Archives For August 2010

Happy Birthday Magic

Phillip Barnett —  August 14, 2010

Magic-Johnson

Today marks the 51st anniversary of Ervin “Magic” Johnson’s birth, so to celebrate, we’ve found a highlight reel set to Tupac’s “California Love.” If you’re planning on joining a pick up game at anytime today, be sure to make the extra pass in Magic’s honor. In fact, let’s dub August 14th “National Extra Pass Day!” Eh, maybe not. Just enjoy this highlight reel.

LAS VEGAS -MAY 1:  Portrait of Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss during a press confrence prior to the boxing match of Hill v Hearns in Las Vegas Nevada on May 1st 1991. (Photo by:  Holly Stein/Getty Images)

With Dr. Jerry Buss being inducted to basketball’s Hall of Fame — along with Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen and the 1992 and 1960 US Olympic Teams — and Lamar Odom set to take on the French National team along with Team USA on Sunday, I’ve put together a few links with those events in mind along with a few other Lakers and league wide issues.

From Broderick Turner, Los Angeles Times: He has presided over the Lakers since 1979, turning the franchise into one of the most successful in sports. And for that, for all he has done to uplift the NBA, the Lakers and the game of basketball, Lakers owner Jerry Buss will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday in Springfield, Mass. He will be joined in the class of 2010 by Scottie Pippen, Karl Malone, Cynthia Cooper and high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. The 1992 U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team known as the “Dream Team,” which included Lakers Hall of Famer Magic Johnson and the 1960 team that included another Lakers Hall of Famer, Jerry West, also will be inducted. Dennis Johnson, Gus Johnson and Brazilian star Maciel “Ubiratan” Pereira will be honored posthumously.

From Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: There are specific popular icons that achieve unanimous appeal. A person might not be a dedicated fan of the Beatles, the first two Godfathers, or Michael Jordan but there’s a uniform agreement that these are classics. You can debate finer aesthetic points — which album is best, which shot was the biggest, or whether you prefer the first or second installment of “The Godfather” — but an overall cultural verdict has been reached. Ironically, this consensus renders these standards pretty useless as measurements of what we love. An appreciation of the Beatles reveals a lot less about a person’s taste than say, how they feel about Television, Joni Mitchell or Elvis Costello. “The Godfather” might have a more permanent place in the cinematic pantheon, but if you want to get a better handle on someone’s pop sensibilities, listen to them recite their favorite narrative passages from “Goodfellas,” or have the rank all five seasons of “The Wire” in order of preference.

From Eddie Maisonet, SLAM Online: I never fathomed the day that I would consider Lamar Odom “an old man.” Not in a bad way, old, but old in a relative sense. As Team USA basketball prepares for its next challenge, competing in the FIBA World Championships in Istanbul, Turkey on August 28, LO has been added to this roster because he’s a two-time NBA champion and provides a veteran presence. Odom is the second oldest person on the team (Chauncey Billups, 34, is the oldest), and the average age is 25. The competition in Turkey will be fierce, and Team USA is counting on Odom to keep his head when all about him is losing their minds and blaming it on Coach K, Durant, or the ball boy. (Kipling)

From Kevin Ding, Los Angeles Times: New Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal was asked when on Mike Wise’s radio show in Washington who is the greatest player he has teamed with considering he has followed Kobe Bryant with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. “A lot of people rank players from different opinions, but if you wanna go with ring standpoint it has to be Kobe,” O’Neal said. “LeBron is a great athlete, D-Wade is a great athlete, but it’s close. I’m lucky to have been able to play with both of those guys, but Kobe right now has had that eye for a long time. I’ve known him for a while. When he gets that eye there aren’t really too many people that can beat him.”

From Mark Medina, Los Angeles Times: Appearing as relaxed as he ever can be, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant sat back during his exit interview in June full with smiles and little worry. He shared his plans to attend the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, admitted that he planned to take it easy this summer to rest his assorted injuries and even acknowledged some of his vulnerabilities during Game 7 of the NBA Finals. At the time, I noted that Bryant’s changed demeanor perfectly reflected how winning a championship helped soften his sometimes gruff exterior and revealed that he’s human after all. Bryant’s laid-back attitude couldn’t have been more prevalent than when The Times’ Mike Bresnahan asked him what off-season moves he thinks the Lakers need to make to secure a third consecutive title.

From Austin Burton, Dime Magazine: Last week, an argument broke out in the Smack comments section that was started by Dime reader Chicagorilla: “The one thing I don’t get about the Kobe as #1 argument is this BULL$H!T about him being fundamental. WTF? Have any of you actually watched him play? He does everything in his power to try and NOT be fundamental. … Everything (Kobe does) goes against basketball law. The fadeaway is a really low percentage shot, but (he) manages to hit them. The floater in the lane is not fundamental. The jump in the air, twist and turn, hang, then throw a no-look crosscourt pass for an open three (while entertaining and effective at times) is in no way fundamental.” As in every argument involving one of this era’s most polarizing public figures, Kobe’s loyal fans came to his defense to portray him as the textbook example of … well, being textbook, while Kobe’s love-to-hate-him critics supported the original suggestion that he’s closer to an out-of-control jacker. And as usual, the real answer lay somewhere in the middle.

