Archives For August 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 doing excellent work at FB&G and continues those efforts today . You can reach him by email here and find him on Twitter @ShyneIV.

Michael Jordan’s undeniable ability to score, defend and rip out his opponents heart make him the greatest basketball player to have ever lived. But not too far behind him are immortal legends such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird who complete the group I like to refer to as The Three Wise Men. The trio has elevated the league to unprecedented heights and essentially made the NBA a viable sports entertainment option going forward.

The greatness displayed by these legends has seemingly rendered every basketball argument moot. Indeed, every great player that comes along today must face the prospect of having his game dissected and then eventually compared to these players who are now viewed as basketball heroes. No player has faced more scrutiny in this regard during his career than Kobe Bryant.

Detractors will point out that Kobe is a gifted scorer that often defies the imagination, but will also mention that Michael was clearly the superior shot creator and that he converted half of his shots all the while shutting down his man. The Black Mamba does a decent job of getting his teammates involved but no one did it quite like Magic Johnson; mind you he was a point guard. But then again, Bird was a forward and he always managed to create high percentage shots for his teammates.

One could say that Kobe and Drake share a trait that the Toronto rapper has illustrated in his hit song Trust Issues. For those unfamiliar with the song, give it a listen (some NSFW language).

In listening to the lyrics, it seems we’ve heard this story before in reference to Kobe right?

Not quite.

Bryant has often been criticized because of his penchant to play what Doc Rivers likes to call “hero ball”, in which he takes the ball in crunch time and ignores his teammates; but perhaps it is time we looked past some of his flaws. Not because they are unimportant, but rather because it would appear that it is impossible to mention the Lakers star without mentioning his weaknesses.

Think about this for a moment: Michael was often a poor teammate because he alienated members of his team, Magic was a subpar defender and Bird’s bad back made him a shell of his former self at times. Mind you, we often ignore these facts when talking about the trio, choosing instead to single them out for their strengths and accomplishments.

Perhaps fans in general have trouble reconciling just how talented Bryant is today with respect to other legends because he is an active player; or maybe our trust issues as fanatics are much more pronounced than Kobe Bryant’s.

For years, we have heard college coaches and even some media members refer to playing the right way. It seems that it has become the standard by which we measure all players in this day and age. Indeed, this basketball ideology relies on the notion that players who always make the right play will always give their team the best chance to win. Thus, shooting the ball when facing a double team or taking a low percentage shot early in the shot clock is not the proper course of action on the basketball court; instead the player should look for the open teammate.

This is part of what makes J.R. Smith so frustrating to watch on the court, he often looks like a player that is being controlled by a person playing NBA 2K and that wants him to get his numbers.

Kobe Bryant often gives us the exact same feeling that Smith gives us, except that Kobe is just flat out better than the Nuggets’ shooting guard at doing it. For all intents and purposes, people have decided that Kobe plays the wrong way, and that’s where their trust issues vis-à-vis Bryant stem from.

He seems to defy logic by playing a brand of basketball that we have consistently seen fail to produce championships. Indeed, history has taught us that players with itchy trigger fingers on the basketball court are doomed to fail. We saw this with the likes of Allen Iverson, the early years of Michael Jordan and even Carmelo Anthony to some extent (the comedy of it all of course is that Melo and AI played together).

Thus, whenever Kobe takes a tough contested jumper, the narrative will be that he could make the game so much easier for himself and his teammates; which consequently gives fuel to his detractors. Granted, they may be on to something but at some point, one must sit back and realize that the Lakers superstar has reached the mountaintop five times despite refusing to conform to history.

The inability to recognize Kobe Bryant’s value as a basketball player may have more to do with our own failure to accept his singular talent despite his flaws.
For all of his shortcomings, Kobe Bryant has managed to repeatedly deliver when the stakes were the highest, despite doing things the alleged wrong way.

History has shown that players who win rings are the ones that eventually accept their teammates as their equal and willingly defer to them when the situation calls for it in crunch time. And yet, we have Kobe Bryant who has managed to more often than not do the exact opposite and still come out on top.

Perhaps Kobe could share the ball a bit more, but doing things his way has not exactly been a failure when looking at the results. Can we at least acknowledge his greatness on that front?

