Archives For May 2011

Fron Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kupchak noted Brown’s pedigree working under Gregg Popovich and Rick Carlisle, but said Phil Jackson’s triangle offense won’t be entirely gone from the Lakers. “The triangle is gone? That’s not true,” Kupchak said. “A lot of the stuff that Mike runs is derivative of the triangle, and he’ll have a lot of stuff that is unique to him.” With regard to Brian Shaw, who was a strong candidate to be promoted from his role as Jackson’s assistant, Kupchak said: “We just thought we needed a new voice with this team. The old staff had been with us for almost 11 years.” Asked if Shaw could remain on staff as a Lakers assistant, Kupchak said that would be Brown’s call. Kupchak did say about Shaw, whose lack of previous head-coaching experience hurt his cause also: “He may end up being the Laker coach one day. But we didn’t feel it was the time right now.”

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles:  It’s not just that Mike Brown isn’t Brian Shaw. It’s really not even about Mike Brown. It’s that Jim Buss, the team’s executive vice president who played the lead role in this coaching search, had a chance to remain in the background with this decision by going with the expected choice in Shaw or an acceptable choice in Rick Adelman, but instead blasted his way out of the dark and hired Brown, a guy with as much to prove as a coach as Buss does as an executive. It may well prove to be a brilliant, career-defining hire for Buss. Brown has a great temperament, is well-respected around the league and has a blue-blood pedigree from the formative years he spent at Gregg Popovich’s side in San Antonio. But right now it just seems like a bold move designed as much to distance the organization from Jackson as it is to start anew. Jim Buss may not have taken to the airwaves like his father Dr. Jerry Buss did Tuesday, he may not even address the media when Brown is formally introduced, but his stamp is all over this hire.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Still, real questions remain, from how Brown’s coaching philosophies mesh with current Lakers personnel to his ability to guide a more-or-less ready-made product filled with strong personalities individually and a long history collectively. (On the flip side, zero questions remain about Brown’s ability to knock a job interview out of the park. He should write a book.) I wonder about the process by which he was hired and, even while acknowledging some of the drawbacks of Brian Shaw, what seems to be a driving need to sever the Lakers so cleanly from the Phil Jackson era. Jim Buss clearly sought to make a statement. Only time will tell if he did so for sound reasons. Nonetheless, the days of Mike Brown are here, and with them come a whole host of questions. Here are a few:

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen & Roll:  Since it became apparent that the Lakers were locked in to Brown as a coach, with Brown similarly locked in to the Lakers as an employer, many smart people have come out with opinions that it could be a successful partnership.  The caveat, of course, is whether Mike Brown can bring Kobe Bryant on board.  After all, it’s become readily apparent that Kobe never even had a chance to voice an opinion on the matter, and it is already well known that Bryant wanted former assistant coach Brian Shaw to get the job, and shared a similar respect for Rick Adelman as well.  Mike Brown?  Kobe said he was “confused” by the hire, and that is where we stand. Still, many smart people think this can work.  So many smart people, in fact, that I can’t help but wonder if they are simply providing market correction for the legions of less informed fans who are so adamantly against the idea.  So let me be one of the few members of the club known as the NBA blogosphere who goes the other way.  Short and sweet, I don’t like this hire, and my reasons have little to do with Mike Brown’s merits as a coach.

From J.A. Adande, TrueHoop: The mistake we made with the Lakers all season long was granting them allowances based on what they’ve done in the past. We ignored warning signs and excused slumps because we had seen them turn it around when it mattered before. We all saw how that turned out in the playoffs. It’s time to apply that lesson to the franchise. It’s clear now that we can no longer give the organization the benefit of the doubt going forward, even though they have been the most successful team in pro sports in the three decades-plus that Jerry Buss has owned the team. If the Lakers don’t want to assign any value to their past, why should anyone else?

From Mark Medina, LA Times Lakers Blog:  The Lakers have already put Bryant on rocky footing with Brown, as mentioned in an earlier post, for their failure to give him a heads-up about the hire. In turn, Bryant declined to comment to Turner, which reported that people close to Bryant say he was confused about the hire, making it understandable that his conversation with Brown was limited to text messaging.  The degree to which Brown is willing to stand up to Bryant when he breaks out of the offense and goes into isolation mode will be critical. Jackson always tried to provide a balance between giving Bryant freedom and constructively criticizing, yet that still proved to be challenging for a coach with 11 championship rings. Given Brown’s less glittering pedigree and the perception that he let LeBron James walk over him, Bryant will surely test Brown at some point. It’s critical that the new coach stand up for himself and establish a clear understanding with Bryant so their relationship can flourish.