From Charlie Rosen, Fox Sports: A while ago, when Andrew Bynum seemed to be making huge progress, you stated that the Bucks would eventually be sorry they drafted Andrew Bogut over Bynum in 2005. Now that both players have developed, who would you rather have? — Radu Nedelcut, Bucharest, Romania First, let’s compare the two young big men. If Bynum’s hands are much more adhesive, Bogut’s footwork is superior. They’re both legit 7-foooters, but Bynum has better hops, is quicker, heavier (285 to 260) and stronger. Indeed, many of Bogut’s moves in the low post require him to slightly fade away to prevent his rather flat-footed shots from being swatted. Even so, Bogut has a better left hand and much more sophisticated scoring options down there.

From Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated: The Pacific Division is home to the two-time defending champion, one perennial contender and three teams that didn’t even crack 30 wins last season. For the Lakers, this was a cushy division to begin with, and that’s before they improved with some subtle but significant tweaks over the summer. Their stiffest competition, the Suns, took a step backward with the loss of Amar’e Stoudemire. And their intra-city rivals, the Clippers, squandered a chance to make a free-agent splash. The Warriors got new ownership and the Kings a promising big man, but both of those clubs are still building, while the Lakers, again, look like a finished product.

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League Wide Links

From Zach Harper, TrueHoop: The NBA’s 2010-2011 schedule has been released and with it comes a bevy of action to circle on your actual or proverbial calendar. Before you dive in I think it’s imperative we get something out in the open first. I realize a lot of people are sick of talking about LeBron James and the Miami Heat. But it’s something you’re going to have to accept this season and probably for the next decade. Heck, the entire opening section of this preview is about LeBron and the Heat. When two of the best players in the world pair up and bring along their tall friend, it’s going to make headlines — and great television. So let’s just accept that the Heat matter, and that their games matter even more, particularly in key matchups. Let’s hope for a lot of fun basketball between now and the next time the schedule gets released.

From Barbara Baker, NewsWeek: Two prominent college basketball coaches said Tuesday that they are uncomfortable with the consulting deal struck by Florida International University coach Isiah Thomas and the Knicks. “I am good friends with Isiah and I obviously like the Knicks, but I think it’s better if there is a separation between college and the pros,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who was in New York with Team USA. “I would decline to do something like that.” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim took it a step further. Not only would he decline, he said he’s not sure the arrangement should be allowed. “I don’t understand why it would be legal either way, from the college standpoint or from the NBA,” said Boeheim, one of Coach K’s assistants on Team USA. “It seems like a conflict. You’re coaching kids and recommending them to pro guys. Well, if a pro guy comes in and asks about a kid and you’re a consultant to a different team, you wouldn’t be able to do that. You wouldn’t be able to help that kid.”

From Basketbawful: Robert Parish is one of my favorite players ever. I grew up screaming “CHIEF!!” every time Parish hit one of his patented turnaround jumpers or jammed home a pick-and-roll pass from Larry Bird. I loved his poise, his unselfishness, and his aura of stoic nobility. I also loved it when he sucker-punched Bill Laimbeer in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals. Yeah, I probably shouldn’t love that, but I do. If anybody ever had it coming, it was Laimbeer. All that said, I’m starting to think Parish has lost his nut a little. And not just because he recently said: “I think Shaq will definitely bring a defensive presence along with Garnett. He’s going to cause a lot of havoc defensively.” (NOTE: I added this link because it features Larry Bird passing highlights. I could seriously watch those clips for hours at a time.)

From Rob Mahoney, The Two Man Game: Last week’s foray into the positional revolution was a good start, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. As I noted previously, Drew Cannon’s positional system isn’t coming out of the internet womb fully-formed; a lot of adjustments and tweaks are necessary for the model to become viable. Still, Cannon’s design offers a welcome starting point for both discourse regarding positional fluidity and, hopefully, some eventual long-term change in the way we think about and define positions. There is no end to this process. Even if we successfully shed the five traditional positions in favor of some other system, players and their roles will continue to evolve. It’s critical that we’re constantly challenging the limits of positionality to match with the on-court product. Note that those limits aren’t being tested without reason. It’s important that positional rhetoric remains descriptivist in nature. We’re not saying “this is the way that position X should play,” but rather “this is the way that position X does play.” (NOTE: I added this link because it’s one of the better pieces that I’ve read on the positional revolution discussions going on around the world (wide web). Mahoney is brilliant and a fantastic writer.)

From Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: Every acquisition has a cost, which is one of the bedrock principles of bartering. Unless you’re purchasing Manhattan or annexing the Sudetenland, it’s virtually impossible to get something for nothing. The NBA’s trade market has three primary currencies in circulation: talent, cap relief and flexibility — with the latter two linked to some extent. On Wednesday, Houston, New Orleans, Indiana and New Jersey cooperated on a blockbuster trade that saw each team forfeit assets in service of a larger goal.

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The Lakers own human high-fly act Shannon Brown is next in line as FB&G continues its player reviews from the past season. Be sure to check out Phillip’s post to watch Brown’s complete exit interview.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

“This time was the first time I went into training camp and really knew what was going on as far as my role a little bit,” said Brown after his exit interview. “Last year I wasn’t with the team the whole time, this year I was. It was great. You build friendships, you build family, you build bonds. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Whereas Shannon’s all-around contributions largely came as a surprise following his mid-season trade to the Lakers in 2009, this season was all about stability, improving his consistency, defining his role and most importantly, living up to increased expectations. With those goals in mind, it’s safe to say that Brown had a successful season by backup guard standards and proved that his 2009 play was no fluke.

ShanWow saw a dramatic increase in his minutes to 20.7, up from under eight minutes last season and 13 during the 2009 playoffs. He also posted the best offensive averages of his career, with 8.1 points per game and 2.2 rebounds. Moreover, Shannon showed that he was mostly a reliable backup for either guard position. From the Lakers perspective, that’s about all they can ask for of Brown considering he is primarily playing behind a superstar like Kobe.

Although Shannon proved why he is a valuable rotation player, his inconsistency mirrored that of the team’s entire bench last season. With the Lakers coaching staff shortening the Lakers rotation for the playoffs, Brown found himself on the bench more, with his minutes decreasing to 14.7. Part of that is due to the natural increase in playing time for Bryant and Derek Fisher, but it also speaks to Shannon’s still-evolving decision-making skills on the court. In spite of his sometimes erratic play during the 2010 Finals run, Brown provided a huge spark in closeout games against Oklahoma City and Utah, averaging 11 and 12 points respectively.

Shannon’s insatiable appetite for scintillating dunks and seemingly endless energy has been one of the most exciting facets of the Lakers’ past two title teams. In many ways, I think this is what ultimately hurt Shannon more than anything in his disappointing dunk contest appearance. Like Kobe, Brown is more a jaw-dropping in-game dunker, which in my opinion, is a much more valuable skill set to have than the creative costume faire we’ve see at the past few All-Star Weekends. After the viral “Let Shannon Dunk” campaign, his lackluster performance in the dunk contest was definitely a lowlight of last season, but I don’t think it’s indicative of much of anything as far as his play with the Lakers is concerned (a point he clearly drove home in his best performance of the season, below).

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

Feb. 16, 2010—Starting in place of the injured Kobe Bryant, Brown showed that he’s more than just flash and dunks, scoring a career-high 27 points and and pulling down 10 rebounds to help the Lakers defeat the Golden State Warriors 104-94.

NEXT SEASON:

Shannon said it best himself during his exit interview: “I made progress. My first two and a half years I really didn’t play that much. This year I did. I’m steady making progress. As long as you get the time on the floor, it’s going to work out for the best. Basketball is my life, I think about it all the time, sometimes to a fault, and I couldn’t be happier about being a champion for the second time in a row.”

In the same interview, the Lakers guard also said that his main offseason goal was to focus on becoming more of a basketball player and not just an athlete. I think that’s exactly the right mindset for Shannon to adopt looking ahead to the 2010-11 season. We know all about his aerial acrobatics by now and streaky three-point shooting, but I suspect that Brown has a lot more in his bag of tricks. For starters, he’s shown signs of becoming a very strong defender—particularly against larger guards. If he wants to continue to get regular playing time in what is shaping up to be a tremendous defensive squad, he’ll need to really hone in on this area. Shannon also needs to continue to work on his decision-making skills, especially with the Lakers adding another reliable hand at guard in Steve Blake to go along with two of the most intelligent players in the league in Kobe and Fisher.

All of these issues point to his ongoing battle with consistency—something Brown said he will look to improve upon next season. “That’s a major part of winning,” said Brown. “Our bench has to come out and be able to produce and continue to make the team better when the starters on our the bench.”

After agreeing to return to the Lakers for a chance at a three-peat, Shannon appears dedicated to improving his play this offseason. He also displayed a great deal of self-awareness in re-signing with the Lakers instead of opting to join a team offering more money. Shannon clearly recognizes the special opportunity this Lakers team has this season and where he fits into the master plan. At the end of the day, that is precisely the mentality you want from your eighth or ninth man.

As a special bonus, take a look at this awesome video featuring Shannon’s top 10 career dunks.

