Archives For May 2011

Today, at 3pm, the Lakers will hold a press conference to introduce Mike Brown to the media as their new head coach. You can watch the entire thing live at Lakers.com and study each and every answer intently. I’m sure there will be some good insight on the hiring process, his perceived deficiencies (and strengths) as a head coach, how he’ll deal with Kobe and much, much more.

Just don’t expect to be wowed. Brown, for all intents and purposes, doesn’t bowl you over with his charm or his gravitas. He’s a coach at heart and if his interview with ABC is any indication of what he’ll be like in today’s presser, I expect a lot of coach speak delivered in a straight forward manner. There’s value in that approach, it’s just different than what the Lakers and their fans are used to.

As a Dallas Cowboys fan, I can tell you the transition from Phil Jackson to Brown will likely mirror the one that occurred when Bill Parcels was replaced by Wade Phillips. Bill controlled a presser like few of his peers could and Wade was not in that league. At all. Following up a man that understood how to work the media with one that gave bland or straight to the point answers wasn’t easy for Wade and it was a criticism that endured through his entire tenure with the Cowboys.

That said, when it comes to the Lakers, winning the press conference isn’t what I really care about. Winning on the court is much more important to me.

Sure, it’s nice to have a coach that can turn a phrase or put the press on its heels with a response to a question. No one loved Phil’s responses to questions more than me and I greatly appreciated the way he was able to navigate the press in a manner that left the impression that he controlled the room. That puts the fans at ease.

But I don’t think anything puts the fans at ease more than winning games. One of the reasons that Phil could always deal with the press in the manner that he did (sometimes dismissive, always shaping the dialogue) is because the success of the team showed that his approach was working. It’s difficult to undermine a coach in any way if the results on the court are positive.

If Mike Brown can win games the questions about his personality or ability to deal with the press become an afterthought in relation to the standing of his team. And while this team has “championship or bust” written all over it, the ability to lead the team to victories – even during the regular season - will insulate him (at least somewhat) from the press’ ability to shape his narrative.

Don’t get me wrong. Today is important. Just as every other media session he has will in some way shape his tenure with this team. The media is unforgiving and there will always be questions about his approach just because it’s hard to let go of preconceived notions or stereotypes about a coach and his style. There’s a reason that some of the most beloved coaches have an ability to relate to the press or charm them in a way that ensures what’s written isn’t always a harsh critique. But what’s most important is the success of the team and how the players perform under his stewardship. If the wins come, how he deals with the media will be secondary to those results.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: The Mike Brown Era officially begins Tuesday afternoon at 3 p.m., when he’s introduced to the media at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. Don’t expect to be dazzled with wit or one liners. As ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst told us in a recent podcast, Brown isn’t someone who wins press conferences. Disappointing for us– when you cover them for a living, having people at the center looking to “win” is welcome– and perhaps for you, too. No question, L.A. as a city values entertainment and personality, something the guy Brown replaces certainly understood. Just one of the many ways in which the times they are a’ changin’.

From Mike Trudell, Lakers.com: Just logically it’s going to affect anyone that doesn’t participate in training camp. It all starts there. Coming into camp, we’re still doing rehab, so Kobe was behind all the time and could never really catch up, which has something to do with the surgery, something to do with the sheer miles of wear and tear and the attrition the game has on him. So when we do look at an entire season, we look at how what what we’re doing in October and how that will affect the player in February, March, April and so on. There’s no exact science to it, but it’s about having a feel for an NBA season and that player … and I’ve had Kobe since he was 17. He and I operate on another plane together where there’s trust, and he knows his body quite well, so through that we decided we had to hold him back from practices to look at the longer term. We didn’t want to leave what he had on the practice floor, so we could have it for games. And of course that was not ideal.

