Archives For July 2011

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.

Sunday Morning Reading

Darius Soriano —  July 10, 2011

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen & RollGasol’s place in the team hierarchy, in all facets of the game, was unchanged from prior seasons.  What changed was how important his role became.  What changed is how reliant the team became on what Pau Gasol brings to the table.  And in the end, what changed was the team’s inability to deal with the fact that Gasol couldn’t cook every night. Pau Gasol was central to the team’s performance, and the team failed miserably.  It doesn’t take an advanced level of cognition to come to the conclusion then that Pau deserves a lion’s share of the blame for the season’s flameout.  For that reason, many of you were particularly looking forward to the review of Pau’s season, I suspect out of some love of bloodsport, but you will most likely be disappointed if you were anticipating a bloodbath.  After all, Pau Gasol had many labels over the course of this season; MVP Candidate, Possible Narcoleptic, Resurgent Force, Tired Ninny, Insecure 2nd Banana, and Tin Man (Wizard of Oz burrrrrn).  But the final, and most apt, label given to the big Spaniard, the one that has stuck with him all offseason, is Scapegoat.

From Roland Lazenby, HoopsHype: 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. “It’s obvious that that is what’s going on,” said one longtime Lakers insider. “Jim Buss is setting up Drew.” That process began last season when assistant Chuck Person was given the freedom to restructure the Lakers’ defense around Bynum, never mind that the club was the reigning two-time NBA champion and seemed to have a defense that already worked quite well. After all, it was last seen stuffing the Boston Celtics in the second half of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. The idea of the new defense, though, was to keep Bynum closer to the basket and to require less mobility from him (perhaps to help him avoid injury).

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los Angeles: With New Jersey Nets star Deron Williams possibly sparking a wave of NBA players heading overseas during the lockout, the Los Angeles Lakers hired some basketball talent coming in the opposite direction from Europe. The Lakers hired famed Italian coach Ettore Messina, who will serve as a coaching consultant to new coach Mike Brown, the team announced Friday. “I am honored to have received this opportunity from one of the greatest basketball organizations in the world,” Messina said in a release. “I have great respect for coach Mike Brown and I’m excited to work with him and his staff.” Messina was hired for a full-time position and will be with the Lakers for all of their games and practices, both home and on the road. A source had told ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher last month that Messina would join the Lakers. Messina is coming off a two-year contract with Real Madrid in the Spanish League after completing a successful run at the helm of CSKA Moscow, winning two Euroleague championships and four Russian SuperLeague titles in four seasons with the team.

From Pedro Moura, Land O’ Lakers: A lightning-quick 5-9 college guard named Casper outplayed Oklahoma City Thunder guard James Harden. Former NBA Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans’ team lost handily to a team with no current NBA players. But the highlight of Saturday’s Drew League play at Colonel Leon H. Washington Park in Florence was even more … righteous. The man the locals call Jesus provided the most entertaining action of a thoroughly entertaining eight-hour Saturday at the Drew League, coming in from the free-throw line to pick up a teammate’s errant shot attempt and tip-reverse-dunk it in for a miraculous, monstrous slam that had the crowd buzzing for a good 10 minutes. It was emblematic of what people have come to expect from the Drew League, generally considered one of the top summer-league outfits around. “You can’t find this level of basketball anywhere in the U.S. besides here,” says Jesus, also known as Davide Patten, an Orange County native who played collegiately for Pepperdine and Weber State and now plays professionally in Mexico. “This is fantastic basketball.”

From Tom Ziller, SB Nation: A week into the 2011 NBA lockout, franchise owners and their high priest, commissioner David Stern, are still having trouble convincing the world that the 30 NBA teams are collectively losing hundreds of millions of dollars every year. It just doesn’t make sense, and a small army of skeptics continues to look for the keystone that will unlock the league’s financials and show what a scam this all is. But really, it might not be a scam. These dudes might actually be losing their shirts. (That raises a whole series of questions about Stern’s job performance, of course.) But one thing owners still can’t explain away is the impact of rising team values, and as an avatar for this trend, huge recent purchase prices. The rising team values in the NBA are a two-pronged attack on the owners’ position. Most nakedly, it’s another cannon blasting at the claim that this is not a profitable league. Ratings soar, the gate soars, merchandise soars, team value soars … and y’all can’t turn a profit? PFFFFT. Maybe that’s overly simplistic, but it’s an easy line of thought to grok. The other more powerful prong is that it diminishes the pleas of the owners to something like sniveling.

Growing up a Laker fan, I’m a fan of the big man. I was weaned on the graceful stylings of Kareem and spent my early adulthood reveling in the brute force of Shaq. In recent years, the fluidity and precision of Pau Gasol and the youthful power and growing polish of Andrew Bynum have given me much joy. I’ll always have a special place in my heart and root for the behemoths of this game.

So today, I’m saddened that the league has lost one of its giants to retirement. Yao Ming will no longer be a member of the league that we all love so much, calling it a career today. The lower leg injuries proved to be too much to overcome.

