s tough minded, has the experience of making deep playoff runs, and is has the skill set to play SG and SF for the Lakers and could even play some PG in a pinch.  Plus, I think it’s key to note that Bell didn’t play many games last season (6 total) and that means he’s essentially a year younger (in basketball years) than his age.  He did not take a pounding last season and missed games not due to a leg injury, but to his non-shooting wrist.  I’m quite confident that he can return to the form he showed two seasons ago where he averaged over double digit points, shot over 40% from 3 point range, and still played quality defense.

I know that many are looking for a “slashing” wing that can play off the ball in a manner that exploits the attention that the Lakers’ marquee players demand.  However, the Triangle offense is one predicated off spacing combined with movement off the ball.  This means that having a better shooter on the floor allows for Pau/Kobe/Bynum to have more space to operate while also allowing all the off-ball movement to flow better because defenses are forced to play tighter on the perimeter.  So, guys like Odom, Bell (potentially), Artest, Sasha, etc will be able to move off the ball more freely and still be able to cut off the ball to good results.  Slashing doesn’t have to be the strength of someone’s game for them to still take advantage of the extra room generated by dominant players that demand double teams combined with strong shooters on the wing.  This is why, I’m more lukewarm on Matt Barnes (though I think he too would be a solid addition) because even though he is a player that moves well off the ball, his career 3 point % is over 8 points lower than Bell’s (Barnes – 32.9%, Bell – 41.1%).  The extra spacing that Bell provides helps the offense more overall than the better slashing and ability to finish at the rim than Barnes.  Defensively, Barnes can guard bigger players as he’s a natural SF that can effectively guard perimeter PF’s like Rashard Lewis or Dirk.  But Bell is just as versatile as a defensive player as he can guard SG’s and SF’s and can even be used on some PG’s (Andre Miller types, for example).

So if Bell or Barnes is signed (or if Shannon is retained) the only position left is a back up big man that can play PF or C (or preferably, both).  As for names available, that list primarily looks the same as it did at the start of free agency – at least in the price range the Lakers can pay.  Kurt Thomas, Rasho Nesterovich, Joe Smith or the familiar faces of Powell or Mbenga are still out there.  Any of these guys would be solid pick-ups (with Thomas likely representing the best option) and I’m sure the Lakers are working the phones behind the scenes now that Fisher is locked up.  The roster is now rounding into shape and for a team that just came off winning its second consecutive title, I think things are coming together quite nicely and I have no complaints with the direction that the team has moved in.  Remember, every  team is trying to catch up to the Lakers and so far this off-season the team that holds the crown has actually gotten better.  I know that Miami and Chicago can say the same but how many other teams can?  And while it’s difficult to be satisfied with the off-season always offering the next enticing option, things are progressing nicely, Lakers fans.

Lastly, I leave you with the latest video from LD2K, who has once again put together a great piece – this time on the man that decided to come back and go for 6.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (L) congratulates guard Derek Fisher in the fourth quarter during Game 3 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series against the Boston Celtics in Boston, Massachusetts June 8, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Yes, indeed. Welcome back, Mr. Fisher.  Kobe wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers:  “Then again, these issues have proven a small trade-off for an uncanny ability to hit shots requiring huevos grande. I mean, big ol’ onions. Dude’s as clutch as players come, and until we see him turn “Robert Horry in the 2003 playoffs,” I refuse to stop extending Fisher a benefit of the doubt. One or two more biggies are guaranteed to drop before the sneaks are hung up for good.

Ultimately, Fisher’s impact is felt heaviest in the locker room and along the sidelines during games. His speeches are now the stuff of legend, the reason he has the ear of everybody on the roster, including Kobe Bryant. Some might even say especially Kobe — who stayed in Fish’s ear constantly while the situation was mulled — since the Mamba has labeled his longtime teammate the one player he’s absolutely willing to give audience, no questions asked.”

Kevin Ding, OC Register:  “It’s funny how desperately Bryant wanted to win without Shaquille O’Neal and yet Bryant now can’t stand the prospect of trying to win without Fisher – which Bryant has never done either. For a time there when things were good between Bryant and O’Neal, their opposites attracted – as is the case in the best of any relationships. But they never shared the core values that make Bryant and Fisher – for all their personality differences – more similar than you might think.

