Archives For September 2010

STAPLES Center Gets Makeover

Jeff Skibiski —  September 23, 2010

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While the two-time defending champs underwent a mini makeover this summer by adding five new roster players, their home for the past 11 years—STAPLES Center—also made some much-needed cosmetic changes this past off-season. Today, the arena officially unveils their new, state-of-the-art 4HD jumbotron system, which should come as a welcome change for those of us who attend games and have been forced to watch replays on a low-quality screen not unlike the ancient TV at my grandma’s house.

The new scoreboard now has eight screens for you to watch Bynum dunking, Kobe fading away and Fisher draining dagger threes—a major improvement from the previous version. Sasha Vujacic and the Clippers’ Craig Smith were even on-hand to introduce a preview of the fancy new digs. For all the hoops fans out there who double as techies, you can read up on the specs in the official release.

I remember watching Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals against the Kings on the jumbotron with about 19,000 other rabid fans and that was long before the days of 3D, HD and whatever else they’re coming up with now. As the premiere franchise in the NBA, the Lakers in-arena experience deserves to be the best too.

Watch as Sasha—in his typical dramatic fashion—presses the magic button to showcase the scoreboard in-action for the first time:

Los Angeles Lakers Derek Fisher (R) shakes hands with Phoenix Suns Channing Frye (L) after the Lakers defeated the Suns 111-103 in Game Six of the NBA Western Conference Finals at the US Airways Center, in Phoenix, AZ, May 29,2010. The Lakers won the series 4-2 and head to the NBA Finals against the Boston Celtics. UPI/Art Foxall Photo via Newscom

As we continue previewing all of the teams around the league, you may have noticed that Darius previewed the Lakers yesterday. Along with his preview, there were a couple of other Lakers sites that shared their previews. Also, the Phoenix Suns websites were slated to preview their team today, so we’ll have dual previews for today’s links:

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: What significant moves were made during the off-season. Where do I even begin?  Change is not a word often associated with two time defending champions, and with the 5 most prominent members of the Los Angeles Lakers all locked up for multiple years, one wouldn’t figure the Lakers would be in for a massive roster overhaul.  None of that stopped GM Mitch Kupchak from having one busy and, in the opinion of this humble blogger, spectacular summer.  Kupchak completely changed the back end of the team, allowing Jordan Farmar to leave via free agency, and politely telling Adam Morrison, Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga to seek other employment.  In their place come Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, and two rookies Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter.  Looked at on a like for like basis, it seems like an improvement at every turn.  Blake fits the Lakers need for a “point guard” much better than Farmar did, Barnes as depth at small forward (in case Luke Walton’s back injuries continue to hamper his career) over Adam Morrison is a no contest, and Ratliff provides experience off the bench that neither DJ Mbenga nor Josh Powell could muster.  And the rookie haul is especially impressive when you consider that the Lakers seem to have found two keepers when they had only a mid and late 2nd round pick.  On top of all that, Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown were re-signed for continuity, so the Lakers now have a roster that is theoretically much deeper (and more mature) than last year’s version.

From Alex, NBA Tip Off: What are the team’s biggest strengths? Depth. The Lakers have an incredibly balanced team. Their attack starts with two All-Star players in Bryant and Gasol. Then the role players come in and fulfill their purpose, occasionally having a breakout game. You also must think about the size of this team. Bynum and Gasol are seven footers, Odom and free agent signing Theo Ratliff are six-ten. This allows them to pound the ball outside and punish small teams. Additionally, it lets them establish an inside-outside offensive attack. Experience. The core players on this team have won back-to-back titles. Kobe Bryant has five rings. Phil Jackson has 11. Is there more that I need to say about experience? Raw talent. Talent is plentiful for the Lakers. We know Kobe is a star, but guys like Odom and Artest are amazing too. Odom is one of the few guys in the league who can basically do everything. Sure, his jump shot isn’t the most consistent, but he can get hot and be decently effective. Artest provides toughness which the Lakers really need, but he’s figured out how to be a team player. Those bad shots that were so common with him are becoming a thing of the past and he came up huge when it mattered last season.

