It’s Mailbag Time

Darius Soriano —  October 9, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol (R) of Spain and his coach Phil Jackson speak during a practice session attended by basketball fans in Barcelona October 5, 2010. The Lakers will play against Barcelona in an NBA Europe Live basketball game at Palau Sant Jordi on Thursday. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Time for another installment of the FB&G mailbag.  As always, if you’d like to submit a question, you can click right here and submit one to me with “mailbag question” in the subject line.  On to the questions…

What do you make of the NBA GMs picking the Lakers to win it all again?  I haven’t studied their predictive accuracy in depth, but this is the 3rd or (4th ?) straight year they’ve picked our heroes. And of course, they’ve been right the last two years.  Also, they like Kobe over Wade as a SG. Do you agree and if so, why?


When I saw that the GM’s picked the Lakers to win their 3rd consecutive title, my first thought was “Of course they did”.  Not to come off as arrogant about the Lakers nor sarcastic about how GM’s evaluate talent/teams/the league as a whole, but often times when predicting the future you look to past success.  The Lakers are the two time defending champs and for many, they will have to be knocked off/lose before anyone says that they aren’t the favorite to win again.  Regardless of what Miami has done this past summer to build their team or what Boston has done to improve after coming so close last season, the fact is that the Lakers are still the title holders, they’ve improved the team through their own off-season acquisitions in free agency and the draft, and they have motivation to continue to win.  Call it safe, call it logical, call it whatever you want, but the fact that many GM’s think the Lakers are poised to win again just isn’t a surprise to me.

As for picking Kobe over Wade, I think that comes from winning the championship as team accomplishments often contribute to the rankings of individuals.  You see this in all of sports and especially basketball.  Whether it’s picking the MVP or in many of the “who is the best player” arguments, team success often shapes how individual players are perceived.  I don’t know if I agree that Kobe is better or not as what you’re really asking is what you prefer when building a player.  Kobe is more of a perimeter oriented jump shooter (that also takes a lot of three pointers) that also excels in the post while Wade is more of a penetrator/playmaker that likes to score right at the rim and off his mid-range jumpshot.  Both are terribly effective at what they do and are dominant players.  I’d give Wade the leg up in efficiency because the stats speak to that clearly, but I’d give Kobe the leg up in a lot of skill areas offensively (shooting, ball handling) and on defense.  Remember, these are the two guards that made up the backcourt of the last season’s All-NBA 1st Team.  They’re both excellent players.  In the end, I’d probably lean towards Kobe, but I’m sure that it’s because I watch every game that he plays (which I can’t say about Wade) and see all the little ways that he contributes to wins even when he’s not doing the highlight reel stuff that most others would classify as him being “Kobe Bryant”.

Do you think Phil Jackson’s recent comments about Andrew Bynum becoming a Yao type player were directed at AB himself?


I actually took Phil’s quotes at face value.  Bynum is a fantastic talent that has a bright future ahead of him – if he can stay healthy.  I spoke about this some in the Daily Dime Chat that I participated in yesterday, but I think that Bynum’s been a bit unlucky with the injuries he’s sustained so far in his career.  However, injuries matter, games missed matter, and if Bynum can’t prove to hold up to the pounding that he’s going to take or if he continues to suffer some of these fluke injuries, it will force a re-evaluation of how to use the big man and what his role will be within the context of a 48 minute game.  I know that Bynum sees it differently and that’s exactly what I’d want from him.  He’s the player and he’s got to have extreme confidence that any set back will be overcome and that any injury is just a speed bump on the way to his greatness.  But there are two sides here and while it’s easy to think that this was just another classic Phil tweak to a player, I think he was being honest when he said what he said about ‘Drew.  Understand though, too, that Phil is the coach today so this is what he thinks.  Years down the road when it’s another coach leading the team and/or Bynum, that person may not feel the same way.

