Archives For July 2011

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: He was the first Lakers employee to scout Andrew Bynum back at the McDonald’s All-American camp in 2005 and the loudest Lakers employee to recommend the chubby 7-foot, 275-pound high school center from New Jersey with the 10th overall pick in the 2005 draft. Though Bynum is a grown man now, going into his seventh season whenever this lockout ends, when I caught up with him Thursday afternoon, Lester told the story of the first time he saw Bynum like it was yesterday. “Coach Bill Bertka and myself went to watch him during the week of practice they had before the McDonald’s All-American Game,” he said. “He was just so big. … The first time I saw Andrew Bynum come out of the locker room, I pointed and said to Coach Bertka, ‘Who is that?’ “He was overweight, chubby faced, chubby bodied. He needed to get in shape, but what a difference from the other high school kids.” Two months later he took a redeye to New York to watch him again. “I didn’t recognize him. He had lost 30 pounds,” Lester said. “That in and of itself, that kid losing 30 pounds in two months, that was pretty impressive right there. You knew the kid would work if he wanted something bad enough. “After the workout, I called Mitch … and told him ‘If he’s there at 10, I don’t know how you can pass the guy up.'”

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: The story, though, touches on something happening not just with the Lakers but across the NBA, highlighting real and profound costs of a work stoppage often framed as an argument between the wealthy and super-wealthy. A lot of good people, many with “regular guy” salaries, are the first to feel the impact. It’s all very unfortunate. On the other side, some players are thrown into a deeper state of limbo than others. Drew Goudelock, taken by the Lakers with the 46th pick in this year’s draft with no guarantee of making the team, now loses the structure and support normally afforded rookies. No Summer League, no access to the facility, no contact with coaches to learn the playbook. Darius Morris, L.A.’s first second round pick, and other draftees are in the same boat. (Players who have scraped their way to a tenuous NBA career, hanging on to the back end of rotations and rosters suffer as well.) We spoke with Goudelock Saturday on ESPNLA On Air, not just about his feelings on being drafted by the Lakers and his strengths and weaknesses, but how the lockout impacts efforts to get himself to the NBA. “It’s tough for me because I don’t get to be in a summer league, and be able to show myself, and showcase my talents during the summer session,” he said. “But it’s my job to stay in shape, keep playing, and get ready for when it’s over.”

From Baxter Holmes, Los Angeles Times: Kobe Bryant may take his talents to China during the NBA’s lockout. There are preliminary talks about a basketball tour to China this summer — and perhaps beyond — in which the Lakers superstar, who has called China a “home away from home” and has an enormous following there, would be the headliner with several other NBA stars forming two or three barnstorming teams. Bryant and his agent Rob Pelinka are trying to put together the tour, said Minnesota Timberwolves rookie forward Derrick Williams, who also is represented by Pelinka. Williams said several clients of Pelinka’s agency, the Landmark Sports Agency, could be involved in the tour. “Hopefully I would be able to do that because I’ve never been out of the country and I think that would be the best thing for me,” said Williams, the former La Mirada High and University of Arizona star who was drafted second overall in June’s NBA draft. Pelinka’s agency lists 18 NBA players as clients, including Clippers Chris Kaman and Eric Gordon, along with former USC star and Memphis Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo, and Chicago Bulls forward Carlos Boozer. If the barnstorming tour happens, the games are likely to take place at the state-of-the-art Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai. Bryant signed a three-year deal with Mercedes-Benz in February to become the brand ambassador for Smart micro cars in China and he has already been featured in a TV commercial for the car.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: Person is expected to continue to work with the defense under new coach Mike Brown. Person and Brown worked together in Indiana from 2003-05 when the Lakers’ current starting small forward, Ron Artest, played for the Pacers. “I’m very pleased to add Chuck to my coaching staff,” Brown said in a release. “I’ve seen firsthand his dedication and his desire to making the players he coaches better. The knowledge of the game that he has from his experience, both as a coach and as a former NBA player, is an invaluable asset that he brings to the team and I look forward to working with him once again.” Person has a long history in the league, starting with a 13-year playing career in which he was named Rookie of the Year in 1986-87 and continuing on through Cleveland, Indiana and Sacramento as an assistant coach before coming to Los Angeles. “Knowing coach Brown since our time with the Pacers, not only couldn’t I be happier with the opportunity to work alongside him again, but I’m thrilled to return to a franchise that I consider to be the best in professional sports,” Person said in a release. “Having been on staff for the Lakers’ 2010 championship run, I know what this team is capable of. I look forward to assisting coach Brown in helping our players regain that form and realize their potential.”