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Suns Previews

From Michael Schwartz, Valley of the Suns: What are the team’s biggest weaknesses? And then there’s that other end of the court, which once again won’t be a major Suns strength. But the biggest weakness will likely be rebounding. This was a major issue going into last season, yet thanks to the emergence of Robin Lopez the Suns actually posted a positive rebounding differential for the season, a major reason they managed to secure the West’s No. 3 seed. Switching out Amare for Hedo at the four and it would be a surprise if the Suns could post another positive rebounding differential. Interior defense will be an issue as well. The Suns possess a dearth of quality of interior defenders (and rebounders) aside from Robin Lopez. Phoenix likely will be starting Hedo Turkoglu at the four, which could be a matchup nightmare for opponents when the Suns are on offense but is sure to cause problems for the Suns defensively as well.

From Will Cantrell, Bright Side of the Sun: What Could Have the Biggest influence on the upcoming season? Chemistry. Injuries. Size There are a flood of “if’s” surrounding the Phoenix Suns entering the 2010-11 season. If Robin Lopez’s back gives him trouble and results in significant time off the court, the Suns could be in for a long season due to their lack of front court size. If Steve Nash misses significant time, is Goran Dragic ready to step in to the starters shoes? If the new guys cannot play together, make up for Amare’s loss… if, if, if…Bad news all around. That’s the pessimistic and “expert” view. On the other hand, the new guys know how to play the game, it’s up to Alvin Gentry to mix and match. After some experimentation, this team could be a very tough match up for a lot of teams. Gentry even believes they are better than last season. I think he may be right.

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant celebrates a basket against the Boston Celtics during the second half 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)

Over the past couple of weeks, you’ve surely noticed that Forum Blue & Gold has been participating in season previews that were organized by the fine folks at Celtics Blog.  Today, we offer our entry for the Lakers and answer five questions about the team going into next year.  We’ll have other season previews in future weeks, so sit tight on those and enjoy this one today.

Team Name: Los Angeles Lakers
Last Year’s Record: 57-25
Key Losses: Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell (and his iPod playlist), DJ Mbenga, Adam Morrison
Key Additions: Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Derrick Caracter (rookie), Devin Ebanks (rookie)

1. What Significant Moves were made during the off-season?
The Lakers came into this past off-season as the two time defending champions but not without holes that needed to be filled. Last year, the team played with a patch work bench for most of the year where talented, but unreliable back ups at guard and injuries at small forward meant that the starters got pushed for longer and harder than preferred. So, the number one goal for this team was to improve its back up situation in the back court and find a reliable back up at small forward as a contingency to the oft injured Luke Walton and to ensure that Kobe does not have to be the primary back up to Ron Artest.

With filling in those two holes in mind, the Lakers made out like bandits by acquiring both Steve Blake and Matt Barnes and did so by only using their mid-level exception. How Mitch Kupchak pulled this off is beyond me, but he effectively used the only real salary resource he had (the MLE) and signed two players that are both ideal role players for this particular Lakers team. In Blake the Lakers got a steady player in the mold of Derek Fisher that will knock down open jumpers, take care of the ball, organize the Lakers offense, and try on defense. And in Barnes the Lakers got a rugged defensive wing who has proven capable of knocking down the three point shot, is an excellent positional rebounder, and plays well off the ball. Neither player is a flashy, impact player but when incorporated into the structure of an all ready top-notch roster, these players should provide an excellent boost to a bench unit that will have the potential to extend leads rather than lose them or cut into deficits rather than have them get larger while the starters get their rest.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Lets see…Size, length, coaching, confidence, experience, top end talent, depth…I think I can go on and on when it comes to the strengths of this Lakers group.