Let’s assume that 1) there is no lock-out next summer OR 2) the lock-out doesn’t completely destroy the NBA. In either case, there would be a 2014-15 season. And, in all likelihood, there would be no Kobe Bean Bryant. There could still be Pau and/or Bynum. But who else could there be? Kobe probably won’t play much after 35. If at all. He’s gotta retire at some point. I think my real question is this: what do you think will be the next chapter for the Lakers?  Will it be a re-loading effort where some presently young-ish player comes to fill Kobe’s void? If so, who might that be? Should Lakers fans begin monitoring John Wall’s career? Should we start thinking about Carmelo Anthony rocking forum blue and gold during the twilight of his career? Maybe Blake Griffin moves across the hall? More importantly, would that mode of thinking confirm that the Lakers are just the Yankees of the NBA?  Or…will there be a long drought following the Kobe era where the franchise fails a couple of years before finding another all-world talent via the draft? If so, who do you expect to be the architect(s) of that era?

-Tim Adkins (sometimes comments as: the_capital_t)

While I don’t necessarily agree that we won’t see much of Kobe past him being 35, let’s take the premise of your question and run with it.  Team building is a combination of smarts and luck.  For example if you look at the 5 championship teams that Kobe and Fisher have played on you see both factors weigh heavily in how those rings were won.  In 1996 the Lakers had to clear enough cap space in order to have the money to sign Shaq.  Then they needed to get the Diesel to agree to a contract.  At the same time, Jerry West worked his magic to make a draft day deal for Kobe Bryant.  And then, Kobe needed to become Kobe Bryant – which required a work ethic and commitment that is hoped for but never guaranteed.  That’s a lot of factors coming together just to put the core roster together to get to those first three titles.  Then after the trade of Shaq, there was the shuffling of players around, the Caron Butler/Kwame Brown trade (which was a curse and a blessing), the trip to the draft lottery that netted Andrew Bynum (when there were other players that could have been drafted instead), and then the confluence of events that led to the Pau Gasol trade.  And all this happened without the Lakers wavering in their position to rebuild correctly, hold on to Kobe after he wanted out, while dealing with some truly tough times as a franchise.  That’s a pretty windy road to get to the top.  And if someone were to say that after the Lakers title in 2002 and their trip to the finals in 2004 that those events would happen to get them to back to back titles in 2009 & 2010 I’d say that you were crazy.

So, if you want to look out 4-5 years, understand that it’s going to take some shrewd planning and a good portion of luck to rebuild this team after Kobe is gone.  And to answer your specific questions, yes pay attention to the young stars of the league.  Look at the up and coming college players.  But, I would hope that as fans of this great game, we’re doing those things anyway.  One last note – a lot is going to depend on what the team actually has in Andrew Bynum.  Is he the cornerstone player for the next generation Laker team?  If so, that rebuilding process is a lot easier and further a long because potential free agents are now even more attracted to LA.

Do you think the Lakers’ offense will look like as it did in 2008-2009? The offense that season was simply beautiful to watch. Is there a chance that we will see a 2010-2011 Lakers team that combines the offense of ’08-’09 and the defense of last season’s to become a historically great team?


I think the potential is there for the Lakers to be much improved on offense (in comparison to last season) while still keeping their defensive ranking high.  Realistically, it’s not far fetched for them to be a top 5 team on both sides of the ball.

As for the offense looking like the 2008-09 season, I’m not sure if that will be the case as the personnel is just different.  That team had Ariza, Farmar, and an in-tune Machine as the foundation of an athletic secondary group of players to get out and run and create easy baskets.  Ariza especially was a terror in the passing lanes and a guy that turned turnovers into easy baskets at least twice a game.  This current group of Lakers aren’t built that same way and thus we see more grind-it-out offensive possessions and much more half court play.  So, in order for the Lakers to improve on offense this season they’ll need to execute better throughout the course of the game and that’s exactly what I think we’ll see.  I think Artest will be improved and that Blake will be a great addition to the second unit by keeping them on task and organized.  I expect Kobe to be more efficient and for Odom to have a better season as well.  All of these factors should conspire to the Lakers being anywhere from 3-5 points better per 100 possessions than they were last season which would put them cleanly in the top 5 of the league.

Defensively, I’m less concerned as the same group of guys are back plus Matt Barnes was added.  That alone will mean better better defense on the wing over the course of the game.  And, while I don’t want to pick on the departed Jordan Farmar, I think Blake will be a better defensive PG for the 2nd unit just because he’ll be more in tune with the Lakers’ schemes, not gamble as much, and be better off the ball by not getting beat by back cuts.