Or do our trust issues with Kobe prevent us from doing so…

-J.M. Poulard

From Ken Berger, CBS Sports: During a series of meetings in which union officials are updating players on the status of collective bargaining this week, one voice stood out: that of Kobe Bryant. Before a star-studded audience of about 75 players in Los Angeles Tuesday, Bryant was “up front” and “deliberate” in a speech in which he urged players to maintain solidarity and “stand behind the union” during the lockout, according to a person who was in attendance. Sources told CBSSports.com that another test of that solidarity could come next week, as top union officials were authorized Wednesday to contact deputy commissioner Adam Silver in the hopes of scheduling a bargaining session in New York before the end of the month. Bryant and Paul Pierce told players Tuesday it was important for them to “remain united” in the face of a lockout that has dragged well into its second month with only one full-scale bargaining session, the person who attended the meeting said.

From Andy Kamentzky, Land O’ Lakers: (Kobe) was attacking the rim and the good thing is, you get a person like James Harden, people starting hollering “Oklahoma! Lakers!” When we were in there before he came, I said, “Look, guys. We need to play hard. You know how Drew is. We’re not going out here to put on an exhibition. We’re going hard. We’re going just like we always play. You gotta get up in him because that’s what he wants. He wants to be tested today.” You know, James scored 47 himself, so they went at it a few trips down the floor. It was great. He was good. He was very good. He was fresh. His spring, his jump shot was nice. Getting to the basket. His jab steps and his foot work. Everything was very good. 

From Ben R., Silver Screen & Roll: After years of solid, consistent play from the Lakers’ primary corps of bigs in Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum, witnessing last season, filled with ups and downs, slumps and rises, was a bizarre experience. Each of the three had parts of the year in which they surpassed their career norms as well as times when they played woefully beneath them, with almost none of those periods intersecting, something that contributed to last season’s turmoil. Gasol began the year on a stellar, MVP-level tear before the continued stress of playing too many minutes triggered a season-long decline that resulted in his massive meltdown during the playoffs. Conversely, Bynum, who missed the start of the season due to knee surgery in the off-season, started the year slowly as he got back into form before erupting following the All-Star Break into a defensive dervish at the heart of the Lakers’ 17-1 streak. Finally, Odom had arguably the best year of his career during the regular season, putting to rest the almost cliched concerns about his consistency with borderline All-Star play that earned him the Sixth Man of the Year award before he, like Gasol, was highly ineffective during the playoffs. With Mike Brown taking the helm of the team, the bigs will continue to be the primary fulcrum of the Lakers at both ends of the floor. While the defensive principles of the team will stay roughly analogous to the defense that powered the Lakers streak after the ASG, the offense will switch to the Spurs’ playbook that will incorporate the talents of the Lakers’ bigs in a different manner than the triangle, although with many of the same principles.

From Mike Trudell, Lakers.com:  During an extended LakersTV interview with head coach Mike Brown, we spent some time talking about his new assistant coaches: Chuck Person, John Kuester, Quin Snyder and Ettore Messina. You can check out the video to get Brown’s more extended assessment of his staff, but here’s a snippet of Brown’s words on each coach: On Ettore Messina: “He’s the equivalent of a Pat Riley, a Gregg Popovich and so on and so forth over in Europe. He has multiple European Championships, and then a ton of league championships in the Spanish League, the Russian League, the Italian League … I’m excited that (Messina’s) going to bring some things from Europe that I can use. They play a lot of zone in Europe … I’m not a huge fan of zone defense, but I think it could be effective with the length of the guys on this team. So that’s intriguing, and then some zone offensive stuff and more than zone, he is a terrific man-to-man defensive coach and a very good offensive coach.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: I think this happening is about as likely as Kanye West becoming the next President of the United States. Yet I will pass it along because it’s too big to ignore. The Chinese publication sohu.com is reporting that Kobe Bryant has agreed to terms to play for Shanxi Zhongyu in China next season (via Hoopshype). The publication says the team president is the source. There are a few reasons not to buy this. For one, Kobe reportedly is not that close to making a decision on what to do during the lockout. It is very possible that Shanxi Zhongyu is one of the hundreds of teams that have reached out to Kobe and his agent looking to make a deal. But that is very different than Kobe signing on the dotted line. In the end I’d be shocked if Kobe signs anywhere (he wants another ring badly and his knees could use the rest).