Bryant can respect Fisher to such an extent because Fisher works comparably hard and believes in himself comparably much. Fisher is a politician with a charming smile and analytical words, but he is just as certain at the bottom line as Bryant that no one can break him.”

Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: “Derek Fisher was coming back to the Lakers.  He flirted with Miami, but they could offer even less money than the Lakers. And more than money, it was about comfort. He fits well in the triangle. He could win titles in L.A. And Kobe Bryant wanted him back. It was going to happen. But for three years?”

Marc Stein, ESPN:  “Bryant, though, has not abandoned his pursuit and continues to press Bell to join the Lakers, who have only $1.8 million of their mid-level exception left to offer Bell next season after signing Steve Blake.

One source close to the situation said memories of Bell’s takedown, which earned him a suspension for Game 6 of the series — the Suns, down 3-2, won the game at Staples Center without him — are actually one reason why Bryant sees Bell as such an ideal teammate. The premise? Anyone with the gumption to hit Bryant that hard is someone he wants on his team.”

Mark Medina, LA Times: “All it took was a one-word answer for Michael Jordan to settle the Kobe Bryant-LeBron James debate. When he was asked at a basketball camp who the better basketball player was, Jordan simply said, “Kobe.” You can counter that Jordan’s talent evaluations leave a lot to be desired. He did draft Kwame Brown, you know. But his reputation as the game’s all-time greatest player speaks for itself. This is hardly a new revelation. When James won his second best most valuable player award, I presented in detail why Bryant is still the NBA’s best player.”

Point Of No Return

Darius Soriano —  July 12, 2010

Jun. 08, 2010 - Boston, MASSACHUSETTS, UNITED STATES - epa02192987 Los Angeles Lakers' Jordan Farmar (L) drives past Boston Celtics' Nate Robinson during the first half of game three of the NBA Finals at TD Gardens in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 08 June 2010. The Lakers defeated the Celtics 91-84 to lead the series 2-1 in the best of seven games.

It’s now official: Jordan Farmar is no longer a Laker but instead is a member of the New Jersey Nets.  Last night he inked a 3 year/$12 million dollar contract to play point guard with the team in Jersey.  So, what looked to be a sure bet after his exit interview and at the beginning of free agency has now come to fruition, so this should be of little surprise to Lakers fans.  Personally, I wish Farmar nothing but the best.  Yes, I’ve been hard on Farmar over his career (more on that later) but he was a key contributor to the Lakers three consecutive trips to the Finals and the two championships they’ve won in the past two seasons.  Serving as the back up PG and the first guard off the bench nearly every night, Farmar may not have been the most dependable player but he played hard and did have a knack of hitting key shots when the Lakers needed them.  So, in a way, I’ll miss him.  I just won’t miss him a lot.

Because when it comes right down to it, Jordan Farmar wasn’t a player that had a long term future with the Lakers.  While the Triangle is an offense that nearly any player can adapt to – if you can’t shoot, you can slash; if you’re not a good ball handler, you can spot up; etc – Farmar was always a reluctant participant in the Lakers’ sets often casting himself as a floor general in a system that did not require it.  Farmar seems to see himself as a director of the action; as a guard that operates best with the ball in his hands where he can call out the sets and improvise off the dribble to get himself or his teammates a shot.  And the offense he found himself in just wasn’t that type of scheme.  Plus, when you compound that with the Lakers also employing Kobe, Pau, Fisher, and Odom, it’s not like Farmar was ever going to find a role where he was the main player with the ball in his hands even when the offense calls for isolation sets or pick and rolls.

The thing is, even though Farmar likely saw himself as more, he had the requisite skill to really excel as a support player in the Triangle.  Farmar is a good enough shooter from both the mid-range and the three point line (for players that had more than 17 attempts, he actually led the Lakers in 3pt FG% at 37.6% this past season) to be a threat off the ball.  He’s a very good ball handler and has shown the ability to be a good decision maker by making the proper reads within the offense.  He’s an explosive driver that can finish at the rim in the half court and in transition – traits that served him well when up against the shot clock or in the P&R sets that are built into the Triangle.  And he also had  moxie; a confidence to him that allowed him to play fearlessly in games where the stakes were high.  Granted, this didn’t always lead to the best results, but he’s played well in some big games and hit some big shots in the the OKC series and against Phoenix in the WCF in this years’ playoffs.  He also made some key hustle plays in the Finals including a diving grab of a loose ball in game 6 that exemplified the effort the Lakers displayed in forcing a fateful game 7.  So when looking at his game, it’s obvious that Farmar could have been a contributing player for the Lakers for years to come had he just been at peace with his role.