But, I will say that the biggest strength that this team has is its ability to adapt to any style of play due to the combination of size, length, and versatility in the front court while also having Kobe Bryant on the wing. By having the ability to play Kobe in a line up that features both Gasol and Bynum, the Lakers can put size on the floor that few other teams can match. And because both Bynum and Gasol show the ability to control the paint on offense and defense, the Lakers have a nightly advantage where they make other teams take inefficient perimeter shots while getting high percentage shots of their own against the opposition. When you throw Lamar Odom into the mix, the dynamic then changes again where pace is increased, spacing improves, and both Kobe and Gasol (or Bynum) have more room to work on the floor on the offensive side of the ball. This makes double teaming more difficult and opens up lanes for slashing and offensive rebounding by players on the weak side. On defense, Odom also allows the Lakers to play more of switching defense without being hurt by as much by quicker guards penetrating or on the offensive glass because of Odom’s ability to stay with guards on the perimeter while still recovering to the paint to rebound with Gasol (or Bynum).

So, again, the Lakers’ talented versatility allows them to adapt to any style of play while also having the ability to attack the weakness of any given team. There’s a reason that they’re the defending champions twice over.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The Lakers biggest weakness continues to be its three point shooting. Last year, Derek Fisher regressed to a below average outside shooter and Kobe also had a down year in his attempts from distance. When you throw in the inconsistencies from Artest and the general up and down play of Sasha, you have a group of players that just can’t be relied upon to hit the outside jumper with any consistency. There’s always the hope that the addition of Blake – who is a career 40% shooter from three point territory – will help in this, but that’s not a guarantee.

This lack of consistent shooting means that the Lakers can at times struggle to generate the proper spacing to give their post players room to operate on the low block and then fail to make opposing defenses pay by making shots when perimeter defenders help down in the post or shade to the middle of the floor to cut off passing and driving lanes. Last year, the Lakers were able to overcome this by making timely shots and/or getting hot at the right times but this lack of consistent shooting remains a concern coming into this season.

4. What are the goals for this team?
The end goal of winning a championship is what this team will seek to accomplish by the time that June rolls around. However, throughout the season, other mini-goals will be set in order to keep this team on task. Last year, the Lakers coaches expressed disappointment in the fact that the team did not win 60 games, so I think hitting that benchmark will also be a goal this team tries to reach. I also think that the past two seasons this team has seen the significance of home court advantage in the Finals, so staying in the race for the best record in the league is also a goal that, if not outright stated, is something that this group will have its eye on. But even more simple than any of the goals that I’ve listed above, I think this team will really want to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season. Phil Jackson led teams have always wanted to peak at the right time and with this group I expect that the same mindset will be put in place. With the talent and experience that this team has, this group must know that if they continue to improve as the season progresses and play their best basketball in the playoffs that all other goals should take care of themselves.

5. Will this team show a greater sense of urgency during the regular season than last year?
Predicting how this Lakers team will actually play on any given night is pretty close to a fool’s errand. Last season, many would have thought that the drive to repeat and the want to earn home court would have been enough to push this team to play its best basketball every night. However, injuries, contract situations, and general complacency conspired to keep the Lakers’ win total lower than many expected.

That being said, I do think this team will take the regular season a bit more seriously. First and foremost, I think this team will play with a bit of a chip on its shoulder and display a hunger that was somewhat absent during last year’s regular season. Many pundits (and Vegas, too) are already labeling the newly formed Heat as the team to beat for this years championship and considering the prideful players that are on the Lakers roster, that can’t sit well with the defending champs. And when you add the newly acquired Blake and Barnes, the infusion of new blood will also help bring that nightly hunger that was sometimes lacking last year. Second, there’s a real possibility that this upcoming campaign will be Phil Jackson’s last on the bench. Sending Phil out on a high note could also serve as a motivating factor for the team and drive them to achieve at higher levels during the regular season than they’ve shown in past years. Mind you, none of this is a guarantee but with these factors in play, I do think the Lakers will show more consistency in the regular season.

