Archives For July 2011

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.

Jeff Camarra, Trey Johnson Horse

On April 13, Trey Johnson came off the bench for the Lakers and scored six points in 13 minutes. At the time, it was a cool story that had some fans wondering if Johnson could be the answer to the Lakers point guard woes. For Jeff Camarra, this was the end of the story.

Camarra, a Knicks fan, read about Trey Johnson after learning that the Knicks were looking to pick up a D-Leaguer, and became intrigued by his story. He emailed the Bakersfield Jam owner, then got Johnson and the NBA on board to film a documentary on Trey’s road to the NBA. After approvals across the board, Camarra lived in Trey’s house for eight days to get a feel for what the day-to-day life is for Trey and all D-Leaguers. All of this resulted in a documentary that could be released shortly after the NBA Lockout ends.

Jeff talked with ForumBlueAndGold about Trey, the D-League and his documentary.

Forum Blue & Gold: What was it about Trey Johnson that initially interested you in making this documentary?

Jeff Camarra: Trey’s perseverance in making it in the NBA was what really intrigued me. He has been the last player cut by the Hornets, Heat and the Lakers. Everyone was picking Trey to be the first player called up after the D-League Showcase, a week when all D-League teams play infront on NBA scouts. This past season was his fourth season in the D-League; most of the players in the development league only play a year or two before going overseas. Because of this, there was more of a sense of urgency with Trey. That’s the big tradeoff for the players in the development league. Players in the development league don’t make the money that they could make overseas, but opt to play in the states for the NBA exposure. Some players might have given up after a couple years in the development league, but its Trey’s commitment that sets him apart from the rest.

FB&G: Were there any other D-Leaguers who caught your eye?

JC: A lot of guys in the D-League have intriguing stories; one player that caught my eye was Antoine Walker. Walker was a NBA-All Star for a few years with the Celtics and won a championship with the Heat and is now trying to get back into the NBA through the D-League. I recognized a lot of names who were great college players; Patrick Ewing Jr, Scotty Reynolds, Cole Aldrich, Hasheem Thabeet, etc. But with 20% of the NBA coming through the D-League, I expect the development league getting more recognition.

FB&G: Were you thinking about making a similar documentary before you came across Trey?

JC: I grew up a basketball junkie and dreamed of playing in the NBA. Although my playing days ended after high school, I always wondered what it would be like to live that dream of playing in the NBA. I thought there was a story in the players that take the unconventional route. I knew about the development league, but didn’t learn about Trey until a couple of weeks before we started filming. I read the New York Knicks were interested in calling up a player from the development league and Trey was one of the players the Knicks were interested in. I did some research on Trey and found this diamond in the rough talent who never really got a legitimate shot in the NBA, but he was believed to be the first player called up to the NBA after the D-League showcase. D-League president Dan Reed compared the Showcase to American Idol and I think that’s a very fitting comparison.

Jeff Camarra, Trey Johnson bench

FB&G: What was it like living with Trey for eight days?

JC: Living with Trey was interesting because it gave me a glimpse into the life of a D-League player. These guys all make enormous sacrifices to achieve their dream. I think a lot of people have a preconceived notion that professional athletes have it easy and everything is handed to them, but that’s certainly not the case for players in the development league. Trey has two children who live in Mississippi, where he is from, who he doesn’t get to see as much as he would like. He’s constantly working on his game and in the gym, all to make it to the NBA. He could go overseas and make a very good living, but he always dreamed of playing in the NBA. Overseas has great basketball, but he said he didn’t grow up dreaming of playing in Europe. Seeing someone with so much at stake was inspiring. I hope that’s what people get out of watching this, that what it’s about, a guy working to achieve his dream with so much on the line.

FB&G: How long did it take to put the project together from start to finish?