From Dexter Fishmore, SB Nation Los Angeles: And now he’s about to become head coach of the most prestigious hoops team on the planet. The Los Angeles Lakers are close to signing him to a three-year contract, with a team option for a fourth, for salary in the range of $4 to $4.5 million per year. To call this turn of events startling is putting it mildly. A week ago Brown wasn’t even in the discussion about possible successors to Phil Jackson. The idea seemed preposterous: Mike Brown, taking over the Lakers? Why would they ever hire him ahead of Rick Adelman or Brian Shaw? The very concept, I suspect, will disorient me for some time. Adding to the surrealist fog is how a commentariat that spent years, literally years, flogging the guy is now getting on board with his hiring. I’ve spent the past 24 hours taking the temperature of fellow NBA writers, all of whose judgments I really respect, and to my surprise and confusion a loose consensus is forming around the idea that, “You know what? This could work out. Brown’s an underrated coach.” To which I respond: since when, exactly? Are we still talking about the same Mike Brown?

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: The Lakers should be hesitant to trade Bynum for just about anything. There just are not young, defensive presence centers like this out there and if you don’t think that matters a lot go watch a Dallas Mavericks game with Tyson Chandler. In an era where you can’t touch guys on the perimeter you have to have somebody who can defend the rim. Bynum does that.  Right now Orlando has no interest in a Dwight Howard for Bynum deal and until we all see a new Collective Bargaining Agreement this talk is all moot. That said, if a deal like this could be worked out, the Lakers would be foolish not to think about it. One other little note on Jim Buss: What made Jerry a great owner is that he let his basketball people make the basketball decisions. He set parameters, he got in the very big things (signing Magic Johnson to an extension, forcing the Shaq trade) but for the most part he stayed out of the way. Jim would be wise to follow that counsel.

Finally, the boys at PTI spent their final segment before their big finish questioning whether or not the Lakers should have consulted with Kobe Bryant before hiring Mike Brown. They make some good points, but beyond that, understand that I’m also showing this clip because this is the environment of media attention/criticism that Mike Brown is walking into and Jim Buss will have to make decisions in.

Strength In Numbers

Darius Soriano —  May 26, 2011

It’s a cliché, but teams win championships, not individuals. Most often, this phrase is regurgitated when arguing the merits or judging the effectiveness of great players (Kobe never won a title without a big man!). However, this statement is just as true in terms of head coaches and the staffs that they surround themselves with.

Phil Jackson long credited Tex Winter for the success of his Bulls and early Laker teams. More recently, assistant coaches Kurt Rambis, Brian Shaw, and Chuck Person have been crucial contributors in helping the Lakers win championships (not to mention long time assistants Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen). Looking beyond the Lakers, Jerry Sloan and Phil Johnson were a true partnership on the Jazz; Doc Rivers and Jeff Van Gundy would certainly sing the praises of Tom Thibodeau when he was an assistant for the Celtics and Rockets respectively.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Nearly every team has one or more key assistant that helps contribute to any success achieved.

This brings me to current coach Mike Brown and the importance of filling out his staff with bright coaches that contribute to a culture of winning. One name that has surfaced is Ettore Messina, one of the top coaches in Europe. Eric Pinucus reports:

On the heels of his agreement to join the Los Angeles Lakers staff as head coach (still unofficial, technically), Mike Brown may bring in Italian coach Ettore Messina as an assistant…Messina is a tough coach with a strong personality. He likes to call his team’s plays and has a successful history developing players, especially in the post.

Our friends over at TrueHoop Network affiliate BallinEurope have a report on Messina, including a brief breakdown of his accomplishments:

For those not necessarily in know on European basketball, here’s the Twitterish-length bio on Messina: Two Euroleague titles each with Virtus Bologna (1998, 2001) and CSKA Moscow (2006, 2008); head coach since 1989, also leading Benetton Treviso and Madrid in his career.

