Archives For July 2011

Yesterday afternoon, Mark Medina wrote a post about how Yao Ming’s early retirement should be taken as a lesson by Andrew Bynum, another promising center whose future career is still pretty much a question mark due to his injury history. From Medina’s post:

There are several lessons Bynum could take if he watched Yao Ming announce his retirement Wednesday in China after an accomplished nine-year career ended because of recurring injuries. Should Bynum be wary of a similar fate? Will Bynum’s career be cut short because of continuous trips to the trainer’s room to treat his wobbly knees? Will his legacy be tainted like Yao’s with wondering what Bynum could’ve accomplished had he stayed healthy? And will Bynum eventually need to adopt a plan the Rockets prescribed for Yao in which he wouldn’t play more than 24 minutes per game?

I’ve been of the pro-Bynum camp for some years now. However, recent history tells the story of the “challenges of building around a center vs. you need size to contend for rings” paradox. In recent years, the Mavericks, Lakers and Celtics have all been Finals champions by winning with size, but none of those teams were exactly built around a center. Dallas with Dirk, the Lakers with Kobe and the Celtics with Pierce.

Conversely, we’ve seen the Magic struggle to get over the conjectural hump with Dwight Howard as their centerpiece and Houston struggled even more with Yao always battling injuries. Even the Trailblazers know how hard it is to contend with an injury prone center with Greg Oden (and even Sam Bowie in ’84) spending a large majority of his young career on the sidelines.

So where do the Lakers go with Andrew Bynum?

It’s been clear that Jim Buss is willing to hold on to Bynum by any means necessary, but is it wise to focus the future of your franchise on a young center who has had his fair share of injuries? At this point, it’s hard to give a definite answer considering the fact that ‘Drew has shown flashes of absolute brilliance on both sides of the ball, and could make a legit claim to be the league’s second best center when healthy — but that qualifier is exactly what has a lot of us questioning whether or not Bynum is the future.

Without question, if you can have the best center in your conference in a league that has been dominated by size in recent years, you have to say yes. However, it doesn’t make sense to keep him if he’s going to spend more time in street close than on the hard wood. When the lockout ends, the Lakers are going to have a lot of minor roster questions to deal with, but the franchise’s big picture question about their future is surely whether or not they’re going to move forward with Bynum.

Last season, ‘Drew didn’t have any major injury issues. The optimists among us might point out the fact that he had a series of scary moments and nothing bad happened. On the flip side, some might wonder if that season was an outlier in a career that has shown trends of prolonged injuries. Obviously, time will tell whether or not he’s completely shaken the injury bug, and I hope he does — because if he happens to fulfill his potential, the transition after Kobe’s retirement would be a much easier one. It’s going to be interesting to see how the Lakers handle this situation and how Bynum handles his body. I’d hate for Bynum’s career to end in the same fashion as Yao’s.

Fast Break Thoughts

Phillip Barnett —  July 20, 2011

Yesterday, we talked about the release of the NBA Schedule and some games we might be looking forward to seeing — if the lockout ends on time. As of right now, it’s hard to imagine the lockout ending with reports that there are “no meaningful negations going on between the owners and players”. In fact, Los Angeles Times’ Mark Medina is reporting that “Lakers guard and National Basketball Players Assn. President Derek Fisher plans to play in a pair of exhibition games in the Philippines this weekend, his manager, Jamie Wior, confirmed Monday. Fisher will join the likes of Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, Derrick Williams, Tyreke Evans and Javelle McGee representing the MVP Sports Foundation, according to a person who was familiar with the roster but wasn’t authorized to speak about it publicly. The team is expected to play in a pair of exhibition games July 23 and 24 against the Philippine Basketball Assn.’s All-Star team and the Smart Gilas national team at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.”

We learned that Yao Ming was retiring earlier this month, last night, Yao officially announced his retirement in China. Below are a few reactions about his retirement:

- From Danny Chau of Hardwood Paroxysm

- From ESPN Stats and Information via TrueHoop

- From Kurt over at Pro Basketball Talk

- A look back at a 2007 Lakers/Rockets Game from Matt Moore

- Some memorable moments from Mark Medina

- Yao Ming Appreciation Day over at Ed The Sports Fan

- From Jason Friedmana of Rockets.com

- From the Houston Chronicle

- From NBA.com

Jovan Buha of Hardwood Paroxysm argues that Andrew Bynum isn’t a role model, and it’s unfair to ask him to be:

Whether it’s committing several flagrant fouls with potential career-threatening ramifications, or publicly calling out his team’s brotherhood, Bynum is continuously defying authority. But not in a 1960s “the government sucks let’s have sex and do drugs” type of way; it’s an “I don’t give a crap about anyone else” type of way.