JC: The planning and preparation of this project was done in just a couple weeks. I first emailed the owner of Trey’s D-League team to get the ok from him and then he put me in contact with Trey. After Trey was onboard, I had to convince the NBA to allow me to film the D-League games, because they own the content. I think they were initially reluctant to allow a group of 20 year olds to film their product, so it took some explaining on our end. I filmed it with three friends (Jonah Quickmire Pettigrew, Nayim Saati and Dan Zinn) with financing from brother Chris Camarra and his business partner Bryan Kobel. Editing down the 100+ hours of footage we got took a few months, from start to finish it was about a five month project.

FB&G: Was Trey open to the idea when you presented it to him?

JC: I think he had some concerns at first, but we spoke through them. I didn’t know Trey at all before calling him and asking to live with him and film him 24/7, so I understood where he was coming from. We documented Trey throughout the D-League Showcase, which is a week when all the D-League teams come to one venue to play in front off all the NBA scouts and GM’s with the hopes of being called up to the NBA. Everyone in the league assumed Trey would be the first player to go up, but he was still under pressure to perform.

FB&G: What was your biggest challenge in putting this project together?
JC: Editing this has been the most difficult. After our last day of filming I flew back to Florida, to finish my last term of college, while the other three guys flew back to New York. Nayim and Dan did the editing and we were sending clips back and forth from January to nearly May.

FB&G: Were you a little disappointed that he ended up on the Lakers and not a Knicks?
JC: When I left Trey and returned to college to begin editing this he was still with the Jam, so I was just hoping a team would called him up. Living with him for a week, we built a friendship and still keep in contact. In those regards, it would’ve been cool for him to play in New York, but I’m glad he got with a team that fits his style of play. A couple weeks after filming he was called up to the Raptors and played under two consecutive ten-day contracts. I thought they would’ve kept him around, but they didn’t. That was a big blow. In the end the Lakers signed him and it looks that situation will be better for him in the long run. The first night I met Trey he scored 31 points and after the game we watched the Lakers play the Hornets in a regular season game, four months after that he was on the Lakers playing the Hornets in the NBA playoffs. I couldn’t think of a better

FB&G: What do you hope people learn about Trey and the D-League after watching your film?
JC: I hope more than anything people see the grind these D-League players go through and why they do it. I think it’s hard to learn Trey’s story, what he has gone through, and not pull for a guy like this Trey to make it; it’s a real life “Rudy.” The maximum salary a D-League player can make is $25,000 so they certainly are not there for the money. I think when people think of the NBA, they think of the star players with the huge contracts and sponsorship deals. This film isn’t about that. It’s about the guy laying it all on the line to fulfill his dream.

FB&G: When can we expect this documentary to be open to the public?
JC: It’s completed and has been submitted to the NBA for review. It’s tough to say with the lockout, but I would say shortly after the work stoppage.

(For more information about the documentary, you can check out the Facebook page. You can also follow Jeff on twitter here. Photos provided by Jeff Camarra.)

Fast Break Thoughts

Phillip Barnett —  July 14, 2011

(h/t LA Times)

The NBA’s Offseason is usually a drag for those of us who just want to watch hoops. This offseason has been doubly tough on us with the collective bargaining agreement hanging over our heads. However, if you’ve been missing game play, Inquirer Sports has a couple highlights of Kobe playing in the Philippines (footwork alert!).

Lake Show Life details why Kobe is spending some time in the Philippines: “The Philippines is among the many hoops crazed nations currently on the rise. In recent years Kobe has taken a moment out of his summer to help spread the gospel of basketball in the Philippines. Last summer KB24 did a web series in the Philippines and currently he’s in the midst of a five city tour conducting basketball clinics.”

Gary Lee of Lakers Nation provides evidence that coming to Los Angeles has been very good for Ron Metta World Peace Artest: Coming to Los Angeles has probably been one of the best career moves by Metta World Peace. Consider the amount of hardware he’s been able to pick up since his arrival – the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, an NBA championship ring and now another plaque to honor World Peace’s efforts in raising awareness for mental health issues.

