Archives For June 2011

The other day I found myself in a discussion about LeBron James. Game 4 had just ended and LeBron had just turned in a baffling performance. He’d scored only 8 points in an NBA Finals game and was routinely being skewered for his play in one of the most important games in his (relatively) young career. There was anger, mocking, but most of all there were questions. What the hell happened to LeBron, we thought.

When critiquing his game, I said that it wasn’t so much that LeBron played poorly; it was that he played passively. And as one of the truly great players, you don’t get a pass for playing that way. After I expressed my thoughts on twitter, an interesting comparison came up. First it was our friend Brian Kamenetzky from Land O’ Lakers and then it was another smart commentator on the Lakers, Gary Collard. But both said the same thing.

They said that this reminded them of Pau Gasol. And you know what, they were right. Instantly a multitude of thoughts ran through my mind as the comparison was too perfect.

Against this same Mavericks team, both Gasol and James had seemingly shrunk from the moment of the big game and not played nearly as well as expected. Gasol had been handled in both the post and the shallow wing and hadn’t impacted the game in any of the other ways that he normally would. Meanwhile, LeBron had become a spectator on the majority of the Heat’s 4th quarter possessions, standing idly in the corner as if he was James Jones, not LeBron James. Even when LeBron did touch the ball he was probing, not attacking.

But the question still looms. Why?

We may never know the real reasons, but my first guess is the cerebral nature of both players’ games. Both, throughout their careers, have been known as high IQ players that think the game. Gasol has thrived as an offensive initiator in the hub of the Triangle offense, making the right reads on whether he should pass or shoot. LeBron, on the other hand, has long been an offensive initiator and (rightfully) hailed as one of the best passing wings in the league. Both players are most effective when they’re able to survey the floor, pick out teammates, and make the right read on what to do with the ball.

However, it now seems that their best trait has become the root of their biggest critiques as both players have the dreaded passive label attached to their games. The fact that these performances have come in some of the biggest games only enhances the view that they’re failing their teams in trying to play a certain way.

Don’t get me wrong, when you’re one of the very best players in the world the expectation is that you’ll impact the game in some way that helps your team win. And the fact that neither Gasol or (to a lesser extent) LeBron (at least in these Finals) found a way to help their team win games that were there for the taking deserves critical discussion in the same way that their strong play would invite praise. But as the conversation shifts from criticism to damning, I wonder where we go from here.

The funny thing about being a fan is that we often use our judgment and our wants to critique a team, a coach, or a player. “Why didn’t we use a timeout?” we ask. “He should have passed! He had a teammate wide open!” we shout at our TV’s and type on twitter and in the comment sections of sites just like this one. It’s an every day occurrence and, in a lot of ways, it’s what makes being a fan an experience that we all enjoy. After all, watching the game also means that we are, some how, a part of the action. And with that inclusion comes a desire to see what we think is best; what we think will work.

We then take these critiques a step further and use comparisons to other great players (past or present) to hammer home our point. “LeBron needs to be more like Jordan (or Kobe) and attack!”. “Pau needs to demand the ball more, like Shaq would!”.  The problem with this approach is that we lose the nuance of what makes the players we critique unique and excellent in their current form.

It also handcuffs players into a vision and path of progression that we think is best for them rather than letting their games evolve (or, for some, stagnate) the way that they’re meant to. We limit players and confine them into the narrative that we create because as fans we want what we want.

There is no easy answer here. We want the players we root for to achieve at the highest levels but each step of the way we want them doing it in the manner that we choose. When they do succeed by doing it a different way, we applaud. But if they fail that next time, we’re right back letting them know that their approach is wrong. It’s why Gasol will forever be the “white swan” to some and why LeBron will probably always struggle to escape the perception that he’s not “the man”.

Meanwhile, both will continue to have a lot of success as cerebral players that think the game and making the plays that they feel will help their teams win. Sometimes it will work, other times they’ll fail. And through it all we’ll be there to point out what they should have done. For better or for worse.