It’s almost certain that we are going to trade away Sasha’s expiring contract before the season deadline right?  Are we going to trade it away for cap relief like some picks, since we tried to trade it away this summer for a cheap buy-out, or are we going to trade it for another important piece for the title?  What piece would we possible trade it for, since we can probably get someone decent for his $5 mill expiring salary?  We have the 1, 2 , and 3 spots backed up and a nice 3 man rotation at the 4 and 5 already.  Are we going another big or trading for cap relief?

-Matthew Tran

Ah, trade speculation.  We’re in the off-season so let’s give it a stab.  First of all, I don’t think the Lakers trade Sasha at all unless it’s for complete cap relief.  The cheap buy out scenario is one that works during the off-season, but once the year begins the only way that a deal for complete cap relief works is if a team that is under the cap and can absorb the entire contract decides they need Sasha.  How likely is that? I’m thinking not likely at all.

Secondly, a potential trade of Sasha is really a double edged sword.  What I mean is his value is in the fact that he’s an expiring contract.  However, that has value to the Lakers too.  It’s not like LA doesn’t need some payroll relief at the end of this season.  So, if the Lakers are going to trade him, they’d want something of value back AND they’d want payroll relief for this season (i.e they’d want at least a 2nd round draft pick and then they’d want to take back little to no guaranteed salary for this year AND next year).  The other part of his equation is that the only way that Sasha ups his value around the league is by playing well.  For that to happen he would need playing time and he’d need to perform well in that time for other teams to actually want him.  However, just as I mentioned when referencing Sasha’s expiring contract, a Machine that is in the line up and playing well has value to the Lakers too.  You have to figure that if Sasha is seeing minutes it’s because he’s earned them in some way shape or form or because an injury has forced him into action.  In either scenario, the Lakers would – at that time – need him.  So, why would they give him up at that point?  If the perfect deal came along I could envision it, but at this point I think it’s rare that that actually happens.  Long story short, I don’t think Sasha gets traded this season.  I think they would have preferred to get the salary relief before this season started by trading him last year or during the summer and now that camp has started the Lakers are looking at him as part of the team.

(My question) is spurred by reading the Bucks preview over at PBT, by (Rob) Mahoney. It struck me how amazing Skiles is at constructing a defensive system, and how consistently awful his offensive system is. Why don’t more coaches do what the Celtics did with Rivers and Thibodeau – why don’t they hire an almost football style offensive or defensive coordinator as the head assistant coach? Are there limits to how much a team can focus on? (By that, I mean does Skiles have to spend so much time hammering home defensive principles, that if he gave over even 20-30% of that time to offense, his defense would suffer?) Or does it affect the hierarchy and control in all but the most veteran of locker rooms? Is it that, too often, these assistants get too much media attention and end up getting head coaching jobs (Kuester last year, Thibodeau this year)? It just seems like a very intelligent way to design your coaching staff. Thibodeau, for example, instead of reaching for an offensive whiz, added the Thunder defensive guru Ron Adams to his staff. Wouldn’t he have been better off finding an offensive guru for his staff? It just confuses me that more teams aren’t using the method, when you consider that almost all coaches have very strong offensive or defensive leanings.


Ultimately, I think most head coaches try to find assistants that are like minded in some way.  Whether that’s in terms of X’s and O’s, basketball philosophy, or another factor.  So, in a way it makes sense that defensive minded coaches gravitate towards other defensive minded coaches as they can really focus on one side of the ball and try to make their team really strong on at least that one end of the floor.

That said, to dig a bit deeper into what you’re asking about offensive/defensive coordinators, I think it likely happens more than what we think, just not in a high profile manner like with the Celtics (Thibodeau) or the Cavs (Kuester).  Many teams (including the Lakers with Rambis) delegate specific responsibilities to their coaches to have them focus on one aspect of improving the team as part of the standard act of delegating.  I mean, coaches only have so much time and while we may not hear about the specifics of each team’s assistants’ roles, I’m sure this happens more than what we think it does.  And in the end, I don’t think it disrupts chemistry or alters the hierarchy of the team – unless you’ve got a particularly weak head coach, and in that case the team likely has problems to begin with.

