Archives For August 2010

Odom the Olympian

Jeff Skibiski —  August 25, 2010

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USA Basketball finalized its 12-man roster for the 2010 FIBA World Championships yesterday afternoon and as expected, the Lakers’ Lamar Odom was selected as one of its representatives. Odom will be joined by Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Rudy Gay, Chauncey Billups, Danny Granger, Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Stephen Curry, Kevin Love, Tyson Chandler and Andre Iguodala. The 12 players who will compete this summer will join a narrowing pool of players with which USA Basketball will choose from when filling out its 2012 Olympic roster.

“We play professional basketball for a living,” said Odom, summing up his decision to play for Team USA this summer in a great feature from ESPN LA. “We come out and we represent our country with pride. This is something we do just for pride. We playing for the names on the front of our jerseys.”

Odom’s willingness to slap on the Team USA jersey, after three consecutive grueling trips to the NBA Finals, offers a great deal of insight into his character and motivation as a basketball player. To some, the chance to play for your country on one of the world’s largest stages is a no-brainer, yet several of the league’s top players chose to remain on the sidelines for this summer’s World Championships. Some had legitimate injury reasons (Kobe), while a lack of commitment by others was more confounding (Dwight Howard). The Lakers forward could have looked at this offseason as a time to rest up for the Lakers’ historic three-peat bid, saving himself from potential burnout or injury. Instead, Lamar jumped onboard without the slightest hint of hesitation, eager to to take the first step toward redeeming Team USA’s loss in the 2004 Olympics—a team on which his solid play received almost universal acclaim. Odom has been criticized in the past for his wavering motivation, but his dedication to Team USA has never been questioned.

As previously noted by Darius in last week’s Mailbag, Lamar’s selection has potential implications for both the forward and the Lakers this season, as well as for the 11-year veteran’s legacy. On a U.S. team seriously lacking in the size department, Odom was used as the team’s starting center against Spain earlier this week. Though that’s not a role he’ll be asked to fill in L.A. (barring catastrophic injuries to the Lakers’ entire front line), the experience should prepare Odom well for when the forum blue and gold will need him to join Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum on the court for Coach Jackson’s seldom-used “bigs” lineup.

That works both ways too, as Team USA’s reliance on Lamar to provide desperately needed muscle inside could open the door for Phil to use him in a dramatically smaller lineup against run-and-gun teams like the Suns and maybe more urgently, the Thunder. Neither of these possible roles are anything new for the Lakers’ versatile assassin or the Lakers, but the opportunity to observe Odom in a different context as part of Team USA is nevertheless an interesting one.

More than anything, I think that Odom will benefit the most from his more symbolic role with this year’s Team USA squad. As the de facto veteran sage, Lamar will be entrusted to do something he’s struggled with at times during his L.A. tenure—lead. Though Team USA has up-and-coming stars like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose to take on the scoring burden during crunch time, it is the Lakers forward who has been through it all before as a starter on the 2004 Olympic squad. As such, he’ll be relied upon to help the set tone for Team USA in a tournament where most experts are actually picking them to place second or worse. The early returns have been mostly good for Team USA too, as Lamar produced a 12-point, 9-rebound performance against Spain earlier this week. He followed it up with a less than stellar game today in 18 minutes of playing time (zero points on one field goal), but his team still managed to blowout Greece, 87-59.

Overall, the experience should prove invaluable for Odom as he’ll not only be asked to serve as a locker room presence, but also as a consistent leader on the court too. While Lamar willingly accepted a new role as sixth man prior to the 2008-09 season, he hasn’t always shown himself as a reliable force off the bench, night in and night out. Against increased competition from teams like Spain and Greece, he’ll have to be consistent if Team USA hopes to prevail. As is the case with the Lakers, Odom is indisputably a key X-factor for Team USA, even in this differing role. With a replenished bench that now includes newcomers Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, the Lakers will similarly need Lamar to serve as a steadying force. Whether or not the forward can pull from this newfound leadership mentality and apply it toward next season is certainly one of the Lakers’ more intriguing plot lines heading into the 2010-11 season.

“We want him because of his versatility,” said Jerry Colangelo, about why he coveted Lamar’s presence. “He can be effective playing five minutes or playing 25 minutes. It’s not about 12 superstar players. It’s about finding the right components to make up a team. He fits the bill. He was valuable to us. We didn’t just pick him because how he plays, but because of who he is.”

After 11 NBA seasons, Lamar has still never been selected as an NBA All-Star, but now owns two NBA rings that I’m guessing hold a lot more weight for the Queens native. Next up: Olympic Gold Medal.

“I would love to go back and be able to redeem myself and win a gold medal, but more, I would love to go back just to play for USA again,” said Odom.

