Archives For June 2011

We’re inching closer to Thursday’s NBA draft and with that comes much intrigue for the entire league. Sixty players will be drafted to various teams and with that the dreams of 60 young men will be fulfilled while the hopes and expectations of millions of fans crystallize.

Will the new guy (or in some teams’ case, guys) lead our team to the playoffs? To a championship? Will they bust? These are questions that we’ll all be asking as analysts rattle off buzz words like “length”, “upside”, and “winner” while highlight reels of these players’ best plays run in the background. It’s an exciting time, and really, one of my favorite times of the year.

For the Lakers, though, they’re looking at this draft from a different perspective than many other teams. With four second round picks, the Lakers aren’t looking for/don’t expect to see an impact player or a guy that can come in and compete for a starting spot next season. Instead, they’re looking for a player that can simply make the roster. Said another way, the Lakers have quantity (in their number of picks) but aren’t in a position to expect a lot of quality to fall to where they’ll be making their picks. It’s simply the reality of drafting in the 2nd round with the first of four picks not being made until the 41st selection overall. As Mitch Kupchak said himself:

We’re looking at players that we think might be there in the 40s and 50s. Typically with those kinds of players, something may jump out at you, but the whole package doesn’t ever really jump out at you, because if it did, that player would be a lottery pick. You may see somebody who’s got a nice stroke, but he’s a tweener in terms of size; or somebody that’s got great athletic ability but can’t shoot the ball; or great size and can’t catch. When you’re drafting in the 40s, there’s compromises that you have to make and sacrifices. You end up looking at a lot of mid-sized players, 6-7 and less, because the big guys are just hard to come by … [big guys] that can play, anyway.

So, who fits into this category of a prospect that offers a distinct skill set that can help a team, but also has enough flaws in his game that he could be available when the Lakers pick? Some names to chew on:

  • Nolan Smith, PG, Duke – A PG/SG prospect that filled in nicely for (projected #1 overall pick) Kyrie Irving early this past season. Smith proved he could run the point, score well, and is seen as a good defender. However, towards the end of Duke’s season, his production fell off dramatically when Irving reclaimed his starting gig and pushed Smith into a less certain role.
  • Darius Morris, PG, Michigan – Morris insists he’s a pure PG and at 6’5″ possesses excellent size for that position. He showed very good efficiency as a scorer making 53% of his 2 point shots, but struggles as an outside shooter, making only 25% of his 3 point attempts. How he’d transition to playing PG in the NBA – both on offense and defense – is a real unknown, however and thus he’s seen as a 2nd round prospect.
  • Malcom Lee, SG, UCLA – Seen as more of a defensive specialist with an evolving offensive game. His D has some saying he could play right away as someone that guards NBA wings and the fact that he played for a defensive minded Ben Howland at UCLA only enhances his reputation as someone that could transition well to the pros on that end of the floor. On offense, however, his jumper needs lots of work (29% on three pointers) and as a SG in the NBA, there’s only so many minutes for a guy that is a liability on that end of the floor.
  • David Lighty, SG/SF, Ohio St. – One of the better shooters in this draft, Lighty shot 47% overall and 42% on three pointers. He has decent size for a wing and proved a versatile threat for OSU this past season. He also showed that he’d work hard on defense though isn’t thought of as a defender the caliber of Lee.
  • Greg Smith, PF/C, Fresno St. – Draft Express has the Lakers drafting Smith with the #58 pick in their latest mock draft. Also of note, John Hollinger has Smith rated as his 24th best prospect for this draft. Smith has a mostly un-polished offensive game and shows flashes of ability to defend and rebound well. His measurables are pretty good as he’s 6’10″ in shoes but has a 7’3″ wing span and enormous hands. His biggest issues seem to be focus and consistency with his effort.
  • Jordan Williams, PF/C, Maryland – Draft Express has the Lakers drafting Williams with the 46th pick in their latest mock draft and Hollinger has him rated as the 31st best prospect in this draft. Williams comes to the pros after his sophomore season and showed good ability as a scorer (16.9 ppg) and rebounder (11.8 rpg) this past season. He’s seen mostly as a Center but at 6’9″ lacks good size for that position. He does have good hands and seems to have a good feel for positioning both on the glass and in moving in space towards the ball.

Obviously there are other names out there besides these. However, I’ve looked around the interwebs at a lot of prospects and mock drafts, and these are guys that are consistently picked in the range of where the Lakers will make their selections. Maybe you have another name you’d like to see the Lakers draft. If so, let me know in the comments and why. As we get closer to the draft, it serves us all to know as much about these guys as we can. Especially since one or more will likely have his name called by the Lakers this Thursday.