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From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: First things first: Age, in and of itself, is not the problem. The Mavs, older than the Lakers, dominated the Western Conference en route to the Finals, where they continue to acquit themselves nicely. No question L.A.’s core carries real mileage, but upgrading the roster isn’t simply a question of cutting open prospective additions and counting their rings. Shannon Brown was the second youngest player in the rotation, and after the first six weeks of the season was almost uniformly unproductive.  He’s also the team’s best pure athlete, which raises the next point: The Lakers can unquestionably use a few more dudes with more speed and athleticism, but the benefit is mitigated if they don’t come with other skills. The hoops landscape is littered with players possessing great quickness who can run and jump out of the gym, except they aren’t necessarily good defenders, nor are they automatically great on the break or working off the dribble. The Lakers still have to choose players with the skills best meshing with what they want to do on the floor, hopefully with the speed and athleticism to enhance the overall product. But if my choice is a relatively unskilled uberathlete or a deadeye shooter, give me the shooter.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: If you look at the entirety of Joe Smith’s career story arc, it looks as if it belongs to a completely different player.  Just think about how much teams have been willing to give up to get Joe Smith on their team.   Golden State made Joe Smith the 1st pick of the 1995 draft, and then packaged him away (along with Brian Shaw(!!) to the Philadelphia 76ers for Jimmy Jackson just 2.5 years later. The Minnesota Timberwolves made an illegal deal to bring Smith on board in 1998, and ended up sacrificing three first round draft picks for his services.  Despite the heavy price paid to sign Smith, he was only in Minnesota for two years before he moved on to Philadelphia for a season and then (wait for it) went back to Minny for two more seasons.  You would think the T-wolves would know when to just cut their losses … but I sure do miss the Kevin McHale days, don’t you? (thanks to KAAAAAAAAAHN, even Wolves fans do)

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: Two weeks ago, Los Angeles Lakers forward Matt Barnes announced he would exercise the option in his contract to return to the team next year. On Thursday the Lakers received news that suggested Barnes will be returning with a clean bill of health. The eight-year veteran underwent an MRI on his right knee on Thursday that came back negative, showing continued improvement of the bone bruise he was suffering from. “He’ll continue to do rehab for at least another few weeks, and we expect a full recovery,” said Lakers spokesman John Black in an email. Black added that Barnes has regained full range of motion in the knee, which he hurt six months ago. Barnes described it as the first major injury of his career.

From Ramona Shelbourne: Derek Fisher may not have made much headway in resolving the NBA’s impending labor crisis as head of the NBA Players Association during several days of intense collective bargaining talks in Dallas, but his week is ending on a high note. The Lakers co-captain returned to Los Angeles late Wednesday night, and the first item on his agenda Thursday was to confirm dinner plans with new coach Mike Brown, according to a Lakers source. Both Fisher and Brown felt it was important to meet in-person to discuss the issues that thwarted the team’s quest for a third straight championship last month and to confer on the best way for Brown to roll out his new offensive and defensive schemes. Fisher was one of only a few players to publicly express support for Brown after he was hired on May 25.

From Eric Pincus, Hoops World: The last two times Coach Phil Jackson “retired,” the Chicago Bulls simultaneously had to replace Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and the Los Angeles Lakers traded Shaquille O’Neal. At the press conference for incoming Lakers Coach Mike Brown, the word “core” was emphasized and then re-emphasized. “I’m excited about this roster. I still believe that this core group of guys can go get it done,” said Brown last week. And using almost the same words, owner Dr. Jerry Buss said, “We certainly have the core of people that can win a championship.” So after the four-game sweep against the Dallas Mavericks that sent the back-to-back champion Lakers to an early summer, does L.A. follow history and make a major move in transition? Or do they hold true to their words that this core group of players can get it accomplished next season? Were the Lakers just worn out from three straight trips to the NBA Finals? Or was the Dallas upset a sign there is something fundamentally missing from this roster and needs immediate repair for the team to continue at an elite level?