Looking ahead to what promises to be a challenging World Championship tournament, it is clear that Lamar’s priorities as a basketball player have shifted. While there is no guarantee that he’ll be an Olympian when the team carves out its 2012 Olympic roster, Lamar’s selflessness and commitment to Team USA’s endeavors prove that he’s worthy of the title either way.

Lamar Odom (L) of the U.S. goes up for a basket over Spain's Marc Gasol during their friendly basketball game at Caja Magica pavillion in Madrid August 22, 2010. REUTERS/Sergio Perez (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

This morning, the US National team will take on the Greeks, in Greece, in another preparation game for the World Championships. The US National team are fresh off a one-point victory over the Spaniards which ended with a game winning block by Kevin Durant. The Greeks have been in the news lately because of their recent brawl with Serbia, which forced the game to end two minutes early.

This is a Greek team that is coming into the game against the US with wins over Canada, Russia, Germany and Croatia by 74, 38, 28 and nine points, respectively. I’ve read that the Greeks have made their final cuts, so the team we see this morning will be the actual roster that will suit up for the Worlds. However, it’s been reported that their starting center, Ioannis Bourousis, will not play due to an injury. No suspensions have been handed out from their brawl yet, so the USA will see everyone else on the roster.

One guy we should look out for is Sofoklis Schortsanitis, the 6’10”, 350+ pound monster on the block affectionately nicknamed Baby Shaq. He’s never been a great scorer, but he’s a bruiser. Considering the US National team’s size problems, Schortsanitis could be a huge problem on the boards for our guys. Outside of that, I don’t see the US having too many problems with this Greek team. They’re ranked fourth in the world and are a high quality opponent, but the Americans are just too athletic up top and too quick defensively for this Greek team. Vassillis Spanoulis is a quality point guard and Antonis Fotsis is a formidable power forward, and are two guys who can potentially do very good things against the US National team.

As far as Lamar Odom goes, he had a very good showing against Spain and I think his good play should continue against the Greeks, who don’t have anyone who can match up with his size and athleticism.

You can watch the game on ESPN, or watch it online at ESPN3.com.

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Sometimes, I wish there were a way to control sports teams with the simple click of a TIVO remote–recording iconic moments, rewinding great plays, fast-forwarding through lulls and deleting moments we can’t bear to watch again. However, if we simply clicked “erase” on those ominous dark days, we’d also miss out on all of the character-building, resolve and perspective that defines eventual champions. In order to better understand just how far the Lakers have come in a somewhat astonishingly short period of time, we flip through the past decade’s history books for the 10 most painful Lakers moments from 2000-2010. Kleenex boxes: optional.

1). Game 6, 2003 Western Conference Semifinals, Lakers vs. Spurs: After back-to-back-to-back NBA titles, an old foe finally ended the Lakers dynastic reign in grandiose fashion, defeating the defending champions 110-82. As the final surreal moments of the clock ticked away, a camera panned to the Lakers bench, before closing in on the faces of Derek Fisher and Kobe Bryant, tears flowing from both. As they cried, an entire nation of Lakers fans mourned with them.

2). Kobe Bryant arrested on suspicion of rape: The entire sports landscape felt the aftershock from the stunning July 4, 2003 announcement that an arrest warrant had been issued for the golden child of the NBA. The media salivated over the ensuing court proceedings as Eagle Rock, CO became a hotbed overnight, meanwhile the Lakers tried to downplay the drama on their way to the Finals. It’s been more than seven years since that fateful day and though few even mention that tiresome season anymore, the nightmare still resonates.

3). Detroit defeats L.A. to win the 2004 Championship: After an offseason overhaul that brought in Hall of Famers Karl Malone and Gary Payton, Fisher’s miracle 0.4 shot to exact revenge against the Spurs in the Conference Semifinals and a season of dealing with Bryant’s legal drama, it was starting to look like the 2003-2004 injury-ravaged Lakers were a team of destiny. Unfortunately, that destiny involved a shocking five game walloping by the upstart Pistons that altered the entire course of the team.

4). Shaq is traded: If the Lakers title party effectively ended in defeat to the Spurs the season prior, their stunning five game exit against the Pistons in the 2003-2004 Finals served as the after party. Once the music finally stopped playing, the team was left with a messy hangover to deal with, starting with a giant 7’1” headache known as Shaquille O’Neal. With one fell swoop, L.A. shipped their All-NBA center to the Miami Heat as they handed the keys to the franchise over to Kobe.

5). Phil Jackson leaves the Lakers: Coach Jackson’s departure from the team was hard enough to deal with, but reading through every last detail of The Last Season was like driving by a bad car crash; as much as you don’t want to look at the wreck, you can’t help but sneak a peak. In this case, it was even worse since fans knew the players involved.

