Archives For August 2010

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 28, 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)

We kick off the first day of the FIBA World Championships with some fast break thoughts.

*Competitive basketball (where teams are actually trying to win something meaningful) returns today with the start of the FIBA World Championships in Turkey.  There are loads of good previews for this tourney all over the web so if you’re looking for the skinny on each of the teams, you don’t have to go searching too hard.  Over at Pro Basketball Talk, there’s a good preview of Team USA’s group and if you visit the NBA Facts and Rumors blog at CBS sports, you’ll find a comprehensive preview of the entire tourney that includes non NBA players to watch and sleeper teams.

*And speaking of the Worlds, if you’re looking for some insight into Team USA’s opponent today, go read Chris Sheridan’s post at TrueHoop where he gets a brief breakdown from Tony Ronzone on the former European power. (h/t to Kurt at PBT)

*One last point on the Worlds – most hoops junkies are interested in this event because it’s real basketball after a summer of free agency, trades, and talks of next year’s looming CBA negotiations.  Or, there’s always the patriotic angle where nationalism rules and you root for your home country (whatever country that may be).  But, this event is also where your favorite team may have a player or two on the squad and you want to see how those guys perform.  On that note, Rob Mahoney has a very good read on where the Worlds and OKC intersect that is worth your time.  And from a Lakers’ perspective, I know I’ll be watching Lamar Odom quite closely.  As I’ve said before, I think his game is built for FIBA as his versatility from the front court allows him to do whatever the team needs on both offense and defense.  Over at FanHouse, a closer look is taken at LO and how playing some Center for the U.S. team is just another thing that the do it all big man is taking on.

*In case you didn’t know, yesterday Derek Fisher filled in as host for Jim Rome on his t.v. show “Rome is Burning”.  Fish was his normal classy and dapper self and handled himself well, I thought.  Fish interviewed Bucks PG Brandon Jennings, got in some basketball talk with former NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley, and spoke to some guy named “Kobe” for over 8 and a half minutes (way to hog the camera time #24).  Some interesting quotes came out of that interview (we’ll get to those in a minute), but for some reason I couldn’t stop thinking that even though Kobe had his guard down speaking to one of his closest friends and teammates, he’s still very media savvy and knows that whatever he says (even when speaking to a friend in a joking environment) can get framed and twisted in churn of media regurgitation.

However, Kobe did say some interesting things nonetheless.  His most played comment will probably be him comparing the teaming of the Heat’s new triumvirate to my favorite cartoon of all time.  My only question is who is the Blue Lion?  My vote goes to Bosh, but Mike Miller may be a candidate too.  Another interesting thing that Kobe said was that while he can never say never, he’s 99.9% sure that he’ll retire a Laker.  Over at PBT, Matt Moore tells us that it’s actually kind of rare for great players to stay with the same team for their entire career.  And when you think about it, he’s right.  Sure Magic and Bird did. West and Baylor did too.  As did Stockton and the “Admiral” David Robinson.  But who else?

*Finally, in case you did miss Fish grilling Kobe (sorry, I haven’t eaten breakfast yet) here’s the entire interview.  Enjoy.

Friday Chat

Darius Soriano —  August 27, 2010

Jun. 03, 2010 - Los Angeles, CAILFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02186122 Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol of Spain (L) takes a shot over Boston Celtics center Rasheed Wallace (R) during the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers 102-89 win of the NBA Playoffs game one at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA 03 June 2010. The Los Angeles Lakers lead the best of seven series 1-0.

From Erickson Beco, MB.com: Spanish National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar Pau Gasol has been in the business for quite some time now. He may not be the typical NBA power forward as what characterizes the previous crop of the league’s stars (and largely, maybe, owing to the European brand of play where big men literally play with grace and finesse), but his efficient and effective play is definitely a delightful answer in ever coach’s dream. What is remarkable with the 7-footer Gasol is the continuous development in almost all aspects of his game despite playing alongside one of the sport’s icons today by the name of Kobe Bryant.