By all accounts, Messina is one of the best coaches not in the NBA. He’s stated that he’d like to coach in the NBA one day but understands the value of learning more about the NBA as an assistant before taking on as a lead man. An addition of this caliber would be a great building block to a Laker staff that could certainly use as many great coaches as they could bring in.

Especially since the consensus seems to be that Mike Brown will need capable assistants, especially on the offensive side of the ball. In speaking with the Kamentzky Brothers at Land O’ Lakers, former Cleveland Cavalier beat reporter (and current contributor to the Heat Index) Brian Windhorst sums up Brown’s approach to offense thusly:

As far as offensively, I know that’s what everyone wants to know about, because the triangle is so embedded and [Andrew] Bynum and Pau [Gasol] fit in. I just don’t think that will be a focus of Mike Brown at all. The Mike Brown I know will not worry about the offense at all. He will say, ‘You know, in that [Western Conference semifinals] against the Mavericks, we absolutely, positively could not get stops. And you’re giving up all these 100 point games. We’re not going to play that way. We’re going to be a great defensive team that wins with our defense.’

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a coach that emphasizes defense, but the offensive side of the ball will need ample attention as well. If it’s not Brown that’s doing the teaching or instructing on an every day basis, that’s fine with me as long as someone is. Don’t forget, it wasn’t more than a couple of seasons ago that Phil Jackson handed over the reigns of the entire defense to Kurt Rambis, so this isn’t a formula that can’t work.

In the end, just as I mentioned on twitter only a little while after the news broke that Brown was going to be hired, I’m quite interested in who fills out his staff. Every head coach needs capable assistants and Brown will be no different. Whether it’s Messina or some other talented coach there will need to be other voices leading this team besides Brown’s. With any luck, they’ll be the type of men that make a difference between winning and losing. Just as Phil, Riley, Popovich, and Rivers have surrounded themselves with when they collected all their championships.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: The Southland is still buzzing after the news that Mike Brown will succeed Phil Jackson as coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. A surprising hire, to say the least, and also one relatively unfamiliar with Lakers fans, since Brown has only been a head coach in the Eastern Conference. Obviously, there are questions, and we’re trying to provide as many answers as possible.  Earlier, we got some insight from John Krolik, host of “Cavs The Blog (True Hoop network). After, we talked to ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst, who covers the Miami Heat for the Heat Index. Before taking his talents to South Beach, Windhorst spent several seasons covering the Cavaliers for The Cleveland Plain Dealer. During that time, he got to know Brown well as both a coach and a person.  Windhorst was very candid pointing out Brown’s strengths and weaknesses — no punches were pulled about the necessary likelihood of hiring an offensive coordinator — but made it abundantly clear how much he respects the Lakers’ new coach. Here are some excerpts of our conversation with Windhorst, which can be heard in its entirety by clicking on the module to the right.

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Since the Lakers fell apart against the Mavericks in this year’s playoffs, it has been impossible to imagine anyone who could beat the expectations that come with that job at this moment. Filling Phil Jackson’s shoes is one of the smaller challenges. The team has hitched its wagon to a “lead by example” leader, in Kobe Bryant, who not only no longer practices, but also has declining efficiency and a tendency to remind his teammates, publicly, that he will continue to shoot more than them regardless.  The best young player and hope for the future, Andrew Bynum, is bitter about team dynamics. The team’s other star, Pau Gasol, has descended into various stages of sulking and huffiness. Also on the roster: Some of the nuttier forces in sports in Ron Artest and Matt Barnes, to go with nice guy — but literal “walking reality show” — Lamar Odom.

From Royce Young, Daily Thunder: Sometimes, it just doesn’t even seem fair. Or meant to be. Or both. First, I can’t tell you how proud I am of this Thunder team. To come back with that effort in those circumstances… inspiring. They were ready to go from the tip, ready to fight. I think even us fans were sort of ready to pack it in after Game 4?s crushing defeat. I wouldn’t have blamed the team for just going through the motions, for just showing up. I kind of felt like cheering through the motions. Despite trying to talk myself out of it, the mountain the Thunder had to climb was too steep and the cruelty of Game 4 too fresh. But with their hands on another win — I mean, they were right there — the final few minutes doomed the Thunder. Scott Brooks pulled out all the stops. Russell Westbrook absolutely busted his butt. Nick Collison did his Nick Collison thing. Kevin Durant, Eric Maynor, everyone, put in the work. Losing a seven-point fourth quarter lead makes me want to belly-flop into an empty pool, but sometimes, it’s just not your time. It’s Dirk’s time. It was just meant to be for the Mavs.