6). Game 6 of the Lakers’ 2006 First Round loss to Phoenix: Just when it seemed like all hope was lost in L.A., Kobe delivered one of the most legendary shots of his career, connecting on a game-winning jumper in OT to give the Lakers a 3-1 series lead over the pesky Steve Nash-led Suns. Even after a Game 5 loss on the road, the Lakers were mere seconds away from setting up a potential Hallway Series against the Clippers before Tim Thomas drilled a three-point dagger that hushed the raucous STAPLES Center crowd and propelled Phoenix to an eventual seven game series win.

7).  Summer of 2007:  After early exits from the playoffs in two straight seasons, Kobe opened his mouth and told the world that he had had enough. Enough of sub par rosters that included the likes of Smush Parker and Kwame Brown as staples. Enough of waiting for Andrew Bynum to develop, while players like Jason Kidd were readily available. When the best player in the NBA, then in his prime, says he’s finished with losing unless something changes, you listen. That’s exactly what the Lakers did, sifting through numerous trade proposals for their longtime superstar, meanwhile impending doom settled upon Laker Land. We’ll never know how close Mitch Kuchak and the team’s brain trust actually came to trading Bryant, but the prospect was terrifying at the time.

8). Bynum injures knee in January 2008: Irony is a funny thing in sports. After a summer of turmoil in which Bryant called for Bynum’s swift exodus, the budding young center played stellar basketball the first half of the season and suddenly represented Kobe’s greatest hope for another championship. Unfortunately, his devastating season-ending knee injury against the Grizzlies on January 13, 2008 temporarily (see: Pau Gasol) quelled those aspirations, along with fans’ newly raised expectations.

9). Boston comes back from 24 down in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals: Despite losing two of the first three games of the 2008 NBA Finals, the Lakers still felt confident knowing the next two games would be played on their home floor. Through two and a half quarters, the team’s play echoed that mindset as they built a seemingly insurmountable 24-point lead and seemed poised to tie the series at two games apiece. The never-say-die Celtics refused to roll over though and mounted a furious (and historic) comeback to win the game and eventually the series. I’d venture to say that it took this year’s rematch against Boston for most fans to finally rid themselves of the shock-and-awe assault from that game.

10). The Celtics blowout the Lakers to win the 2008 Championship: Any sliver of hope that the Lakers would stage an epic comeback in Games 6 and 7 was tarnished halfway through Game 6 en route to a 131-92 manhandling by the C’s. The blowout exposed the Lakers’ soft interior defense and inexperience outside of Kobe and Fisher. Sure, the Lakers would retool a bit that offseason, but would they recover? It was a question that stayed with the team for the duration of the 2008-2009 season.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 23, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant celebrates defeating the Boston Celtics at the end of Game 7 to win the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Los Angeles, California June 17, 2010 .   REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

With a lull in legitimate Lakers’ news, time to take another look around the league and sprinkle in some other random thoughts…

*I don’t know about you, but for some reason I’m always interested in what’s going on with former Lakers – especially when they sign with other teams.  So, you better believe I had a reaction when I heard that Michael Jordan is offering a second chance to Kwame Brown.  Obviously, it’s easy to snicker when reading that MJ – the guy that made Kwame the #1 overall pick in his draft – is taking a flyer on Kwame.  But honestly, I think this is a good signing.  The Cat’s need a defensive big man and that’s exactly what Kwame is.  And considering Kwame is signing for the vet’s minimum, there’s little to no risk here.  I think this is the rare case when something that is actually kind of comical turns out to be pretty practical too.

*Doc Rivers is still saying his starting 5 is undefeated in a playoff series.  Okay.  As has happened a lot over the years, I agree with Kurt Helin on this one.

*With Kevin Love banged up and Coach K fiddling around with his lineups on Sunday (Rajon Rondo and Danny Granger both got DNP-CD’s) our own Lamar Odom got the start at Center for Team USA vs. Spain.  I must say that while Odom is over-matched when defending true big men like Marc Gasol one on one in the post (many are, so no shame there), LO continues to show that he’s a very good fit for the FIBA style of play.  The up and down nature of the game and the need to be good on the P&R on both offense and defense suits LO perfectly and I’m glad that he’s getting a second chance to rep the U.S.  I thought that LO did a very good job of filling the lane on the fast break, hedging and recovering on the P&R, and setting those barely legal drag screens for the U.S. guards.  In fact, it was one of LO’s screens that freed up Rose to get a big bucket down the stretch on Sunday.

*When forecasting next season, nearly everybody is picking the Lakers to win the West (via TrueHoop).  So you know, I was one of the folks on the panel and I too picked LA to win the West.  Not sure who the 5 people are who chose a different team, but in all honesty I do believe the Rockets and the Thunder are the two next best teams out West for this upcoming season so I can see the logic.  I’m not as high on Dallas, but if Chandler plays well and stays injury free they’ll be better than last season’s outfit that won 55 games (whether that translates into more wins, though, I’m not convinced).