Despite logging in with impressive performances for seven seasons at the FedEx Forum, Gasol was a relative unknown, but all that changed with the trade, which was  the biggest move in NBA history until Lebron James’ move to the Heat this year.
Gasol, who was brought in to fill the void left by Shaquille O’ Neal’s move to the Miami
Heat, guided the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 2008 — which they lost to Boston Celtics — and helped them add two more championships, to their already swollen overall tally of 15, in 2009 and 2010.
“That was a very big move for my career,” said the 30-year-old Gasol, who was in Mumbai on Wednesday to conduct an NBA Clinic. “The move got me the championship rings. We worked really hard and it was an amalgamation of a brilliant bunch of things that made us this good,”

From Bangalore, Deccan Herald: Despite logging in with impressive performances for seven seasons at the FedEx Forum, Gasol was a relative unknown, but all that changed with the trade, which was  the biggest move in NBA history until Lebron James’ move to the Heat this year. Gasol, who was brought in to fill the void left by Shaquille O’ Neal’s move to the Miami  Heat, guided the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 2008 — which they lost to Boston Celtics — and helped them add two more championships, to their already swollen overall tally of 15, in 2009 and 2010. “That was a very big move for my career,” said the 30-year-old Gasol, who was in Mumbai on Wednesday to conduct an NBA Clinic. “The move got me the championship rings. We worked really hard and it was an amalgamation of a brilliant bunch of things that made us this good.”

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: Big men don’t get more versatile than this guy. He’s bad at absolutely nothing, and top gear in just about everything. Scores with either hand on either block. Dominates from the high post. Nails cutters, sets screens and finishes off the good or bad pass. He can play defense now, he’s worked his way into becoming a fierce rebounder and his brain is bigger than our brains are. Even with Tim Duncan’s history, his smarts, his ability and his formidable all-around play, there isn’t a power forward in this league that I think can help me win more than Pau Gasol. He just does things too excellently too often to overlook.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: When Artest signed with the Lakers before last season, some were concerned the team took a step backwards, trading the youth, potential, and non-craziness of Trevor Ariza for the older, um… eccentric Ron Ron. Would he play his role? Would he be a distraction? Would he snap at some inopportune moment, putting the crazy back in Crazy Pills? In order, yes, no, and no. Not that the year was devoid of Artestian color. There were haircuts, a smorgasbord of Tweets, the Great Christmas Night Fall, interviews on national television conducted without pants, and more. It was capped with, quite simply, the greatest press conference ever. (I’m still trying to figure out how to make “Acknowledge me!” my ringtone.) It’s not like the guy suddenly became boring- he is and will likely remain a gift to the local media- but anyone waiting for him to rip the team apart was disappointed.

From Shaun Powell, NBA.com: The physics-inspired theory that says what goes up must come down applies to everything except two gravity-challenged items: weight gain and those retired Celtics jerseys hanging in the rafters. Even Shaquille O’Neal, a devoted follower of Aristotle, would agree to this philosophy. We won’t make any jokes about his heft; he can be quite sensitive about that. But with regard to his new team, the Celtics, Shaq has already discovered a change in uniform number will be in order, because of circumstances. He can’t wear his usual 33, which was Larry Bird’s number. He can’t go for 32, his choice in Miami and Phoenix, because it’s held in honor of Kevin McHale. And he can’t wear the 34 he wore in Los Angeles, because that belongs to the Truth, Paul Pierce. All of this talk about jersey numbers raises an interesting debate: Will Shaq, surely one of the top five centers of all time, ever have his jersey number retired? And if so, by whom?