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The numbers are pretty glaring. The Lakers shot 35.2% from the three-point range in the regular season, 28.9% in the postseason  and 37.5% from shots from within 16-23 feet, according toHoopdata.  This problem became cyclical. The Lakers refused to be more deliberate with their shot selection and opponents sagged off on them because they knew it was a worthy gamble. In turn, the poor outside shooting neutralized the Lakers’ post presence with Andrew Bynum andPau Gasol, with teams mostly fixated on covering the paint to deny them open looks. The Lakers hadn’t been an impressive outside-shooting team during their championship seasons because their offense consisted of better ball movement. Brown envisions that he’ll use Bynum and Gasol the same way the Spurs used David Robinsonand Tim Duncan when Brown was an assistant coach from 2000-2003 with feeding them paint touches in the post instead of the block so that it’s harder for defenses to push the front line out of the lane. But the success of that, as ESPN Los Angeles’Andy Kamenetzky recently noted, hinged on the fact that San Antonio had quality shooters, includingTerry Porter (43.5%) and Mario Ellie (39.8%) in 2000, five Spurs attempting at least two or more treys a game posting at least 39.9% from downtown in 2001, Steve Smith (47.2%) in 2002 and Bruce Bowen (44%) in 2003.

With the draft only 14 days away, it’s time to start to discuss what the Lakers may do when they’re on the clock. With 4 second round picks the Lakers have quantity, but the key will be finding some quality in a part of the draft that doesn’t often produce impact players. Last year, the Lakers were able to pick up two quality young players and both ended up making the team. And while neither got much burn (which was to be expected considering the experienced veterans and talent ahead of them on the depth chart), both look like they could become players that contribute in future seasons.

An underrated part of the Lakers draft last year is that both Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter were talented guys that fell on draft night (at least in the Lakers eyes) but also happened to play positions of need. Remember, coming off the championship year of 2010, the Lakers had questions at SF with Luke Walton’s injury, had not yet signed Matt Barnes, and had let Adam Morrison walk in free agency. They’d also let Josh Powell and DJ Mbenga leave in free agency and were short on big men. When thinking long term, the Lakers certainly needed to invest in a wing player and a big man and happened to find both late in the draft. This was the classic case of where need and the best players on their board intersected.

However, this year they may not be as lucky and it will be interesting to see what the Lakers strategy will be when it’s time to select a player.

For what it’s worth, Mitch Kupchak has already given us a bit of a hint as to what his strategy may be. In the interview we linked to earlier this week, Kupchak explained, “At that point in the second round, if somebody drops that you didn’t think would drop you probably just take him regardless of position.”

In a way, the Lakers are “lucky” in that there’s a solid argument to be made that they have a need at every position. With the uncertainty of Shannon Brown returning, the collective age and talent level at point guard, and the lack of big man depth, the Lakers could select a player at any position and rationalize that they’re filling a need.

However, when you drill down, I’d argue that the big man need is more at C than at PF and that the need on the wing is at SG rather than at SF. These points are arguable but if you take Ebanks and Caracter into account, this is mostly true. If the Lakers come on the clock and it’s a choice between a talented player at PF and one slightly less talented at C whom to they take? What if it’s the same choice between a SF and a SG? Or, what if it’s between a PG and a C? Which need wins out more?

My preference would be to go after the following positions in this order: PG, SG, C, PF, SF if talent is equal. However, if there’s a SF that’s much more talented than any other prospect when the Lakers’ first pick comes up, things get a bit trickier. Do they bite the bullet, draft that player, and expect to carry 5 SF’s next year (Artest, Barnes, Walton, Ebanks, and rookie X)?

Those are the questions that the Lakers brain trust will have to answer when it’s their turn to pick. And we haven’t even gotten into other variables like age, upside, U.S. vs. foreign player, nor whether or not there are other concerns regarding character, work ethic, etc.