From John Krolik, Heat Index: The first three rounds of the playoffs put a lot of misgivings people had about the Heat to bed. Yes, they can beat elite competition. No, they won’t back down against a physical opponent. Yes, they can close out games — and LeBron James can close out games like nobody’s business. Yes, Chris Bosh is a legitimate third star, if not a superstar. And yes, the Heat have more than three players they can count on. Those are the questions the Heat have answered through their first 15 playoff games. In order to take home a championship, they will have to answer one more. The Heat got through the Eastern Conference by playing Eastern Conference basketball — tough, low-scoring games that came down to the wire and demanded that each player on the floor give it his all. In order to beat the Western Conference champs, the Heat will have to do something they didn’t have to do when they dispatched the 76ers, Celtics and Bulls — and this last thing is the first thing people assumed they would do when LeBron announced he was taking his talents to Miami nearly one full year ago:

From Ian Levy, Two Man Game: As a Finals matchup between the Mavericks and the Heat appeared possible, then probable, then certain, the story of a chance at redemption rose to the surface. The Heat’s victory over the Mavericks in 2006 has been The Elephant in The American Airlines Center the past five seasons, and a Finals rematch against the Heat would seem to give the Mavericks a chance to atone for previous shortcomings. If this redemption becomes reality, it will mostly be at the organizational level; only four players from that 2006 series — Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem — will be returning for their original teams. The legacy of each has continued to build on the foundation of the 2006 Finals, and will be, in large part, determined by what happens in this year’s Finals. However, the later chapters of several other NBA stories will be written in this series, stories that have little or nothing to do with the initial Finals matchup between the Mavericks and Heat.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: It’s surely a weird feeling for Laker fans today, firing up their grills, hitting the beach and honoring the veterans that make our country safe. That’s because for the first time in three years, the Lakers aren’t still playing basketball and competing for an NBA championship. Surely, Laker fans will still have plenty to talk about, such as the hiring of Mike Brown, who will have an introductory press conference Tuesday at 3 p.m. at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. But there won’t be the prospect of being able to watch a Laker playoff game on television like in years past. It’s always a good thing for Laker fans if their team is still playing through Memorial Day, but a look back at some of the Lakers’ performances on that holiday doesn’t always spark a lot of good memories. Below the jump are a look at the Lakers’ 2-2 record in Memorial Day playoff games.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: This scene didn’t come from a sports talk show, although it would’ve made for riveting television. It was from Abdul-Jabbar’s documentary, “On the Shoulders of Giants,” a 90-minute movie narrated by Jamie Foxx that focuses on the Harlem Rens (also known as the New York Renaissance) and the effect of that basketball team both on the sport and society. When Russell touted his 11 championship rings and claimed superiority over any former or modern NBA center, including the Captain himself, West immediately intervened and argued Abdul-Jabbar would’ve blocked Russell’s shots. When West brought up the Lakers’ five NBA titles in the Showtime Era during the 1980s, Reinsdorf argued that that accomplishment paled in comparison with the Bulls’ six NBA championships in the 1990s. And when Reinsdorf boasted that Scottie Pippen limited Magic Johnson in the 1991 NBA Finals, West then argued the outcome would’ve been different if Abdul-Jabbar hadn’t retired in 1989.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  May 30, 2011

*We’ve been wondering who Mike Brown will fill out his staff with and we may just start to get some answers. Marc Stein and Ric Bucher are reporting that former assistant under Brown in Cleveland and current head coach in Detroit, John Kuester may be let go by the Pistons. This latest report coming on the heels of one stating that if Kuester shakes free from Detroit, Brown would like to add him to his staff with the Lakers.

I have mixed feelings about this potential hire. On the one hand, Kuester’s been a disaster as a head coach with the Pistons. The players deserved a lot of blame for how they acted out with him in charge, but Kuester can’t be absolved for his flap with Rip Hamilton or his general lack of control over his team. On the other hand, some coaches are better as assistants (Del Harris comes to mind) and find it easier to work as a secondary coach without being responsible for managing the entire team. Kuester has been credited with improving the Cavs offense to the point that they became a top 5 team on that side of the ball, but at least some of that improvement could also be attributed to improved personnel. In the end, we’ll see if Kuester is let go from Detroit and ends up joining the Lakers but this would be a hire in which whatever trust (or lack of) you have in Brown will be tranferred onto this hire. Since I’m in a wait and see mode with Brown, I’d give Kuester the same courtesy.

