Turning Points

Darius Soriano —  March 16, 2011

When I was younger I was a big fan of those “Choose Your Adventure” books. If you’re not familiar, these were books in which the reader would choose the path of the lead character in order to advance the plot. As a kid, I just loved the fact that I was deciding for the character. It just made the stories more fun for me, skipping ahead to some page further in the book with the outcome completely in doubt. I mean, the concept of of there being multiple paths for a character always intrigued me and the fact that I had a part in deciding it all was great.

Today, when looking at sports, this concept is alive and well. Except us fans aren’t making the choices, it’s the players and coaches that are doing so. How often have you heard an analyst talk about a team being at a cross-roads? Or how many times have you read an article about a team reaching a turning point and turning it around? These talking points represent those parts in games and seasons that mirror those children stories. The parts where the participants in these events have a choice to make; a choice that will influence how the plot of their game or season develops.

When looking at this Lakers’ season, there seem to be plenty of moments that qualify.

After losing three in a row going into the all-star break, the Lakers seemed to have a serious choice to make about how they’d respond to their lowest point in the season. I think it’s safe to say that we all had our doubts about this team’s prospects (even for those of us that had an underlying confidence if them). Then, when I covered all-star weekend and heard Kobe talk in all the interviews he gave, I got the sense that he had supreme confidence in the Lakers and that he and the team would respond well. He consistently spoke of knowing what the Lakers’ problems were and how they could (and would) be fixed. That Sunday night he earned MVP – an action that simultaneously reminded people of how good he could be and offered up some momentum for him coming out of the break – and since that point the Lakers have reeled off 10 wins in 11 games by playing some of their best basketball of the year.

A key to this recent run of success, though, has been Andrew Bynum. He’s gotten plenty of praise around these parts, serving as a prominent figure in our recaps of the games and in our analysis of what’s made this streak of strong play possible. But it’s not just that he’s playing so well, it’s that his impact on the game has gone from a side dish to a main ingredient and it’s happened in a way that seemingly came from nowhere. And in sticking with our theme, it’s pretty clear that the light bulb has come on for him. Some are pointing to the all-star break as the key moment for ‘Drew as well but as noted by Eric Pincus in quote from Phil Jackson, Bynum’s turning point may have actually been a bit sooner. As in the Boston the game on February 10th. As Pincus points out, since that game Bynum has put up 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks a game while serving as the defensive anchor for a team that’s suffocating opponents on that side of the ball.

But Bynum isn’t the only Laker big man that’s had come to a cross-road this season and taken the path that’s led to stronger play. After a rough two month period in December and January where he saw his average points dip nearly 4 (20.3 to 16.6) and his rebounds by nearly 3 (12.3 to 9.5) from his November numbers, there were many doubts surrounding Pau Gasol. He was playing heavy minutes in Bynum’s absence and his performances were extremely inconsistent, culminating with his dreadful performance against the Celtics on January 30th where he scored only 12 points on 13 shots and added only 7 rebounds. After that game it was reported that Kobe had a discussion with Pau about being more like the Black Swan and ever since Gasol has been putting up numbers that mirror his early season prodcution.

It remains to be seen if any of these moments will be looked at as fondly as when Derek Fisher returned from foot surgery in 2001 and helped boost that team to a 15-1 playoff run and win that year’s championship. Or, more recently, when Fisher crashed through a Luis Scola screen in the 2009 playoffs, sparking that group and helping to propel them to a title. After all, those moments served as turning points for teams that reached the ultimate goal at the end of year. But regardless of the outcome of this season, these moments will stick with me beyond the end of this campaign. They’ve helped shape this season for what it’s been – an up and down ride but one that has shown once again that this team does have some resolve, coming out of those dark moments to advance their narrative positively. And if they happen to lead to another banner being hung in the rafters at Staples, all the better. After all, if I really could choose my adventure that’d surely be how it ends.

Darius Soriano

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34 responses to Turning Points

  1. For those who watched ESPN’s 30for30 the Fab Five….here is Grant Hill’s response to Jalen rose..

    http://thequad.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/16/grant-hills-response-to-jalen-rose/

  2. Hill’s response was strong indeed but was Jalen Rose calling him an Uncle Tom from the perspective of a well spoken, worldly, 38 year old millionare or from the perspective of a 17 year old from a broken family that grew up in the inner city of Detroit?

    If the answer is the ladder, then I think Grant Hill’s response was a little defensive.