From Dave Murphy, Searching For Slava: I once toyed with the notion of a nation turning its lonely eyes to an obscure biscuit chucker from the Ukraine. In truth, his spirt orbits ever further from this eponymous journal. There’s a new generation that barely remembers him – actually they never knew him at all.  A short career, never a starter and so resolute in Garbo solitude that he’s basically gone and got himself erased. Woo-woo-woo. Dennis Rodman’s solitude came masked with boas and industrial chrome – his final abortive seasons turned to ash while Slava was still balling for BC Kiev. He was one of the transcendent athletes of our times, a complicated man-child with kaleidoscope hair, flying level to the ground after loose balls, tracking rebounds like a bat, drinking oceans into pale morning light.  TV watchers saw his HOF speech last Friday as cathartic, a revelation. Some in attendance, smiled sadly, knowingly – they’ve lived his breakthroughs and breakdowns for too long. There’s a thing about people who talk about not being around much longer.  Sometimes they aren’t. The finals ended only two months ago but it feels like a far-off hiding place.  Usually, we’re joking away the days, secure in the summer league and crazy trade machines. Not now, this is a grim march through dying cities, it’s fans arguing over business models when even the owners and players won’t argue over business models. It won’t always be this way. Ten years goes by in the blink of an eye. The landscape will change with a new CBA but it will be the norm for a whole new crop of players.

With the game tied in the closing seconds Kobe Bryant went all Kobe Bryant on James Harden at the Drew League on Tuesday. (h/t to Got ‘Em Coach for the video)

UPDATE: Commenter Chearn was at the game and gives us the skinny on the game:

It was a good competitive game. Not NBA quality for sure, but it was a good pickup game. The game featured, Pooh Jeter, DeMar Derozan, James Harden, Toronto’s Ed Davis, 2nd pick in the draft Derrick Williams. Derrick Williams has been with Kobe most of the summer having traveled with him overseas to China. Derrick, Ed and Kobe were on the purple team while this seasons MVP Casper Ware Jr., Pooh, DeMar and James played on the white team.

Kobe’s team was down most of the game and in the 4th quarter they were down by 9 pts. Kobe shot a couple of jumpers that were long but got consistent rebounding from Davis and Williams for put backs. Williams and Derozan went back and forth making shots against each other. Kobe tried to go to the hole after a steal and either lost the ball out of bounds or was fouled. After a time out he hit a 3pt shot which put the purple team ahead by 2pts, however, on the defensive end the purple team gave up a basket to Derozan. This lead to the last play of the game with 18 seconds to go.

Kobe took the inbound pass and the crowd started chanting, “Kobe, Kobe!” Kobe dribbled the ball down the court with everyone in the gym knowing that he would take the final shot. Harden picked Kobe up defensively as he had all game. Kobe probed to the right with Harden playing him tough defensively, while the seconds ticked off the clock. Kobe dribbled back left to just above the free throw line and pulled up for a jumper with Harden a finger nail away from deflecting his shot. Kobe drilled the shot and back pedaled with his hands in the air and grinning as if he had just won the NBA championship. The crowd swarmed him as he stayed there enjoying the adulation. Sheriff’s tried to get the kids away from Kobe, but he did not appear to notice.

At some point during the 4th quarter Kobe’s manager tried to take him away from the game for some other appointment. But, Kobe said no I am staying to finish this game. At that time the purple team was down by 9-12 pts.