But during his tenure with the Lakers, he never fully embraced being that player.  And in the end, this is why I’ve been so hard on Farmar and why I was left disappointed on many a night with his performance.  Farmar was always a player with the requisite game and the smarts to know what to do and when to do it, but he too often broke away from that role to try and do more.  Rather than making the simple pass into the post, he’d call Gasol out to the perimeter so he could run the P&R.  Instead of making the next pass in the progression reads of the Triangle, he’d put his head down and try to attack the basket.  What was most frustrating was that it was clear that he could play in a manner that was mutually beneficial to him an the team – a perfect example of this was his performance in the 2009 playoffs against Houston when Fisher was suspended – but on too many nights Farmar pushed away from that role like the style he wanted to play and the Triangle offense were two magnets at opposite poles.  When you throw in his sometimes commitment to defense where losing track of his man off the ball or his getting beat off the dribble in a manner where his man wasn’t funneled to help defenders was a bit too frequent, my frustration often grew even higher.  This all left me with a sense of “he should be better, but he’s just not” and in the end, that’s a tough way of looking at a player night after night.

And now he’s gone.  But again, I hope he succeeds in Jersey (and I think he will).  He’s seemingly going to a situation where he’ll again be asked to be a back up player, but the isolation and P&R schemes of Avery Johnson will likely suit him better than the constraints of the Triangle.  Plus with the Nets, there is no Kobe Bryant to dominate the ball on the wing to the point that Farmar will be a spectator just standing in the corner waiting for the ball to swing back to him.  He’ll be able to play with an up an coming big man, so he should still have the relief of having a strong post presence that he can play off of while still being able to create off the dribble for himself or his mates.  And while I’m not sure if this is the best career move for Farmar – he’s leaving a defending champion for the team with the worst record in the league last season – I do think this will give him a chance to see if he can indeed flourish in a more traditional system for a point guard.  He has the talent, but whether he gets the opportunity he’s been seeking for years remains to be seen.  Either way, good luck Jordy.  I’ll miss his buzzer beaters at the end of quarters, open court dunks and that swagger that he carried himself with and hope he brings all that and more with him to the Nets.

June 15, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02204272 Los Angeles Lakers guard Jordan Farmar (C) makes a pass around Boston Celtics center Rasheed Wallace (L) and Boston Celtics guard Nate Robinson (R) in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers 89-67 win over the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals Game Six at the Staples Center in Los Angeles California, USA 15 June 2010. The best of seven series is tied at 3-3.

From Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times: Jordan Farmar may soon find out just how frustrating the NBA can really become. He often lamented during his four-year tenure with the Lakers his lack of playing time, how the triangle offense limited his game and how there never seemed to be enough opportunities for him to succeed. That’s why it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he officially parted ways with the Lakers on Sunday. It almost seemed inevitable that he wouldn’t be part of the organization, particularly with how obvious he made it out to be during his exit interview that he’d like to test the market, get away from L.A. and see where his career can take him. What seems surprising is the alternative. The Times’ Broderick Turner reported that Farmar accepted a three-year, $12-million offer from the New Jersey Nets and will play behind starting point guard Devin Harris. In New Jersey, Farmar’s frustration may go beyond playing time and the triangle offense.

From Mark Heisler, Los Angeles Times: LeLemmings Strike Back! You know the guy on the 100-foot billboard in Cleveland with his head thrown back and his arms outstretched under the Nike swoosh and the words “We Are All Witnesses”? He doesn’t perform miracles there anymore. After years of dreading this day, Cavaliers fans, who assured themselves LeBron James would never leave, knowing he was all they had going and there would be no reason for them to stay, either, learned he would spend the rest of their lives in. . . . And now a word from our sponsors. MIAMI?