  3. Mimsy’s Hubby (Jim C.) March 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm

    Back on subject:

    I am indeed deeply heartened both by the Lakers improved play as a team, and Bynum’s seeming “lightbulb” moment as an individual. I was one of the ones advocating a Bynum trade at the deadline due to my belief that he’d peaked and would never really meet his potential and continue to be injury prone in the years to come.

    Well, Bynum’s future injuries are still a source of concern as is his longterm durability, but I am extremely happy about him making me look like an idiot with his production and growth over the last couple of weeks.

    Notice the phrase “over the last couple of weeks”. I remain a little skeptical of Bynum at this point because I want to see this stretch of admittedly excellent play sustained over a long period of time. What has made Odom so damn valuable this year has been his consistency.

    I am keeping my fingers crossed that this stretch by Bynum is not an aberration but a mark of what we are going to see night in and night out over the next few years. If that is the case, then I will happily continue to look like an idiot with my previous trade endorsement every moment Bynum steps out onto the court.

  4. I definitely think Hill’s response was much too defensive. Rose clearly states that he was jealous of Hill, that all the vitriol he directed at Hill was because he didn’t have the same things in life. Hill came from a family with money, with an educated mother and father. Rose came from a family where he (allegedly) ate mayonnaise sandwiches and where he didn’t have contact with his father until he was in his 20s.

    Rose’s comments were made to reflect the attitudes of a young, misguided black kid. He clearly uses the past tense in his statements, as well as saying things like “I thought” or “I felt,” indicating that these things were from his perspective at the time, not whether they were right or wrong.

    And we can only hope that the Lakers play the Celtics in the Finals so Fisher finally gets his chance to “Scola” KG.

  5. Fisher’s 2001 return – wow – that was the Supernova version of Fish . . . he was shooting at a percentage, well whatever it was I’m sure it is well above career norms.

    In terms of the team’s mood preAll-Star, weren’t there murmurs at the time of some secret problem festering in the team? There was some rumor of a Kobe paternity suit (or something??); some quote portentously said that the Lakers “know exactly what’s wrong” . . . and implied that it was interpersonal, or perhaps scandalous. It was unclear but I was disappointed, expecting some garbage to come out that would torpedo the season.
    Anything ever come of that stuff? Or was it just plain ol’ malaise, and the answer is . . . 10-1 and ‘Drew?

  6. Mimsy’s Hubby (Jim C.) March 16, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Since this seems to be what folks want to talk about…

    Hill’s response was definitely NOT defensive. Rose called any black player who went to Duke “Uncle Toms”. People who have any familiarity of the history behind that phrase shouldn’t be surprised when a black person called it takes offense.

    I thought Hill’s response was measured and fairly classy, just like Hill himself has been most of his career.

  7. Darius, just wanted to take this post as a chance to compliment you on your writing. You’ve definitely grown from being an Xs & Os guru to an entertaining blogger, as you blend basketball with culture.

    “But it’s not just that he’s playing so well, it’s that his impact on the game has gone from a side dish to a main ingredient…”

    SO true. I love the little analogies that say a lot without having to say much. Great stuff

  8. @3. Logical skepticism can really only be based on Drew’s health. When his knee is close to full strength, you’ll see athletic plays such as the one where he beat Dwight for a tip on a weak-side rebound, beat everyone else to the ball by going to the opposite side of the rim to rebound his own missed tip, then laid the ball in and got fouled.

    In the past, his mobility meant high scoring, decent rebounding, and decent shot contesting. Now, it means efficient scoring, ferocious rebounding, and ferocious shot contesting. If he remains healthy (and that’s a moderate-sized “if”), we will continue to see this new version of Drew.

    What I would love to see is the team securing the 2nd seed and then meeting and sweeping NOLA in the 1st round, thereby earning a huge amount of rest for Kobe and Drew. The way it’s looking right now, POR and DAL are headed for a hellacious 1st-round matchup. The winner of that series would have to face the fearsome prospect of a well-rested Laker team in the 2nd round :D

  9. 6, yea, but Rose was talking from the perspective of a poor, fatherless black kid from Detroit. He never said it was true; he said that was how he felt at the time.

    Just watch this clip:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xq-Sk8KNFXQ

    All the statements are in the past tense. Rose even admits that he was bitter. Just watching the video, it’s really hard to take offense to his statements, because you can tell he’s looking back at his younger days with the experienced eyes of an adult, now seeing that what he felt was wrong.

  10. Wow, now that I saw the clip I’m very dissapointed in Grant Hill. Jalen Rose was basically saying he was jealous of Grant Hill’s family life.