From Ben R, Silver Screen & RollPerson in particular appears to be an important figure, as he will be the sole bridge between the Phil Jackson and Mike Brown eras, seeing as he was hired as an assistant in 2010. In addition, Person designed the Lakers’ defensive scheme last year, notably the decision to place Andrew Bynum in the lane on pick-and-rolls to deter the threat of penetration, which worked beautifully during the Lakers’ 17-1 streak after the All-Star break but sputtered during the last stages of the season and the playoffs as the team’s overall execution withered away. As Brown will undoubtedly incorporate much of his own defensive philosophies on the court, having the architect of the previous defense present to ease the transition will be valuable. Person and Brown previously worked together as part of Rick Carlisle’s staff in Indiana from 2003-2005. As for Snyder, it appears that he will adopt a behind the bench role, similar to his previous gig as a player development coach with the Sixers. His resume is certainly not lacking, as he started his career as an assistant with the Clippers in 1994 before joining the staff of his alma mater at Duke in 1995, and was widely credited for Duke’s success from 1997-99 after he become Mike Krzyzewski’s top assistant. He is likely best known for his success as the head coach of Missouri from 1999-2006, including several surprisingly deep runs into the tournament. After leaving Missouri, he became the head coach of the Austin Toros, the Spurs’ D-League affiliate, and was fairly successful during his time there as well. Given the extent to which the Spurs maximize the utility of their D-League resources and the similar systems that are run there from the parent club, he should be able to come in and mesh nicely with Brown’s San Antonio-based philosophies from the get go.

From Zach Lowe, The Point Forward: Lots of smart people — economists, lawyers, students of sports and business — have told me that no matter what the NBA does, it might not be able to achieve the kind of competitive balance Stern and Silver say they want. A hard cap and some revenue sharing might help, but they will not change the fact that local television will always rule. Plus, the NBA can play many more games than the NFL (football players cannot play any more for physical and medical reasons), basketball’s seven-game playoff format is a better way of determining a champion and the distribution of truly great players — and truly great tall players — might determine more than anything else who is truly in contention. “The NFL is the outlier here, not the NBA,” said Gabe Feldman, a law professor at Tulane and a sports law expert. “Whether it’s because of the 16-game schedule or the national TV deal, the NFL is not the norm. The NBA model is much closer to the norm, where you’ve got local media deals and ticket sales and parking and things like that driving the success of a team. It’s difficult to find a way to split up those local revenues.”

From Ken Berger, CBS Sports: Despite the doom-and-gloomy way the word “lockout” sounds, and all the uncertainty and risk it implies, there’s virtually no time pressure on the NBA and its players’ union to rush back into the negotiating room any time soon. That’s precisely why no compromise was reached Thursday, because there was little or no risk associated with not reaching one. But based on how the league’s most recent lockout played out in 1998, there will be a series of drop-dead dates on the calendar. We’ll get to the big ones, but the first date is one that should be filed under the category “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The first date is July 15, two weeks from Friday. The only time the NBA has ever lost games to a lockout, during the 1998-99 season, there was a gap of 36 days between the imposition of the lockout on July 1 and the next bargaining session on Aug. 6. That’s 36 wasted days, days that could have been used to constructively negotiate at least some aspects of a deal — perhaps even a better deal for both sides than the one that ultimately was agreed to in January 1999, at the cost of 32 regular season games. There is one key factor that could alter this entire timeline, so it’s worth addressing now: If the NFL fails to end its own lockout in the next few weeks, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will have no choice but to rule on that league’s appeal of a district court’s decision to briefly lift the lockout. The three-judge panel made clear during oral arguments on June 3 that the two sides should work this out themselves, because neither one would be happy with its ruling. But if the NFL negotiations stall and the 8th Circuit rules, both sides in the NBA labor dispute will pay close attention.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Videos like this must be worth a million, then. Enjoy.

If you read our links this morning, you’d know that yesterday there was actual happenings with the Lakers outside of the lockout. Announcements were made that the long anticipated hire of John Kuester as lead assistant to Mike Brown is finally done and that Shannon Brown exercised his right to not pick up his player option for next season, thus becoming an unrestricted free agent.

Both moves were expected but now that they’re official, they’re worth further discussion.