Though he never wore a Laker jersey, Yao was one of my favorite players. His determination and competitiveness were traits that I admired. I’ll never forget him dragging his leg up and down the floor in the 2009 playoffs against the Lakers. Not wanting to exit a game that meant so much to him and his mates, he persevered through what turned out to be a broken foot, trying to will and skill his team to a needed win. His Rockets ended up losing that series to our Lakers, but my ongoing respect for him was set in stone that night.

His skill level was off the charts. Men his size weren’t supposed to have such touch. Yao could make spot up twenty footers look like pop-a-shots. His jump hook from either block was nearly impossible to defend. He shot turn around jumpers over both shoulders, many dropping through the hoop from that high release point that defenders could only look up to. And his passing was simply superb. He delivered all variety of dimes to his teammates, dropping lead bounce passes to baseline cutters or hook passes to ‘mates diving down the middle of the paint.

Defensively he had his weaknesses in hedging and recovering on pick and rolls and he suffered guarding the quicker face up five men on the schedule that would isolate and try to drive by him. But he protected the rim well, contesting all comers even if it meant being on the wrong side of a poster. What I appreciated most about his defense was that he tried hard to be a great defender even though he was clearly limited by his foot speed and stamina.

But what Yao will always be remembered for was his sheer enormity. Nearly every coach I’ve ever had has said that “you can’t teach size.” Phil Jackson once said that “there are only so many dinosaurs”, and once claimed that if he could have his pick of any player to start a team with in the league, he’d choose Dwight Howard. The true big men that have skill and can play the pivot are a rarity, something that the greatest professional coach ever understood clearly.

Even though we’ve seen this coming for a couple of years, it doesn’t make this any less of a sad day for the true hoop heads around the world. Yao was one of a kind and blessed the league with skill, heart, and class both on and off the court. I’ll miss him and his game and wish him nothing but the best in his post basketball life.

From Andy Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: With the lockout now six days in the books, the world has waited for an NBA player to apply pressure by committing to an overseas squad. Sonny Weems fired the first warning shot, but was mostly met with responses along the lines of “Who is Sonny Weems?” On Thursday, however, things got a little more interesting.  ESPN The Magazine’s Ric Bucher confirmed reports that All-Star point guard/theoretical Nets building block Deron Williams has agreed to play for Besiktas in the event of a prolonged lockout. (For those of you unfamiliar with the Turkish roundball circuit, this is the same team that briefly employed Allen Iverson.) With an agreement also in place with Hawks backup center — and serial head butter — Zaza Pachulia, Besiktas coach Ergin Ataman is apparently confident enough to shoot the moon:

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: Deron’s deal, which reportedly will pay him $200,000 a month plus perks, allows him to leave the Turkish club and return to the NBA as soon as the lockout is over. Any deal for Kobe would contain an identical out-clause. Not surprisingly given the present circumstances, deals to bring NBA stars over to Europe raise their share of complications. One is that FIBA, the governing body of international basketball, generally requires a player to obtain a letter of clearance before switching leagues. The letter would certify to the player’s destination league that he’s not under any remaining contractual obligation to the league he’s departing. It’s not at all clear, however, that the NBA is willing to provide letters of certification for its players during the lockout. For what it’s worth, according to Mark Stein of ESPN the NBA players’ union is taking the position that during the lockout, neither NBA nor FIBA has the right to block the movement of NBA guys to other leagues.

From Adrian Wojanarowski, Yahoo! Sports: From across the world, preening over the improbable signing of All-Star point guard Deron Williams, Turkish basketball coach Ergin Ataman was polishing the pitch of his life. “We want Kobe Bryant now,” Ataman told Yahoo! Sports by phone on Thursday. Ataman is the coach of Besiktas of Istanbul, and his basketball club sees the NBA’s owner lockout of players as a once-in-a-forever chance to transform this fledgling franchise’s global image. Once Besiktas was able to convince Williams to make the leap, the team is now determined to make the boldest play of all for Bryant.

From Sam Amick, Sports Illustrated: Don’t go buying your Euroleague Pass just yet, NBA fans. Or even the Eurocup Pass, for that matter. Deron Williams’ Turkish adventure is likely to be an aberration. When news spread of the New Jersey point guard’s decision to play for Besiktas during the lockout, there was immediate speculation that he could be the first of many stars to take their talents overseas despite the significant risk in making such a move. But numerous agents who spoke to SI.com weren’t ready to deem Williams a trendsetter, with his deal considered unique because of an opt-out clause which allows him to return to the NBA when the lockout is lifted. “I think it’s an interesting move,” said agent Marc Cornstein, whose client, former Boston center Nenad Krstic, opted to sign a two-year, $9.8 million deal with CSKA Moscow in June rather than wait on an NBA free agency period that won’t begin until after the lockout ends. “I’m sure it sent shock waves through the basketball world.