    At this point either Grant Hill didn’t watch the clip, just heard the Uncle Tom quote and went from there, OR he purposely misconstrued what Jalen Rose was saying to grandstand to a mainly white audience at the NY times, which frankly in my opinion WOULD be an Uncle Tom move.

  11. On a seperate note, I just watched highlights of Grant Hill in his prime with Detroit. Wow! That guy was basically the Lebron James of his day, he was that good.

  12. I wish Jalen went to Hill for the documentary about those two games they played. It would’ve been good to hear from the other side. I do side with Rose because he didn’t get recruited by Duke. As far as Hill’s response it was classy but he threw a zinger in the end.

  13. I guess it depends on the perspective, but reading Hill’s post makes me side with Jalen. The post is obviously well written (except for the needless reminder at the end which basically tells me that it was written for Duke fans) but written in a smug way that justifies Jalen’s feelings at the time.

    But I think it’s cool that black athletes go back and forth in a way that is far more educational than one-liners and fake toughness. Although the cynic in me does not dismiss the possibility of Hill’s response being heavily proofread by some other Duke alum, it is refreshing to see eloquence from athletes on subjects other than basketball.

  14. Way off topic, but Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown will be competing on Minute to Win It on NBC tonight (3/16). It airs at 8 PM here on the east coast and I assume it would show at the same time for you west coasters.

  15. A turning point that wasn’t mentioned was when the coaching staff removed Gasol from the low post and put him at his favorite high post/elbow spots on the floor where he can face up.

  16. When Bynum plays like this I am extremely excited and at the same time worried. Everytime he plays like this for a week or two an injury follows next. Call me superstitiuos but this has been the trend for the past three years. Hope that the “curse” would be broken this year and the lakers would keep a healthy line up come playoff time.

  17. Denver is playing very well now. Along with SA & OKC at 1-4-5, I’d feel pretty good about the 2 seed.

  18. I also loved the ‘Choose your own adventures’ books and think it fun to do an NBA version. So with that in mind:

    You’ve just completed a stellar individual season in which you’ve made your mark as one of the premiere small forwards in the game today, but came up short in the playoffs. You hear you cell phone ring. it’s your agent and he presents you with three options.

    If you take your talents to South Beach and stage an ESPN special wherein you humiliate your home state in front of a nationwide audience, turn to page 6.

    If you loudly demand a trade to the East Coast, turn to page 15.

    If you quietly re-sign with your original team and offhandedly announce it with a Tweet, turn to page 35.

  19. ^ LOL!

  20. Bravo Kehntangibles, bravo.

    Very nicely done.

  21. I do want the 2 seed, but I absolutely do not want Portland to have the 7 seed. I think I’d rather have the 3 seed and face NO and Dallas without hca then face a Portland team at all. We play Portland 2 more time this year, which will have anbig effect on the standings for both teams. If we beat them both times then new Orleans has a good shot of maintaining that 6 seed. If we lose both( this better not happen) then we could end up 3rd and 6th.

    Very interesting playoff scenario coming up.

  22. @21 Cdog, I have commented on this same thing in the previous blog and I myself would like the Lakers to face NO in the first round as we always have the number of NO even on nights when the lakers does not play their A game. A series with NO would be a short one with 5 games being played the most on the contrary a series with Portland would probably reach 6 0r 7 games considering our difficulties against Portland. A first round meet with NO would be a good strategy for the lakers as this would give them enough time to rest considering that a Portland vs Dallas series would be a nice match-up that could either go 6 or 7 games.

  23. The west has very interesting match-ups going on, and it is entirely possible that all 4 top seeds could be upset unlike the east where i don’t think any of the lower seeds stand a chance.

    It would be interesting to see how it all shakes out, but to put the teams I want to face:

    1. Denver- I don’t think they’ll withstand our defensive pressure once it’s turned up.
    2. New Orleans – Chris Paul or not, we got this team covered.
    3. Memphis – I don’t like how they match up with us, and they could bring out the worst in our team
    4. Portland – I just don’t like the fact that we have to play 3 games there, it could get messy.

    Among the rest…

    1. Dallas – They just don’t scare me much. And I like Kidd and Fish, although the same could be said by Dallas too.
    2. San Antonio – An older team and a team our guys won’t take lightly.
    3. Oklahoma – They are confident, Durant is Durant, Westbrook is Westbrook, and now they even have Perkins. And they’re young.

    I guess optimally we’ll face Denver, then Dallas and meet San Antonio in the conference finals.