Predicted Record: 62-20

Super Teams Are Not New

Darius Soriano —  September 21, 2010

showtime lakers

This Summer, the big news was the free agent acquisitions that the Miami Heat made.  By adding Lebron and Bosh while retaining Dwyane Wade, the Heat have formed what is being called a “super team” as they have brought together 3 of the top 15 players in the league and then surrounded them by good role players in the hope of winning a championship.  Meanwhile, as the summer has progressed, there has been much talk of the futures of Chris Paul and Carmelo Anthony and their potential quest to team up with Amar’e Stoudemire on the Knicks or go separately to some other team to be part of another roster with high level talent that can not only battle the Heat for Eastern Conference supremacy but also claim a championship (or more) of their own.  And then there’s the Lakers – the team that (presumably) all of these players have in mind when wanting to join forces in the first place.   With Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Odom, and the (still) up and coming Bynum, the Lakers have built a team on a foundation of talent that is pretty much unmatched by any other team in the league (and that includes the Heat, Celtics, Magic, etc).

But, none of this is really new as the concept of the super team has been around for generations.  Look back to any era and you’ll find a franchise that thought gathering as much talent as possible on one roster is the way to go about their business.  Which, when thinking about it, is actually an obvious tactic.  I mean, talent wins in this league and has for decades.  There’s no reason to think that this trend is somehow going to stop or that owners/GM’s aren’t plotting ways to make their respective teams as competitive as possible by acquiring as much talent as their roster can hold.

Below are some of the teams that I can think of off the top of my head that staked their claim as a super team with some results as to how successful they were in winning that elusive championship.  For the purposes of this exercise, we’ll only look at teams that have had at least three Hall of Fame caliber players on their roster at the same time.  And, we’ll only go back to 1980 (though the Lakers of West, Baylor, Wilt and Goodrich deserve recognition as do the Russell/Cousy Celtics and the Russell/Havlicek Celtics).  We’ll start from most recent and work our way backwards.

2008-2010 Lakers:  This is the current group of Lakers that is the reiging back to back NBA champions.  Their top 5 players (Kobe, Gasol, Artest, Odom, Bynum) are all capable of being elite level contributors.  The leader, Kobe Bryant, is a 5 time champion, a repeat first team all NBA performer and Defensive team performer, and is a former MVP of the entire league.  Pau Gasol is one of the most versatile big men in the game and shows a combination of polish and skill on both sides of the ball that made him an all star before he came to Los Angeles.  And while it may be a stretch to find another sure fire Hall of Famer amongst Odom/Bynum/Artest, it’s not a stretch to imagine Bynum being a dominant, All-Star caliber player on a different team that, over time could grow into an All-NBA selection.  And while this might be breaking my own rule, when combined the trio of Odom/Bynum/Artest really do add up to another HOF caliber player as their unique variety of skill and versatility on both sides of the ball round out a roster that is the most top heavy in talent across the entire league.

2008-2010 Celtics: This team is a one time champion with two trips to the Finals.  They possess the fantastic trio of Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce – all three of which are multiple time all stars and all league candidates.  KG is easily the most accomplished of the three winning a regular season MVP award and considered by many (including myself) to be one of the two or three best defensive players of his generation.  Pierce and Allen are also quite accomplished in their own right as Pierce has a Finals MVP to his resume and Allen is considered one of the best shooters of all time, much less of his generation.  When you add in the up and coming Rajon Rondo to run the point for this group, you have a fantastic base of talent that can make teams wilt with their defensive pressure and score enough points to make every game a challenge to beat them.