Darius Soriano

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to It’s Mailbag Time

  1. The prediction by the GM’s made me uneasy. I know the Lake show of all teams is used to it, but I feel like the spotlight is just not beneficial.

    Also, even without D. Wade, Miami was looking beasty in the preseason.

    I have a small request to make: please don’t take this the wrong way or anything.

    One of the main things I’ve liked about this site over the years, is the discussion that develops. While I think you’re doing an awesome job Darius, is there something you can do about the timing of the posts?

    It know it sounds ridiculous to complain about too many posts, but sometimes it seems like a new post is introduced and it kinda doesn’t give time to develop a good discussion in the comments.

    I know that right now it’s the off season and it’s always slow around here around this time, but I’ve been meaning to make this comment for a while, and figured I should now before the season starts.

    Regardless, I’ll be watching the Lakers this season and getting most of my news here! Thanks!


  2. I think the Heat may challenge the 72 win total this year. LBJ is the ultimate regular season player and his team now is a whole lot better than the team he left.

    This doesn’t mean I am penciling the Heat into the finals. I think, if healthy, the Celtics may still prevail in the East.

    The issue for the Lakers is going to be health. I’ll confess I am a little nervous on that front. In terms of talent and depth, I still think they are the best. But that requires all the players to be healthy.


  3. VoR-

    I hope you’re right. Kobe in particular scares. I just get a sense that we may finally see the black mamba look mortal this year. I hope, i hope I’m wrong.

    In regards to the Heat that’s the scary part – if Lebron really is a frontrunner and all that nonesense, it won’t even matter now. OKC looked overwhelmed and wade wasn’t even playing. Preason, grain of salt, all that, but still. They look good.


  4. #1. Thanks for the feedback. At times it can be a tough balance to strike of wanting to put up new content and trying to have another post sit and develop.


  5. Darius,

    For what it’s worth, I agree with gxs as well. There are often some great threads here that don’t really get the time to develop because they’re quickly replaced for (sometimes) less interesting items that hardly draw any comments at all.

    Perhaps the daily Around the World (Wide Web) is a bit much…?


  6. agree with 1 & 5. just another data point from a big fan of the site.


  7. Another data point. And I agree with Chris J. The daily around the www is a bit much. Maybe bi-weekly? That would maybe improve the quality of the articles you have to choose from (the best of the best). The mailbag feature is a great addition.


  8. Maybe we can ‘append’ around the world things. not get it lost in the shuffle by adding it in the comments, just add it to the main text if discussion is coming along nicely.

    As for the Heat, 72 wins is probably unattainable as victory is its own poison sometimes and in a team with not-so-clear hierarchy, more-me will mess things up, like Riley once said.

    Sasha, I agree we don’t see him get traded as I think his value is maxed when he is an expiring contract as a Laker. Anything else would be gravy.

    Kobe probably won’t play much after 35 if he doesn’t think he is good enough to be a #1 option, much like Iverson. Cause of this of course is different: He works too hard to acknowledge somebody less diligent as a #1, and I don’t see him working less harder as he gets older.

    Finally, on the coaching thing, in Football you can have different coaches since you basically have two teams. In basketball, there isn’t enough practice time to get these multi millionaires with fragile bodies and egos to have dedicated practices warranting two coaches – most likely you probably work on both at the same time unless it’s the playoffs and you’re geared on a certain opponent.


  9. Or you could toy with the layout of this site, have a smaller column that’s dedicated on news items as they do over at ESPN Truehoop. They have a small box to the right with interesting links (although Abbot does the Dailies and Coffee things as well), and unless it’s a very controversial or very well thought out post that warrants a long introduction/point of view, you could just point it out by simply linking to it.


  10. Both are good ideas, harold.


  11. Darius,

    Being voted favorite to win the NBA world champioship this season represents a curse of sorts for me. I know that this is an impossible request, but I’d like us to think about this season game by game, with lots of hope, but nothing promised in advance–not even that the Lakers make the playoffs.

    Right now, a tired Laker team, with many new players to integrate ihto the fold has sacrificed the usual preseason practice period to help promote the NBA in Europe. Their preseason so far has resulted in consecutive losses, one to possibly the worst team in the NBA last year. Two key players will come limping into the regular season. One of them will completely miss the critical chemistry building preseason–and even the start of the regular season. The other will make irregular sporadic appearances, hopefully out of character for a spectacular role in the regular season.