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The 2010-2011 NBA schedule has just been released and you can look at the Lakers schedule here courtesy of ESPN.  (Here’s a pdf if you prefer a calendar view). And just like last year, I’m going to supply my input on the Lakers record at each stage of the season, and then we all get to see how wrong I am as the season progresses.  Last year I predicted 67 wins, which the Lakers came up just a little bit short (ok, a lot short) at 57-25, so take these with a massive helping of salt and skepticism.

October-November

Highlights: 10 home, 8 away, 2 back-to-backs, 3-game road trip.

Unlike last year, the Lakers don’t have a torrid home schedule in November.  Of the Lakers first 18 games, only 10 are at home, which is much lower considering some of the 21 of 24 and other ridiculousness we’ve had in the past two seasons.  However, the beginning of the season still has a lot of pillowy soft teams.  For all 18 games in the first two months of the season, only 7 will be against playoff teams from last year, 2 of them against what should be a significantly weaker Suns team due to the departure of Amar’e Stoudemire.  The Lakers have two back-to-backs, with the first one coming on home-away on Nov. 2 against Memphis then at Sacramento, the 2nd coming during a 3-game road trip through Milwaukee and Detroit on Nov. 16 and Minnesota 2 days later.

Prediction: 13-5

December

Highlights: 5 home, 10 away, 4 back-to-backs, 7-game road trip

The Lakers start off the month of December with the 2nd-half of a back-to-back, starting on Nov. 30 at Memphis then at Houston the next night.  After a lonely Friday contest against Sacramento at home, the team will have a home-away against Washington/@Clippers (or should it be home-home?), then embark on a 6 game road trip (7 if you include the Clippers as “on the road”).  The only above .500 team in that group should be Chicago, with the other games coming against New Jersey, Washington, Indiana, Philadelphia, and Toronto.  Three of those teams (NJN, WAS, and PHI) are up-and-coming squads with young players who will be more comfortable at home, and 2 of them are teams that are going nowhere (IND and TOR).  Throw in the fact that there is a back-to-back @Washington/@Indiana, and this looks to be one of those road trips where the Lakers probably should win, but will almost certainly drop a couple that the will cause immense fan heartache.

And then comes the mammoth that most of the league will be waiting for: Miami coming to Staples Center on Christmas Day.  The Lakers have three days off before the game, and two days off afterward, so there will be a long time for us fans to hype up this game and then wallow in its aftermath.  We can only hope that Christmas will be more like 2008 (when the Lakers beat the hated Celtics) and less like 2009 (when Lebron James and the Cavs whomped on the Lakers).  And what’s worse, the Lakers won’t have much time to relax, because they end the month with one last back-to-back @San Antonio/@New Orleans on Dec. 28, both of which should be tough contests.

Prediction: 10-5

January

Highlights: 10 home, 5 away, 3 back-to-backs.

While December should be a tough month for the Lakers, January looks a friendlier with many more home games.  The Lakers do have three back-to-backs, the first against Detroit/@Phoenix on Jan. 4, then Cleveland/@Golden State on Jan. 11, and lastly @Clippers/Oklahoma City (and I thought home-home back-to-backs weren’t allowed…).  That last game should be one of the marquee events of the season, when Kevin Durant brings the Thunder back to Staples for what should be a very exciting contest (plus it’s broadcast on TNT, so that means we get Charles Barkley commentary!).  The team will end the month with a lot of rest, playing only 3 games in 10 nights.  Hopefully this means the team will be rested when they meet the Celtics at the end of the month.

Prediction: 12-3

February

Highlights: 4 home, 9 away, 3 back-to-backs, 7-game road trip.

Ah yes, the Grammy’s Road Trip.  Every February, Staples Center gets taken over by the Grammy’s, exiling the Lakers on their longest road trip of the season.  While the Lakers have had some big wins during the Grammy’s trip over the past few years, this season’s version will be just as torturous.  The road trip starts with New Orleans, then Memphis, then back-to-back against Boston and New York, then back-to-back against Orlando and noted Lakersbane, Charlotte, then Lebron-less Cleveland.  Luckily, the Lakers will get the All-Star break to rest (hopefully Kobe, Pau, and Andrew all make the team and then play the first 5 minutes and quit).  With no rest for the weary, the Lakers will return to a loving embrace from a back-to-back with Atlanta/@Portland, then a return to the raucous Ford Center against the Thunder.

Prediction: 8-5

March-April

Highlights: 12 home, 9 away, 3 back-to-backs, 4-game road trip, 7-game home stand

The 2nd week of March brings us what will probably be the toughest portion of the season.  It’s a 4-games in 7 days road trip, featuring visits to San Antonio, Atlanta (a much better team at home), Miami, and Dallas.  This is the part of the season where everyone is gearing for the playoffs, old teams (like the Lakers) are banged up, and everyone is slowing down due to the wear and tear of the season.  That tough week however is followed by the longest home stand I can remember from recent Laker history.  Over the next three weeks, the Lakers will play only 7 games, all at home, with no back-to-backs.  The games will not be easy, with match-ups against Orlando, Portland, Phoenix, and Dallas, but the Lakers should be well-rested.  And if we know anything about this Lakers team, well-rested means lazy, and lazy means dropping games that we expect them to win.