From Alex Groberman, Opposing Views: According to a statement issued by the Los Angeles Lakers, they have reached an agreement with ex-Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown to fill the void left by the departure of Phil Jackson. The deal, reportedly, is slated to earn Brown approximately $18 million over four years with the last year being an option. As speculation ran rampant that Rick Adelman, Mike Dunleavy or Brian Shaw were the heavy favorites to win the L.A. head coaching job, Brown flew in under the radar and stole the position with a strong interview, sources indicate. That coupled with the team’s emphasis on finding a coach on the cheap as part of their new cost-cutting initiative sealed the deal for the former Coach of the Year. “We’ve met with Mike and are very impressed with him,” said a statement issued by the Lakers. “In addition, we have an outline for an agreement in place and hope to sign a contract within the next few days.”

From Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo! Sports: The idea that Kobe Bryant would’ve ever called LeBron James for a confidential scouting report on Mike Brown is sheer fantasy. They don’t share much of a relationship, and even less a common interest in fortifying each other with the best possible coach for a championship chase. Why would they trust each other’s referrals? James wants the Los Angeles Lakers to fail, just as Bryant does the Miami Heat. For Bryant, there was never time to consider Brown’s candidacy as Lakers coach because sources close to him say that he was never asked about the candidates to replace Phil Jackson. The Buss family promised they would proceed this way, without the consultation of the most important person in the franchise.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: I’m not thrilled with the Lakers’ decision … scratch that … Jim Buss’ decision to hire Mike Brown as the new Lakers’ coach because of all the “con” reasons I highlight in this item I posted earlier. It’s clear that the Lakers wanted to move in a  new direction away from  Phil Jackson’s leadership, but it’s quite striking that an early playoff exit suddenly ruined Shaw’s chances. Although the Lakers never had any formalized agreement of any sort, it had always been presumed that Shaw would have succeeded Jackson because of his long familiarity with the triangle and his strong relationship with the players. Instead, the Lakers suddenly are going in a completely different direction. It’s not always bad to start something new, and it’s clear by the way things ended in the Lakers’ 2011 Western Conference semifinals sweep to the Dallas Mavericks that Jackson had lost his effectiveness with the team. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessary to completely start from scratch. It’d be one thing if Shaw was passed up in favor of Rick Adelman because of Shaw’s lack of head coaching experience;  Adelman’s corner offense bears some familiarity with the triangle. But I’m not convinced Brown will be able to squeeze championships out of this current roster because there’s too much of an adjustment period. The Lakers have taken pride in having great success with taking risky decisions that work out in the end. I don’t believe, however, that this is one of them.

Next In Line?

Darius Soriano —  May 25, 2011

UPDATE: There are no more questions. Mike Brown will be the next head coach of the Lakers. It’s being reported that the deal is for 4 years/18.25 million. The 4th year is a team option that will guarantee Brown 2.5 million even if he’s not retained.

Coincidentally (or maybe not), the 3 fully guaranteed years are the exact amount of time that remain on Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol’s current contracts. Ron Artest’s player option (which can be excercised after the end of next season) also run through the next three seasons (if picked up) as does Steve Blake’s original 4 year deal.

Chris Broussard (who broke the story of the contract being done) also tweets that Kobe is on board with this hiring, though earlier reports stated that Kobe was surprised by Brown being the choice. I think our old pal Kurt nails it when he states that Kobe’s public reaction will have to back this move but that the proof of his support will come in training camp when he’ll need to buy into what Brown teaches and preaches on both sides of the ball.

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Over the past 12 hours, reports have surfaced that the Lakers will hire Mike Brown as the new head coach for the Lakers. While ink has not yet been put to paper and there still being room for the Lakers to go in another direction, this is looking more and more like a deal that will get done.

In looking at this move, the first reason that comes to mind is that Mike Brown can coach defense and that’s an area where the Lakers were not as strong this year. They may have finished the year 6th in defensive efficiency but actually hovered between 10th and 12th for most of the year. Dallas dissected the Lakers D with surgical precision and addressing how to get better execution on that side of the ball is a must.