Eddie Maisonet of SLAMOnline argues that Kobe, Kevin Garnett and Dwyane Wade should be fighting to end the lockout like a few NFL superstars: Look, Kobe is on the brink of cementing a top-five of all time legacy. If the man were able to bring home a sixth ring to his trophy case, the Kobe Stans are going to scream to the heavens that he’s the best of all time. The prognosticators will begin to question should he be placed into the pantheon of elite players that since Jordan retired, has been unquestioned. So Kobe wants to consider going to Europe? For what? There’s nothing for him to prove there. Isn’t this your quest, in your journey, to be the greatest of all time? You can’t lose a year now, you’ve got to at least give the ‘Mike Brown era’ a chance first. And, as the face of the of “The Association” your voice should be respected and appreciated at the negotiating table and if that doesn’t work then do that crazy overbite you do in the fourth quarter all the time. That’ll put some fear in their hearts to end this.

During this offseason, the Lakers added some new faces to the organization with a new coaching staff and with a couple draft picks. Mike Trudell has an interesting interview with new Assistant Coach John Kuester and The Laker Nation invited incoming rookie Andrew Goudelock to their Voice of the Nation Podcast.

The announcement went a bit under the radar, but the Lakers officially introduced Ettore Messina as a member of Mike Brown’s staff last week. This has been in the works for what seems like months, so it’s no surprise that his official hiring didn’t get the type of press that an addition like this would normally garner.

Make no mistake though, this is a big deal. Messina is one of the most decorated coaches in the world, is well respected, and his arrival as a coach in the states has been highly anticipated. So with his hire finally being set in stone, I reached out to long time FB&G’er Xavier Sánchez who is our de facto foreign correspondent. For those that aren’t familiar, Xavier is a professional youth team coach in Spain and has done countless posts for us on all things European basketball. Xavier was kind enough to answer some general questions about Messina and provided some excellent insight. Now, on to the Q&A…

FB&G: When Messina was first mentioned as a potential addition to Mike Brown’s staff, one of the first hints at his style was the video clip of a clinic he ran on post play. Is he a coach known for developing big men? Do you think he can help get the most out of Gasol and Bynum?

XS: Gasol will absolutely love Messina, and its not entirely because of the European flavor (Messina is Italian and Pau is Spanish, not even the same country) but because Messina loves fundamentals.  As you can see in the video from the post play clinic everything he talks about is position, the right foot to land first… Pau’s game is about all that.

Bynum will pick up a lot of tricks he doesn’t have because he’s never been asked to be a polished low post player. But the key is on Bynum and his desire to learn how to do it. Messina puts a lot of pressure on the technical part of the game as it’s easy to recognize both for the coach and the player and they can work on it. Mental errors are harder to work on and that’s where Bynum could choke. If he doesn’t he’ll learn a lot from Messina.

He’ll probably make the transition from the triangle easy because he likes the players to read the offense and work what the defense gives them, that’s why he stress so much the importance of versatility and fundamentals. The more things you’re able to perform, the bigger problem you are for the defense. Bigs tend to move a lot, setting picks between bigs and switching between the high and low post. That of course requires high basketball IQ. In recent years of NBA, high basketball IQ was related to the triangle, in Europe where physical talents are not the bread and butter, we call it just basketball.

Messina is an amazing communicator. He’s a straight talking man with an incredible knowledge of the game. Its not like the zen culture the lakers had before, he’ll be chasing players telling them every minimal thing they could do better and if the player listen and tries hard (I’m looking at you Bynum) fundamental heaven is the sky.

FB&G: How “guard friendly” is his system? Does he rely on a PG to create offense for others? How do you see him using Kobe Bryant and his varied skill set?

XS: Messina has always relied on “big” playmakers. Antoine Rigaudeau, Marko Jaric, Manu Ginobili or Theo Papaloukas are just the kind of guys he wanted to give the ball to, all of them over 6-6 feet.  Neither of those have been great shooters (Ginobili being the best of them) but incredible ball handlers, with good penetration and playmaking skills.

He’s also used a lot 2 american guards during his stint in CSKA Moscow, JR Holden and former Duke (Blue Devil) Trajan Langdon, both under 6-3 but with great shooting stroke that could compensate the lack of shooting touch its big PG had.

