This summer has been an interesting one for those who are used to following the NBA 365 days a year. With no Summer League, no trade talks and no free agent signings, a lot of us have been forced to get our hoops fix watching old NBA games on ESPN Classic and NBATV. Recently, I watched a pair of Lakers/Bulls games from the 97-98 season. It was the Bulls last run as one of the most dominant units in NBA history and we were barely seeing the seeds being planted for the growth of the league’s preeminent cores in the Post-Jordan era.
Although it still burns me that the Nick Van Exel/Eddie Jones back court never got to the Finals to this day, those years gave birth to the Kobe/Shaq (or the Shaq/Kobe era, whatever) and some of the best basketball in Lakers history. What I appreciate most about those two Lakers/Bulls games from 1998 wasn’t just the Kobe/Jordan matchup, but the fact that Jordan went so hard at Kobe in those games (and in the all-star game). There was a competitive nature in Jordan that made him want to rip the heart out of any kid who the media thought could come for his spot atop the hoops hierarchy. More often than not, Jordan made scoring on Kobe look easy, but he seemingly appreciated the fact that Kobe’s own competitive spirit wouldn’t back down from the greatest who ever lived.
That old great v. budding star dynamic has now been flipped on its head with Kobe now into his 30s playing in a league full of young, talented shooting guards who all want to take a shot at a guy they grew up watching. Today, we can watch Kobe and see how he adapted parts of Jordan’s game into his, then worked on some of those skills to make them his own. I’m not pointing these things out to spark a debate about the merits of their skill levels, but to point out that Kobe has now become the teacher, and we could be watching the next great shooting guard today. We’ve seen how Kobe has taken it upon his self to go hard at guys like OJ Mayo and Eric Gordon, and there may (or may not) be something to read into that. What we do know is that, at some point, there will be another shooting guard who has taken what he’s learned form watching Kobe, and will build his game to turn some of Kobe’s brilliant footwork into moves of his own.
So today, I want to share my appreciation for MJ and Kobe with the (short) video below. It’s a few clips of Jordan giving young Kobe the blues, then some of Kobe doing some of the same to today’s defenders. Enjoy.
From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: If there’s a position on the floor where the Lakers have quality depth, it’s power forward. When reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom is the backup, clearly things are going well. Between L.O. and Pau Gasol, L.A. likely sports the league’s best two-man rotation at the 4. Still, it wouldn’t hurt for them to find a viable third PF for the roster, not so much to bolster the Gasol/Odom combo — though someone to lighten the load is always welcome — but as a hedge against injury, whether at the 4 or the 5. The time Andrew Bynum spent sidelined last season proved pivotal, sucking heaps of energy from Gasol’s legs and setting the table for what would eventually become a physical and mental meltdown in the postseason. While he has a chance to start next season healthier than virtually any in his career, Bynum still can’t be counted on to stay that way. The Lakers have to assume he’ll miss some games, meaning they clearly need a backup center more viable than Theo Ratliff proved last season. It also means a little more support at PF could constitute a reasonable use of roster space and resources, even while representing a lower rung on the priority ladder.