This isn’t a personal attack on Bynum. As I said, I don’t know him, and am basing this solely off of information I believe to be true. Over the past few seasons, he’s been arguably my favorite player to watch on the Lakers, and I believe if healthy, he’s the league’s second best center behind Dwight Howard. So don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t think he’s a terrible person, I just think he makes questionable decisions.

It’s looking more and more unlikely that Kobe will play competitively overseas after learning that he’s asking for $1 million per month to play in Turkey along side Deron Williams. What Kobe is doing, however, is playing overseas in the Philippines with what is being considered the most “star-studded” collection of NBA-ers to play against the PBA All-Stars.

Lastly, the guys over at Land O’ Lakers take a look at some free agent shooting guards the Lakers who may or may not be a good fit for the Lakers (they also took a look at a not so impressive list of free agent point guards earlier this week, too). Aaron Afflalo seems the most intriguing on this list, but considering he’s a legit two-way player (offense and defense) and he’s a restricted free agent, it’s tough seeing him in a Lakers uniform next season. Michael Redd (kind of sort of) caught my eye, too. He isn’t nearly the playmaker he was a few years ago after two knee surgeries, but one of the things that rarely leaves guys is a pure shooting touch. If Redd could come off the bench and spot up behind the arc for 8-15 minutes per game, I would be okay with that. I’m of the camp that the Lakers desperately need a guy who can come off the bench and consistently stretch the floor. I think Redd is a guy who can do that if he’s willing to accept that kind of role on a championship contending team.

Earlier today, the NBA released its schedule for the 2011-2012 season. While the lockout is still lingering with no end in sight, FB&G reached out to bloggers around the league to see which Lakers match ups they’re most looking forward to seeing. Outside of the obvious games against the Heat and the Celtics, we’ve compiled a short list of games that stood out to us on the schedule.

Daniel Buerge | Lakers Nation | Twitter
Vs. The Oklahoma City Thunder, Opening Night, Nov. 1
The release of the NBA schedule is bittersweet this season as the league is currently gridlocked in a nasty CBA debate. That being said, there are still plenty of exciting games that we will hopefully get to see this upcoming season. While the schedule is littered with exciting games against the best teams and players in the world, one game stands above the rest; opening night. Even though there won’t be a ring ceremony this season, the first night of NBA basketball is always a welcome sign. To make matters even better, the Lakers are facing a team that reached the Western Conference Finals last season in the Oklahoma City Thunder. What better way to prepare you for the NBA season than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the rest of the Thunder? While the game is only the first of 82, opening night still signifies the return of the NBA, and lets all the fans know that there will be basketball to watch for the next nine months.

Emile Avanessian | Hardwood Hype | Twitter
@ The Charlotte Bobcats, Dec. 9
On Tuesday afternoon (or morning, depending on your coast), the NBA released its schedule for the 2011-12 season. As usual, as far as the Lakers are concerned, there is no shortage of intriguing, high profile matchups. While I’ll be tuned in for every game against the Mavericks, Heat, Thunder, Bulls, Celtics and Spurs, another matchup caught my eye as I was spending some quality time with the schedule. As innocuous as it appears roughly a quarter of the way down the 82-game list, the Lakers’ December 9 visit to Charlotte encapsulates virtually every bugaboo of the past decade.

Beyond the baggage this team will drag into every arena in the coming season- new coach/system, advancing age, concerns about depth, an indifference to many games that is nothing short of uncanny- the Lakers have won just twice in seven tries at the Time Warner Cable Arena, one of those by a single point against the Bobs’ 2004-05 expansion squad. And while the 2011-12 Bobcats squad is hardly a contender, the roster is not short on legitimate NBA-caliber talent. Toss in the fact that the game will be the Lakers’ fifth in eight nights, with four of those on the road, and takes place the night after their lone visit of the regular season to South Beach, and that Friday in North Carolina begins to look especially treacherous.

Even when winning championships, this is exactly the type of game that Laker teams of the recent past have made a habit of losing. Given the humiliating end to last season and the clear fact that this will be a Laker team at a crossroads, this win would be hugely encouraging.

J.D. Hastings | FB&G | Twitter
Vs. The Toronto Raptors, Dec. 13
It’s a grey evening after a lazy day at the pre-Christmas office.  I make myself dinner and relax while watching a local broadcast on league pass between the Lakers and average opposition.  These are the moments that define winter to me.  I don’t ask for the moon, NBA, please just grant me this.