Hopefully the Lakers will put on their focus caps after a couple restful weeks, because they end the season with 3 back-to-backs, Dallas/@Utah (in which it’s always tough to go east on the 2nd night of a back-to-back), then Utah/@Golden State and San Antonio/@Sacramento to end the season.  Sprinkle in another meeting with Oklahoma City and trip up to the always hostile Rose Garden against Portland, and you’ve got a very difficult run up to the playoffs.  The Lakers stumbled their way into the playoffs last year on a soft schedule; let’s hope the increase in potential playoff opponents will increase their focus.

Prediction: 16-5

Overall Prediction: 59-23

Disagree? Let me know in the comments.  My predictions are entirely my own, completely unscientific, subjective, and biased.

Jan. 18, 2010 - LOS ANGELES, United States - epa01994839 Los Angeles Lakers DJ Mbenga of the Congo (L) and Orlando Magic Dwight Howard (R) battle under the basket during late action in Los Angeles, California, USA, 18 January 2010. The Lakers beat the Magic 98-92.

FB&G continues is player reviews for this past season with DJ “Congo Cash” Mbenga.  For a link to DJ’s exit interview, check out Phillip’s post from right after the season concluded.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

Last season the Lakers only carried 13 players.  And of those 13 players, DJ Mbenga was either the Lakers 12th or 13th man on any given night depending on match ups or how Phil was feeling on that day when deciding which player would be inactive.  When the Lakers roster was completely healthy, DJ would often suit up but would only see playing time in blow outs or as a random spark off the bench when Phil (seemingly) felt his big body could make a difference in that particular game.  So, when considering all of these factors it’s actually a little tough to gauge how good a season DJ actually had.

Statistically, Mbenga had the type of season you’d expect from a 3rd string Center and 5th big man.  In his 49 game appearances (a career high, by the way), he averaged about 2 points and 2 rebounds a game.  He shot a relatively low percentage from the field (46.6%) and was pretty bad from the foul line, making only 9 of his 19 attempts on the season (47.4%).  So far, this is exactly what we should all expect from DJ considering his role and what was asked of him on the court.

Putting his stats aside for a moment, I can easily say that I liked how DJ worked to improve his game in this past season.  He started to show better range on his jumpshot and looked more comfortable overall on offense.  On defense, while he still went for the blocked shot too often for my tastes, he did serve as an impediment to guards that drove to the basket and was as active as ever on that side of the ball.  His rebounding rates were average at best (and that’s being kind) as his want to block shots moved him away from prime rebounding position on the defensive side of the ball.  But overall, he showed some improvement from the completely raw player that joined the Lakers as a mid season pick up three years ago.

That said, I really wouldn’t call this season a success for Mbenga.  While he played in a career high 49 games, his minutes per game and per 36 minute production actually fell from his previous seasons in LA.  Plus, even though both Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum missed 17 games (giving an opportunity for the 3rd string Center to get more run), Mbenga was often passed over for minutes by Josh Powell as the the Lakers elected to go small with an Odom/Powell front court for many nights where their big man depth was tested (or play whichever big man was healthy heavy minutes to compensate raither than playing DJ more).  Not to mention the fact that when Andrew Bynum suffered his torn meniscus during the playoffs, Phil actually deactivated DJ for a few games and instead dressed Adam Morrison, citing the fact that after he sustained a couple of eye/head injuries during practice that DJ was not as tuned into the action as he needed to be. 

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

Considering DJ’s lack of burn over the course of the season, it’s not that easy to find a game in which DJ truly had an impact performance.  However in an early April contest against the T’Wolves, Mbenga did have his season high in points (11) while also grabbing 2 offensive rebounds and blocking 2 shots in 14 minutes.  Based off the highlights, you can see that he moved well off the ball, showed some diversity on offense, and defended the rim well.

NEXT SEASON:

DJ has yet to sign on with another team and his return to the Lakers is pretty much out of the question after LA signed Theo Ratliff to a one year deal.  And with DJ reportedly looking for more minuteson whatever team he plays for next year, his return would have surprised me even if the Lakers hadn’t signed Ratliff.  However, wherever DJ plays next year I wish him well.  He’s a marginal NBA player, but he’s a legit 7’0″ big man in a league that covets size and I’m sure he’ll find a gig by the time NBA training camps begin.  So, thank you for the contributions DJ and nothing but the best to you.

NBA: April 14, 2010: Los Angeles Clippers d Los Angeles Lakers 107-91. Lakers Adam Morrison.