    Out east? Chicago, because I don’t like either Boston or the Heat the satisfaction of reaching the finals.

  24. totally off topic, but our friend Kurt Helin is taking a lot of flak for disagreeing with Pippen when Pippen said “Jordan could score 100 today.”

    Do I think he could?

    No, absolutely not, since he couldn’t even pass Baylor’s scoring record…

  25. Memphis and Portland have multiple superb wing defenders to throw at Kobe. Not that Afflalo and Trevor aren’t capable.. but NO & Den are definitely a preferred first round matchup.

  26. Did you guys see Wade explode when he thought he was fouled in the 4th quarter??? I mean it looks like a foul, but the guy goes balistic!!! That’s a touch foul!!! Kobe has been getting hammered everythime he goes to the hole!!! The refs would have kicked Kobe out of the game for those theatrics!!! Someone mentioned on FB&G recently that Kobe is the least respected superstar by the refs and that proves it. Someone also stated that if anyone else jumps on the floor while Wade’s shooting that he feels he should shoot foul shots.

    Miami Thrice or the cHEAT are a childish bunch of immature children who will not win a championship until they grow up. Self absorbed, spoiled, little rich kids who play a game. Leave the championships to us you sniffling little bitc**s.

    Back to your conversation.

  27. In response to the article, which by the way is well written like always, and the rebuttal by Grant Hill, I take great pride in my Los Angeles Lakers. Andrew is part of our team and our culture I would not trade him, Kobe, Pau or Lamar for anyone in the world. They have fought the battles that we as non-elite atheletes could never imagine. We have played our sports on lower levels and have experienced ups and downs as a team, but never on the stage that these individuals have.

    If this group of Lakers never wins another championship that is fine with me, because I will never forget the ones we did win. We beat the Celtics and avenged the loss from 2008. We continue to fight together as a team and as a community and as long as their is fight left in them, they should be kept together to fight the battles against those whom we cannot battle ourselves. Hopefully, the turning point for which the article is written about brings another championship, if not, I will enjoy the ride none the less.

  28. @21 who wants to avoid Portland.

    In a 7-game series I think Portland will slowly crumble. Bynum will eat Camby for breakfast, lunch and afternoon snack.

    If Bynum goes down, Portland is a different story for the Lakers.

    On the Heat, I love that spin-two-handed-slam by Wade, just sensational… and I love how he is dancing afterwards, while the commentator says: “…and the Heat are down by nine!”

    Just classic stuff, and quite out of character for Wade I think, that just smells more of Lebron.

  29. In a few years our championship window likely will close as Kobe/Fish/Phil retire, and other core players get older. Hopefully we won’t be rebuilding for too long, but it will happen at some point.

    I know none of us are really looking forward to that hopefully brief time, but if there’s a time in the future when we are not realistic championship contenders, which team would you rather win it all if it’s not us?

    A few months ago, I would’ve said that if we were ever out of the picture, I’d just as soon see the Thunder win it. You can’t not like Durant and they’ve got a great and non-obnoxious fanbase. Now that Kendrick ‘I Never met a Moving Screen I didn’t like’ Perkins is in OKC, I’m not as sure about that as I once was. Thoughts?

  30. The Thunder got stolen from Seattle. Therefore, don’t expect me to ever cheer for them to win any championships – until they leave OKC.

  31. Well Perkins might be an old Celtic, but I do like his no nonsense style, which was like the opposite of Garnett’s bad mouthing of smaller role-players.

  32. @ kehntangibles: I’m from Germany, so I’ll side with Dirk as long as they don’t play the Lakers.

    I respect the Thunder and Bulls (also the Spurs, but there’s too much history there to be OK with them winning), am indifferent to the Magic, actively disklike the Heat, and absolutely hate the Celtics.

  33. @30 I hate to break it to u but the NBA is a business not a charity. As a business owner in the USA u have the right to do whats best for your business which is exactly what happened with the Thunder. Seattle wasn’t selling tickets and have you seen Key Arena? OKC was willing to upgrade an arena that was already better than Key and sells out just about every game…. oh and BTW didn’t the lakers move to LA from Minnesota!!!

  34. Paul,
    You seem to forget the current mantra of sports franchises – the city is responsible for building the stadium and providing tax breaks.

    The small businessman – the backbone of our country, not big business – does not get breaks of this magnitude.

    We are in tough times and your comment implying that business can do whatever it is able to get away with is a corruption of what our system is supposed to be. This is how we got into the mess we are now in.