In two weeks we’ll have more answers but right now all we can do is speculate. What do you thing the priorities are? What positions would you target? Do you draft for need or for best player? Let me know in the comments and we’ll compare notes as we all anticipate who the Lakers will select in 14 days.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: On Monday we booted up our postseason report cards with a look back on Sasha Vujacic and his final moments in Lakerdom. Today we grade someone we never would’ve seen had Sasha not been traded. The Lakers signed Trey Johnson on the last day of the regular season to fill out a backcourt rotation stretched thin by Steve Blake’s chickenpox. Had Sasha been kept around, that playing time would’ve been his to soak up. Instead, we got an all too brief look at the great Trey J, and our lives are richer for it. The amount of time it’ll take me to write this might exceed the time Trey actually spent on an NBA court this season. He played a not so grand total of 25 minutes: 13 in the regular-season finale up in Sacramento and then 12 in playoffs, mostly in garbage time. No Laker has logged so little action since 2005, when Slava Medvedenko injured his back in early November, never to work in this town again. There’s no real significance to that fact, but I thought I’d mention it since I went to the trouble of looking it up and it’s always fun talking about Slava.

From Elizabeth Benson, Lakers Nation: There is no question that Pau Gasol had a lackluster and overall disappointing post-season this year.  In the first round, Gasol was overpowered by the New Orleans’ Hornets Carl Landry and then couldn’t keep up with the Mavericks’ Dirk Nowitzki.  Whether his playoff performance was caused by personal, off the court issues or not, Lakers fans hold the team to a higher standard, and rightfully so.  Getting swept in the second round was a shock and unacceptable.  Some Lakers fans want Gasol out of Los Angeles due to his recent poor performance.  Some fans know he can bounce back and play like his usual consistent self. When Gasol recently announced his intentions to play for his home country of Spain in this summer’s European Championship, some liked the idea and some did not.  Gasol has always kept Spain close to his heart during his decade in the NBA.   However, the main negative regarding his playing for Spain this summer is the possibility of injury.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: After the Lakers lost Game 3 of the Western Semi’s to Dallas, Magic Johnson suggested during ESPN’s studio show that L.A. should “blow up” the team heading into the future. But Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, who has stated that the Lakers do not want to break up the roster, thinks Johnson’s comments were intended to be more inspirational than literal. “Unfortunately, a well-known commentator made some comments before our fourth game in Dallas about breaking up the team,” Kupchak said. “I think that’s what fueled speculation that this team should be broken up. I think that commentator was trying to inspire our players, but a lot of the fans didn’t see it that way.”

From Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: The 2011 NBA Finals will shift cities again this weekend, with the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks determined to resolve this basketball conflict of theirs in a matter of days. The NBA owners, the players’ union and that business conflict of theirs? Not so fast. The ongoing labor talks will change venues, same as The Finals, with the owners and the players joining the clubs in Miami on Tuesday for their next negotiating session — if there is a Game 7 — or moving to New York that day. Another meeting will be held in New York on June 17. But the Heat and the Mavericks figure to be long done as the wrangling for a new collective bargaining agreement further revs up, based on a more somber mood than existed even 24 hours earlier as principals emerged from a four-hour session Wednesday at a Dallas hotel. It was the second consecutive day of discussions, the third since The Finals began last week in south Florida.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Whether the Lakers are coming off a championship season or under-performing in a shortened season, there’s one thing that keeps fans unified and divided: trade talk. Unified because every fan wants to size up any trade scenario imaginable, wondering if that out-of-nowhere reserve that lighted up the Lakers in a regular-season game could produce more magic, or if the Lakers could land the next superstar. Divided because there is hardly ever any consensus. I’ll spend part of this offseason on a series that will analyze what effect free agents could have on the Lakers, and the feasibility of various potential deals. Those looking for significant changes are going to be disappointed. Lakers owner Jerry Buss and General Manager Mitch Kupchak have expressed their desire to keep the team’s “core,” wanting to only make “tweaks” to the lineup. The Lakers are coming off a season that included a $91-million payroll. And despite Magic Johnson’s contention that Buss needs to “blow this team up” the Lakers aren’t exactly scrubs, considering that before being swept by the Dallas Mavericks in this season’s Western Conference semifinals, they had three consecutive NBA Finals appearances, earning two titles.

When fans and media talk about how to improve a team, the conversation normally drifts towards player acquisition. If a team could only replace player X with a more capable guy via the draft, trade, or free agency, the team would take that next step forward. However, going this route isn’t always easy and is complicated by a number of factors. So, today, we continue our series on how the Lakers can improve themselves internally with a look at Ron Artest. For past installments, see our looks at Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum.

