Archives For September 2011

woj

Today, the Owners and Players Association met again today, and as Adrian Wojnarowski said in the tweet above, not a lot of progress has been made. While this news isn’t particularly good, it seems as if there was something in the 5 and a half hour meeting that prompted both sides to meet again as early as next week. At this point in time, there aren’t a lot of details surrounding the details of what went on in the meeting, so we’ll have to wait for reports to surface for the time being.

If you haven’t checked out already, ESPN’s 5-on-5 discussed the lockout and how it affects both Kobe and Lebron.

The Wages of Wins’ Devin Dignam takes a look at the Pau Gasol v. Juan Carlos Navarro Eurobasket MVP debate in two posts.

Navarro’s teammate Pau Gasol was clearly the best player in the tournament. In addition to being tops in terms of total wins, Gasol was also the most efficient player (as measured by EWP/40) in the entire tournament. The fact that Gasol lost out to his teammate is a travesty. But overall, the all-tournament team did pretty well. Of the five selections, the only one I have an issue with is Navarro. Which isn’t too bad – it’s not like he won the MVP or anything.

Hoop Speak’s Beckley Mason presents a 1999 lockout chronology timeline.

Brian Windhorst of the Heat Index explains how some teams, most notably the Heat, can take advantage of an amnesty clause if such a clause (which is expected) should be in the new collective bargaining agreement.

For months there has been speculation that a new CBA would contain such a clause, which was first used as part of the last CBA deal in 2005. It’s a mechanism to help phase in new rules and create a bridge for teams who are stuck with bad contracts. Six years ago it was used to help teams avoid a more penal luxury tax. The highest profile player to be released was Michael Finley, who the Mavericks waived to save more than $30 million in luxury-tax payments at the time.

This week the Portland (Ore.) Oregonian reported that there’s a consensus among owners to include another amnesty clause in the new CBA that would help clear space in what are expected to be more restrictive salary caps. Of course no one can predict the future but the signs continue to indicate the new deal will have some sort of amnesty option in it.

Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don’t Lie reports that Yao Ming is still doing humanitarian things despite hanging up his sneakers.

Yao is asking his fellow countrymen to stop eating shark fins, and while his words may not make much of a dent in changing a centuries-old Chinese tradition, this is a very good thing. Because the practice of securing shark fins is a terrible, terrible thing.

Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in China, and though the price of a fin can be more than exorbitant, that doesn’t stop the massive consumption of the dish. A dish that, frankly, is more show than substance.

By now, you know J.M. Poulard as he’s been putting together great posts for FB&G over the past few months. So, I’m happy to announce that he’ll be joining FB&G on a more permanent basis moving forward. Join me in welcoming him on board and enjoy his latest effort…

Back when Shaquille O’Neal played for the Orlando Magic, it seemed that the team would be a perennial contender in the Eastern Conference for years to come. The Magic were built around the tandem of Shaquille O’Neal and Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and that squad had taken out Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls in the 1995 Eastern Conference Semifinals on their way to the Finals. The future definitely looked bright for Orlando.

Around the time that the Magic was on the rise, a young teenager once made his way into the Orlando locker room because he wanted to meet his favorite player at the time, which was Penny. Hardaway rushed the young teenager and took take a picture with him and then went on his way. O’Neal saw all of this unfold and offered words of encouragement to the kid because although Penny had taken the picture, he had brushed off the young fan. Shaq went on to talk to the teen asked him where he was from and what have you. In his autobiography Shaq Talks Back, the Diesel shares the last few words he had with the young fan:

“Nice to meet you dog. See you in the NBA.”

The name of that young fan? Kobe Bean Bryant.

Little did O’Neal know, he was paving the way to his first title with that small interaction.

Fast forward to the summer of 1996; Shaquille O’Neal is a free agent and it seems clear to everyone that he will remain in Orlando given the fact that the team is a powerhouse in the making that will own the Eastern Conference for years to come despite having just been swept by the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference Finals.  Mind you, Jerry West is not convinced that the Diesel cannot be lured away. Consequently, he dismantles his team in order to have the required cap room to sign O’Neal outright.

The move would be known as perhaps the greatest free agent acquisition in Lakers history, however in order for it to manifest, two things needed to happen:

I. Resentment of Orlando media: Shaq had grown tired of being in Orlando and facing scrutiny for everything he did off the court. For instance, the local press constantly stated that he lacked dedication to basketball because of his music and movies; and they also made it seem as though the woman who bore O’Neal’s first son was a less than respectable lady.

II. Fallout with Orlando management: Shaq made his decision to leave the Magic the day they informed him that they could not give him a contract exceeding the amount of money that Penny was making because he was sensitive and it could potentially make him uncomfortable. Upon receiving the news, O’Neal told the Magic he would sign with them the following day (which clearly he knew he would not) but he then informed Jerry West that he was coming to Los Angeles.

Once the word got out that the Lakers were about to get Shaq for $98 million, Orlando quickly offered to match the contract offer (funny how Penny’s feelings were no longer important once they realized that O’Neal was set on leaving). In the meantime, Alonzo Mourning had just obtained a $110 contract from the Miami Heat and Shaq felt that he was the better player and thus wanted to be compensated more. West stepped up to the plate and offered the Diesel a monster $121 million contract that the star center signed. Tough luck Orlando.

In that very same summer, West made one of the best draft day trades in the history of the NBA when he acquired the rights to Kobe Bryant in exchange for Vlade Divac.

Then and there, a championship team was slowly starting to take shape: Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. The irony of course is that save for O’Neal and Bryant, none of the players above would win a ring with the Lakers. But before the team reached its lofty expectations, they still needed to experience some growing pains.