From Chuck Schilken, LA Times: The Celtics may have a slight lead over the Lakers in NBA championships, 17-16, but which of the two storied franchises would win if their all-time best players and coaches squared off? According to the Bleacher Report, it’s the Lakers. After comparing each team’s all-time best players (at their peak), position by position, and doing the same with the coaches, the site gave the Lakers a 4-2 advantage. The Lakers edge the Celtics at center (“Shaq playing at his peak level would be the most dominant force. Boston would have no one that could effectively stop him one-on-one”), shooting guard (“Behind Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Jerry West are the best shooting guards in the league’s history”), point guard (“A great aspect of the Lakers’ backcourt is its versatility.

Los Angeles Lakers' Derek Fisher shoots over Boston Celtics' Rajon Rondo during the fourth quarter in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California June 17, 2010 .  REUTERS/Mike Blake  (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

In 1996, there is no way the Lakers could have known that they were drafting a future five time NBA Champion, the future president of the player’s union and one of the most stand-up guys in all of sports. Considering Derek Fisher’s roller coaster season, the Lakers still don’t know exactly what to expect from their point guard in 2010.

For Fish, it was one of the more forgettable regular seasons of his career. He recorded his lowest scoring average since the 99/00 season, assisted at his lowest rate since his rookie season and had the worst shooting percentage of his career — yet he continued to start over the likes of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown. He played in 82 games for the fifth season in a row and finished the season as an NBA champion for the fifth time in his career. The story line that loomed over his head like a personal rain cloud this season weren’t any of these things, but how we reacted to them as the season treaded along. It was more than obvious that Fisher’s physical capabilities were on the decline, and we (yes, myself included) made sure that the blogospehere knew it.

National columnists, beat writers, online journalists, bloggers and those who simply comment on blogs relentlessly stoned Fish with our words that berated the decline of his shooting, passing, jumping, running and intelligence for the better part of the 82 game season. These are the rated G versions of the comments made about Derek Fisher’s game.

* “Fisher is beyond awful, and cannot even outplay opposing reserve guards.”

* “Maybe because we know it’s beating a dead horse at this point (no offense Fish) but it’s kind of amazing how we always step around the pink elephant that is our PG situation. It boggles the mind how we could have just opted not to address this massive Achilles heel at any point in the off season before the trade deadline. We couldn’t at least go the Smush Parker route and sign a d-leaguer for the minimum? Mustafa Shakur. Morris Almond (who’s actually a SG/SF but could at least knock down a 3). Just sayin’”

* “The tempo is set by each team taking it to the hole in the dike, Fisher. When teams get out to big leads it is almost always penetration up the middle and wide open shots. This latest yelling match with Sasha and Shaw may even shorten are already talent short bench. I don’t even want to see what Brooks does to Fisher tonight and Paul after that. It is very tough to win 4 on 5. They other 4 guys have to play great games to carry around the caboose. This game they were too tired and could not recover from the defensive liabilities of Fisher. To beat the Lakers you do it with speed, youth, doubling Kobe and attacking our hole in the dike. Every scout in the league has figered it out. Except Phil that is. The legend of D Fish is now haunting me. I think it might be the ghost of Smush Parker!!!!!!!!!!!”

* “Another Laker game, another poor shooting night from Fisher. The man knows how to talk good game but doesn’t play that way.”

* “The rate at which Derek Fisher fails makes me want to punch through walls.”

* “And for those who complain stop with the Fish bashing. Not as long as he continues to hurt this team and make a mockery of the point guard position.”

* “Someone mentioned it in the game thread, but it bears repeating because I’m just flabbergasted. Fish’s 13 shots were more than Lamar, Drew, Pau, or Artest took. All of those players shot more than 50% from the field tonight. That is simply unacceptable. Fish should be one of our LAST options on offense.”

Not one of these comments came from a non-Lakers fan – giving credence to the saying, with fans like these, who needs the Celtics? I was even included in that bunch, and I’ve been one of Fisher’s biggest supporters throughout the years. It was hard not to blame all that was going bad on the aging point guard, and we used him as a way to justify the Lakers sub-par play down the stretch. But we all know, that it wasn’t JUST Fish as evidenced by the Lakers post season run. Yes, Fish picked up his game in the post season, but so did the whole team. Andrew Bynum was better, Farmar and Brown were better, Gasol was better and Kobe was MUCH better. This was a Lakers team that was awful for many of their games past the all-star break, not a point guard.