Ron Artest, to put it mildly, has had an up and down turn as a Laker. In year one he was a monster defensively, hit key shots in the playoffs that helped the Lakers win the title, and operated as a solid foot soldier for Phil Jackson with no distractions to the team. This past year, though continuing to disappoint those that expected him to blow up and sink the Laker ship, his game regressed in several meaningful ways. His minutes dropped and with that nearly all his per game statistics fell as well. His efficiency on offense also dropped off, so his decline in production can’t be explained away simply by the number of minutes he played. His defense, while still of a high caliber, was not as consistently tenacious with several more games where his man got the better of him than in his first year with the team.

His playoffs were a perfect example of how he was less consistent in year two as a great 1st round against the Hornets devolved into a spiraling struggle against the Mavs that saw him shoot 32% and get ejected and suspended for a flagrant foul. Needless to say, by the end of the season, it was clear that Ron Artest was not a player the coaches felt they could rely on for consistent production.

However, coming into next year, I’m not ready to bury Artest as a player that’s stuck in a decline. Yes, he’s aging. It’s also true that his role on offense is complicated by the fact that he’s at best the 5th option on the team and the 4th best option on the floor in any given line up. But none of this means that he can’t be a more consistent performer in 2012 with some tweaks to his game and a refinement to his offensive role. In essence, I think there’s still some improvement that can come from Ron.

Unlike other players on the team, however, there’s not much Ron can do from a physical standpoint to actually become a better player. As an offensive contributor, he is what he is. I don’t expect his jumper to suddenly become better or for his athleticism to improve. But, what I do expect is for the coaches to find better ways to take advantage of his skill set.

More than any other player on the team, I think Ron has untapped ability to help on offense that coaching can help bring out. Under Phil Jackson, Ron was relegated to a spot up shooter from the corner and a post up option off ball reversals and actions where he’d cut to the rim only to stop short to turn, seal, and post up his man. Limiting Ron to these actions and these spots of the floor may have been best for the overall flow of the offense (it’s no secret that Ron never seemed to fully grasp all the intricacies of the Triangle), but what they also did was put Ron in positions of the floor where he’s not most comfortable.

For most of Artest’s career, he hasn’t been the best shooter from the corners but has instead preferred the three pointer from the top of the key. And while taking advantage of his post up chances is typically a good idea based off his strength and ability to establish and maintain good position, because this was one of Ron’s only ways of getting the ball he often forced these actions, drawing offensive fouls or three second calls in the process.

This up coming season, I’d like to see the Lakers (somewhat) expand Ron’s role  on offense to let him operate with the ball in his hands a bit more while also positioning him on the floor in places where he’s more comfortable. That not only means putting him at the top of the key where he’s a better shooter but also letting him initiate offense a bit more by handling the ball up high where he can try to put the ball on the floor (especially going left) to better take advantage of his ability to score off the dribble (something that he’s had some success with in the past) and set up his teammates by driving and dishing (something he proved he could do pretty well in his first year on the team).

Granted, I know that any increased responsibility for Artest on offense must in turn be taken away from someone else and that the Lakers surely still want to take advantage of their more potent players on that side of the ball. I’m certainly not arguing that Ron overtake Pau, Bynum, or even Odom as an option in the offensive scheme they run next year. But, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for Ron to get a few more touches where he’s given a bit more leeway than he has in the two years he played under Phil Jackson. I understand Ron’s history for high-jacking possessions and also understand that counting on a player that’s been as inefficient as Artest has these past few seasons is a risk. But, to be fair, he still has some talent on that side of the ball and it’s to the detriment of the team if they continue to be consistently outperformed at this position.