From Wild Yams, Silver Screen and Roll: You know, as an NBA fan typically July is one of the most interesting months of the year. I’m talking about if you’re a real fan who actually watches all year long and reads up on everything you can, rather than someone who just waits for “the second season” to start before you tune in. July is usually free agency, trades, signings and getting our first glimpse of up and comers playing in the summer league. July is quite often where conversations and debates which dominate an entire season often begin (look at last July’s big signings in Miami if you doubt this). August is usually a pretty slow month, while we basically wait to see how all the new teams will begin to look in training camps, but July is usually quite entertaining.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: Even through his storied legacy includes collecting five of his six NBA titles with the Lakers, establishing himself (in the opinion of many) as the best center of all time and finishing as the league’s all-time leading scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has lately made public gripes about his former employer. He’s argued that the Lakers’ failure to erect a statue in his honor symbolizes the organization’s slighting of him. He felt offended he was never offered a significant coaching position beyond being a part-time special assistant coach. And he believed that his introverted — and to many — off-putting personality made him a distant figure in the organization. At the time, I expressed the opinion that some of his grievances were exaggerated, but that was how he felt. But there’s at least one memory with the Lakers that hasn’t soured Abdul-Jabbar: having the opportunity to coach Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
From Lance Pugmire, LA Times: As the NFL wrapped up its lengthy off-season collective-bargaining battle, the NBA’s lockout of its players continued Tuesday with no progress in sight. One major sports labor deal down, one to go. As the NFL wrapped up its lengthy off-season collective-bargaining battle, the NBA’s lockout of its players continued Tuesday with no progress in sight. “If there’s one thing us labor lawyers know — and the public will see in this [NBA] case — there’s nothing like the prospect of deadlines, in this case, missing games, that forces action,” said Seth Borden, a partner in employment and labor law for the Washington, D.C.-based firm McKenna Long and Aldridge. The NBA regular season isn’t scheduled to begin until Nov. 1, so expect a slow summer. Representatives from both sides — but not NBA Commissioner David Stern or union head Billy Hunter – are to meet soon for their annually scheduled discussion about the past season’s audited financial reports for all 30 teams. The next labor negotiating session is likely to take place in early August.
From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The NFL’s deal is officially done after four-plus months of its lockout, leaving the NBA alone in its work stoppage. If the NBA were to stay that long in its lockout, it’d lose at least two months of its season (because the league would still have a training camp to gear up for the regular season). The scary thing is that the NFL’s discords and distances in negotiation were not as substantial as those plaguing in the NBA today anyway. If some of the NBA regular season is lost, it’s no fun for anyone – but it actually figures to help the veteran-laden Lakers. They have always had understandably more interest in the postseason in recent years, and they admittedly lack the fresh legs of their youth.
Yesterday Phillip discussed the Lakers’ point guard woes and wondered whether or not a viable upgrade was attainable going into next season. It’s an intense discussion as the Lakers certainly are lacking at the position and will need improved play from that spot to give the team more balance and a better chance to hurt teams that decide to overplay the talent the Lakers possess at other positions.
Today, though, I’m not focussing on what the Lakers will do in the future at PG but rather the greatness that they once had. Today, for all of our viewing pleasure, NBA TV has decided to show some classic games where one Earvin “Magic” Johnson showed why he’s one of the all time greats not only at point guard, but at any position. So at 2:30 pm PT tune in today and catch Magic’s epic performance from game 6 of the 1980 Finals:
And at 5pm PT, check see Magic lead the Lakers to a 3-1 series lead over the Celtics in the 1987 Finals, hitting the ultimate dagger in the closing seconds with a baby sky hook.
And lastly at 10pm PT you can watch him drop a triple double on the Warriors in the 1991 playoffs to close out the series. Just some fantastic performances that remind us all what we once had at PG. So, at least for one day, forget about how the Lakers will fix next season’s problems and instead revel in the glorious play of the best that ever ran the show from the “one”.
Over the weekend, Silver Screen and Roll had a couple of great posts on the Lakers and their current point guard situation, and more importantly, how to solve it. While I understand that the Lakers problem is at the point guard position, I don’t think it’s a problem that the Lakers should exactly go out of their way to solve considering that both upgrading through free agency or trade both have their own pitfalls to overcome. While I’d like to see an upgrade at the top, I wonder if it’s going to be too difficult to make this happen considering that the Lakers are seeing frontcourt depth and a backup for Kobe with a natural ability to score. The Lakers are going to be looking to try and make a lot of small tweaks to their roster, and I’m not sure if upgrading the point guard is the most important issue at this point. However, I recognize that it is an issue and this section from Dexter Fishmore really hammers it home:
But Fish is a lion in winter. He turns 37 next month, and his abilities are in decline. For a guy whose only offensive role the past few seasons has been to knock down open looks, his shooting numbers are unacceptably poor. He can’t beat anyone off the dribble. On defense, he lacks the lateral mobility to check even average point guards, to say nothing of the elite PG’s the Lakers face in the playoffs.