Note that most of the information on the players above is from written profiles around the web, with a heavy reliance on the fine work done at Draft Express as I’ve seen only some of these players play this past season.

From Mark Medina in an interview with Joe Bryant, LA Times Lakers BlogThe rest of Kobe’s career obviously centers on how he will try to find a way to play through the mileage and injuries. What’s your assessment on how he’s been doing that? You can’t put it on age. All players have injuries, even young players have injuries. You learn to deal with pain and you learn how to understand your body. You also understand your game. When you’re a student of the game, a lot of players rely on their athleticism. Once you get older and their athleticism is not there, then you don’t know how to play. But Kobe knows how to play and understands the ABC’s of the game. He understands the scouting report and how players are going to play and he understands his teammates. When you understand the game, it goes back to playing chess. You know how to move the pieces and you know how to move the ball. You’re not going to run as fast. You’re not going to jump as high. You have to pick your moments. The great example when he picked his moment was the playoff game when he went down the middle and dunked, the one he had against [New Orleans center Emeka Okafor] in Game 5 of the first-round series. That was checkmate. He’s a warrior and understands the game. All players have injuries. It’s part of it and how he can manage it. He’s been doing a good job with that. Nobody is going to run and jump [like] when they were 18 or 19. It’s impossible for people to think that. As long as he’s enjoying the game and keeps the two seven-footers [Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum], I still think he has three, four or five more years to play at a high level.

From Mike Trudell, Lakers.com: Since he was announced as the new Lakers coach on June 1, Mike Brown has been traveling back and forth from Cleveland, preparing to move his family to Los Angeles, and tying up loose ends. Among his primary tasks in the meantime? Building his coaching staff. “There’s been progress,” said Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak. “We communicate daily, and a lot of times he needs a quick answer. Sometimes it’s me giving him names of people who call me, sometimes he’ll call and say he’s thinking of interviewing a certain person. I do know that he intends to interview several candidates to be assistants in person in the next week.” Since getting the gig, Brown has been contacted by what Kupchak estimated as around 100 coaches looking to be considered for his open coaching slots. Accordingly, Brown has filled two or three pages in a yellow pad full of names and phone numbers in advance of a decision Kupchak maintains will be very much Brown’s. “I’m not going to have too much input unless there’s a red flag,” said L.A.’s GM.” Some of these people are under contract with other teams; because of all the coaching changes, some of these people have had chances to go someplace else. It’s kind of a revolving list. He’s pretty confident in what he wants, and he didn’t come into this (blind). He’s just working down the list.”

From Saurav A. Das, Silver Screen & Roll: Caracter was indeed passable in the playing time he did receive, putting together rather impressive per-36 numbers of 14 points and 7 rebounds, coupled with a less-impressive 48.5% eFG; though his defense did leave something wanting. He showed a decent capability to find his own shot, even over larger opponents, although his lack of size did inevitably lead to some issues. He was willing to chase down rebounds and use his body, which somewhat compensated for his lack of height in giving him a decent (for a 6’7″ rookie) 11.3% Total Rebound Rate. He was, however, foul-prone, with a rate of 8 fouls per 36 minutes, obviously not something conductive to receiving greater playing time. And playing time did prove to be an issue: despite Bynum’s absences and Pau’s exhaustion, Caracter invariably only received absolute garbage time (even less so than would be expected, due to Phil’s irritating habit of playing Pau late into blowouts); with Phil instead preferring to push his starters to play extra minutes or opt to play small-ball with Artest or Walton at the 4. It’s unknown how much of this refusal to give Caracter minutes was warranted, and one must respect the Greatest Coach of All Time’s judgement, but I cannot help but feel that this serves as an example of rookie bias. Pau was getting burnt out, Andrew was often injured, and Phil often preferred playing the likes of the useless Luke Walton or the ancient Joe Smith or Theo Ratliff ahead of Caracter, a mystifying move to be certain. Caracter was even inactive for much of the season, sent to the Lakers’ D-League Affiliate for the season, the Bakersfield Jam. This, coupled with Ebanks’ similar lack of role, does indeed suggest that the rumours of Phil having an anti-rookie bias are true.