The most telling thing about the game was that Kobe played without a sleeve on his knee he looked good defensively on Harden sliding laterally, he went to the hole a couple times getting fouled or finishing at the rim. His jumper was streaky just as it has been this past season, but his finger was not taped. He got it hit a couple of times when the ball was stripped from him. At least once I saw him pulling on his finger after the ball was stripped. I am not sure about his ball handling because that game was not indicative of what to expect from him in controlling the ball in an NBA game. His back to the basket work was unparalleled, his back down turn around jumper was money.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 16, 2011
  • If you were ranking the top 100 players in the league, how many Lakers would make the cut? Zach Lowe of SI’s The Point Forward has given us his answer to that question in a series of posts. The Lakers have 5 players that make the cut on his list – including Artest, Bynum, and Odom – with strong analysis supporting each decision and placement of the player. Today, he revealed his top 10 and both Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant made the cut. You may want to argue with where they were placed, but I have no qualms here. Lowe’s reasoning is sound and is more than fair. Go check out the entire series and let me know if you agree or not.
  • Speaking of ranking things, ESPN Los Angeles recently put together a feature on L.A.’s Sports Hall of Fame and who, of all the many legends that have graced the city, would make the cut as the first 5 enshrined. It was a fierce competition and some Lakers made the cut. The Logo, though, did not. Do you agree?
  • Over at TrueHoop, Henry Abbott takes thorough look at Kobe Bryant’s on court value and ponders whether, after his recent contract extension, #24 is about to be overpaid. Personally, I think Abbott’s overall view of how Kobe will age and how that will translate to his production is a bit pessimistic, but I can’t say he’s off base about Kobe’s salary potentially being an issue down the line considering what the new CBA will look like. The potential for a hard cap and Kobe slated to make $30 mil by the end of his extension truly is a concern when thinking about navigating the salary cap and building a team. As a side note, I think the point about Kobe could just as easily be made about Pau Gasol who, like Kobe, also signed a contract extension that will pay him a boatload of cash over the next few seasons.
  • With the new CBA on the mind and the prospect that the new NBA landscape could negatively affect the Lakers’ ability to build a roster for contention as they have in recent years, our friends at Land O’ Lakers make the point that winning now is more important than ever and the team should be focussed on that, not on contending down the line.
  • I have my own thoughts on what the Lakers prospects are for next year. You can read them here as I answered some questions for ESPN’s 5 on 5 series.
  • Want to see Kobe’s top 10 blocks of all time? Of course you do. For what it’s worth, I was hoping to find this block in that mix but it was absent.
  • Lastly, here are some really good thoughts on Tex Winter’s HOF enshrinement as well as some good tid bits on his relationship with Phil Jackson.

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 offers another installment to his ongoing series here at FB&G. You can reach him by email here and find him on Twitter @ShyneIV.

The National Basketball Association has been blessed throughout its years of existence with some truly impressive teams that have managed to be remembered even today. Such an accomplishment can only come from an unprecedented level of domination of one’s opponents; but star power is also a huge component as far as how we remember teams.

Indeed, it’s not by accident that some of the greatest teams ever featured some of the greatest and most popular players of all time. Have a look at some of the best teams the league has ever seen (listed chronologically):

  • The 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers were led by the ever-famous Wilt Chamberlain and sported an unprecedented record of 68-13. That Sixers team defeated the Boston Celtics (led by Bill Russell) in five games in the Eastern Finals and eventually won the NBA title.
  • The 1970-71 Milwaukee Bucks were led by both Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. They owned the regular season as well as the playoffs, losing only two playoff games and sweeping the Finals.
  • The 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers were led by Julius Erving (Moses Malone was obviously a huge part of the team though) and breezed through the regular season and only lost one playoff game during their run to the title.
  • The 1985-86 Boston Celtics were led by Larry Bird and they essentially put a chokehold on the NBA throughout the season on their way to the championship.
  • The 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers were led by Magic Johnson at the peak of his powers. That team handled the regular season with ease and were one of the most dominant playoff teams the league has ever seen.
  • The 1995-96 Chicago Bulls were led by Michael Jordan and amassed an impressive 72-10 regular season record on their way to the NBA title.

The list is far from complete mind you. There are other great teams that were important to the league’s history by virtue of their sheer talent and accomplishments. One team that deserves to make the list above is none other than the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers.

The ’72 Lakers featured one of the greatest coaches ever (Bill Sharman), arguably the greatest center in league history (Wilt Chamberlain) and most probably the second best shooting guard of all time (Jerry West).

One of the most peculiar developments of that Lakers team was that they featured more talent in previous seasons. Indeed, in the three seasons prior to the 1971-72 campaign; Los Angeles was also home to Elgin Baylor, whom many would argue had been the best small forward the league had ever seen at the time.