From Jerry Crowe, Los Angeles Times: Knee injuries delayed the professional basketball debuts of No. 1 NBA draft picks Greg Oden and Blake Griffin. For Bob Boozer, it was national pride. The top pick in 1959, he kept the Cincinnati Royals at arm’s length for more than a year to maintain his amateur status in hopes of playing for Team USA in the 1960 Olympics. “I always had this deep desire to represent this country on its Olympic basketball squad,” Boozer says, “and at that time, you only had one go-round at it. Everyone told me, ‘Your chances are remote,’ et cetera, et cetera. Each person that tried to get me to sign on the dotted line expressed that, but I said, ‘Hey, this is something I’ve got to go for.’ “I knew I only had once chance.”

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: According to Elias Sports Bureau, since the 1998 season, there is only one player who’s won two or more NBA titles without logging even one second of court time during a Finals game. It’s the same player, by the way, who led the nation in scoring (28.1 ppg) just four years ago as a junior in college, a campaign among the more compelling in recent memory. Adam Morrison.  Since entering the nation’s consciousness, Morrison has been described in many ways. A scoring machine. A long haired, mustachioed flake. Diabetes conqueror. A can’t miss NBA prospect. An NBA failure waiting to happen. The next Larry Bird. The next Kwame Brown. An enigma. A scrub. An expiring contract. Jimmy Kimmel’s favorite target. He is most concerned, however, about his current label: Unemployed.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: With Shannon Brown deciding a Three-peat shot is too great to pass up, the Laker roster appears to be set, for all intents and purposes. Yes, time still remains for a preseason trade (likely the kind where Sasha Vujacic is jettisoned for nothing but a “no give backs!”). The uncertain status of Luke Walton’s back puts his upcoming campaign and even his career in jeopardy. Plus, the Lakers’ pair of draft picks aren’t actually Lakers yet, despite all expectations of this being a matter of time.  But barring the unexpected or impossible to predict, it’s become reasonably safe to assume who’ll be on board as the Lakers look to defend their championship for the second year running. With that in mind, we decided to take a player-by-player look at the principals on hand, their roles for the upcoming season, and the best and worst case scenarios down the road. First up, the pups…

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Q: Hey guys! Now that the team is set, how do you see [Phil Jackson] using the bench guys on the rotation? Does he leave Sasha to dry until Mitch can trade him? Thanks! –Nadya, Los Angeles A: Nadya, there’s always a chance Vujacic earns himself a reasonable amount of minutes … but it’ll take someone else playing his way out of the rotation. The current setup will demand Sasha get closely acquainted with his warmup suit. Had the Lakers not been able to re-sign Shannon Brown, it could have been different. The Lakers didn’t add another few mil to their luxury tax bill just to watch Brown sit around, and as we learned last season it’s very difficult to work five guards into a rotation. So look for Blake and Fisher to hold down the point, while Brown helps the Lakers try and limit Kobe’s minutes at the two.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: Andrew Bynum may be the most contentious figure in all of Lakerdom.  Sure, once you leave the friendly confines of the purple and gold fanbase, you’ll find lots of people who don’t like Kobe Bryant too much, or people who aren’t keen on Derek Fisher’s skill in the art of elaboration.  People still hold a grudge against Ron Artest for past transgressions, and Phil Jackson has a legion of people who dislike his smug demeanor and seem willing to dismiss his “Best Coach Ever” legacy by claiming its the quality of his players, not his coaching ability, which is the reason for his unprecedented success. In house, however, there is no player two Lakers fans are more likely to disagree on than big Drew.

From Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Certain NBA sticklers discount the significance of the league’s Most Valuable Player award even in the thick of basketball season. The games in June are the ones that matter, they’ll cry in touting the superiority of the Finals MVP trophy. Here at The Race we respectfully disagree, because a prize sought by as many as 450 candidates across six months seems more desirable than one that, one way or another, will be handed out to one of 24 contestants after two weeks of work. It would be one thing if the Finals MVP were occasionally held back, shelved, and only presented in those years when someone truly achieved greatness in the championship round. Now that really would honor Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics icon after whom the award is named. But the trophy is bestowed every June, no exceptions, and – since in all but one case it’s gone to a player from the winning team – the pool of eligibles is really just 12 guys deep. Any shallower and it would be like the “Best Dad” trophy your kids got you on Father’s Day. Sweet and all but, uh, who else exactly was in the running?

From Mike Wells, IndyStar.com: Fifteen players. Twelve roster spots. The names Durant, Billups, Rose and Odom are virtual locks for a trip to Turkey with Team USA for the World Championships later this month. Two players with local ties — Danny Granger and Eric Gordon — can’t say the same. The Indiana Pacers forward and former North Central High School standout are on the bubble. They’ll make their final effort for a roster spot at this week’s training camp in New York. Granger and Gordon would be the first players with Indianapolis ties to be selected since Reggie Miller and Jermaine O’Neal played on the 2002 team. Here’s a breakdown of the competition for Gordon and Granger.