1997-1999 Rockets: The lone non title holder of the teams I’ll mention.  After tasting the ultimate glory with an Hakeem + role players model in 1994 and 1995 (though in ’95, Drexler was still a very good player), the Rockets went for it all again using the super team model in the late 90′s.  Needless to say it was not successful.  After brining in an aged Charles Barkley, this team never really found the needed chemistry and cohesion to win the championship.  Drexler was replaced with Scottie Pippen in ’99, but even that didn’t work and led to a messy, clash of Chuck and Scottie that led to Pippen leaving to Portlant in 2000 (where he saw this first hand). 

1996-1998 Bulls: Three time repeat champion that towered over the league for the second half of the 90′s.  Many think of this team as the Jordan/Pippen show, but when you throw in Dennis Rodman you have a triumvirate that is very difficult to beat.  And since everyone is familiar with Jordan and Pippen, allow me a moment to gush over “the Worm”.  There will never be another Dennis Rodman.  And no, I’m not talking about the hair dye, wedding dresses, or the all-night partying.  I’m talking about the combination of elite level defense and rebounding from a six foot, seven inch forward that created a presence on the defensive side of the ball that was truly difficult to comprehend unless you watched the games.  Rodman successfully bottled up players of all sizes and went to the backboards with a reckless abandon not seen since.  Many can marvel at the rebounding numbers of Dwight Howard or even young KG but in the 7 consecutive years that Rodman lead the league in rebounding average, he never fell below 14.9 and had a high of 18.7.  In comparison, neither KG nor Howard have had an average above 14.2 (Howard) in their high season.  When you throw in Rodman’s underrated feel for offensive basketball (he was an excellent passer, had a high BBIQ, and of course his offensive rebounding was off the charts) and you’ve got a great offensive player that just didn’t put up traditional box score stats on that side of the ball to earn him recognition.  In a sense, he was the ultimate teammate on offense and defense because he knew his role and performed it at a level that defies what even seems possible.  It’s a shame to me that Rodman is not in the Hall of Fame.  So now that I’m off my soap box, when you combine Rodman with Jordan and Pippen and the result is the dominance that we saw, they’re a super team.

1987-1990 Pistons: Back to back champions in 1989 and 1990.  This Detroit team’s back bone were Hall of Famers Isaiah Thomas and Joe Dumars and also had Adrian Dantley for part of this run (HOF class of 1998).  When you add in a young Rodman and excellent, high level role players like Vinnie Johnson, Mark Aguirre, John Salley, Laimbeer, Mahorn, and James Edwards you have a team that often gets overlooked but was stocked full of talent.  Many don’t really consider this group a super team because their star players don’t have the cachet of the superstars of that same era, but I watched those games and those guys (especially Zeke and Dumars) were top shelf players that raised their games in the big moments.

1980-1991 Lakers: Ahh, Showtime.  We’ve discussed this group a lot at this site, so I’ll save all the recounting of fond memories.  But, let me just say that over that decade plus of basketball this team went to 9 NBA Finals, won 5 championships, and fielded a combination of players that include Hall of Famers Magic, Kareem, Worthy, and McAdoo while filling out their roster with near HOF players like Wilkes, high draft picks like Nixon, Mychal Thompson, and Scott, and great role players like Rambis and Green. (EDIT: And Michael Cooper! How could I have forgotten Coop? He’s a Laker I Miss.)

1980-1991 Celtics: Three time champion that went the the Eastern Conference Finals or NBA Finals 8 times in 9 seasons (’80-’88).  Parrish, McHale, Bird, and Dennis Johnson are all in the Hall of Fame. Danny Ainge was one of the best role players of his era (went to Finals with Boston, Portland, and Phoenix as a major contributor).  While this team was a hated rival of the Celtics and one that I personally loved to see lose, I must show proper respect by including them here.  The 1986 Celtic team is considered by many to one of the two or three best teams of all time and with reason.

There are some teams that didn’t quite make the cut.  The first ones that come to mind are the late 90′s Jazz, the early 2000′s Spurs, and the early 80′s 76ers.  All of those teams had two HOF players, but didn’t have either a third player that fit the bill or a group of top end players that were right below that threshold (though the 76ers did come close with Bobby Jones, Mo Cheeks, and Doug Collins).