Nick Flynt | Clipper Blog | Twitter
@The Dallas Mavericks, Dec. 15
Usually, I find the idea of regular season NBA grudge matches ridiculous. There aren’t many rivalries in the NBA, either at the individual or team level. But when TNT airs an early-season match-up between the Lakers and the Mavs, there’s no way I’m not getting excited. You’ve got the possibility of a superstar duel between Kobe and Dirk, the TNT We Know Drama factor of a playoff rematch (the Lakers should be able to find some regular season passion to get at least a measure of revenge for that sweep, right?) and what should simply be a good, close game between two talented teams, storyline or no.

Bryan Crawford | From The Go | Twitter
Vs. The Chicago Bulls, Christmas Day, Dec. 25
If there is a 2011-2012 season, then the game I’m most looking forward to is the Lakers vs. Bulls on Christmas Day. Last year Chicago played in New York on Christmas, this year, they get to go to LA; which is cool because I was tired of seeing LeBron vs. Kobe anyway.

Conrad Kaczmarek | Fear The Sword | Twitter
Vs. The Phoenix Suns, Feb. 17
As a huge fan of the NBA in general, I always enjoy seeing great teams play. Although I have no allegiance to the Los Angeles Lakers, they are one of the teams that consistently provides excellent entertainment for basketball fans. As far as entertainment value goes, my mind immediately goes back to the ridiculous 139-137, triple overtime game against the Phoenix Suns. Looking at the schedule for next season, the February 17th match-up against the Suns stands out to me. These two teams seem to always engage in great, up-tempo contests. The fact that it will happen right around the trade deadline means Dwight Howard and Steve Nash rumors will be in full force. It may not be against the Heat or Celtics, but the Suns-Lakers match-ups never disappoint.

Eddie Maisonet | Ed The Sports Fan | Twitter
“@” The Los Angeles Clippers, Apr. 4
Mark this date on the calendar and mark these words as they are written. The Los Angeles Clippers will welcome the Lakers into THEIR arena, Staples Center, and win the season series in the city of Angels. Now I realize its somewhat blasphemous to talk crazy about the Lakers on FB&G, however with the talent on the Lakers either hitting their apex or on a downward trend and the Clippers talent being stocked up and nowhere close to their prime…they’ve got a real shot. Blake Griffin won the rookie of the year without a real post move, Eric Gordon might be the best young two-guard in the league, (think about it) and youngsters like Deandre Jordan, Al-Farouq Aminu, and Eric Bledsoe are laying the foundation for the future. Can the old guard in purple and gold hold the fort one more year? Kobe and Co. are not going to go down swinging, and the 4th of April will be must see TV.

Phillip Barnett | FB&G | Twitter
Vs. The San Antonio Spurs, Apr. 17
One of the coolest things about being an uncle is watching your nephew grow up and become a sports fan. On April 17th, my nephew will turn four and will be as impressionable as ever. I haven’t taken the little fella to a Lakers game yet, so I’m thinking a game against the only franchise that has rivaled the Lakers in winning pedigree over the last 15 years would be great for his first. There’s no telling how much longer Tim Duncan is going to play, so I’d love to catch this one live so my nephew will be able to say that he saw some of the greatest ball players ever on the same court in an epic Lakers/Spurs match up that will likely have playoff implications.

J.M. Poulard is a friend of the site and contributor to fellow TrueHoop Network site, Warrior’s World. Over the summer he’s been dishing out tremendous historical pieces and today graces FB&G with a look at a classic game that we all remember well. You can reach him by email here and find him on Twitter @ShyneIV.

If there is one thing that both the NBA and its fans love, it has to be Game 7’s. The idea of winner take all usually gets an enormous amount of ratings and also helps create or enhance legacies. The best example of this of this is none other than Bill Russell. The Celtic legend won 11 NBA titles and was undefeated in such games during his career. Hence, he is viewed as the greatest winner in professional team sports.

The irony of it all though is that the most memorable Game 7’s the NBA has been able to offer in recent years have all involved the Los Angeles Lakers.

Granted, there have been some fairly impressive Game 7’s in the past few years that did not involve the Lakers:

  • Orlando winning in Boston in the 2009 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
  • Boston defeating Cleveland in the 2008 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
  • Dallas winning in San Antonio in the 2006 Western Conference Semi-Finals.
  • San Antonio defeating Detroit in the 2005 NBA Finals (probably the least remembered one by the way, hell you might not know it even happened).
  • Detroit winning in Miami in the 2005 Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Minnesota defeating Sacramento in the 2004 Western Conference Semi-Finals.
  • Philadelphia defeating Milwaukee in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals.
  • Philadelphia defeating Toronto in the 2001 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.