From DJ Byrnes, Lakers Nation: It still hasn’t gotten old. Every day I wake up and I ask myself, “Am I still living in a world where the Boston Celtics choked away a 13 point lead in the second half of Game 7 to lose to the Lakers?” And then I’ll hop on my BlackBerry and confirm: indeed, I am living in such a world. And such a world is a beautiful place. This off-season has seen seismic shifts in the power hierarchy of the NBA. Amar’e Staudemire left for the bright lights (and #8 seed) of New York. Carlos Boozer went to Chicago (who quietly built themselves a very solid squad in the wake of losing the LeBronathon). And Darko Milicic signed a contract that will pay him to suck at his profession and make more money in one year than I’ll probably make in six lifetimes.

Degree Of Difficulty

Phillip Barnett —  August 9, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant shoots a jump shot over Utah Jazz guard Wesley Matthews in the first quarter during Game 3 of their NBA Western Conference semi-final playoff series in Salt Lake City, Utah, May 8, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

A couple of weeks ago, NBA TV did something fantastic for Lakers fans: they replayed every single one of the Lakers playoff games. Basket Blog’s Mike Trudell watched those games, and found that Kobe Bryant’s three point shooting stood out to him most. He wrote:

With many of his triples swishing through the net at key times for the Lakers*, the five-time champ hit a career-high 49 throughout the playoffs, connecting at least once in all but five of 23 games, including 12 straight from the start of the Western Conference Finals through Game 7 against Boston.?*Game 6 @ OKC, Game 3 @ Utah, the whole Phoenix series, Game 4 @ Boston, etc.

In fact, the 19 triples Bryant hit against Phoenix were more than the total number of three-pointers he connected on in six full playoff runs throughout his career. His previous high came in 2009 when he dropped 37, though in fairness he also attempted more triples in 2010 (131) than in any other playoffs.

What stood out most to me was the number of difficult shots Kobe made during the championship run. From the Thunder series through the Celtics Finals series, Kobe saw a huge number of different defenses thrown at him ranging from single coverage, double coverage, triple coverage, delayed double teams, faux double teams, match up zones and true zones. To counter these defenses, they put Kobe in different scoring situations: isolating him in the pinch post and on the wings, posting him up, putting him in screen and roll situations with bigs, and setting screens for him a la Ray Allen. The one thing that didn’t change throughout the course of the post season was his ability to knock down difficult shots.

One thing that tends to go unnoticed during Lakers games is the number of quality defenders that Kobe sees on a nightly basis. Kobe has a unique ability to make a lot of very good defenders seem average just as he makes difficult shots look easy. There were an innumerable number of shots Kobe made with a defender all over him. Kobe has made shots after he’s had the ball knocked out of his hands, the ball touched as he releasing it, over double teams, over seven footers – and none of that seems to matter to such an amazing offensive player.

One of the biggest criticisms that I’ve always had against Kobe is his propensity to over-dribble, mainly because I love watching offenses that move the ball well as a unit to create their open shots. The majority of the clips in the previous video showed him dribbling three times or more to get to his spots. However, there is a positive to every negative. There are a lot of times where defenders expect Kobe to use his dribble to get to his spots and he just shoots over them. In these past two or three years, Kobe has really mastered his one-dribble, pull up jumper. It’s really a beautiful thing to watch, especially if you’ve ever played the game competitively. No matter how much you practice, this is never an easy shot to make with a defender in your face. The fluidity of it when Kobe pulls up is almost artistic in essence. Equally as hard, pulling up from the triple threat without a dribble. It’s hard to stay balanced without a dribble with a defender at your waist. Kobe hit a lot of these shots against the Suns, unfortunately, I couldn’t find four of the games (including that ridiculous Game 6), but I do have some clips.

Then there are those times where things don’t go exactly as Phil Jackson draws them up, plays get broken and someone is forced to improvise – and nine out of 10 times, that guy is going to be Kobe. Being “the guy” on basketball team, you’re going to be forced to take tons of shots at the end of the shot clock, three guys running at you, falling out of bounds, whatever. We’ve seen it all during the course of Kobe’s illustrious career. Here are a few more of those shots.

Finally, if you take a close look back at all of the videos, the one thing that stands out in all of them is his footwork. Darius had a post last month featuring a video that highlighted Kobe’s footwork. The following video does the same thing. Just look at the way he’s able to create space, the way he’s able to keep defenders off balance or get them up in the air. It’s all about the fundamentals of the game. You don’t need to be ultra quick, have the best crossover or have explosive jumping ability to make defenders look foolish. There is no point where Kobe is utilizing all of his speed or jumping through the roof, but he still gets all of the same crowd reactions a Derrick Rose crossover or a LeBron James dunk would get. It’s all in the footwork. This is the think about Kobe that sets him apart from all of his peers. The attention to detail, the patience, the intelligence, the utilization of angles and the concentration is what makes his game so fun to watch, even in the ladder end of his career.