    At some point, hopefully during the preseason, I’d like to see the Lakers win their first game. That’s about as far ahead as I can see right now.


  12. harold,
    On coaching – you made the point for the two coaches – the playoffs. Really good coaches plan their coaching for the playoffs. All the in-season work points in that direction.

    Therefore the two coaches could work during the regular season if you made some adjustments. Say when you play the Warriors or Phoenix, your offensive coach would take over more of the preparation/talking (in back-to-backs); while the defensive person would have more to say when playing, say Boston.

    While this could be said to be cumbersome, that is what adjustment often is, until it becomes habit.


  13. The main reason the 07/08 and 08/09 offense was better than last year was the play of the bench. By acquiring M. Barnes this offseason I believe LA has replaced Ariza’s production on both sides of the ball. Although Barnes is older than Ariza, he plays his best in the wide open court style that made Ariza a fan favorite. Then you add a steady point in Blake who will do wonders for a second squad who seemed to lack an identity, other than giving up leads. The second unit will be a beast if and when Bynum returns from his yearly pilgrimage to the injured list and LO returns to his normal 6th man role.


  14. The Meta:
    I understand the comments above about spreading out the posts and/or removing the WWW updates, and have sympathy with the rationale; this site is distinctive for its thoughtful commentary and commenters.

    But I also find that I’m more excited to check the site these days BECAUSE there’s so often more/new/fresh content to bite into.

    Perhaps Harold #9’s suggestion is a brilliant compromise (if feasible – easy for us to code the site via the comments :-)).


  15. I’m way more interested in who is going to be this year’s “I’m totally a Lakers fan, but there’s no way they’re winning the championship this year” commenter who comes along in late March to dispense his/her “omniscience” unto us. After these past two seasons, I’m literally on pins and needles to find out who it’s going to be.


  16. Zephid,
    I’m going to guess that the Heat will get off to a great regular season start and there will be much more than one of those types on this site.

    As for the too much content comments, I have to say that I appreciate the work Darius, Phillip and everyone else has put in this off-season to keep fresh content during the long lifeless NBA dead period. I for one haven’t been commenting or getting into the threads because I don’t have much to say when no basketball is being played, which makes me respect the work you guys are putting in even more.

    This season needs to start yesterday.


  17. I think it’s a good balance here. Medina over at LAT churns out 5 posts per day and while there’s good stuff, it’s hard to keep up unless you’re on the computer 24/7.


  18. I’m more curious about Shannon’s development than any of the other unknowns. His hand injury completely changed his game last year and I questioned his brain for the system without taking into account the magnitude of the energy. While the coaching staff would know better I’d still like to see if his decision-making improves to the level where he could serve as the 3rd point this season. I don’t see Sasha getting minutes barring him shooting a million percent the remainder of preseason.


  19. I think that we have a pretty deliberate crowd here, and we don’t necessarily need new posts daily, during the off-season. I come here everyday, but I sometimes feel the www can be content without quality. That’s no knock on the work you guys put in, which is really something else (read: the best Laker blog online). I like the idea of updating the most recent posts with links. If memory serves me, Kurt used to do something like that, with injury updates, etc. It might take a little while for users to get used to it, but there are few enough people commenting during the doldrums that maybe posts need to be spaces to facilitate conversation. I’m sure that during the season things will pick up and this thought will be obsolete. But…

    Anyways, thanks Darius, Jeff, Phillip, and the other contributors for the good work you do.


  20. Craig, I just think that having an offense/defense coach is not for every team.

    Part of it is because I think team defense is mostly chemistry (communication), desire and focus. Skill is probably important too, but I think anyone in the NBA can, with the help of teammates, at least force others into a lower percentage shot. And really, those things can be coached during offensive drills as well, as they are mostly mental.

    Offense, I can see a coach needing to invest much time in. Even if you are not running the triangle. And make sure players do as well, by giving them iPads with playbooks loaded or something like that. But that’s probably what head coaches do anyway. If that head coach can get players to be on the right page mentally while drilling offense, then we’ll have less need for defense-specific practices, and thus, coaches.