Some of those games are NBA Hardwood Classics. And yet, none of them come close to matching the purple and gold’s recent history:

  • 2000 Western Conference Finals: Portland Trail Blazers at Los Angeles Lakers.
  • 2002 Western Conference Finals: Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings.
  • 2010 NBA Finals: Boston Celtics at Los Angeles Lakers.

Considering just how great these games were, perhaps a stroll through memory lane might not be a bad thing.

My favorite one out of the three is easily the one in Sacramento. This was the ultimate test of team versus superstars.

From top to bottom, the Sacramento Kings had the best team in the NBA. They had a terrific young point guard in Mike Bibby who shot the lights out, a defensive stopper in Doug Christie who could occasionally play point guard, a talented scorer in Peja Stojakovic, arguably the best power forward in the game in Chris Webber and an accomplished center in Vlade Divac.

The starting five gave teams fits, but they also had a superb combo guard in Bobby Jackson coming off the bench as well as another scorer/shooter in Hedo Turkoglu to spell both the shooting guard and small forward spots. Also, Scott Pollard might not have been a household name, but he was a solid back up center that hustled, rebounded and ran the floor.

The Lakers on the other hand were viewed as Shaq and Kobe. Oh and the rest of the team as well.

Several fans felt that Sacramento was ready. It was time for a new shade of purple to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. But the series, and more importantly its final game captured everything you needed to know about winning in the NBA: talent matters, but do does heart and mental toughness.

As the game starts, one thing is obvious from the jump: Kings players will probably win all the hustle stats because of their younger legs, but also because of the frantic crowd. The fans in attendance at Arco Arena should make a huge difference in this one, energizing the home team with their cheers.

Despite all of those facts, the Lakers play with poise early in the game and do not allow the crowd noise to affect them. With Kings players sagging down in the lane to take away passing angles to the post and also to be ready to double and triple team Shaquille O’Neal (35 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks by game’s end) whenever he catches the ball, the Los Angeles role players have to early on manufacture shots for themselves. The strategy means that Derek Fisher (four-for-11 from the field by end of game), Kobe Bryant (10-for-26 from the field at conclusion of game), Rick Fox (five-for-12 from the field) and Robert Horry (six-for-17 from the field) would have to find a way to score all by themselves.

The Lakers offense naturally struggles a bit but owns a 22-21 lead after the first quarter.

By the second quarter, Sacramento’s early game jitters are gone. Much like during the entire regular season and postseason run, the Kings look like the best passing team in basketball. Webber (stat line for the game: 20 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds and two steals) is feeding cutters from the high post, driving the lane and dropping it off to Divac’s for dunks while Christie is finding open shooters for long-range shots.

Because the Kings are literally sitting in Shaquille O’Neal’s lap, they are allowing some fairly wide driving lanes to his teammates. Thus, when they drive to the basket, they do not get much resistance; and even when they miss, O’Neal cleans up the offensive glass.

At halftime the Kings are up 54-52. Although the Kings have the lead, they seem overly emotional; screaming and chest pumping after every good play. Normally this is a good thing, but they look like a team that could be emotionally fragile if things were to go wrong while the Lakers on the other hand look like they are all business.

The third quarter is played at the rhythm of the first quarter; as the Lakers remain in striking distance throughout with their role players asserting themselves offensively. They are not having their best games by any stretch of the imagination but their willingness to take shots will come back to save them later on.

The Kings meanwhile are playing well and spreading the wealth as usual but one aspect seems puzzling: Chris Webber has been single covered throughout the game by Robert Horry, Samaki Walker and Slava Medvedenko and yet he refuses to assert himself offensively. Score after three: Kings lead 74-73.

Because the Lakers role players have been forced to make plays throughout the game, they have the confidence to do it in the fourth quarter. Fox and Fisher both get driving lay ups (yes, lay ups) against the Kings defense, while Kobe (stat line: 30 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, two steals) gets himself to the line and sets up his teammates with his drives.

As the fourth quarter progresses, the Kings biggest weakness as well as the Lakers biggest strength starts to show: mental toughness.

The Kings get a multitude of open shots (seriously, it’s almost embarrassing) and continue to keep clanking them off the rim. Whenever they get fouled, they step to the line and more often than not hit one of their two free throws. The purple and gold on the other hand are getting the shots that they want and are making them.

Much to the delight of Kings fans though, Mike Bibby (29 points on 11-for-25 field goal shooting) has decided to play like Sam Cassell on this fateful day. The only thing missing is the onions dance. Bibby tortures the Lakers, making big shot, after big shot, after big shot. He should seriously consider filing a lawsuit against Chauncey Billups in the near future.