From Jonah Freedman, Sports Illustrated: Uncertainty. That’s the key theme in SI.com’s eighth-annual compilation of the 50 top-earning American athletes by salary, winnings, endorsements and appearance fees. Being on top of the Fortunate 50 has never been so tenuous. Perennial No. 1 Tiger Woods still reigns for the eighth straight year — barely. His quickly shrinking earnings have never been lower on our list, nor has he ever been this close to surrendering his once insurmountable lead. As Woods’ personal life and game have seemingly fallen apart, he’s also seen most of his sponsors desert him, too. Meanwhile, big question marks loom over the other big names on the 50, as labor strife in the NFL and NBA threaten the future paychecks of their players. Between Tiger’s near one-third decrease in total earnings all over sports, the average earnings of the athletes on this year’s 50 is $24.3 million, down 7 percent from 2010. In all, the 2011 list features 19 NBA players, 17 baseball players, eight NFL players, three NASCAR drivers and three golfers.

From Howard Beck, The New York Times: The process now comes down to a single meeting and whether the parties can make enough progress to justify further sessions. If a new labor deal is not adopted by June 30, the owners will impose a lockout that is expected to be lengthy and costly. “It’s just important because of the substance of our conversations today,” Stern said of Tuesday’s meeting, “and because time is running out, and because both parties still remain, at least to me, intent on doing the best they can to make a deal before June 30.” Asked if a breakthrough was critical Tuesday, Stern said, “Yes, yes.” Asked if he would know by the end of that day whether a lockout was likely, he again answered in the affirmative. As players and owners dispersed for the weekend, the gap between them remained massive — more than $700 million, by one measure. They also remain at odds over the fundamental structure of the league’s economic system. The owners are pushing for a hard salary cap and the players are lobbying to retain the soft-cap system that has been in place for nearly three decades. “We’re not asking for anything in addition to the things that we’ve negotiated some 10, 15, 20 years before now,” said Derek Fisher, the president of the players union.

From Ric Bucher, ESPN The Magazing (From May 2002): Says Horry, “From the moment my daughter almost didn’t even make it, I realized you can’t control what life hands you. I used to get nervous before that. Excited nervous, like gimmetheball-gimmetheball-gimmetheball. Hey, I love what I do, and it’s important in a sense, but not compared to my family. It’s just a game.” The lesson might have faded if Ashlyn merely had had a difficult birth instead of a missing chromosome that means she may never speak or walk unaided or discard her feeding tube. An absent chromosome that turns every simple cold into a life-threatening ordeal. It might be different if Horry didn’t live and work most of the year 1,500 miles away, limiting him to no more than hearing Ashlyn’s labored breath over a phone during the NBA season. Hearing his wife, Keva, describe the latest Horry trait displayed by his healthy 3-year-old boy, Camron, keeps life’s fickleness front and center. Take a shot to win or lose a game? Bury the game-winning three against the Kings with 0.2 seconds left? He knows that’s just the right time, right place. After back-breakers against the Blazers and Spurs earlier this postseason, Horry was so grateful to have something within his control he said to Kobe afterward, “Thank you for trusting me.” He’s said that to a teammate after every clutch playoff shot he’s made. If anyone knows it’s impossible to accomplish anything alone, it’s Horry.

It’s Mailbag Time…

Darius Soriano —  June 17, 2011

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

Considering that Mike Brown is already considered a defensive specialist, would (Mike) Malone really have been that helpful on his bench?  I am more interested to see how Messina and Kuester reconfigures the offense.  Also, where do you think Brian Shaw will end up?  He deserves a gig somewhere.
-Roger

While I agree that a defensive minded assistant coach doesn’t look to be the Lakers’ biggest need, I think it is also important to understand Mike Brown’s coaching style and how he constructs a staff. Brown has stated that he delegates to his assistants and preaches shared responsibility and accountability at all times (both on his staff and with the players). Malone was one of his key assistants in Cleveland and held a similar position with the Hornets this past season (where he’s directly credited with helping to improve that team’s D this past season). By all accounts he’s a very good coach and I’m of the mind that a head coach should try to surround himself with as many smart coaches that can teach the game as possible. So, yes, I think he’d have been a great hire and very helpful.

As for Shaw, I think it’s incredible that the man once tabbed as Phil Jackson’s successor could be out of work next season. He may not land on his feet as a head coach anywhere (as of now, only the Raptors, Pistons, and Pacers have vacancies), but I could certainly see him getting hired as an assistant somewhere. Maybe he goes to Minnesota and teams up with Rambis to help with the Triangle. That said, one of the obstacles that Shaw may be facing is the fact that he is so closely associated with the Triangle offense. I’m not an owner or a GM, but the Triangle is an offense that few have succeeded running at this level and can be seen as impractical to the way that many NBA rosters are currently constructed. Shaw may need to put in time on a staff that teaches other schemes to further prove that he’s a viable head coach in the league – especially with everyone’s fall from grace after the Lakers got swept out of the playoffs.