    But this will change during the playoffs when you need to get 4 games from an opponent, and when focus and desire and other mental parts are already fairly high, and 82 games worth of offense and defense already under your belt.

    That’s when specific adjustments from somebody who focused on a particular area would come in handy… but during the regular season, I think assistant coaches are best employed scouting specific teams and giving minor adjustments and advice to players, rather than trying to create a blanket system and hope it works against everyone…


  21. as long as we’re talking about content for the nonce, I’d like to see the writing in the base posts steadily improve. (I’m sure you guys have aspirations to follow a path similar to the one Kurt has taken.)

    what I’m suggesting is a thread that’s kept open where we could critique the writing here – of course it would all be done in a friendly, constructive manner!?

    (just for an example, I think the phrase “having said that” or “that said” has really been overused here (and elsewhere!) ad nauseam.)


  22. tsuwm,

    I’m taking a graduate course on teaching writing composition right now. Your post brings a smile to my face. Not everyone is open to critiques on their writing style, especially when so much time is already invested in the content. But I would participate as long as this didn’t become a grammarian’s haven. Style is very important, having said that, we come for hoops!


  23. tsuwm and kareeme;

    Since it’s been 11 years since I left the states, I’d be more than glad to have my comments critiqued 😉

    Then again, I’m having enough trouble trying to write what I intend to express, so maybe I’m not ready for that step yet.


  24. Hi!
    I’m Spanish and read today an interview to Stern for the Spanish media. He considers Gasol top 10 and probably top 5.
    Is he trying to equal the numbers fight with the Heat or has Gasol gone from underrated to overrated?


  25. Feel,
    If you were putting together a team, I think Gasol would be the first “big” you picked. IMO, he is the best all-around big man in the game, he can play both center and PF at an all-star level, great passer and ball handler, great offensive skills, excellent rebounder, and underrated defensively. But with all the great guards and small forwards in the league, he isn’t top five, and arguably not top ten. So I think it depends on the “top 5” selection criteria – are you making up a roster, or are you picking the ones who have the biggest impact on the game?


  26. >Style is very important, having said that, we come for hoops!



  27. Well, the GMs rated Gasol and Nowitski even as top PFs, and I’d imagine Bosh has to be in the mix as well. If stocking a team with the best players, ya gotta to look at Bosh because of his youth and potential “upside”. (Oh, I guess that’s what Riles did …)

    Anyway, right now, Gasol has the all around package as described by exhelodrvr above. He reminds me of Bill Walton in his prime, especially last season. That passing! Not many seven footers can do it like Pau.


  28. I’m a huge a Gasol supporter, but for me, there is no way he is the first big taken. The only way he’s even in the discussion is if you were picking from scratch each year. Even then, though, the gap between Howard and anyone else on D is bigger than the gap between Gasol and others on O or all-around.

    There are, of course, many different coaching styles, and none necessarily works better than any other. From the outside, though, it does seem that the NFL style division of labor would be theoretically ideal. In the ideal scenario, you’d have a great motivator who commands respect as the head coach, then brilliant tacticians as assistants. This sounds like Phil, although as usual, he doesn’t fit neatly into any mold. He had an offensive guru when Tex was on the bench, and Rambis ran the defense briefly, but otherwise, he delegates by opposing team instead of splitting duties by side of the ball.

    In some respects, the more interesting situation is when a tactician like Thibodeau becomes a head coach. It seems like this would be a good situation to get an assistant that can play good cop for the players, acting in some respects as the motivator.

    Harold, I disagree that defense is mostly chemistry, desire, and focus. The quality of the execution is dependent on those, but they must come within the context of a system, and the players must know and buy in to the system completely first. And that takes coaching. All of the desire, focus, and chemistry in the world isn’t going to help if you don’t know where you are supposed to rotate to in a given situation. Think of it this way – a straightforward defensive scheme, like Utah or San Antonio, run with desire, chemistry, and focus is one thing, but a sophisticated one like Boston’s is something else entirely.

    And count me among those who are less interested in links. Personally, I feel like I have that covered from ProBasketballTalk, Truehoop, and LAT. I come to FB&G more for analysis than news, but take that as simply a personal preference.