In the end, I’m hopeful that an offense that relies less on the full read and react nature of the Triangle can give Ron more direction on offense. And with better focus and a bit of an expanded role, we’ll see a more productive and efficient player next season. Hopefully any improvement on offense will also translate to the defensive side of the ball where, despite what I thought was a season worthy of making the all-defense 2nd team, Ron can still take his game up another level from this past year. All in all, there’s room for growth next year from Artest and if he and the coaches can find a way to bring that to the surface, the Lakers will have improved without having to bring in a player at his position.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  June 7, 2011
  • A fantastic look at every championship ring, by team, in NBA history. My first thought: Look at how many of those things the Lakers (and Celtics) have designed. (My favorite, by the way, is probably the one from 1985.)
  • With the draft coming up in a couple of weeks, it’s about that time for us to start to look more closely at prospects. The Lakers have 4 second round picks this year and I think we’re all hopeful that the team will find a gem or two that can end up being impact players for the team at some point. Over at Lakers.com, Mike Trudell sat down with Mitch Kupchak and talked to him about the draft process. A couple of things that he said that really stood out:

“It’s unlikely you’ll draft four players in the second round that are good enough, first and foremost,” said Kupchak. “Second of all, it’s unlikely you’ll draft four picks thinking that they would make your team. You may want to take a pick or two in Europe and let them develop. At that point in the second round, if somebody drops that you didn’t think would drop you probably just take him regardless of position.” In conclusion, Kupchak mentioned that the team could potentially be in need of additional guards in part because they’re unsure if Shannon Brown will pick up the option year of his contract, and in part due to the age of starters Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.

  • It looks like Mike Brown will not be able to put his old coaching staff back together completely as it’s being reported that his highly regarded former assistant, Mike Malone, will take a  job with the Warriors as Mark Jackson’s lead assistant. I don’t know much about Malone outside that he’s a very respected defensive coach, served on Mike Brown’s Cavs staff, and helped turn the Hornets into a top defensive team this year assisting Monty Williams. But all of that makes me think he would have been a strong addition to the Lakers.
  • Yes, Mark Jackson is going to coach the Warriors. This is an interesting hire, to say the least. In the end, just like with Mike Brown, I’m willing to give Jackson a chance to prove that he can do a good job though I can understand some of the concern some have exprressed with this hire. One thing I can say about Jackson is now that he’s leaving the booth, we won’t be able to play Mark Jackson Catchphrase Bingo anymore. (Center square being “Mamma there goes that man”, of course.)
  • The Finals continue tonight and I think this is the most critical game of the series. If Dallas loses, I don’t see any way that they come back. However if they win, I think the series goes 7 games with Dallas having a very good chance of pulling out that clinching game, even though it will be on the road. Tonight, it’s floating around that Dallas will adjust their rotation, starting JJ Barrea in place of Deshawn Stevenson and moving Brian Cardinal ahead of Peja as their secondary option at SF. We’ll see if this is sound strategy or desperation (especially with Cardinal), but Carlisle has made all the right calls this post-season so I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
  • Finally, I want to start answering more reader questions and that means putting out another mailbag. It’s been a while, but you know the drill. Send me an email with mailbag question in the subject line and ask away. I’ll try to run one every few weeks depending on the volume.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: During his introductory presser, Mike Brown acknowledged European coach Ettore Messina — who most recently coached for Real Madrid and won Euroleague titles with Virtus Bologna and CSKA Moscow — would be among those considered for his coaching staff. Well, according to ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher, Messina has been tabbed to join next season’s staff, though while he’ll be listed as an assistant coach, Messina’s job will be more of a consultant. Whether his duties are similar to Tex Winter’s former role with the Lakers or the responsibilities are more expansive remains to be seen. Also, nothing is official yet, thus a Laker spokesperson when asked didn’t confirm the report.  Either way, Lakers Nation has its collective eye on Messina, so I reached out to Os Davis from BallinEurope.com (TrueHoop network), who was kind enough to answer some questions. As luck would have it, Davis is equally familiar with the current incarnation of the Lakers as he is Messina’s career overseas, making his perspective that much more valuable. Here’s what Davis had to say about Messina.