Do you expect Steve Blake to get better next year? Or do you expect him to stay the same/get worse?
-Don

I expect Blake to be better next season. To these eyes, Blake’s biggest issues were in aggression and in his comfort level finding shots within the Triangle. And while Blake played much more within the system than, say, Jordan Farmar, Blake never did find the right balance between getting his own and setting up his teammates. To be fair, playing with players the stature of Kobe, Pau, Odom, Bynum, and even Artest has the potential to neuter any players aggressiveness (i.e. passing to those guys always seems like the best option – especially if they’re calling for the ball). Plus, the Triangle is a system that’s nuanced and takes time to fully learn and get comfortable within.

But now that the Triangle is gone and a more “traditional” system is in its place, I expect Blake to better find his groove and thus produce better results. By no means am I saying he’ll be one of the better PG’s in the game, but I don’t think shooting better percentages across the board and increasing his assist totals are far fetched. I also think with better play he’ll receive more minutes and with that even more success will come.

Everyone quotes Michael Jordan’s Finals resume as being better than Kobe‘s. For my argument, let’s say Kobe gets his 6th in the next 3 years (highly possible, I’m hoping). People would point to MJ’s record of 6-0 being superior to Kobe‘s 6-2 (again, hypothetical). Wouldn’t Kobe‘s be better? Champion 6 times and runner up twice vs champion 6 times? (This ignores the finals mvp component, I see being a weak point in my argument.)
-Matthew

Normally I try to avoid such debates since they rarely get you anywhere. However, since we’re talking resume and not who was better, I’ll bite…

While I understand the argument of more Finals appearances, I think an unblemished record is a greater achievement. I also think scoring average matters, which Jordan has over Kobe as well. Plus, as you mentioned, MJ’s MVP’s in the Finals are the tipping point in this argument. So, I just don’t see an argument where Kobe’s Final’s resume is better than MJ’s even with another title to his name.

That said, by the time Kobe’s career is over, his overall resume could be very close to MJ’s. When you consider career points, All-Star game appearances and ASG MVP’s, All-NBA and All-Defense teams, games and minutes played, and the NBA championships, their careers will be closer than many would like to admit. I’d still take MJ’s league MVP’s and DPOY award as trump cards to Kobe’s accomplishments, but Kobe will have achieved so much that there would be debate from both sides, for sure.

That said, one of the reasons I try to avoid such conversations is because I try to appreciate the players for who they are/were rather than holding them up against the memories of other legends. When Kobe retires I’ll be lucky enough to say that I saw his entire career and cheered him on as he played for the team that I root for. Who cares if he compares favorably to another all time great? The fact that he’s in the conversation as one of the best that ever played is more than enough for me.

Yesterday on twitter I entertained a discussion about trading one of your favorite team’s championships to another one of your favorite teams in another sport. The discussion began with me reminiscing about how close the Oakland Raiders came to 3-peating during the same exact years that the Lakers 3-peated in the early 2000s. The Lakers ended up catching all the breaks that the Raiders didn’t and won three titles while the Raiders won none. So I wondered, would I trade any of the Lakers titles during my lifetime to the Raiders? A lot of followers said that they would definitely trade one title to another team, but I found it impossible to give up any of the Lakers titles because each was special.

Today, I came across Sporting News’ Top 10 NBA Teams Ever slide show and immediately realized how fortunate we are fortunate we are as Lakers fans. The list only featured six different franchises, and the two Lakers teams on the list (the 71-72 and 86-87 teams were #2 and #3, respectively) are teams that I didn’t even see play. I was born in 1987, so there have been seven Lakers championships since my birth, and only the one during the year of my birth made Sporting News’ Top 10 NBA Teams Ever list.

Although the 2011 Lakers went out in a disappointing fashion, seeing things like this really puts things in perspective. I know a lot of you are a tad bit older than I am, and can remember watching that 87 Lakers squad, and some of you can even claim to remember the 72 Lakers. Point is, we’ve seen some fantastic basketball over the years from the boys in Forum Blue and Gold. I would have loved for the Lakers to have brought home another title this year, but I’m appreciative that the Lakers have won more titles during my lifetime than the number of franchises included on that list.

Going through Lakers championship teams trying to decide whether or not I would forfeit one of their titles only brought an onslaught of memories for me. With all of that being said, what were some of your favorite Lakers teams and/or memories? Share your stories about the good times we’ve had over the years.