*Anyone else watch Entourage?  I can’t decide if I like this season or not.  I’ve always said that the show is better when not everything is going well for all the characters, but things seem a bit forced this year.  I’d love some other takes on this.

*I know that football season is starting up and that means a big portion of my Sunday’s will be focused on the grid iron.  I re-upped in my fantasy leagues this year and hope to do better than my middle of pack finishes from last season.  I bring all this up because I also play fantasy hoops every year and wanted to know if you guys would like to get a FB&G fantasy hoops league going.  Obviously we’re a ways off from the season starting, but I bet we could manage to put togther a couple of points leagues with the highest score from all the entries taking home the bragging rights.  Let me know in the comments and I’ll weigh if it’s possible as the season approaches.

GUANGZHOU, July 29, 2010 NBA basketball player Kobe Bryant gestures to fans during a tour to Jinan University in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province, July 29, 2010. Kobe Bryant is on a tour to 5 cities of China to meet Chinese fans and attend basketball training camp. Guangzhou is his 4th stop.  (Xinhua/Wu Lu.

From Mike Trudell, Basketblog: With 7:42 left in the second quarter of Team USA’s Sunday exhibition game against Spain in Madrid, the Spaniards had begun to come back from an explosive Team USA start. With an early 16-point lead trimmed to eight due thanks to the play of Ricky Rubio, a draftee of Kurt Rambis’ Minnesota Timberwolves, the NBATV cameras picked up a shot of Lamar Odom gesturing demonstrably with his hands. L.A.’s forward continuously brought his thumbs to meet fingers in the form of a clamp, signifying to the Americans that they must communicate better after Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose failed to rotate into the paint when Chauncey Billups was beaten off the dribble.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: If Kobe somehow was out the whole year, including the playoffs, how would the Lakers place in the west? This scenario has been posed to Brian and me over the years, whether during the Kwame-Smush-Cookie era, The Radio Tour, or the current championship incarnation. But to the best of my recollection, I’ve never formally analyzed the question. Seriously speaking, how successful would this team be next season without arguably the best player in the NBA, much less on the purple and gold roster?  After mulling the premise, I’ve provided my answer, along with my thought process. To further clarify, I’m viewing the hypothetical with a team-wide clean bill of health. Or at most, minimal games missed. Yes, those parameters may not be entirely realistic, particularly with Andrew Bynum’s history. But you also don’t need to be Dr. Jack Ramsey to predict what happens if there are additional major injuries on top of Kobe missing 82 games: The Lakers won’t win very often. Period. End of story.  Thus, I’m analyzing a scenario containing some degree of intrigue and mystery. With that in mind…

From Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don’t Lie: You can rant and rail and tell me once again that I’m looking for attention or trying to create waves, but Kobe Bryant is coming off a year that saw him drag an injured leg and back around, and he’s still got a bum index finger on his shooting hand. He’s played over 45,000 minutes in his career counting the playoffs and he turns 32 on Monday. Dwyane Wade shot better, turned the ball over fewer times, assisted more despite terrible teammates, picked up more steals and blocks — and he’s four years younger. And he’ll have the better season in 2010-11. The Lakers are still the favorites in my eyes, and Kobe Bryant should be respected more than any other player in this league, but he’s part of a great team now. And he passed the torch last season. Really, he passed two seasons ago to those who were playing attention.

From Matt Smith, Fox Sports: If you basketball fans haven’t been paying attention, the U.S. Men’s National Team has begun their quest for a World Championship. It’s a bit troubling to think the colors Purple and Gold, Black and Red, or Green and White mean more to most fans than Red, White and Blue. I admit I’m a dork for Team USA and always have been. I’m not sure if it goes back to my upbringing and a father that enlisted in the Army, or an Uncle Frank who served in Korea, or most likely a grandfather that came through Ellis Island from Hungary when he was just six and constantly harped about the “commies”. He never let me forget that I won the lottery by just being born here instead of some eastern bloc nation like so many of his relatives. So no surprise I get pretty damn worked up over the Olympics, World Cup and straight up international play.

From Mark Travis, But The Game Is On: Pau Gasol is one of the game’s best passing big men. While most seven footers in the league are playing basketball because of their uncanny height, Gasol is one of the few players that doesn’t get by just because he is tall. Pau is one of the most skilled players to ever play the game of basketball at any position/height and the fact that he is seven feet tall is just an added bonus that makes his skillset that much more rare.

Last but not least, it’s Kobe’s birthday, so I’ll leave you with this highlight clip to acknowledge his contributions to the franchise.