I could see Kobe being that kind of playmaker if he buys on sharing the ball and letting the game come to him. Kobe is a fundamental beast, he studies the game as few others do in this league and that gives him an edge. Messina will kindly love to use 2nd round pick Morris could also enjoy coach Messina predilection for tall driving guards. Fish could fill the short SG role that Holden and Langdon used to play for him but he’s way past the prime. At least he’s smart enough and a good leader, just hope he can hold himself on D. A guard with more playmaking ability wouldn’t hurt.

In his four Euroleague titles, 3 of the MVPs where guards (Ginobili, Papaloukas and Langdon) but saying his system is “guard friendly” would be taking it too far. I like Messina when he says that a good coach has the ability to detect the player strengths and draws a system to work for them. He’ll share his philosophy but he doesn’t have a closed system he applies everywhere as D’Antoni does with his run and gun or Jackson with the triangle.

The 3 things I’ve seen the most from his teams are:

  1. A more than impeccable pick and roll game. Having a beast as Papaloukas helps as he is (not exaggerating) the European Stockton reading P&R situations. As you can see from this small clip of the high P&R they ran in CSKA Moscow; expect some of this to happen this season.
  2. High efficiency shots. Bad shots lead to easy fast break points. If he has fast and young players that might mean run, run, and run the fast break and stop it if they can’t finish the easy basket. With a veteran Laker team it will probably mean long worked possessions.
  3. More all-around players, less specialists

FB&G: Many think of Messina as an offensive coach and envision him helping out mostly on that side of the ball. But, what is his philosophy on defense? Do you see him being able to help the Lakers on D?

XS: As I said before, Messina starts defending by attacking smart. Bad shots lead to long rebounds and easy transition points so that’s the first thing he’ll try to transmit to the coaching staff.

He’s always been a guy more in the line of help-recover than help-rotate. I hated how the Lakers changed defenses on every pick and roll situation, I don’t think Mike Brown will like that neither, but the team is what it is, full of vets. Again, it all depends on what the staff sees and the reaction of the players to the more aggressive defense Brown will ask for.

As you may see in this clip, it’s a CSKA Moscow – Macabi Tel Aviv game. In the first quarter they are already full court press, double teams, super aggressive off the ball defense on Vujcic (Metta World Peace like) and even some well executed 2-3 zone.

See what I was saying? I repeat. This is JUST the first quarter clip. THE FIRST QUARTER!

Messina is a master teaching that kind of D, but I don’t see any of these applied in the NBA. Maybe some tweaks and suggestions and opinions, but Brown and the rest of the staff have an advantage on him in the NBA world… for now.

FB&G: What do you think are his main weaknesses as a coach? Do you see him having any adjustment issues in coming to the NBA? Specifically in coming to a Laker team with so much star power and such high expectations?

XS: The main issue in Messina as an NBA coach will be on the topic we talked before – Defense. European defense is so much different than the NBA’s. For instance, real zones are not allowed in America as we see them in FIBA ball, more closed into the paint making it harder to get to the hole.

Also, in Europe, every game is played at the top intensity. Of course there are games with rivalries and more things at stake but it’s not like in the NBA where most teams cruise during a game just to sprint the last 8 minutes, or even cruising the whole season to click for the playoffs. For European teams, the dynamic is 1 or 2 games a week, 2 practices per day 4 to 5 days a week. Not shooting sessions, PRACTICE – drills and actually working on the game. That’s quite a big change of rhythm not just for players but also for the coaches. See again the clip from question 3 and tell me if you’ve ever seen that in a regular season first quarter. Yeah right, cruising… (I know, I know, 3-4 games a week and all that stuff, but I’d rather see a well played game than 3 games that don’t matter for the first 40 minutes. Don’t kill me please, just an opinion). 

The last big adjustment Messina will likely have a hard time making is the control of the game the coach has over its players. You call Avery Johnson the “little general”? You’ve seen nothing. Coaches in Europe walk the bench up and down, don’t usually sit and are giving commands to its players. He’s probably calmer than the average euro coach but I can’t see that on an NBA bench. 