*Speaking of the Cavs offense under Brown and Kuester, Sebastian Pruiti has a must read post on the topic at NBA Playbook. Pruti takes a hard look at how the Cavs used LeBron, then explores if some of these same sets will work for Kobe. As usual, this is excellent work that you need to read.

*The more and more I hear actual NBA players or coaches talk about Mike Brown, the more I hear he’s a very good coach. The latest player doing the talking is Mo Williams, having sat with the Kamenetzky brothers on ESPN Radio this past Saturday. A lot of what Williams said mirrors what Trey Johnson said which mirrors what many others have said that have actually worked with Brown or observed him first hand. And while all of this positivity towards the man could just be the contrarian response to initial wave of negative backlash, I’m still of the mind that Brown needs to be given a chance to succeed or fail. There’ll be plenty of time to judge his performance based off the results.

*Moving away from the Lakers, the Finals start tomorrow and I’m still torn on who I’m picking but am leaning towards Miami. With Haslem back and Miller starting to make some plays off the dribble to compensate for his struggles from the outside, the Heat are a much more complete team. I also think this is a series where Bosh can have a huge impact on both sides of the ball. If the Mavs put Dirk on him, Bosh can really attack him and try to wear him out on that side of the ball. If the Mavs put Chandler on him, Bosh can pull the Mavs’ best paint protector away from the rim, which in turn can make it easier on Wade/LeBron when they drive. On defense, Bosh is a good match up for Dirk (though he’s been destroying everyone) and showed good D in P&R situations in the past couple of series. If Bosh can limit Dirk in either isolation or P&R situations, the Mavs job is going to be that much harder.

*Finally, I hope everyone enjoys their Memorial Day by getting to eat some good BBQ and just relax. And while this day has nothing to do with remembering great Laker moments, I’m going to do that anyway by taking you back to one of my favorite playoff series ever, the 1987 Finals. Enjoy these top 10 moments from that series while you devour some ribs.

From T.J. Simers, L.A. Times: A year ago Jerry Buss talked about his son running 90% of the basketball business. Much of the media took that to mean Jim had a 90% say on decisions made. ”That’s just not true,” says Jim, a passionate sports fans still upset at the Rams for moving to St. Louis. “Nothing has changed. My dad, Mitch and I discuss everything. If one person feels strongly for something, they might push. I did that when we picked Andrew. But the other two people in the room agreed. ”I do more day-to-day stuff because my dad just isn’t interested, but on the big decisions there is the three of us.” The media, though, have Buss hiring Brown as a way of making his own mark while purging the memory of Jackson and the triangle offense. ”What do you do about stuff that just isn’t true?” he says.

From Mike Trudell in an interview with Gary Vitti, Lakers.com: MT: What more can you tell us about the specifics of knee injuries for players with so many miles on the court as it might apply to Bryant?
Vitti: What happens with older players — and this isn’t Kobe’s situation – is that tendinitis turns into tendinosis, and the tendon doesn’t have the same properties that it used to have. As a result it slows them down, and once you become a step slow in this league, it’s very, very difficult to compete. That’s not Kobe’s problem, however. His is an articulating cartilage problem. The way I describe that to people is that if you look at the end of chicken bone where it’s nice and white, well, that’s not bone, it’s cartilage. Sort of like a Teflon surface that when two bones come together, that cartilage is there so that bones don’t rub on each other. Now, the fact that it’s nice and white tells you it doesn’t have a good blood flow to it, and that means it cannot heal or regenerate. So, over time, as that cartilage wears away, you end up with osteoarthritis. Kobe doesn’t have an arthritic knee, but he has a knee that has some joint degeneration to it. His issues and his age are such that it eliminates some procedures, like microfracture and that type of things. But he is a candidate for certain other things, and we know all the procedures all around the world that are available to him, and the appropriate decisions will be made, he’ll have the best care.