To make matters worse, the Lakers are abandoning the system that allowed them to mask many of Fish’s shortcomings. In Phil Jackson‘s Triangle offense, Fish was a semi-viable option because the system neither required nor could even really accommodate a classic, ball-dominating point. The Lakers won’t have the same luxury under Mike Brown. His playbook calls for the point guard to assume a more traditional playmaking role, of which Fish is simply incapable.
How do the Lakers upgrade, though. As they’re currently sitting, they’re dishing out about 91 million in salary already. Picking up through free agency will not only be costly monetarily, but could be equally costly to the Lakers chances on the court considering the not-so-high-profile crop of free agent point guards on the market this year. While there is some talent in free agency, all of it will likely come at a price that the Lakers ultimately won’t be able to afford, all things “new collective bargaining” considered. What about through trade?
Thus, the Lakers will likely have to try their luck in the trade market.
Let me direct your attention to a 25-year-old point guard whose 2010-11 Adjusted PER of 21.05 (all statistics via HoopData) dwarfed the average for both the league (14.17) and his position (15.71), was good for 23rd in the NBA (minimum 40 games played) and seventh among lead guards, trailing only Russell Westbrook, Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Steve Nash and Tony Parker. The 4.54 Adjusted Win Shares he contributed were also well above average (3.44 for the league, 3.72 for point guards), and better than the totals for Jameer Nelsonor Jason Terry.
Meanwhile, his 24.21 usage rate was 49th in the league. In 26.3 minutes per game, he averaged 13.3 points and 5.2 assists (a Tony Parker-esque 18.1 and 7.3 per 36 minutes played) and shot 46.6% from the field. His 55.9% True Shooting Percentage trumped the league and point guard averages (54.5% and 53.6%, respectively) and he got to the free-throw line more than your average NBA’er (0.55 free-throw attempts per field-goal attempt, vs. the league average of 0.298). Was he able to get his own shot? You bet: just 28.5% of field goals were “assisted,” compared with 36.9% for point guards leaguewide.
But again, this ultimately forces the Lakers in a tough position considering that no teams are going to give up efficient talent without some kind of return, and nine times out of 10, that return is likely going to be size – an advantage that took the Lakers to three consecutive trips to the Finals. Do you give up your biggest advantage for a Ramon Sessions-esque talent. Some might say yes, just so we don’t have to watch Derek Fisher start for another 82+ games, but it’s hard to imagine any situation where that is the right move.
For next season, the Lakers just might have to play some of their young guys a lot more than what we’ve seen since, well, Kobe and Fish were the young guys. The Lakers drafted Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris, two guys who both have ball handling experience despite their very different skill sets. As of right now, those two might be the Lakers most viable and realistic options unless teams are just waiting to take on Ron Artest’s and/or Luke Walton’s contracts. The point guard might not be the most thrilling part of the Lakers team (which it hasn’t been since Nick Van Exel), and I’m okay with that. Some will disagree completely, but I think adding depth to the front court and finding another wing who can get his own shot off are more important issues the Lakers need to take care of for the next season.
From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: There are natural athletes. There are natural athletes who take an unusual path to the NBA. And then there is Golden State Warriors forward and South Los Angeles product Dorell Wright. To put Wright’s athleticism in perspective, he didn’t take basketball seriously until the 11th grade. Before that, he was passionate about making the big leagues, and even transferred from Washington High School to Leuzinger for its baseball program. A casual invite to meet the basketball coach eventually resulted in a change of athletic priorities. After graduating from Leuzinger, Wright did another senior year at South Kent School, a Connecticut prep school. But rather than better prepare him as planned for the transition to college, South Kent was Wright’s last stop before jumping straight to the NBA.
From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: In the inaugural edition of TWITL, I confidently declared that there was nothing I’d less rather be writing about than the NBA’s work stoppage. That statement, it so happens, was incorrect. This past Tuesday I discovered a topic even more unpleasant and spiritually draining, involving Andrew Bynum and his fondness for handicapped parking spaces. At this point I know better than to hope this was a low point in the offseason. In fact, I now fear that Drew’s locked in a spiral of criminality that will soon find us posting articles about how he’s been caught: (a) running guns to Kurdish separatists in southern Turkey,?(b) bilking pension funds and rich dowagers out of millions in an industrial-scale pyramid scheme, and/or?(c) presiding over a black market organ-harvesting syndicate.