However, those Lakers teams struggled to blend perfectly under the tutelage of Butch Van Breda Kolff and Joe Mullaney. Now to be fair, those teams faced several injuries; nonetheless the coaches failed to get the trio to play as a team. Instead, it came down to the stars getting heir opportunities while the remainder of the teammates just stood and watched.

Both coaches had asked Wilt Chamberlain to focus on defense and rebounding, but the Big Dipper thought better of it. After being eliminated by the Milwaukee Bucks during the 1971 playoffs, the team felt that a coaching change was necessary.

During the summer of 1971, the purple and gold turned their attention to Bill Sharman, who had coached the Utah Stars to the ABA championship the previous season and who had also led the Cleveland Pipers to the title in the ABL. In addition, he was the coach of the San Francisco Warriors team that fell to the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1967 NBA Finals.

The Lakers hired Sharman (who decided to bring in former Celtic K.C. Jones as an assistant) who brought with him instant respect given the fact that he had been a successful head coach and player in the league. But more so than anything, the most important thing the new coach brought him to Los Angeles was without a doubt the Celtics mystique.

Sharman had played on those Celtics teams with Bill Russell, and thus understood winning. In his book Wilt: Larger than Life, Robert Cherry obtained this quote from Lakers guard Gail Goodrich:

“When Sharman arrived and said, “We’ll try to do things like this,” I think Wilt, who had a great deal of pride, like all players, said, “Well, this is the way that the Celtics and Russell did it, and they were successful. And I’m every bit as good as Russell. I’m  going to show that I can be as good as Bill Russell and, if I had the supporting cast that Boston had, we would have won a few more championships.”

Hence, when the new coach moved Jerry West to point guard, turned the squad into a running team and then asked his star center to focus on rebounding and defense, there were very few grumblings.

Chamberlain was lukewarm to the idea, but an interesting development facilitated the move.

Elgin Baylor was no longer the player he had once been and was holding the 1971-72 Lakers back. He had always been an isolation type of player, but his Achilles tendon tear had robbed him of some explosiveness and mobility, which meant that it took more time for him to set up his defender and break him down. The end result was that it put halted ball movement and turned his teammates into spectators.

In order to remedy this situation, Sharman told Baylor that he would make him a sixth man and promote Jim McMillian into the starting line up. Bill Sharman offered this quote to Roland Lazenby in his book Jerry West:

“He just wasn’t the Elgin Baylor of old. I knew he felt bad, and I wanted him to keep playing. But he said if he couldn’t play up to his standards he would retire.”

And on November 4th, 1971, Baylor announced his retirement.

The star forward’s departure from the team meant that the Lakers would need a new captain; a role that Jerry West declined because he chose to focus on his basketball duties. Thus the onus fell on Chamberlain’s shoulders.

The added responsibilities meant that Wilt would have to not only get on his teammates when required, but also lead them. Thus, Chamberlain accepted his role as a premier defensive anchor for the team but not without condition: he would accept such a role as long as the team won. If he only knew…

On November 5, 1971 (one day after Elgin Baylor’s retirement), the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Baltimore Bullets as Wilt managed 25 rebounds and six assists. The date is significant because the purple and gold’s next loss would come on January 9, 1972. The Lakers won a seemingly impossible 33 games in a row (think about this; which seems more impressive: Wilt’s personal total count or the Lakers streak?).

Chamberlain was a huge part of the streak given his willingness to be receptive to his coach’s demands. But in truth, Sharman did not ask anything of his star center. He explained to Robert Cherry:

“I wouldn’t coach him like I coached other players. With other players I’d say, “I want you to pick out high and roll to the basket.” With Wilt I’d say, “Now what do you think we should do? Use the high post or do you think we should do the low post?” I’d keep asking him questions till I got him to say what I wanted him to do, and then I’d say, “Wilt I think that’s a great idea. Let’s do it that way.” I wanted him to think it was his idea. And he would go out and bust his fanny to do it. But if I told him, “Do this, do that,” I don’t think he would respond as well.” 