From Sam Amico, Fox Sports: This probably wasn’t what David Stern had in mind when he fought for the globalization of pro basketball.  But now that the league is shut down with a lockout, Deron Williams’ decision to play in Turkey could be just the beginning. Williams is an All-Star guard with the New Jersey Nets. In case you haven’t heard, he has agreed to play for Turkish club Besiktas while the NBA owners and players association wait to reach a deal. Usually, these types of things have a snowball effect. After all, who doesn’t succumb to peer pressure — or in the minds of pro athletes and their agents, a really bright idea. By playing in Turkey, Williams can start playing (and getting paid) in late September. Even Stern has admitted the league can’t really object.

From Howard Beck, NY Times: Deron Williams is set to become the biggest N.B.A. star to play in Europe — a development that is bursting with intrigue, risks and caveats. Williams, the Nets’ star point guard, has agreed in principle to a one-year deal with the Turkish club Besiktas, according to the team’s coach. His commitment would begin Sept. 1 — when the N.B.A.’s lockout would be two months old — and the deal includes an escape clause allowing him to return when the lockout ends. “It’s the biggest signing in the history of European basketball,” Ergin Ataman, Besiktas’ excitable coach, said Thursday. The agreement was confirmed by Misko Raznatovic, a European agent who works with Jeff Schwartz, the Los Angeles-based agent who represents Williams. Ataman and Raznatovic first met last month in Istanbul to discuss possible deals involving N.B.A. players. Reports have pegged Williams’s salary between $200,000 and $350,000 a month, or $2 million to $3.5 million for the 10-month Turkish league season. Raznatovic said that Williams, 27, would get between $1 million and $5 million, plus a car, housing and the tax breaks associated with playing overseas. He will also be provided with a security guard, driver and personal assistant, all of them available 24 hours a day. Ataman later told SI.com that Williams’s deal would be paid for by a sponsor.

From Eddie Maisonet, Ed The Sports Fan: In my heart of hearts, the one person I honestly feel took “The Decision” harder than anyone outside of dudes who write in Comic Sans MS font is Month Williams. People can talk about how much the economy was affected both positively and negatively pre and post “The Decision” you could also debate the way we view Month Williams has been affected in the same manner. From being just another dude in Milwaukee who was low-key one of the most under appreciated players in the league to being traded to Cleveland and instantly being the second best player on the squad on a title contender. This is the boost any player would want…right?

If you haven’t heard by now, current Suns shooting guard Mickael Pietrus wants to play for a championship contender and says Kobe wants him on the Lakers.

Being that this is the off-season, I’m taking all reports like this with a grain of salt. The whole shaker, even. Pietrus is unhappy with his role in Phoenix and could easily be voicing his discontent in a French paper to try and stir up his cause to either get more run (whenever the season begins) or find a new home where he’d prefer to play. He could also just be dropping a juicy quote in a foreign periodical because that’s what foreign born players do in the off-season. Needless to say, I don’t expect Pietrus to be playing in Los Angeles next year.

However, Piertrus’ quote – whether true or not – raises a more serious question for the Lakers going into next season. Namely, who is going to back up Kobe Bryant?

Now that Shannon Brown has opted out of his contract, the likelihood of him returning to the Lakers is relatively low. Sure, it could happen. But the prospect of him finding a long term deal or a role on a team that doesn’t involve backing up one of the best players in the game is pretty strong. If I were an odds maker, I’d say it’s a 25% chance (or lower) that Shannon returns to the Lakers. Even if the Lakers think they can get Shannon back, they need a contingency plan in case he bolts anyway.

Mind you, there are internal options. Devin Ebanks showed promise in limited minutes and was told to improve on his guard skills with the implication being he could see more time as a shooting guard. The Lakers drafted a combo guard in Andrew Goudelock who was a prolific college scorer and would likely be more comfortable as a scorer off the bench than a PG anyway. Plus, Darius Morris is a bigger PG and that gives the Lakers flexibility to play Fisher or Blake as SG’s next to him with the possibility that the bigger rookie guard the opposing SG. These options, however, involve relying on young players to produce right away – a tough predicament considering we don’t even know how good they are at this point.

There are always the veteran options on the team as well. I pointed out that Fisher could play next to Morris, but he could just as easily play next to Blake in a small back court. Fisher already defends some SG’s around the league and his lack of quickness is less exposed on SG’s than the speedy PG’s that populate the NBA. The Lakers could also ask Artest to slide over to SG as he did in Houston and Sacramento during his time with those teams. However, these options also have their limitations and relying on either as the primary solution isn’t exactly comforting.

This then leaves the Lakers with acquiring a player from outside the organization to fill this hole. But the uncertainty surrounding the new CBA creates the problem of not knowing how the salary cap will work which dominoes into not knowing what the rules surrounding free agency or trades will be. That’s a lot of unknowns for what will be a vital hole to fill.

As we stand now, this isn’t so much a pressing issue as it is a festering problem that will need resolution eventually. The Lakers will need a replacement but will need to find one in an environment that is to be determined while staring at several less than inspiring in house options. In the current locked out world of player/owner negotiations, this may seem trivial. But if the last lockout taught us anything it’s that the league can go from a standstill to business as usual in a day. And at that point, the Lakers – like every other franchise – will need to fill its holes in preparation for a new campaign.