From Broderick Turner, Los Angeles Times: The Lakers have one guard who might be staying or going, another guard who is leaving and yet another guard who remains in flux. Almost two weeks into the free-agency period has put Lakers unrestricted free-agent guard Derek Fisher in a position in which he may have to decide between two similar offers — one from the Lakers and the other from the Miami Heat. Jordan Farmar, to whom the Lakers didn’t make a qualifying offer, which made him an unrestricted free agent, said he agreed Sunday night to a three-year, $12-million deal with the New Jersey Nets.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Some details have emerged tonight about the bidding, uh, “war” for Derek Fisher. A story filed minutes ago by Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times contains two key pieces of information. One is that the Miami Heat have indeed offered Fish a contract. It’s for two years, with the second being a player option. The salary is “up to $2 million” per year, depending on what Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem will agree to. The Heat have apparently promised Fish the starting point-guard gig. The second key update is that the Lakers are now offering Fish a deal worth $2.75 million annually. Turner doesn’t know whether it’s a one- or two-year offer, but in any event, it’s a very slight increase from the $2.5 million contract the Lakers were reportedly offering last week. The Heat are requesting answers from Fish, Miller and Haslem by Tuesday.

From the K-Bros, Land O’ Lakers: Jordan Farmar’s exit interview cemented what’s been clear for the last couple of seasons. He wasn’t terribly interested in remaining a Laker once his contract expired this July, and the feeling has always appeared mutual on the Lakers’ end. Jordan’s felt unofficially “gone” since around 2008, but it’s now truly the case by any standard. Farmar and the Nets have agreed to a three-year deal worth $12-million.  I must admit, New Jersey strikes me as a curious destination. On one hand, the Nets have an established, successful coach in Avery Johnson — described as a selling point to the Los Angeles Times’ Brad Turner — and an owner with deep pockets. And while still hardly a playoff lock, they’re basically guaranteed by definition to perform better than last season’s 12 win fiasco. Between rookie Derrick Favors, Anthony Morrow potentially joining, and the core trio of Brook Lopez, Courtney Lee and Devin Harris, there are enough good young pieces to consider the Nets a team moving in the right direction.

From Mark J. Spears, Yahoo! Sports: A source close to Derek Fisher said he’s confident the free-agent guard will re-sign with the Los Angeles Lakers instead of going to the Miami Heat. Fisher reportedly received a $2.5 million offer for next season from the Lakers. He has been seeking a two-year contract with a starting salary closer to the $5 million he made last season. Depending on whether the Heat sign both Mike Miller and Udonis Haslem, they could be in position to offer only the veteran’s minimum to Fisher. Fisher visited with the Heat in Miami on Saturday.

From Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: Large bags of ice are taped to Derrick Caracter‘s shoulders and knees as he sits on a folding chair beneath the bleachers of Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas. The Lakers have just dropped a summer league game to the Nuggets, but Caracter continues to make the Lakers look smart for nabbing him with the 58th overall pick in last month’s draft. After racking up 20 points and 10 rebounds against the Pistons on Friday, Caracter scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds on Saturday. Even though summer league is largely an exhibition to display individual talents, there’s a tacit rule not to take too much pride in personal performance when your team loses. Still, as a late second-rounder who has been carrying baggage, Caracter’s strong play has him in good spirits.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: The Lakers lost their second straight game to open the Las Vegas Summer League as Ty Lawson and the Denver Nuggets rode a late run to a 92-74 victory. Yet as was the case in L.A.’s first game, second round picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter showed why Mitch Kupchak and Co. drafted them, Ebanks posting a game-high 24 points and Caracter contributing his second straight double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds. L.A. cut Denver’s lead to just four late in the second quarter, as Ebanks and Caracter combined for 18 points in the period, but couldn’t lead the Lakers back in the second half. Ebanks, known more in his two years at West Virginia as a defensive player, showcased his offense for the second straight game, bringing his average to 22.5 points, and he added three steals on defense.

From Alex Kennedy, Hoops World: Throughout the draft process, Derrick Caracter proved that he could hang with the top prospects in this class. He was dominating workouts and saying all of the right things in interviews. But on draft night, teams were still scared to take a risk on the big man because of his well documented red flags. Caracter had changed his attitude, lost forty pounds, and emerged as a leader but the mistakes he made as a high schooler were coming back to haunt him. When the Los Angeles Lakers finally took a chance on him with the fifty-eighth pick, Caracter vowed to go after the players chosen ahead of him on draft night. When the Las Vegas Summer League kicked off on Friday, Caracter started this process by going after Greg Monroe.

Last, but not least, I just saw this video of Kobe talking about how kids need to get out and play more, Derek Fisher, Brian Shaw and LeBron James.