I don’t think the jump to the NBA via the Lakers bench will make the transition harder. Messina is a winner and is not afraid of it. Would Coach K be listened and respected in the Lakers bench? Messina has probably done more than him basketball wise. He’s got his head straight. He could have jumped into a starting gig in Toronto had he wanted it but as he said, he first needs to prove himself to be a good assistant coach in the NBA, make the transition the right way, and then see what happens. Adjusting to the players and situations has always been his forte, that’s just another adjustment he’s doing.

FB&G: Messina’s been a hot name in coaching circles for many years and there have been reports of him potentially coming to the NBA in past years. Why do you think he chose to come now?

XS: Well, Messina is a tremendously respected coach in Europe, he has enjoyed a great career with a combined 26 trophies and medals (also coached the Italian NT) including 4 Euroleagues in 7 final four trips.

His last gig in ACB league with Real Madrid didn’t go well. First of all he got a very young team with no chemistry at all. The situation was that bad that he resigned when he realized that neither the team front office nor the players were doing their job. The team had a pretty fair way to (what could have been) his 8th final four appearance but in that situation he could not go on.

After that, offers are still raining for him (Its Real Madrid’s image that is hurting right now) but in the wake of the Lockout I think Messina has seen the perfect occasion for him.

Let me dig into that: As I said before, Messina wants to see if he can be an assistant coach for an NBA team before jumping at the starting job but… have you dumped your job as head kitchen chef in a small bistro to be the guy that washes the dishes in a fancier downtown restaurant? I guess that it will be easier to do if the season is shorter.

More over, if he isn’t working on another euro project he can now concentrate in a more in depth study of the NBA until the lockout clears.

Now he has 19 years of top European experience, enough to be well respected and at “just” 51 years old is “young” enough to move to another goal after winning it all in Europe. 

I’m looking forward to see what he can do over there.


I also asked Xavier to talk some about Ricky Rubio; to explain what he thought his prospects were as he comes over to play for the Timberwolves. Below is his brief take on the young Spanish PG that we’ve been waiting to see in the league…

As you might have seen, the shaggy haired kid from my town has already worn his Timberwolves jersey. The word now in the US, for what I’ve heard and read, is that Rubio has peaked at 20 years old, that he’s nowhere near the talent he was when he was drafted. Can’t help but deny that.

First of all, stats argument with European players is totally out because of the difference of the game style, possessions per game and defense played.

Brandon Jennings played in a lower level league (Italian) for a much less talented team (Lottomatica Roma)  and played 19.6 min a game and averaged 7.6 points, 1.6 rebs, 1.6 ast, 1.2 steals and 1.2 To in 16 games.

Meanwhile, this season, Ricky has recorded 6.5 pts, 3,3 rebs, 3,6 ast, 1.6 steals and 1,8 to at 22.8 min in 20 games.

That isn’t to say that Ricky will have better numbers than Jennings next season even though his euroleague stats outplay the American kid. This tells you that European stats means almost nothing when translated to the NBA.

The one thing I’ve seen that I didn’t like of him this year is that he played in a system that didn’t fit him. Ricky belongs to an up tempo rhythm, running up and down the court, throwing passes left and right. Barcelona played half court games with JC Navarro (as great as he is) absorbing at least 12 to 14 seconds of each possession.

He still cannot hit consistently shots but neither is Rondo. He’s working on it though and I’ve seen a great improvement in his shooting mechanic from the last 3 years to now.

In a Timberwolves team, in need of a pick and roll capable PG, looking for a guy to distribute the shots that Beasley, Williams, Love and the kind will like to take, a pass first PG like Rubio will fit as Cinderella’s shoe. Plus, his defense is really underrated. He’s really smart on that side of the floor and his 6-9 wingspan also help.

I wish him the best.

From Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: During the Finals, I published some research compiled by ESPN’s Alok Pattani showing how today’s players compare to Michael Jordan when it comes to taking shots in the final seconds of very close playoff games. It included a chart, showing, for instance, that Jordan made half of his 18 such shots. Nobody could touch that. An assortment of players had great percentages on tiny numbers of shots, while Ray Allen had made half of his dozen, LeBron James was a tick behind at 5-of-12, and Dirk Nowitzki was 5-of-13 for his career.  Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, was 7-of-25, for 28 percent — which happens to be the league average field goal percentage in this pressure situation. That’s in keeping with lots of other research — and comments from Lakers coaches — showing that in crunch time Bryant is a very high-volume shooter, and a guy who makes incredibly tough shots, but not one who is especially likely to make the shots he takes.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPNLA: Where in the world will Ron Artest, a.k.a. Metta World Peace, be playing basketball next? It’s been less than two weeks since the NBA lockout went into place and the Los Angeles Lakers forward has already been linked to two different European destinations. And already, both basketball locales — Finland and England — have been debunked by Artest’s agent, David Bauman. ESPN TrueHoop Network blog reported that LoKoKo Loimaa of Finland’s top league Korisliiga had reached an agreement with Artest to have him join the team in September. Bauman shot the report down, telling the L.A. Times that it seemed like a “publicity stunt” by the Finnish team.

From Gary Lee, Lakers Nation: Following Kobe’s arrival in Manila, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant will catch a quick flight over from their tours over in China to play some ball with the Black Mamba. Rose and Durant will come down and participate in a couple of games vs. Smart Gilas Pilipinas and PBA selection at Araneta Coliseum, which is the last stop of the day for Kobe. Details are still coming in for the event, but these NBA Superstars are all meeting up in the Phillippines to help raise money to support the MVP Sports Foundation, which helps develop Filipino athletes. So far, the details of the basketball event is that a team of NBA players that include Kobe, Rose and Durant will play against the Pilipinas and PBA selection. NBA players that are being listed on the rosters included Darko Milicic, Tyreke Evans, DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers and Russell Westbrook of the OKC Thunder.

From Matt Smith, Fox Sports: This past regular season, for the first time in nearly a decade, the Los Angeles Lakers weren’t the NBA fan’s team of choice when it came to off-the-court drama. That designation went to the Miami Heat, and they won that title in a rout. Nobody seemed to care much that Kobe Bryant wasn’t practicing at all, instead choosing to save his deteriorating body for game action only. In Phil Jackson’s final season on the bench, there was no pomp and circumstance at every stop the team made; instead, it actually felt like any other season when it came to Jackson.  Sure the Lakers had the sideshow that is Ron Artest, but by all accounts “Ron-Ron” wasn’t only on his best behavior, he was a positive force while contributing to the Los Angeles community more than any other player on the team. Lamar Odom became a reality TV “star,” but it had so little impact on his on-court performance that he finally got national recognition – as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year – for his supremely important contributions to this team’s success.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: During your interview with Coach Brown, what points did you emphasize to him and what questions did he want to know from you? “The hiring was pretty much immediate because of the relationship I had with Mike working with him in Indiana under Rick Carlisle. He asked me if I wanted to be here and I told him yes because I like the Lakers organization, what this team’s about and what type of players we have moving forward to try to win a championship again in the future.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times: Kurt Rambis’ 32-132 record through two seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves may have warranted his firing, which became official Tuesday, but not in the way that Minnesota General Manager David Kahn handled it. Rambis may not have gotten the best out of a roster that averaged about four years’ of NBA experience when he inherited the job, but Kahn didn’t provide much in talent to make Rambis’ coaching job any easier. And Rambis may not have gotten his players to respect him enough to fully buy in to his concepts, but Kahn’s lack of respect toward Rambis was worse because it reeks of unprofessionalism.