Back to the Heat…will they follow the trend that these teams displayed and win at least one title?  The odds point in their favor.  They’ve amassed high quality talent in their top three players that will make them contenders for years to come.  However, questions remain.  Will they fill out their roster with the type of hard nosed role players that help win championships?  Will their games blend in the manner that past trios have?  Will they have the coaching that pushes them over the top?  Will one of the other “super” teams that currently exist (Lakers, Celtics) be too big a road block for them to break through?  Only time will tell with these questions.  But the Heat are hoping that their formation of a “super team” will lead them to the promised land that many of the other ones mentioned visited.  Because remember, this concept is not new and the Heat are banking on the past being their guide in their pursuit.

March 16, 2010: Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers and Tyreke Evans of the Sacramento Kings during the game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Lakers at Arco Arena in Sacramento, CA. Ben Munn/CSM.

Yesterday we took a look at the Clippers and today we’re headed up north to take a good look at the Sacramento Kings in effort to check out previews for all NBA teams.

From Zach Harper, Cowbell Kingdom: What are the team’s biggest strengths? Aside from the franchise player on the perimeter entering his second year, this team’s biggest strength has to be on the boards. With a legit four-man rotation inside (Dalembert, Cousins, Carl Landry, Jason Thompson), the Kings have a steady stream of bruising big men who like to attack the glass and control the interior. Sacramento was third in the NBA in offensive rebounding last season while also finishing tenth. Now by replacing Spencer Hawes’ affinity for kicking it on the perimeter for Dalembert’s length and athleticism that hangs around the rim, you’ve got a big upgrade in veteran rebounding to go with the future double-double machine that is DeMarcus Cousins. You can definitely beat this team on the boards but you’re going to have to work your tail off to do it.

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Now, on to the Lakers links…

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: When Pau Gasol is curled up with a good book and lost in a fictional or historical world the way he so enjoys, it doesn’t matter. When he’s back home in Spain with friends and family who loved him when his hair was short and his dreams went long, nothing’s different. But in society at large, anywhere across this globe Gasol blanketed in his summer off from basketball, things have changed substantially. He is celebrated for the winner he is now. That means he can be celebrated for the kind, contemplative person he always was. Wrapping up his second consecutive summer as an NBA champion, Gasol recognizes the difference in the world around him.

An interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Lakers.com: Among the many lessons you learned from Coach Wooden, is there a particular life lesson that stands out in your mind that he imparted to you??KAJ: I have benefitted the most from the way Coach Wooden taught about being prepared. His coaching style was one the emphasized intense preparation for what his team could do and achieve. It made us understand that our concern should be about what we control and not to worry about what the other team was about. Was there a particular basketball lesson that you learned from him that carried through to the rest of your career??KAJ: Coach Wooden always emphasized being in shape. It was the most fundamental preparation that effected your ability to perform. So being in shape was the key was the key to being able to execute the important parts of the game.

From David Aldridge, NBA.com: Bryant was noticeably slowed by the knee injury early in the playoffs, and the bad finger was a major factor in his shooting 45.6 percent from the floor, the lowest percentage he’s had in four years. But the surgery cleaned out the knee and Bryant took the summer off from the U.S. world championship squad to rest both injuries; no one other than his teammate Pau Gasol has gone though a two-year stretch like Bryant, starting with a Finals appearance (and loss) in June, 2008, leading the U.S. team to Olympic gold in Beijing a couple of months later, winning his fourth title in ’09, and coming back to repeat with the Lakers last season. There hasn’t been much intel out of L.A. since the July operation, though Bryant said through a Nike spokesman in an event in New York last month that he was working toward getting ready for camp. “I’m doing rehab constantly for my knee,” he said, “making sure the leg is getting stronger. As soon as the leg gets strong enough to go, that’s when I turn it up.”