With that said, for all of Wilt’s considerable gifts, the streak came as a result of team play. The backcourt played marvelously together as Gail Goodrich moved exceptionally well off the ball and scored off of West’s set ups. At forward, McMillian was an active player who ran the floor, posted up, shot it well from midrange and did a good job on defense.

Complementing all of these players was a bruising power forward by the name of Happy Hairston. He was a decent scorer and fierce rebounder. As a matter of fact, he is the only forward to ever play next to Wilt Chamberlain to gather a thousand rebounds in one season. Have a look at the starters’ production during the 1971-72 season: 

PLAYER

PPG

RPG

APG

FG%

Gail Goodrich

25.9

3.6

4.5

.487

Jerry West

25.8

4.2

9.7

.477

Jim McMillian

18.8

6.5

2.6

.482

Wilt Chamberlain

14.8

19.2

4

.649

Happy Hairston

13.1

13.1

2.4

.461

The Los Angeles Lakers were represented by Goodrich, West and Chamberlain in the 1972 All-Star Game and eventually finished the season with the best record in the history of the NBA at 69-13. It took 26 years and the greatest player the league has ever seen for a team to finally eclipse their record, when the Chicago Bulls won 72 games during the 1995-96 season.

The ’72 Lakers entered the postseason after a truly remarkable regular season as the top team in the league, mind you many wondered if they would be able to defeat a Bucks team led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Oscar Robertson; whom had won the title the previous season. 

Los Angeles swept the Chicago Bulls in a rather physical Western Conference Semifinals (at the time the semifinals were the actual first round of the playoffs) that set up a Western Conference Finals with Milwaukee.

The Bucks dismantled the Lakers in Game 1 by 19 points. Oscar Robertson was slowed down by a painful stomach muscle injury but he still harassed West into a four-for-19 shooting night.

In Game 2, the offenses were let loose as the Lakers won 135-134. McMillian scored 42 points while West put up 28 points, but was limited to 10-for-30 field goal shooting.

In Game 3, Gail Goodrich stole the show as he put up 30 points while Wilt blocked 10 shots. Abdul-Jabbar still managed to score 33 points but was held scoreless in the final quarter as the Lakers won 108-105.

Milwaukee won Game 4 rather easily, by the score of 114-88; as the Bucks center poured in 31 points on his 25th birthday while West was limited to nine-for-23 shooting.

In Game 5, the Lakers blew out the Bucks out of the Forum by a score of 115-90, where Chamberlain outrebounded his counterpart 26 to 16.

The Lakers eliminated the Bucks in Game 6, as they won 104-100. Several key players contributed to the win but this game will always be remembered for Oscar’s inability to play in the second half because of his stomach injury.  Bucks fans can only wonder what would have happened had Robertson been healthy.

If injuries played a key factor against Milwaukee, they would certainly be a huge factor in the NBA Finals against the Knicks. The Lakers were every bit as good as advertised, but the truth is that New York Knicks were banged up. Willis Reed was absent (meaning that the 6’8 Jerry Lucas would have to guard Wilt) due to knee troubles and Dave DeBusschere was largely ineffective due to pulling a muscle on his right side near his hip.

Jerry West had been stuck in a shooting slump since the Western Conference Finals but managed averages of 23 points and 9 assists in the Finals against the Knicks. Mind you, he only shot 38 percent from the floor.

Nonetheless, the Lakers dispatched the Knicks in five games to claim the NBA title. Wilt Chamberlain was named the Finals MVP after registering 24 points, 29 rebounds and 10 blocked shots in the Game 5 clincher.

Regular season and playoffs combined, the Los Angeles Lakers won 81 games and lost 16. Have a look at how their winning percentage compares favorably to other great teams:

Team

Wins

Losses

Win %

1996 Bulls

87

13

.870

1972 Lakers

80

16

.833

1967 Sixers

79

17

.823

1986 Celtics

82

18

.820

1983 Sixers

77

18

.811

1987 Lakers

80

20

.800

Needless to say, this team is one of the greatest the league has ever seen but their biggest impact might just have been with the Logo himself. Indeed, the ’72 Lakers gave him the blueprint to build his future teams: Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Byron Scott during the 1980s and then Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, Rick Fox and Ron Harper in the early 2000’s. 

Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and although the 1971-72 Lakers will never be duplicated, the fact that so many teams tried to replicate their formula (1995 Rockets, 2005 Suns and 2005 Spurs to name a few) is a testament to their greatness and how they stood the test of time.

The irony of course is that they needed the help of two former Celtics to get there; and their style of play caused Bill Russell to call them “Celtics West”.

Go figure…

-J.M. Poulard

Today, we pay tribute to Tex Winter as he receives the long overdue honor of being inducted into the pro basketball Hall of Fame. Tex’s contributions to the game go beyond his short time with the Lakers, but I claim him as one of our own anyway. He came to the Lakers with Phil Jackson, instituting the Triangle offense that led to three consecutive championships. His teachings have endured beyond his time behind the Laker bench to help claim two additional titles as mainstays Kobe and Fisher give him credit to this day. He’s a basketball lifer and we, as Laker fans, were lucky that his path crossed ours a little over a decade ago. Congrats Tex, you certainly earned it. Now onto the links…

When I first started this site, my goal was to demystify the triangle and explain the basics of the offense.  As time passed, it became clearer to me that the real importance of the blog was to show that the triangle wasn’t some magical system for winning championships. The triangle is a philosophy of basketball whose format is dependent on the execution of simple fundamentals that can be applied to any team that seeks to play unified basketball.  As the triangle’s time in the NBA seems to be coming to an end, it’s fitting that its architect will finally be enshrined in the Hall of Fame after six decades of service to teaching the game of basketball.  To the man who helped me learn how to throw a proper chest pass I can only say thank you, and congratulations.

Everyone loves some home cooking, right?

Well, if you don’t, Pau Gasol certainly does. While he may not be playing in his native Spain, he is putting on his national colors to compete in EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania to help his home country qualify for the 2012 London Olympics. And in Spain’s first contest leading up to the tourney, it was Pau that led the way in helping his team down France in yesterday’s “friendly” match up. From the game report:

Spain reminded France they are a very different team when Pau Gasol is in the line-up. Gasol, the EuroBasket 2009 MVP and the player the French couldn’t stop in the teams’ Quarter-Final showdown two years ago that Spain won 86-66, had a game-high 19 points to lead his country to a 77-53 romp over Les Bleus in Almeria on Tuesday. Playing alongside his brother Marc as twin towers in the starting five, the elder Gasol dominated. He skipped last year’s FIBA World Championship to take a well deserved break but has returned to the national side and looked as good as ever as Spain won their first friendly of the summer.

After the game, I asked Sebastian Pruiti of the fantastic NBA Playbook to send over his thoughts on the Lakers’ Gasol from the match with France and he obliged. Below are his brief thoughts:

Gasol looked really confident in his jumper.  He started out playing away from the rim with Ibaka and his brother sharing the inside duties.  As soon as he caught it, if he was open, it was going up.  (He) knocked down two threes in the 1st quarter and a long two with his foot on the line. He was also running the floor well, getting ahead and getting the ball and finishing.  Had 3 or 4 fast break buckets where he beat either Turiaf or Noah down the court just with his speed. As always he was comfortable in the post, drawing fouls and getting the rest of his points from there.

All in all, it was a very solid performance, where Pau Gasol looked extremely comfortable, and that is before you consider how uncomfortable he looked in the post-season with the Lakers. I don’t know if it is the fact he’s like the elder statesmen with that team or if the freedom with the Spanish team is helping, but he looks a hell of a lot better, like the Gasol who started the year with the Lakers (though slightly more outside oriented with Spain).

Based off these observations, it’s very encouraging to hear that Pau is back to playing well against solid competition. Noah and Turiaf are both NBA quality bigs (with Noah being one of the better defensive bigs in the game) and it speaks well about Pau that he was able to run the floor well (check out this clip of him changing ends well and then finishing off a sweet dish from his brother) while also being assertive on offense.