Indeed, the former Arizona Wildcat makes a jumper to put the Kings up 94-93 with 1:43 left and has all of the swagger he did not have in the 2011 NBA Finals as he screams after making the shot and looks like he belongs. But then Lakers come right back, and with Divac sagging in the lane (Shaq is posting up Webber on the left block and Kobe is posting up Christie on the right block), Horry catches the ball at the extended top of the key, fires away and makes an open 3-pointer to put the Lakers up 96-94 (what was Divac thinking? Hadn’t he seen all the montages of Big Shot Rob clutch shots? Did he magically erase Horry’s game winning shot in Game 4 against them from his memory? We will never know).

Bibby will later tie the game up at the free throw line and take us to overtime.

Phil Jackson is reputed for having coached Michael Jordan and also because of his fondness for Zen. But more importantly, the man knows how to coach basketball. Throughout the game, he used his timeouts well and ran plays out of them to take advantage of the Kings defense. But more importantly, he empowered his team to make decisions on the court.

The biggest knock on Shaquille O’Neal has been his inability to make free throws during his career and thus going to him late in ball games was almost impossible because of the fear that they would foul him once he caught the ball. But Jackson’s coaching made such a fear irrelevant in this game. Time and time again, the Lakers kept feeding O’Neal (11-for-15 at free throw line for the game) late in the overtime and he delivered; finding open teammates, scoring on the block and even making his free throws when fouled.

The opposite spectrum of that obviously is that Adelman did a subpar job of putting the right personnel on the court. For the most part, Adelman played a visibly shell-shocked PeJa Stojakovic (three-for-12 from the field in the game) and Doug Christie (two-for-11) who both got clean looks at the basket in OT and both shot airballs.And yet, he had Hedo Turkoglu (four-for-seven from the field) and Bobby Jackson (six-for-nine from the field) sitting next to him onthe bench.

Conventional wisdom states that you ride the guys that got you that far, but Peja and Christie were too busy making an appearance on Mobb Deep’s hit track Shook Ones to help the squad late in the ball game.

Mike Bibby was sensational (scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime combined) but it became obvious that at some point the Lakers were going to force him to pass the ball off to someone; and when that eventually happened, those players missed. Badly.

The Lakers on the other hand willed themselves to the charity stripe where they converted their shots and held on for the win.

One of the most awkward moments came after the game when Jim Gray decided to interview both Mike Bibby and Kobe Bryant together (race to 6:40 mark of the clip). Bibby was clearly disappointed with the loss while Kobe was all smiles and singing the praises of the Kings’ point guard.

Bibby then tried to explain his emotions while Lakers players kept coming over to tell him he had a great series. It made for a funny and yet odd television moment.

That 2002 Los Angeles Lakers went on to win the NBA title because they had talent, but because they were all focused one collective goal, and banded together to reach it. But once again, it’s one thing to want it, it’s a completely different thing to stand inside the ring, take the punches and still go get it.

Usually, repeat champions are the toughest minded basketball teams. Think of Russell’s Celtics, Magic’s Lakers, Bird’s Celtics, Jordan’s Bulls, Olajuwon’s Rockets, Duncan’s Spurs, Shaq’s Lakers and Kobe’s Lakers; teams that were never truly out of a game or a series.

Watching this Lakers team triumph on the road in Game 7 against a more talented opponent in the Western Conference Finals was arguably one of the toughest tests of will in basketball history. And the Lakers passed it with flying colors.

And people wonder why this is one of my favorite Game 7’s ever…

-J.M. Poulard

First it was the news that Kobe Bryant was not consulted or given a heads up that the Lakers were going to hire Mike Brown. Then, it was the interview that former assistant GM Ronnie Lester gave, detailing how the Lakers dealt with him and many other staffers when their contracts expired.

And now it’s Brian Shaw, in an interview with the Kamenetzky Brothers for ESPN Radio 710, explaining how he wasn’t told that he wouldn’t be getting the Lakers’ head coaching job, what his relationship was like with Jim and Jerry Buss, and some of his views on the Lakers as a whole as he moves on to be the associate head (aka the lead assistant) coach with the Pacers. Go listen to the entire interview to get his full perspective.

Shaw’s interview is simply another negative p.r. hit for the Lakers and, ultimately, Jim Buss. Fair or not, the younger Buss has not built up the good will that his father has and these types of reports only hurt his perception with those that support the team. And while he did a good job of opening up and pulling back the curtain on what type of executive he is in an interview with the LA Times, Jim Buss still has a ways to go to overcome some of the negative connotations associated with his stewardship.