From Emile Avanessian, Silver Screen and Roll: To borrow a Yankees analogy (a stretch, I know), if Kobe Bryant is the Lakers’ Derek Jeter, Derek Fisher is Jorge Posada. The steadying influence for five title winners, Fisher has provided the kind of toughness, leadership and timely play a franchise is lucky to find once in generation. He’s done it twice – first bridging the chasm between Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, and later, the only guy in shorts who dared challenge Kobe, helping to link the Lakers’ monomaniacal great with his teammates. Twelve seasons. Six three-pointers in the 2001 title clincher in Philly. “0.4.” A pair of massive triples (one to force overtime, another to secure victory) in Game Four of the 2009 Finals in Orlando. Eleven fourth-quarter points, including a coast-to-coast three-point play that was nothing short of miraculous, in Game Three of the 2010 Finals in Boston, capped off by the greatest postgame interview you’ve ever seen. Fisher is the Lakers’ rock. He has secured his place in Laker lore and, in my eyes, a roster spot for as long as he wants one.
From David Murphy, Searching for Slava: The cicadas drone in staggered waves, the heat brings headaches – suggestions for pickle juice and Himalayan salt remedies. There’s not much going on with the CBA, the latest revelation was the release of BRI figures which only show that profits increased coming out of a recession while player salaries were actually reduced. The sides proceed apace on parallel tracks, carved like trolley ruts in cement. I’m reminded of our other national dilemma – the debt ceiling talks. The difference is any sense of urgency – the nation faces default while the league’s battles are a matter of choice, greed and good old-fashioned union busting.
From Matt Moore, Pro Basketball Talk: This lockout is perceived as two sides in a standoff with one another, owners and players. In reality, it’s six sides. You have the rich owners, the poor owners, the moderate owners, the superstar players, the role players, and… the agents. When it gets down to it, the agents are the men behind the curtain in this little play. Those escalating salaries that the owners themselves agreed to with ridiculous, long contracts? The owners are on the hook for them, those were the product of the owners’ decisions. But they were created by the work of agents, forever raising value, forever edging the bottom line (and subsequently their cut) higher and higher. It is the agents advising the players on their money to prepare for a lockout, it is the agents keeping the players in line to whatever degree they can.
From Matt Moore, Pro Basketball Talk: This is like “War of the Worlds.” Besiktas is Orson Wells, we’re the poor, unsuspecting public gathering rifles for possemen to go hunt the little green Martians invading from Turkey. Pau Gasol is the Tom Cruise’s little girl. Or something. It’s not a perfect analogy. This thing is going to drag on for a while. Bryant’s going to continue to solicit offers. Supposedly Bryant and Besiktas are going to meet next week when officials come to the United States for Deron Williams‘ signing. But Bryant’s also scheduled to continue his Nike tour in Asia next week. But hey, facts have never stopped a good story before.
From Kevin Ding: OC Register: It’s quiet across the locked-out NBA these days, but there’s even less chatter in the offices of the Lakers, who parted ways with many familiar faces in cost-cutting moves at the start of the month. Now there is already one tangible loss from the Lakers’ decisions not to renew nearly 20 expiring contracts for trainers, scouts and staffers and save money for services not needed during what figures to be a lengthy lockout. Alex McKechnie, who rebuilt Shaquille O’Neal’s body once upon a time and in this era did specialized pregame training for most Lakers including Pau Gasol, has decided to take his innovation in analyzing core strength to the Toronto Raptors.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: With an indifferent expression, stony silence and a downplaying of each milestone, Kobe Bryant tried hard to show that he wasn’t preoccupied with climbing the NBA’s all-time scoring list. But not many believed him, including Phil Jackson. When I asked the former Lakers coach last season which player Bryant wants to pass on the scoring list the most, Jackson replied without hesitation, “Michael Jordan.” Bryant argued that wasn’t true and continued touting his sole motivation entails trying to minimize the gap between Bill Russell’s 11 NBA titles and his own five. Bryant isn’t lying when he says that’s his main motivation, but it’s misleading to act indifferent about it when teammates, media and the general public know he’s driven to be the best player ever.