The thing is, Fisher is one of the most dedicated basketball players in the league. He understands the game, he understands his teammates and he understands his coach. The Lakers run a system that allows him to be effective without all of the physical abilities that some of the better point guards in the league have, and it takes an extremely intelligent and dedicated basketball player to take full advantage of that. In his exit interview, Fish addressed how much hard work he puts into making sure he can go out and give the Lakers everything he has night in and night out:

“It’s a lot of sacrifice. On one of those hot days in the summer when you could be at the park with the kids or, you know, going to lunch with your wife, a lot of times I’m working out. A lot of times I could be sleeping in or staying out late, I’m doing the opposite and it’s worked out well. I feel like I’ve made an investment more than giving something away. … Every year I just keep pushing the envelope to find ways to keep myself in the best possible shape and condition in the event that I do need to go all the way. With our team, it’s not always required of me, but I’d rather be prepared to play 38 minutes and carry a heavy load even though that’s not what I really have to do.”

Considering his career, saying, “it’s worked out well” is an understatement. Not only is he a five time NBA Champion, but he has some of the most memorable moments in recent Lakers history, including scoring 11 for the Lakers in the last nine minutes of Game 3 of the NBA Finals to give the Lakers a much needed 2-1 lead over the Celtics. It seemingly happens every year with this guy. No matter how many times Derek Fisher has been counted out, he’s left a positive stamp on the season – and it’s hard to be mad at that.

“For me it feels good to come through no matter what had been or was said throughout the regular season. To be honest I don’t know if I’d like it any other way. Part of the reason why I’m here is because of what I was told I couldn’t do … in high school, in college, that’s what I’ve heard my whole basketball career basically. I guess I’ve developed an ability to just kind of let that be what it is and let people say what they have a right to say.”

-Derek Fisher

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

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: A year from now, Brian Shaw probably won’t get to vacation in Cabo in relative anonymity anymore. Shaw figures to be the new head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps the three-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers. So well aware of that is he that Shaw is lying low as best as he can these days, determined not to bring extra attention to himself as one of the biggest winners of this tumultuous NBA offseason. Shaw could’ve become head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers but had the restraint to insist on a timetable to ensure the job would not be a glorified janitorial position: cleaning up the mess LeBron James left.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The U.S. easily defeated Greece, 87-59, in Athens on Wednesday in the team’s last tuneup before the FIBA World Championship starts on Saturday in Turkey. Lamar Odom, the only Laker on the USA squad, started and was active enough on the defensive end of the floor. In 18 minutes he got four steals and three boards. But on offensive Odom basically vanished; he didn’t score and took only one shot. Clippers guard Eric Gordon, who came off the bench, led the U.S. with 18 points. The U.S. opens against Croatia on Saturday.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Now that Kobe Bryant’s turned 32, how much of a decline can we expect in his game over the next few seasons? The only player to compare Bryant’s 30-something performance with, of course, is Michael Jordan. But it’s not a simple comparison because by the age of 32 MJ had been retired for almost two seasons while he tried, and failed, to make it as a pro baseball player. So, when Jordan returned to the Chicago Bulls late in the 94-95 season—at 32—he’d played only 778 NBA regular season and playoff games. By comparison, Kobe Bryant has already played a whopping 1,219 games, 57% more than Jordan at the same age. Kobe is clearly the NBA version of a Ferrari with high mileage.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: It’s not that Lamar Odom played poorly last season, because he didn’t. Some of his numbers (scoring, field goal percentage) went down, others (rebounding, assists) went up. Looking at the advanced metrics, it’s the same story. Some fall and others (particularly his percentages on the glass) rise. The full picture, particularly since it ended in a ring, was hardly some sort of unmitigated disaster. At the same time, relative to the ’08-’09 campaign, Odom didn’t have the same impact. While people tend to harp too much on inconsistencies in Odom’s output- he’s hardly the only player whose production fluctuates and finding another guy around the league whose role changes from night to night more than his- his playoffs, and particularly the Finals, were a very mixed bag.