From John Krolic, Basketball Talk: According to the ultra-reliable Marc Stein of ESPN.com, former Cleveland assistant coach and current New Orleans assistant coach Mike Malone was scheduled to meet with new Lakers head coach Mike Brown today. According to Stein, Brown also wants the recently fired Jon Kuester to join his staff as an assistant coach. When the Cavaliers won 66 games in the 2008-09 season, Brown was the head coach, Kuester was the “offensive coordinator,” and Malone was known as the “defensive coordinator,” although Brown already had a reputation as a defensive wizard himself. The Cavalier offense improved by leaps and bounds in 08-09, and while that probably had more to do with new personnel around LeBron James than it did with Kuester’s offensive genius, the Cavaliers’ newfound offensive success was enough to get Kuester a head coaching job with the Detroit Pistons, which turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

From Dave Murphy, Searching for Slava: The post-season isn’t yet over but to some it feels like an orphanage.  Please sir, we want some more. Laker fans and media have been mixed on the rash of moves since Phil hobbled away.  The rumbles begin and swell from the epicenter.  Jim Buss wants to run the asylum, he wants to do his father proud.  Welcome to the show – it will grow and feed and it will consume you.  Give us the information. Is it so much about hiring Mike Brown?  Not really.  Not unless he shows some sign of system failure, unless he blinks. Then we will swarm.  We are Jack and Piggy, we are wildebeests and pac-men, fueled by an uncertain disconnect.  It is their post-season now, not ours.  It can hit you, it can hurt you. It might have been 15 years ago, I don’t quite recall.  I was in a jury selection room, somewhere on the no-man’s stretch of Hollywood Blvd in the heat of summer.  Doing my civic duty.  Prospective jurors were brought forth.  What is your name, your occupation, do you worship heathen gods? An old man took his place in the box.  Gray hair, good posture, dead eyes.  They asked his profession and he stared straight ahead and answered flatly, “I’m a dancer”.   He was excused immediately.

From David Aldridge, NBA.com: The Big Man opened up his home last week for one last get-together, in the city he never really left — though, of course, he famously did. Shaquille O’Neal officially retired on Friday, making the announcement from his suburban Orlando home, offering explanations, reflections and some contrition for all that transpired in his 19 NBA seasons, when he may have been the most popular player in the game, confidant to (most) teammates and a force that hadn’t been seen in the game since the early days of Wilt Chamberlain. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was strong, but he was silent; Shaq was loud and boistrous and profane more than a little, sucking people into his celebrity like wind currents through a jet engine. Yes, it’s The Finals, and the hope is not to take away from the battle between the Heat and Mavs, which has been terrific so far. And you wonder if the timing of Shaq’s retirement announcement last week on Twitter wasn’t a coincidence, as the big man calls attention to himself one last time during The Finals that he once dominated. But even if that’s so, it’s worth it to take a few minutes to recognize the NBA life and times of the man who was a crucial conduit between the age of Michael Jordan and the age of LeBron James.

From NBA.com: Mark Jackson’s leadership skills as a player more than outweighed his lack of coaching experience when it came time for the Golden State Warriors to hire their coach. The Warriors hired Jackson to replace Keith Smart on Monday, giving the former point guard and television analyst his first chance to be a head coach on the game’s biggest stage. TNT analyst David Aldridge confirmed that the deal is for three years, with a fourth-year team option. According to Yahoo! Sports, who first reported the deal, Jackson’s total deal will be for $6 million. “He epitomized leadership as a player in this league for 17 seasons and we think that characteristic — and many other positive traits — will translate very well into his coaching duties with our young team,” owner Joe Lacob said in a statement. “He was a leader and a winner both on and off the floor in this league and we’re convinced that he is the right person to guide this team into the future and help us achieve the success that we are striving for as an organization.”

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kobe Bryant and wife Vanessa have formed a new foundation to help youth and families in need. The non-profit organization will focus on first on fighting homelessness in the Los Angeles area, and Kobe will hold a news conference Tuesday morning to discuss the foundation and its first initiative. (I’m guessing there might be a few questions about Mike Brown there, too.) The Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation plans to raise awareness and funds to support existing homeless organizations, create permanent house and provide resources for education and career development.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Follow Ron Artest with a video camera anytime and something funny is bound to happen. So it wasn’t a matter of if, but when he would get a reality television show. There had been a few false starts, such as during the 2009-2010 season and last summer, but Artest confirmed Monday via Twitter that he’ll be the star of an upcoming show. “Check out my new reality helping ex cons and paroles rehabilitate and get a second shot at life,” Artest tweeted. In other words, this isn’t going to exactly be a sequel to “Khloe & Lamar,” which featured such substantive subjects as Odom arguing with his better half over being overprotective or Khloe battling self-esteem issues. Instead, Artest’s upcoming show seems to be an extension of his mental-health advocacy, which earned him the 2010-2011 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. It wouldn’t be a stretch to believe Plaxico Burress might make an appearance. Anything can happen in Ron’s World.