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From Tom Friend, ESPN Los Angeles: Interesting how so many surgeons wear sneakers. The family from rural Colorado noticed that right off the bat. The day the Shattucks met Dr. David Skaggs, at Childrens Hospital on Sunset Boulevard, he had bounced in to examine their 13-year-old daughter, Isabelle, wearing pitch-black running shoes. Their first impression was he seemed athletic. Everything after that was a blur. The doctor showed them an X-ray of their daughter’s spine, a spine that resembled a spiral staircase. Because of scoliosis, one side had a 56-degree bend, the other was at 52 degrees, and he told them that, unless he fixed it, Isabelle could end up deformed and unable to take a full breath. He recommended surgery the following week.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Right now, as you are reading this, the Lakers have a payroll of $91,906,072 for next season (thank you Sham Sports).  That is more than $500,000 higher than the Lakers payroll last season, which was already higher than any other team in the Association. And we are underestimating Shannon Brown’s salary by roughly $500,000. Plus the Lakers have yet to sign second-round picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, which will push the Lakers payroll for next season to the $93 million range.  So all that talk about the Lakers cutting corners, Jerry Buss laughs at it. As he told Scott Howard Cooper at NBA.com.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: August is a pretty rough time for those of us who cover TEH HOOPS. Free agency’s over, and training camps are a couple months away. The FIBA tournament doesn’t start for another few weeks. To fill column inches and pixel quotas, you’ve got to lower your standards and scrape the gutter for stories you’d be embarrassed to publish any other time of year. In unrelated news, anyone want to know what Smush Parker is up to these days? OHAI, Joseph Staszewski of the New York Post! In yesterday’s edition of the paper, Mr. Staszewski wrote an article with the actual headline, “Ex-Fordham Star Parker Looks to Revive NBA Career.” No, seriously. Those are words that the Post printed and delivered to newsstands and subscribers. It’s one of those articles of which you wouldn’t have to alter a single word if you wanted to run it in the Onion.

From Robert Baptista, Silver Screen and Roll: I have a confession to make.  When I first heard the Lakers were going to sign Ron Artest, I wasn’t exactly excited.  Not only did I not want him, I wanted the Lakers to keep Trevor Ariza.  Trevor was young, getting better, and a contributing starter on a Championship team.  I knew Ron Artest was the better player, but we all knew about the baggage he had. Never mind his positive or negative impact on the basketball floor, did we really want or need him on the team that already went all the way?  Did the Lakers really need to shake things up with such a seemingly high risk, albeit high reward player?  There was his defense, that’s a given, plus he showed in the 2009 Second Round series against the Lakers that he could lead a team offensively.  Yet, it was in that same series that he showed his poor decision making and bad leadership by shooting the Rockets out of games, and then earning ridiculous technical fouls.  Was he really necessary?  Did the Lakers really need to swing for the fences?  I wasn’t so sure at first.

From Rey Moralde, The No Look Pass: So Shaquille O’Neal is headed to the Celtics. I wish him luck. I got many, many, many comments from fellow L.A. Laker fans saying that he’s a ring-chaser, a traitor, and that his jersey should NEVER be retired at Staples Center. What? Okay, so his “legacy will be a little tainted” because he played for another team. But let’s look at this for a minute or three. If Shaq wants to continue playing in the NBA for whatever reason, let him. Sure, he’s past his prime. Whatever. But he still has the right to continue his basketball career as he chooses. Wherever it may be. And don’t compare this to Brett Favre, who, as a starting quarterback, can hold up an entire NFL franchise by not making any decisions about his NFL career. And it’s even worse that he’s wishy-washy.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: Chuck Person spent the latest of his 25 years in the NBA as a player and coach as a special assistant coach on Phil Jackson’s staff last season, making such a positive impact that he was named a full-time assistant coach on Aug. 2. Person, known as “The Rifleman” during a 13-year playing career that began with a Rookie of the Year award for the 1986-87 season, joined us on the Popcorn Machine to discuss his basketball past, his relationship with Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant and what he’s learned from Jackson thus far. CLICK HERE to head over to our Lakers.com Popcorn Machine page to listen.

From Matt Smith, Fox Sports West: When I heard the news yesterday that the Boston Celtics would be signing Shaquille O’Neal the first thing that popped into my head was Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and particularly the clash between Spitz and Buck. I’m sure a great number of you are familiar with the novel centering on a formerly domesticated, then trained sled dog named “Buck”. But in case you aren’t, the rivalry between he and Spitz, a Siberian Husky, was best described by their masters Perrault and Francois after it was discovered that the two had fought to the death with Spitz coming up short in the conflict. Perrault starting with “Dat Spitz fight like hell.”, while Francois countered “An’ dat Buck fight like two hells”.  When it comes to the Shaq vs. Kobe dynamic, you get the sense there inevitably will be a fight to the death moment before we can finally move past the rivalry.