One tidbit that is particularly noteworthy is that Pau was decisive with his offense and looking to score with little thought about what he should do once he made the catch. One area in which Pau struggled towards the end of the season and into the playoffs was his decision making, often seeming unsure of what he wanted to do with the ball after he’d receive a pass. Too often he would hold the ball only to get himself into a position where he wasn’t getting a good shot or end up making a pass with little accomplished towards progressing the team’s offense. The fact that Pau was looking for his shot – be it a jumper, in the post, or when running the floor – and not over-thinking possessions is a good indicator that he’s mentally in a good place on the court.

Whether this trend continues into the actual tournament remains to be seen but these early returns are exactly what I’d like to see from Pau this summer. Be it fatigue (mental or physical) or some other issue, Pau clearly was not the same player in the recent playoffs as he’d shown during the rest of his tenure with the Lakers. If Pau can use his time in Europe to find his groove and come back as the confident player that many hailed as the most complete big man in the game, all of the fixes we’re discussing with this team become less important. Pau Gasol is that good a player and can make that type of an impact when at his best. Here’s hoping we see more of that Pau for the rest of the summer and into the season.

We all have our biases.

These biases are based off what we value. For some people, Magic Johnson will always be their favorite – and thus the best – Laker ever based off how he played the game. He was a pass first player that always looked to get his teammates involved in order to maximize the team’s chance at winning. He brought a flair to the action that was captivating and his ability to come up big in the big moments was legendary, but it was his style that continues to have fans on his side.

For others, Kobe is the guy they look to as the best player due to his iron will to win and his willingness to do whatever it takes to get his team to the top. It’s not always the most efficient approach, but his skill level is off the charts and his ability to captivate fans while pulling off the (seemingly) impossible inspires a strong devotion. The last second shots, the scoring explosions, the moxie – all of them make Kobe who he is and what make fans kneel at the altar of #24.

But our biases aren’t limited to choosing who we favor in a battle of all time greats. Sometimes, our biases conspire to see all the things that are wrong with current players on the roster in order to argue against why they could be effective the role they’re assigned.

No where is this more true than with the Lakers’ point guards. We’ve gone back and forth on this issue for (what seems like) years, but it’s now more clear than ever that the Lakers need an upgrade at the point if they’re going to contend.

But do they really? To be honest, I’m not so sure.

You see, what the Lakers need is better production from the point, not necessarily better players. For some, these two concepts are inescapably linked but I’d argue that’s not actually the case.

Certainly, last season the Lakers point guards let them down. They missed too many of the open shots they were given and didn’t make the needed plays when they were asked to create for themselves or their mates. Questionable decisions were more frequent than ones that helped the team and the Lakers suffered for it. The result of those failures is that we’re now in almost unanimous agreement that there’s no other answer than to replace those players that let us down.

I’d contend, though, that what the Lakers actually need are for the point guards they have to play to their potential. I know I’ve been seen as a Derek Fisher apologist, but I don’t think last year’s performance is all he can provide to the team. Surely his age and limited (which is being kind) athleticism hurt his ability to improve as much as a younger player with fresher legs, but production is not limited to how fast you can run or how high you can jump. Fisher can make better decisions on when to drive (which should be almost never), when to look for his own shot, and when (and to who) he should be passing to on any given play. He can be more efficient a player by not forcing the action as much; by not taking the offense upon his shoulders more than he should.

Steve Blake can also be a better player than he was last year. Finding his way in the triangle proved to be more difficult than anyone anticipated and being asked to run a more traditional offense should help him be more productive. He should have the opportunity to run more P&R’s in order to create off the dribble while still getting the spot up jumpers that he’s still very capable of knocking down. He won’t be asked to be a slasher nearly as much and limiting his shots off cuts, dives, and hand-offs in and around the paint going into the teeth of the defense should help him be more efficient.

In the end, none of this may end up working out and we’ll all be clamoring for a better player at the point come game 10 of next year (whenever there is a game 10). But I think it’s also very important to understand that the Lakers are still built around a ball dominant shooting guard and a trio of versatile big men. The point guards on this team need to walk the fine line of being confident while deferential to the better players on the roster and opportunistic when their chances do arise. That’s a difficult role to play while still providing the production that the team needs. That said, the current group of players have the skill sets to do just that. And while they actually have to get on the floor and provide that production, we all need to do a better job of seeing past our biases to allow them to try.

At least until the way this roster is constructed changes.