From Dave McMenamin, Land O’ Lakers: I caught up with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak for about 20 minutes on Tuesday, and we spent the bulk of our time talking about the upcoming NBA draft. There were, though, a couple of topics I couldn’t fit in the story. Before talking to him, I looked back at the story I wrote when we spoke shortly after last year’s draft, when he told me this about Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, who the Lakers selected at Nos. 43 and 58, respectively: “In terms of a grade, I think you have to ask me that question a year from now,” Kupchak said. A year later, I reminded him about the quote, and he relented. Sorta. “I would say both are incomplete,” Kupchak began. “I feel like Devin showed great promise on a veteran team. He really did some things that led us to believe he can be a player in this league. But then he got hurt and ended up missing the last 2-3 months of the season.

From Sebastian Pruiti, NBA Playbook: Last month, with a break during the Finals, I took a look at Mike Brown and what his time in Cleveland will tell us about how he will try to put Kobe Bryant in positions to score.  Today, we are going to look at Mike Brown and how he plans on getting his two seven-footers involved on the offensive end.  During his introductory press conference, coach Brown explained how his time with San Antonio will help shape his offense when using two seven-footers: I thought it would be interesting to go through some old San Antonio Spurs’ game tape and see what sets coach Brown can bring from San Antonio to Los Angeles.  Much like the sets we looked at with coach Brown and Kobe Bryant, these are very simple sets, but that doesn’t mean that these sets will be ineffective with Los Angeles. Note:  For the purposes of this post, David Robinson will be playing the role of Andrew Bynum and Tim Duncan will be playing the role of Pau Gasol.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: Attack the clock. Brown: “Let’s get that ball from the back court to the front court within the first three and four seconds. Why? We don’t want to get to our second our third option and see that the shot clock is winding down to two seconds or something like that. We want to get the ball up the floor, and if we can run for a layup, you’ll never see me stop that. My last two years in Cleveland, we were a top 10 and top 5 offensive team in the NBA. We averaged over 100 points a game both those years.”

From Brian Champlin, Lakers Nation: Most Lakers’ fans will recall Robert Horry as I do. They watched him from afar and observed him to be the  consummate role player and teammate. He was the cog that always seemed to fit, a player who was rarely flashy or dominant but always saved his best performances for when the team needed him most. In crunch time he was, cliche as it sounds, never afraid of the moment. Yet this fearlessness was not born so much from some innate sense of self as it was the experiences of his life. Specifically, the birth of his daughter Ashlyn.

From Elizabeth Benson, Lakers Nation: With the hiring of new head coach Mike Brown, the Lakers community knows that defense is going to be the mentality for the team next season.  After all, the prevalent need for defense is one of the key reasons why Brown was hired as Phil Jackson’s successor.  The Lakers have made many moves during the past couple of years to bring defensive minded players to the squad, including acquiring Ron Artest and the development of Andrew Bynum.  Kobe Bryant has always a defensive threat to opponents, especially around the perimeter.

From Eric Pincus, Hoops World: Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest took a trip down memory lane on Monday via Twitter (@ronartest), tweeting about his almost trade to the Los Angeles Clippers from the Indiana Pacers for Corey Maggette. Artest wrote, “I was a Clipper for ten minutes. Then in the middle of our conversation with me, Elgin [Baylor], Coach Dunleavy and Mark Stevens my agent . . . right in the middle of our takes about how we gonna bring a ring to the Clippers, Donnie Walsh called Mike and said Corey failed the [physical].” Note:  Some liberties taken in that quotation for syntax. “Corey failed the physical, then I went back on suspension with Indiana.  I was in LA for three months.  Then two weeks later, Sac-town traded Peja [Stojakovic] for me.  Kings were in last place,” continued Artest.  “Then I got there and we went to the playoffs!”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: The biggest area the Lakers lacked, argued former Coach Phil Jackson, was speed. Considering the uncertainty on whether Shannon Brown’s going to exercise his $2.37-million option, securing Smith would provide the Lakers insurance for a speedy and athletic backup at shooting guard. Smith would provide endless amounts of energy on the break, on defense and in hustle plays. His trash talking with Kobe Bryant over the years would actually earn his respect considering he’s touted Ron Artest and Matt Barnes for their willingness to get chippy with him. And Smith’s defensive ability should lift the burden off a veteran-heavy backcourt in Bryant andDerek Fisher and keep an aging Artest fresh. Expect Barnes and Smith to try to one up each other on body art too.

From K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune: Tex Winter’s health and strength have stabilized to the point his family is making plans for the legendary former Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach to attend his induction ceremonies into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in early August, according to a family friend. When the Tribune first reported news of Winter’s induction in early April, it didn’t appear Winter would be able to attend the Aug. 12 ceremony in Springfield, Mass. Winter, 89, suffered a debilitating stroke in April 2009 and largely has been confined to care from family members since.