The other day in some Fast Break Thoughts, I mentioned I’d been watching an old Bulls game and had this to say about the Triangle offense:

I’m going to miss the Triangle Offense. Watching the Bulls zip the ball around, run all the actions of Tex Winters’ sets, and get the type of looks that allowed them to erase a huge first half deficit was a sight to see. With Phil retiring (again), the only team left running the Triangle is Minnesota. But with Ricky Rubio coming over and Rambis’ job security twisting in the wind, that won’t last long.

Well, Kurt Rambis’ status as the Timberwolves’ head coach is no longer uncertain. Reports say that he will be fired today. And with his dismissal, there’s not a single coach in the NBA that will run the Triangle offense.

I may have been raised on the fast break play of the Showtime Lakers, but I came of age as a basketball fan during the Bulls’ run to six championships and the Lakers stampede to five more in the last decade plus. And while there was beauty (and success) with both styles, I’ve come to love the half court wizardry of the famed triple post sets.

Watching a once in a lifetime player like Magic Johnson orchestrate a full court offense was glorious, but there was something soothing watching the interchangeable parts of those triangle teams move from the wing to the low block; from the low block to the elbow; from the elbow into the two guard front. I loved seeing players read and react to what the defense was doing and still find a high percentage look.

The flexibility the offense offered was also stunning. Both the Bulls (Jordan, Pippen, Kukoc) and the Lakers (Shaq, Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom) had great isolation players and the triangle allowed those players to get to the positions on the court in which they’d be most successful to break down a defense. Whether running center opposite actions to get post players the ball in the post or running the countless elbow actions to free up players to work from the mid-range, this offense offered a variety of options at every turn to get great players the ball in positions where the defense was most compromised.

And it wasn’t just stars that benefited. Role players also found their niche moving into the open spaces of the offense, freeing themselves where they could best take advantage of their (more limited) skill sets. Whether it was Ron Harper finding space on dive cuts to work the interior against smaller guards, Rick Fox operating at the elbow where he could look for his own shot or use his underrated passing skill to pick out a teammate, or shooters like Fisher/Shaw/Paxon/Armstrong/Rice/Horry hovering around the three point line, the triangle continuously worked the defense over to create quality looks.

And while the common thread was smart players, the tools they used were spacing and cohesion.  They were handed a blue print of principles and options – not scripted plays – and told to go make it work on the floor. Players would be 10-15 feet apart at all times. They’d play in a two guard front with the strong side flooded with three players to form the famed sideline triangle. Out of those sets we’d see options of every aspect of basketball teamwork – with post ups, pick and rolls, and pressure releases all readily available to execute. The ball could stay on the strong side or easily rotate back to the weak side where cuts and screens combined to free up players and form other triangles seamlessly. When run correctly, it looked effortless while proving deadly all at the same time.

Of course, it didn’t always work. Ball stopping and an over-dependence on shot making could grind the offense’s flow to a halt. Dribbling in lieu of passing to the open man – something we’ve seen too often in recent years – often turned what should be a beautiful choreography into a disjointed mess. Too many times the smartest players with the most talent (that means you, Kobe and Michael) could manipulate the offense by dictating where passes went in order to get the desired outcome of a certain shot from a certain part of the floor. This rendered the “read and react” aspect of the O useless and turned the triangle into something scripted and predictable.

Not to mention that we’ve only seen the offense work with some of the league’s most transcendent talents. Michael, Shaq, Kobe – all historical legends that served as lynchpins to the offense’s success. All were heavily leaned on to be shot makers and creators, using their otherworldly ability to defy the shot clock or position on the floor to still produce two points when they were most needed. Many could successfully argue that those players could succeed in any offense and elevate teammates regardless of what the greaseboard’s X’s and O’s dictated. And then of course, there’s Phil Jackson and Tex Winter pulling the strings to it all. It surely helps when hall of famers are the guys doing the teaching and barking out the orders.

All that said, the proof is in the success of the offense and how it was able to take on the burden of accommodating such stars while still maximizing their gifts. The offense gave them room to grow as players while also giving structure. Would we have ever seen Michael and Kobe develop their post games without the triangle offering the opportunity to work the low block? Would Shaq have ever become the deadly passer that he evolved into without the spacing, cutting, and angles built into the offense of his prime years? I suppose there are arguments either way but I’ll happily take my chances with those guys growing in the triangle and using it as a conduit for expanding who they could become as players.