First off, the Kuester’s addition is another good add to a staff that already has Ettore Messina behind the bench as a consultant. Kuester is another bright offensive mind with a lot of NBA experience and is known as a good teacher of the game. When you combine Kuester and Messina with the whispers of Chuck Person and Quin Snyder potentially filling out the staff, that’s a strong group of coaches to help Brown run this team.

Obviously, the hire of Kuester doesn’t come without trepidation. His run as a head coach with the Pistons was disastrous with awful results and claims of player mutiny overshadowing the few positives of his tenure. He seemed overwhelmed by the task of running a team but the nail on the head was his inability to relate to the players in a way that seemed to inspire the discontent. This should all matter much less (if at all) with Kuester taking on the role of assistant rather than head man as the task of keeping everyone (both players and coaches) ultimately falls on Mike Brown. But perceptions often endure and Kuester has some ground to make up in the credibility department whether that’s fair or not.

That said, the Lakers are a veteran team of professionals and I expect them to act accordingly. The bigger goal is to win and I expect Kuester to help the team positively in this regard. His comfort level with Mike Brown and the success they’ve shared in the past should create a good foundation for the team and the players to build on. Ultimately, I’m happy that Brown has gotten his guy on his staff so they can proceed with building game plans that are successful.

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One player that may not be around to take part in those game plans in Shannon Brown. We’ve discussed the man we’ve called WOW a few times lately and I won’t rehash all those ideas now. But to summarize he’s grown a fair amount as a player with the Lakers and with that growth has come positives and negatives. He’s shown he can impact the game with his athleticism and shot making as well as with his lack of attention to detail.

But now that he’s opted out, the Lakers are in a position where they’ll need a replacement of some sort. Kobe was able to play his fewest minutes since his second season almost primarily because of Shannon’s performance as his back up. With Brown gone, we’re either in for Kobe’s minutes going back up or giving those minutes to one of the other guards/wings on the current roster. And while I’m all for seeing if Barnes, Ebanks, or one of the rookies can step in and play, I’m not for relying on that going into next season. I’m also not for relying on Fisher or Blake picking up minutes as the de-facto back up to Kobe in small line ups.

Of course, there’s still the option that Brown returns as he did before last season when he and the Lakers did this same dance. Mutual interest is natural considering the familiarity between the parties. However, if Brown does leave the Lakers for greener pastures (more money) or a role where he can spread his wings more, back up shooting guard will instantly become a priority for this team.

The problem then becomes forecasting how the Lakers fill that role considering we don’t yet know what rules the league will be operating under. But that’s the nature of this lock out. There will be more questions asked but until there’s an agreement between the players and owners they’ll go unanswered.

In any event, I wish Shannon Brown the best of luck in whatever decision he makes. He made us all stand up and cheer at least once a game with one of his patented high flying moves and showed tremendous growth as a player that few expected anything from when he originally came.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: When the Sacramento Kings appeared destined to become the Anaheim Royals, the Lakers objected to the move. Still, beyond some real economic considerations related to the team’s TV upcoming TV deal with Time Warner, even with a third team in the L.A./Orange County market (separate in many ways, but sharing TV and radio imprints), it was reasonable to ask how much the presence of the Kings would actually damage the Lakers brand. Maybe a lot, probably much not at all. One thing, though, was absolutely beyond debate: Save the difference in cost between a bus ride to Honda Center and a few flights a year to Sacramento, there was no upside. Now the NBA officially in lockout mode. We’re a long way from gaining any kind of picture of how long it will last, and because the two sides are unlikely to meet for a while– a little distance is probably a good thing– are likely to remain in this purgatorial state for the time being. When everyone finally gets back to the negotiating table, players and the union remain miles apart on key issues, so what the new CBA looks like when finally hashed out is obviously a wide open question. But just as it was with the Kings and Anaheim, as it relates to questions of competitive advantage for the Lakers under a new agreement, one thing is pretty clear:

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: In news none too shocking, Shannon Brown officially opted out of his contract with the Lakers and became a free agent. As he told Dave McMenamin, this decision doesn’t rule out another go around with the Lakers, but the odds feel low. For two consecutive seasons, Shannon faded over the second half, perhaps revealing himself a bad fit. Plus, the organization appeared to anticipate a parting of the ways. As Shannon noted, two guards were drafted in the second round. Even if Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock aren’t quite seasoned enough to replicate his role, thematically, it feels like handwriting on the wall. I recently shared thoughts on the impact of Shannon’s departure — namely, who can pick up his slack — so there’s no need to repeat myself. In a nutshell, he’s a replaceable player, although the options from within the roster as constructed are imperfect. But either way, Brown’s time here was pretty remarkable in its own right.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: We suspected this was coming, but it’s now official. Shannon Brown has opted out of the last year of his contract, electing to become a free agent. He would’ve made $2.37 million next season had he agreed to stay with the purple and gold. This doesn’t necessarily spell the end of Shannon’s time with the Lakers. He could still sign a new deal with the team, and if you recall, this is exactly what happened a year ago. After the 2009-10 season, he opted out of the last year of his contract. After several weeks went by in which neither he nor the team could find better alternatives on the free-agent market, he reupped with the Lakers. That could certainly happen again, and in fact both he and his agent say a return to the Lakers is something he’d consider.

From Gary Lee, Lakers Nation: Phil Jackson is widely considered the best head coach in NBA history. He’s won 11 NBA championships, more than any other coach. He is also considered one of the best Laker coaches of all time, bringing five titles to Los Angeles after joining the Lakers in 1999. “If you meet the Buddha in the lane, feed him the ball.” – Phil Jackson This particular wallpaper shows Jackson celebrating one of his 11 NBA championships in perfect fashion, with a victory cigar. No other coach ever won championships like Phil Jackson, and no other coach could celebrate a championship like Phil Jackson. This wallpaper shows the greatest coach having a great time after reaching the top of the NBA mountain.

From David Brickley, Laker Nation: Darius Morris joined the Voice of the Nation on Wednesday night, and talked about being selected by the Lakers. Below is the entire transcript of the interview: David Brickley: What is Mike Brown and Mitch Kupchak telling you? As far as your chances to make the team, what they are envisioning, and what the best-case scenario is for you? “There is definitely opportunity for me [to play with the Lakers]. They need help in the backcourt. The guys that are there right now are getting up in age so they are looking for good young talent in the backcourt that can come in and help out. [The Lakers] said I have a very good chance of doing that. I just got to work hard and keep on getting better.”

From Lakers.com: The Los Angeles Lakers have hired John Kuester to serve as an assistant coach, it was announced today by Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak.  “I’m extremely excited to have John join the team as a member of my coaching staff,” said Lakers Head Coach Mike Brown. “Having previously worked together in Cleveland, I know what assets he will bring to the team. His ability to effectively communicate with the players while teaching them valuable skills on both ends of the court is a quality that I respect and value. I look forward to working with him again.” Kuester joins the Lakers after a two-year stint as head coach for the Detroit Pistons. Prior to his time in Detroit, Kuester spent 14 years as an assistant coach in the NBA, working for six different franchises (Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Jersey, Orlando and Cleveland).

From Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner, LA Times: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has taken an unusual step to try to strengthen his ailing right knee, undergoing an innovative procedure in Germany about a month ago, according to four people familiar with the situation who were not authorized to speak publicly. The treatment is a derivation of platelet-rich plasma therapy. PRP procedures are less invasive than many surgeries involving the knee and are viewed as either an emerging solution to knee problems or a financial gamble on unproven science. Bryant, who turns 33 next month, has been bothered in recent seasons by an arthritic joint in his right knee. He has undergone three other knee procedures since 2003, including surgery last July to remove unspecified loose bodies. He sat out an overwhelming majority of the Lakers’ practices this past season and saw his scoring, shooting percentage and minutes decrease in his 15th NBA season. He has three years and $83.5 million left on his contract with the Lakers.

From Mark Medina, LA Times: In the upcoming Mike Brown era, Lakers guard Derek Fisher will, at worst, see his role reduced as the offense emphasizes a faster tempo. At best, his ability to pick up the speed will truly be put to the test. With a defense that stresses preventing middle drives to the basket, Fisher’s team-first mentality — taking charges, causing deflections and keeping the unit organized — likely won’t be enough to offset the way he reacts to screen-and-rolls and his ability to keep up with young guards. And with a likely prolonged offseason, which the Lakers hope will allow them to address their backcourt needs, Fisher will soon find out exactly how much the organization values the remaining two years on his contract.  But there’s one specific and important area that won’t change: Fisher’s relationship with Kobe Bryant. It’s remained strong ever since the two entered the league together in 1996 and has strengthened over time with five championship rings. Even if the level of talent between the two is wide, they share an unmatched work ethic. And their bond will prove critical.