And what fans can’t question about Brown is his ability to coach defense. He consistently got his teams to perform on that side of the ball despite not having a lot of top shelf defensive talent to work with. Coming from strong defensive coaching stock (being a Popovich disciple) has helped him develop schemes that can account for giving major minutes to players like Big Z or Mo Williams. Surely the Lakers are looking for similar results with much better defensive talent (as a whole) at his disposal.

All that said, the gut response from Laker fans has been quick and mostly derisive of this (potential) move. They remember Brown as the man that’s flamed out of the playoffs and failed to meet the championship expectations as head man in Cleveland. As the man that couldn’t diagram an offensive set and often allowed LeBron James to dictate how the offense would work. And while those concerns have some merit, Phillip raised some good points on Brown as an offensive coach:

The Cavaliers had the sixth best offensive rating in the 09-10 season (111.2) and the fourth best in the 08-09 season (112.4); not to mention that he didn’t exactly have the cream of the crop in terms of offensive fire power outside of LeBron James. Last season, Mo Williams, Anthony Parker, Anderson Varejao and Delonte West (Antwan Jamison, too when healthy) all played at least 25 minutes per game, and Brown was still able to lead the Cavaliers team to 61 wins…

…While I cannot say that Brown will be much improved on the offensive side of the floor with a greater collection of talent, I can say that it won’t hurt. The Lakers, as they currently stand, have a collection of highly skilled ball players with very high basketball IQs, so incorporating more complicated sets to his scheme may be a bit easier knowing you have more than one guy who can go out and get you 20+ on any given night.

Also understand that when the Cavs were eliminated in the playoffs and Brown’s offensive creativity (or lack there of) was questioned most, the opponent was the Celtics. Those same Celtics that dissected the Triangle in 2008 and gave the Lakers all they could handle in 2010. Those same Celtics that know how to limit a key offensive weapon and force other players into positions where they need to make plays to loosen up the defense. If you’re going to measure Mike Brown on his ability to diagram offense that’s great enough to topple those defenses you’ve raised the bar pretty high. This isn’t to absolve Brown, but I think perspective is needed if judging his offense solely on the results from those series.

I think it’s also worth noting that Brown’s lack of creativity on offense were criticisms that Erik Spoelstra suffered through most of this year as Heat coach. The common thread here is LeBron James. It may just be that utilizing a talent like James and catering to his skill set may lead to the P&R and isolation heavy sets we’ve seen from both coaches. Still though, the fact is that perception can quickly become reality and many still feel that Brown can’t coach offense. I’ve been one that’s questioned his ability to diagram sets and wonder how creative he can be on that side of the ball even if he is blessed with greater talent.

My other main concern is whether or not he’s built for the spotlight, pressure, and media barrage he’ll face as coach of the Lakers. He lacks gravitas and doesn’t have the skins on the wall to deflect media criticism the way that Phil Jackson did. When the media questions his rotations or strategy or a specific play call, how will Brown handle it? The expectations, with this group, are to get to and win in the Finals. That’s a big burden to carry in any city but to face that in Los Angeles is to increase it ten fold. If he’s not ready to deal with the inherent drama of coaching this team, the egos of the players that he’s tasked at leading, or the inquiries from a press corps that will not take prisoners we will know rather quickly. There’s no place to hide when you coach the Lakers.

In the end, though, I’m not nearly as down on this move as many seem to be. Brown, for all his warts has won a lot of games in this league and maxed out the talent he had at his disposal. In the 2008-09 season his team won 66 games. The following year his team won 61. He was able to rally his team and consistently get them on the same page to be successful as a group. Understand that getting a team lead by a single star with multiple role players to all go 100% without there being dissention is also a strong act of leadership. This leads me to believe that a roster of experienced veterans that understand the stakes of championship basketball will also come together under his stewardship. Maybe I’m naïve, but the core of this team has been through all the battles before and after this past years failure will be hungry to get back to the mountain top. Mike Brown is a coach that should also have that same hunger to succeed after falling short in his final two seasons in Cleveland. To me, both the coach and the players are already starting from the same common ground.