And now, there’s no one left to run it. No coaches to teach it and no superstars to hone their games learning it. Maybe it’s for the best as the league goes back to a fast breaking style with pick and rolls dominating the half court action. I’ll miss it dearly, though. When firing on all cylinders, the movement and options that sprung from it inspired a beautiful brand of basketball.

I feel like, as a unit, we didn’t do what it takes to keep Brian Shaw, and that’s real disappointing. You can’t forget where you’re from. You can’t forget what you’ve been through. You can’t forget who helped you win a ring, who was there for you when you were frustrated or stressed out, and I’ve got to give credit to Brian Shaw for all of that. This doesn’t mean I won’t love Mike Brown. But for the next couple of months, I’m going to be disappointed about Brian Shaw.
-Ron Artest

Hoops Hype’s Roland Lazenby mentioned some of the changes we can expect to see with the Lakers in a recent post:

The NBA lockout will end someday, and when it does Los Angeles Lakers fans may well find themselves wishing it hadn’t.

Fans will discover they’re witnessing the new Lakers, the ones run by Jim Buss and built to cater in every facet to seven-footer Andrew Bynum, a nice enough 23-year-old kid with a dubious medical past and an even more suspect future.

Yes, aging star Kobe Bryant will still be a part of the equation, but he was put on notice over the summer when Jim Buss hired new coach Mike Brown without so much as a brief discussion with Bryant.

The message is clear: Brown is Bynum’s coach, and the team belongs to the young center as well.

Lazenby makes an interesting point, however, the above quote sheds an interesting insight on one of the lesser talked about changes/losses in the Lakers organization; not just the loss in Brian Shaw, but the collective loss of the emotional ties between the players and the previous coaching regime. With Phil Jackson retiring, a new player/coach dynamic is being brought in along with a new coaching philosophy. We aren’t just going to see a new offense and defense, but we’re also going to witness how Lakers players and coaches interact with each other as well — and this might be Mike Brown’s toughest challenge during his inaugural season.

The give-and-take between Kobe and Phil Jackson has been well documented, as well as the team’s collective hope to be led by former Lakers Champion and assistant coach Brian Shaw. These were two figures who not only held the players respect as coaches, but were guys the players were able to sit down and talk to about all things life. There is a culture that’s built within club houses, and while I couldn’t tell you exactly what that culture was like during Phil Jackson’s second tenure as the Lakers head coach, I can tell you without a doubt that the culture will be dramatically different with Mike Brown as the head coach.

We’ve seen in the past, especially with international teams, that consistency within the locker room can prove to be just as meaningful toward a team’s success as having talent. This dynamic is usually brought up when you talk about teams, but is equally as significant when talking about coaching staffs. Phil was able to select the right guys on his staff to mesh with the diverse group of players on the team to maximize their ability to succeed. It’s impossible to tell right now, but one of the things we might want to watch when the next NBA season starts is how well the players and coaches work with each other. Phil was very good at allowing his coaching staff to handle specific players or specific situations and stepping in when necessary. He was also very good at allowing the players handle some situations by themselves. We’re all well versed in the “Phil doesn’t always call timeouts” narrative, but one of the things that went relatively unnoticed was how often when he actually did call timeouts, either Fish or Kobe was coaching the other guys up.

The players are going to miss having Phil Jackson, Brian Shaw, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen around for their basketball minds, but they’re also going to miss the mutual respect and camaraderie that came with the group. This is a veteran Lakers team that has been together for the most part, for the better part of three years with the same group of guys on the bench pointing them in the right direction both on and off the court. Mike Brown and his staff are very smart basketball guys, but I’m wondering if they’re going to be just as receptive to this team or if this team is going to be willing to open up to them. An NBA season is a long time to be around a small group of people, it’s going to take more than just being on the same page on the court for this team to really succeed in ways the roster suggests it can.