While the Lakers have not yet confirmed the report, it looks as if the highly regarded Ettore Messina will leave Europe to join Mike Brown’s staff with the Lakers. His role is yet to be fully defined, but initial reports have him as a “behind the bench” assistant coach that will serve in more of the advisor type role that Tex Winter served for Phil Jackson’s teams over the years. And while it’s difficult for anyone to actually be like Tex Winter (the man is a hall of famer and on of a kind, after all), every staff needs smart coaches that can teach the game and by all accounts Messina is exactly that. Needless to say, this is a great get for Mike Brown and the Lakers.

With this addition, we move even closer towards envisioning what the Lakers offense could look like next year. We’ve already been looking at this topic, but we now have another key piece to expand our view. Over at Land O’ Lakers, there’s a great interview with Os Davis from BallinEurope on some of Messina’s philosophies as a coach (go over and read it), and one piece of insight caught my eye in particular:

Messina’s teams tend to play quite a slow tempo relative to that of most European leagues, particularly in Spain’s ACB, where Messina was for the past two seasons with Real Madrid and where the floor is wide open. Of course, there are exceptions to this. His 2005-06 CSKA Moscow squad could go into fourth gear early and run the court for the entire match. (Of note, too, is that this team was the ultimate fruit of Mikhail Prokhorov’s business labor, that CSKA dominated defensively in both the Euroleague and Russian Super League, and that Messina was named Euroleague coach of the year.) But the general rule on a Messina team is a slow tempo, half-court game on both sides of the ball.

This is interesting because it seems to fall into conflict with principle number one of Mike Brown’s offensive philosophy: attack the clock. If Mike Brown is saying he wants his team to play faster but one of his key assistant coaches – especially the one that is most renowned for his offensive approach – is used to his team playing a slow down game, it doesn’t seem as if these approaches line up.

However, when looking bigger picturer, these points of view aren’t necessarily diametrically opposed.

Understand that “attacking the clock” isn’t the same as running a fast-break offense (ala the SSOL Suns). I do expect the Lakers to push the ball up court.  But advancing the ball quickly doesn’t have to lead to a quick shot and for the Lakers I don’t really expect it to. What I do expect is for the Lakers to get into their offensive sets quicker and not burn as much of the precious 24 seconds at their disposal each possession on bringing the ball up court. This would be a departure from last year and would fall more in line with the way that the Lakers played in their championship seasons of 2009 and 2010 where they got into their sets faster and relied less on the walk-it-up attacked the employed this season.

Obviously this is all speculation. And until Brown and Messina are actually working with the team and we get to see the approach implemented and performed on the court we won’t know how the team will play or how different (or similar) they’ll look to this year’s team. However, with every new nugget of information we get, the puzzle is becoming more complete and we get a better idea as to what this team could play like next year.

So far, based off what we’ve learned, that team looks to be one that will focus on post play (from both the bigs and, I’d imagine, Kobe) while also looking for opportunities early in the clock that, if they don’t materialize, would transfer into the early initiation of the offensive sets. The benefits to this type of attack are multiple but best explained by the simplicity of it all: shots from the post are higher percentage than those further away; shots against a defense that isn’t as set are often easier than those against a defense that’s dug in and fully positioned. If the Lakers can effectively get shots closer to the hoop or ones against a defense that’s not yet in position to defend effectively, they’ll be more efficient (while also being less reliant on end of the clock, isolation shots that the Lakers have settled for too often frequently).

One of the great things about the team next year will be the fact that they’ll still have the talent to be a great team on offense but will go about it a different way than in years past. Needless to say, I’m excited and intrigued about the possibilities.