From M. Haubs, The Painted Area: I’m somewhat amazed that there’s been so much backlash and even vitriol in the reaction to L.A.’s hiring of Mike Brown, as I think the guy’s a heckuva coach. Though I guess I’m not surprised, considering he was an easy scapegoat for the Cleveland Cavaliers falling short of a championship in the LeBron era. But I credit Brown for helping the Cavs become as good as they were, for developing LeBron as a defensive player, and for creating outstanding defensive teams out of decent personnel overall. The jury’s still out on his offensive acumen, though it’ll be interesting to see Cleveland’s perceived offensive shortcomings were a function of LeBron hijacking offensive sets at all (though LeBron was of course primarily responsible for Cleveland’s offensive numbers being as good as they were, and the Lakers have a guy who might be prone to doing same once or twice). I’m also intrigued by the rumors that Brown is considering bringing exceptional European coach Ettore Messina, a long time Painted Area favorite, over to serve as an assistant.

From Kelly Innes, Negative Dunkalectics: Fortunately, there’s a home-grown hoops theorist who’s engaged these problems directly: Phil Jackson. In his books Sacred Hoops and The Last Season, Jackson offers memoirs that are, quite strangely, meditations on how best to enable players to compose themselves and how best to compose singular players into a functioning collective, the team. Stories about Jackson typically render the Zen stuff a caricature. But the books are very clear that Zen practice, Jackson’s Lakota warrior bits, and even the little narratives Jackson culls from movies he shows to his teams or the books he famously gives to his players are simply variant means to the end of composing players’ selves into a team. The Zen stuff is an effective set of practices that will enable a player to subordinate all the forces swirling about in and around himself amidst the flowing energy of a basketball game in order to remain calm and centered. ”Centered” is an important keyword in Jackson’s lexicon. Zen practices are a disciplined set of techniques for distilling all the forces within or around the self into a singular focal point — a “center” — that can remain calm, still, and engaged in the moment. The unreflective element is important precisely because “reflection” inherently cuts into or interrupts the present and thus strangely disables one from being fully engaged with the moment. When Jackson describes the best instances of playing basketball, he always frames them as moments when a player isn’t either actively reflecting or passively reacting but is instead just operating within the total flow of the game. One way we might think of this along the lines of a particle-wave distinction: player is a particle integrated in the flowing wave of the game yet still remaining a particle.

From Mark Medina, LA Times Lakers Blog: Below is the first post in a series looking at the potential Lakers assistant coaches. We look first at Ettore Messina, whom The Times Broderick Turner and Hoopsworld’s Eric Pincus reported might be added by Mike Brown as an assistant coach. Turner noted that the position might be part-time. Style: Pincus describes Messina as “tough” with a “strong personality,” noting that he often calls his team’s plays and has developed post players well. The Times’ Randy Harvey noted in a story in 1994 that when Messina was hired as the coach of the Italian national team that he cut several of the team’s stars and replaced them with players with less talent but fit better into what Harvey called Messina’s “disciplined system.” And Sports Illustrated’s Ian Thomsen describes Messina’s efforts to build Real Madrid into a championship team: “He was trying to create an environment of humility that would eventually position them to succeed, but he was convinced the habits couldn’t form at a club that wasn’t invested in the process.”

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: This is going to be one fascinating NBA finals. One of the most improbable and unexpected rematches. But it’s got big shoes to fill after last season, a seven-game thriller between the two most iconic of NBA franchises. In honor of that series and to dream about what could be coming up, we decided to look even farther back. Here is our list of the five best NBA finals ever. Something for the Heat and Mavs to aspire to (even if both of them would prefer to win in a dull sweep)…
2010, Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics in seven games :Yes it did just happen last season, but how many NBA finals have had a fourth quarter comeback in Game 7? This is going to go down as one of the better finals we have ever seen. In Game 2 Ray Allen went off and hit eight straight three pointers to lead the Celtics to the win and tie the series. In Game 5 there was Kevin Garnett falling out of bounds but making the breakout pass up the court to a streaking Rajon Rondo to seal a win. Game 7, playing without Kendrick Perkins but getting a huge lift from Rasheed Wallace, the Celtics led by 13 in the third quarter and had stunned the Staples Center crowd. But the Lakers got huge baskets from Ron Artest and Pau Gasol — he had 18 points and 19 boards —while Kobe Bryant had a poor game overall but had 10 points in the fourth quarter when it mattered. Without Perkins the Lakers dominated the paint and the boards and that combined with Boston foul trouble proved to be the difference.