I understand the questions and concerns. This isn’t a move that screams big splash and certainly lacks cache. The fact that this is the Lakers and they’ve hired Mike Brown, seems like the team is settling. Even for me, he wasn’t my first choice as the man to step into Phil Jackson’s shoes. That said, I see the merits of giving him this job and it’s an idea I can get behind. In the end, though, the proof will be in the results. And for those, we all must wait and watch together.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: As for Brown, like most of the readers filling our Twitter feed, I have my reservations. He’s an excellent defensive coach, something the Lakers could obviously use, but there were serious and legitimate questions about his offensive creativity and, perhaps more importantly, Brown’s ability to manage egos. On the other hand, while it’s not an award I put a whole lot of stock in, Brown has been a Coach of the Year (’08-’09) and ran up a .663 winning percentage with the Cavs. Fair or not, though, Brown received tons of flak for the ways in which Cleveland failed through their postseason runs in the LeBron James era. In L.A., Brown would have far more frontcourt skill at his disposal than he ever had with the Cavs, which obviously can make any coach look a lot smarter.

From Matt McHale, By The Horns: The Bulls gave absolutely everything they had last night. It wasn’t enough. There are several stats from this game that blow my mind. LeBron James had a playoff career-best success rate at the free throw line (13-for-13) and Chris Bosh wasn’t far off that mark (10-for-11). The Heat — who ranked 12th in the league in free throw shooting (76.9 percent) during the regular season — hit their last 24 foul shots and finished 32-for-38 (84.2 percent), making their 38-22 advantage in free throw attempts even bigger than it already would have been. The Bulls outdueled the Heat 44-24 in the paint and scored 26 fast break points … and lost.

From John Krolik, Heat Index: It was the type of game that has plagued LeBron James throughout his playoff career, and the type of game that has kept him from getting a ring up to this point in his NBA career. A year ago, James led his team to a 2-1 series lead against one of the best defensive teams in basketball, only to be effectively shut down over the next three games. Those struggles against Boston’s defense were the first in a chain of events that saw him go from one of the league’s most admired players to one of the most hated athletes in American professional sports, in part because it wasn’t the first time it had happened to him. Time and again throughout his playoff career, when he was challenged by a defense that refused to give him easy lanes to the basket or easy passing lanes, LeBron came up short, whether it was against Detroit, San Antonio or Boston.

From Broderick Turner, LA Times: The Lakers have put together a deal to hire former Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown as their new coach, an NBA official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter said late Tuesday. If Brown agrees to the deal, he’ll sign a contract worth between $4 million and $4.5 million per season, the official said. Brown would sign for three years, with a team option on the fourth season that would give him partial pay if he was not retained. Brown, 41, became the front-runner because Jim Buss, the team’s executive vice president of player personnel, was impressed with his defense-minded style. Former Houston Rockets coach Rick Adelman also was in the mix for the job and will remain a candidate to replace Phil Jackson if Brown turns down the deal from the Lakers.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: With conflicted feelings swirling in his mind, Lakers forward Luke Walton entered his exit interview ready to share his sentiments about playing for Coach Phil Jackson while honestly expressing his frustration over a diminished role. Over the years, Jackson has often joked that he viewed Walton as his “son,” with similarities running strong. They had both been hungry utility players, strong proponents of the triangle offense, and, in the eyes of many Lakers fans, the relationship resulted in Jackson elevating Walton to a role he didn’t deserve. Too bad that didn’t actually fit the reality of the 2010-2011 season, in which Walton played a career-low nine minutes per game, averaging just 1.7 points on 32.8% shooting even though his back was healthy. That’s why Walton’s exit interview was sentimental, because of the deep respect he has for Jackson, but  equally frustrating because of his diminished role.

From Janis Carr, OC Register: It’s not like Theo Ratliff doesn’t have enough to think about with his future hanging in the air and a lockout looming. But since his mother taught him to put others first, that’s exactly what the veteran center has been doing since the Lakers were ousted from the playoffs. Ratliff spent nearly a week spearheading an effort to help those in the storm-ravaged areas of Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi, starting in Birmingham, Ala. Twenty-three trucks, filled with food, water and other supplies were sent out across the region. “I grew up in Alabama – born and raised – and when all this happened during the playoffs so I couldn’t do anything right away,” said Ratliff, who grew up in the small town of Demopolis, Ala. “My mom lives in Tuscaloosa and while she didn’t get hit by the tornado, down the street a mile or two was hit pretty hard.