From Biran Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: If a couple years back Mitch Kupchak had found only a secondary scorer to pair with Kobe Bryant, the Lakers would have benefited. He did, of course, but in trading for Pau Gasol, Kupchak landed not only a guy who scores with great efficiency from multiple spots, but has a skill set tailored perfectly for the triangle, specifically the ability to see the floor (from a nice high vantage point at seven feet tall) and pass like a guard.  Gasol’s vision and understanding of the best place to move the ball opens up scoring lanes for teammates in ways similar to Bryant’s ability to make baskets from anywhere past the halfcourt stripe. A one-dimensional scorer along side Kobe wouldn’t have elevated L.A. to consecutive titles and three straight trips to the Finals.

From Jamie Canterbury, DIME Magazine: Today is the Kobe Bryant’s 32nd birthday. Growing old? Not quite. At 32, Bryant is arguably the NBA’s best player, and according to some, not far from MJ on the list of greatest ever. The 14-year veteran has been a 12-time All-Star, 10-time All-Defensive Team selection, 12-time All-NBA selection, has earned five NBA championship rings, one Olympic gold medal, one league MVP, two scoring titles, one slam dunk title, is the L.A. Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, and recorded the League’s second-highest scoring single game when he dropped 81 points on the Toronto Raptors in January 2006. This adds up to the best career of any current player in the league. The scary part about all of this is that Kobe’s still adding on to that list. At 32 years young, it seems as if Bryant is fueled to win now more than ever. His desire to patent his legacy as one of the greatest to ever hit the hardwood is growing each day. As we reflect on Bryant’s career, we predict where some of the NBA’s younger superstars will be at the 32-year mark.

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NBA LINKS

From Bethlehem Shoals and Tom Ziller, NBA Fanhouse: The official line is that Rajon Rondo left Team USA to deal with family issues. He did recently fly from New York to Kentucky for an uncle’s funeral, and it’s hardly our business to guess at anyone’s grief. These things take time. Yet there are reasons to believe that Rondo withdrew to save face, or was pushed as much as he jumped. It’s purely circumstantial at this point. But in what’s effectively an off-year for USA Basketball, did this team really want Rajon Rondo? The question isn’t whether it needs him. Maybe he’s no Kevin Durant, but Rondo was one of the few elite players to show up. Nor will his spot go to a quality big man, something this team could probably use. The other most likely casualty was Stephen Curry — who with all due respect, isn’t an All-Star with a ring and several near-legendary playoff performances to his name.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Carlos Boozer is one of those guys shifting the power in the East. He has gone from a loaded Jazz team that couldn’t quite get past the Lakers in the West to a loaded Bulls team that nobody thinks can get past Boston or Miami in the East. Boozer doesn’t see it that way; he thinks the Bulls are in the mix, as he told Dime Magazine. Boston represented the East last year and I think until somebody beats them in the Playoffs, they’re going to be the team to beat. You know, I think two years ago with Orlando representing the East and then last year with Boston … In my opinion, those four or five teams that I just talked about will be in competition for that top spot. I think Boston, us, Miami, the Hawks (and Orlando) will be right there in the mix for that top spot. But who gets it, we’ll have to wait and see.

From Trey Kerby, Ball Don’t Lie: Yep, that’s the one and only Yao Ming sweating to the oldies in his first public workout since breaking his left foot into a million little pieces — no James Frey. And while it’s good to see Yao moving, still having a soft jumper, and with his sense of humor intact, the really good stuff is that Yao has been cleared for all basketball activities by the Rockets team doctor and he’s expecting to play in the team opener. Get your smiles ready because there’s a happy-making Associated Press blockquote only a split-second away.