From Mark Medina in an interview with Trey Johnson, LA Times Lakers BlogYou’ve been on both sides of the coin, playing under Mike with Cleveland and last season under Phil. How would you compare the two experiences as far as what they brought?
Definitely different guys, but at the same time, they’re similar in how they run their practices. Everybody’s accountable from a standpoint that you have to hold yourself accountable. I don’t think the atmosphere will change much in the sense of it being a professional mindset and you get your work in. But they’re different. Phil is definitely a cerebral guy. The way he prepares for a game is a lot different than the way Mike prepares for a game. But you still get the same ending results in the fact we’re winning games. Of course Mike hasn’t won a championship as a head coach, but he was [an assistant] under Gregg Popovich and he has a great future. It was great. I saw two different sides of the spectrum, but they were both great guys and were winning guys. Both had great personalities. It’s going to be interesting. Hopefully I’m part of it again.

Over the past few days many stories have run about the Lakers and few of them have been positive. Our links were littered with them this morning and that’s only a sampling of what’s being said about the Lakers in both the print and electronic media. The gist of the criticism revolves around the hiring of Mike Brown as head coach and the ascension of Jim Buss as the primary decision maker for this organization.

What the Lakers are experiencing now isn’t unlike much of the other drama filled stories that they’ve dealt with for decades. From the firing of Paul Westhead 30 years ago to Kobe’s trade demands in 2007 and everything in between, this organization has found itself in the middle of a media storm for a long, long time.

However, this time it feels different. With Jerry Buss taking a backseat to his son and the lack of a Phil Jackson or Pat Riley level head coach in place (no disrespect to Mike Brown, but his résumé doesn’t measure up to those guys) this team is now in a position where they’re having trouble changing the narrative.

But is this really fair? And even more important, is what’s going on with this franchise today really that different than what it’s been through in the past?

Those are complex questions with answers that aren’t as easy as many would like them to be.

However, what is clear, after following this team for so long is that it’s easiest to pounce when things are going poorly. As was stated by Joel in the comments of a previous thread, “This new Jim Buss era thing, Kobe/Brown potential strenuous relationship is just overblown. This is more residual panic and frustration left over from the playoffs than anything else.”

When times are hardest it’s easier to question and second guess (there’s a reason fans want to trade everyone in the midst of a losing streak). After the Shaq trade, many were ready to storm the gates of the Lakers headquarters. The same could be said after the Showtime Lakers were taken out by the Celtics in the 1984 (and 2008).

What we’re seeing today isn’t that different. The fact that these recent decisions can play into preconceived notions about people only make narratives harder to break. Questions about Mike Brown and/or Jim Buss are fair. They’re relatively unprove commodities taking power over power positions in one of the most successful franchises in professional sports. That said, coming to conclusions that their ability to do well in their positions with little evidence to support those conclusions (beyond our own biases) is not, in my opinion.

However, this is where we are. The Lakers have been swept out of the playoffs. Long time employees are being shown the door. A coach with no skins on the wall who’s failed in a similar situation is taking over a team built to win a championship now. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Right now, the Lakers are at a bit of a low point and have a perception problem.

And while I’m in the camp of preaching patience and letting some of these moves play out before coming to a final conclusion, others will not agree with this approach. Welcome to the world where every move will be scrutinized and there’s no longer a Finals berth or an NBA championship to insulate and shield this franchise from those with the sharpened spears of criticism. Whether or not those criticisms end up being true with the worst assumptions becoming fact is not yet known. But, in this down time and with no games to change the story, this is what we’re in for. Buckle in Lakers fans, it’s going to be a long summer.