Del Harris was the head coach of the Lakers when O’Neal arrived in Los Angeles but there was one big problem with him: the players did not respect him. His practices were often lax and he favored the idea of simply giving the ball to the players and asking them to go out and play instead of working on sound principles and focusing on how to stop opponents. Harris and Van Exel often got into shouting matches during practices during which Harris (yes Del Harris) once lambasted the former Cincinnati guard with more curse words than a Dr. Dre album.

Making matters worse, Harris was intent on having Kobe Bryant earn his playing time by forcing him to integrate his game with that of teammates and also working hard on defense. While the veterans appreciated the gesture, management offered a different opinion. Jerry Buss and Jerry West wanted for the young prodigy to get some playing time in order to grow and mature as a player.

Truth be told, if the team had been successful under Harris, they probably would have kept him on board; but the reality is that the team often underachieved; getting by merely with talent and usually folding against more experience teams in the playoffs (eliminated in five against Jazz in ’97 playoffs, swept by Jazz in ’98 playoffs and swept by Spurs in ’99 playoffs). And so, after a few years of watching the Lake Show become a no show, the team fired Del Harris during the 1998-99 season (lockout year) and gave Kurt Rambis the reigns to the team.

The players had always loved Rambis as an assistant coach but as the head coach they were less appreciative of him given the fact that his attitude towards the team changed. According to O’Neal, Rambis was trying to play a part as opposed to being himself. In addition, feeling the squeeze from management, Rambis gave Bryant the playing time he had always yearned for and let him play through his mistakes and never tried to steer him towards team play (also, Eddie Jones and Elden Campbell were traded to Charlotte for Glen Rice which opened up minutes at the shooting guard spot).

Even when the team held meetings to discuss Kobe’s perceived selfishness, Rambis was quick to come to his defense and mentioned his youth as a reason why players on the team should show more patience.

And thus, when the Lakers were eliminated at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals, the first thing Shaq made known was that he wanted his type of head coach. He gave the Lakers a list of three head coaches:

1. Chuck Daly

2. Bob Hill

3. Phil Jackson

The Lakers went with Jackson who brought along with him instant respect as well as an attitude that was almost defiant towards the players. O’Neal shared one of the first few things that Jackson shared with the team upon joining them:

“Listen, if Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen didn’t have egos, didn’t talk back to me, none of you guys should ever say sh** to me. Period.”

The team started off the season with Kobe Bryant sitting out the first few weeks because of a wrist injury. The team played well nonetheless and raced out to a 12-3 record. Prior to Kobe returning to the lineup, the head coach advised his star center that when the star guard would come back into the rotation, he would take a wait and see approach with him. He would occasionally get on him, but would allow him to play his game and then try to gradually bring him into the fold.

Jackson understood that there would be no changing Bryant, but rather that he should embrace his game and then have him make some adjustments. At times, Phil had to show Kobe’s mistakes during video sessions in front of the team in order for him to get the message but there were still occasions where Bryant needed to have the spotlight on him. For instance, in December 1999 the Lakers traveled to Toronto to face Vince Carter and the Raptors and Bryant made sure that everyone knew that he was going to go after the player dubbed Air Canada and he did, putting up 26 points in a 94-88 win.

The turning point in the team’s season came on March 6th, 2000 when the Lakers faced off against the Clippers. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was an assistant coach for the Clippers and had been critical of O’Neal’s game heading into the match up which already had the Diesel poised to have a good game. But what truly infuriated the center was the fact that it was his birthday and the Clippers had refused to provide him with additional tickets.

With Abdul-Jabbar giving the Clippers big men tips on how to guard O’Neal, the Lakers star center had a field day in attacking every single one of them. But the night was important for other reasons as Shaq explains:

“Kobe is giving it up and I keep scoring. Now I’m at 59 points and Kobe penetrates and people think he ain’t gonna get it to me. What does he do? He doesn’t even think twice. Feeds me for m 61st point, the most I ever scored in an NBA game. On my birthday too.

“My plan was if I get 61, I was gonna come down and shoot the three. So I get it, and the crowd is going crazy. I’m dribbling across half court and I stop. I look at the basket, but I see Kobe breaking toward the rim. So I throw him a lob. He catches it, cocks it back, throws down a reverse alley-oop dunk. That was my way of showing Kobe, ‘Thanks for helping me get 61. This one’s for you.’

“Once we did that together, we were tight. We bonded that night.”

And just like that, a title team had finally emerged. The playoffs were still a month and half away, but the chemistry, trust and belief was there. Thus, the Lakers made it into the postseason and eliminated the Sacramento Kings in five games (the first round was decided with three wins at the time), the Phoenix Suns in five games and had to play the Portland Trail Blazers in a tough seven-game series for the ages.

Game 7 of the 2000 Western Conference Finals was played at the Staples Center and Portland was up by 15 points early in the fourth quarter. The same trust, belief and chemistry that the team had acquired in early March surfaced then and there as the Lakers came back to take the lead and punctuated the victory with the signature play of the Shaq and Kobe era: the Kobe to Shaq alley-oop (this might be one of the most significant and demoralizing plays in NBA history for an opponent and yet the video fails to grasp that. Unless you watched the game live, unfortunately its significance is easily lost on you).

The Lakers would go on to the NBA Finals to defeat the Indiana Pacers in six games with Shaquille O’Neal being named the Finals MVP. The long trip the team took during the 1999-2000 season helped the team win two more titles; but it also helped turn Kobe Bryant into the superstar he is today.

In order for dynasties to exist in the NBA, more often than not a team needs to have the perfect set of circumstances come together; like an all world center reaching his prime just as his younger star teammate begins to not only reach his potential, but surpass it thanks in large part to the perfect coach.

And yet, the irony of it all is that it all started with a meeting in an Orlando locker room some years before…

All summer we’ve been checking in with Pau Gasol’s progress as he suited up for his native Spain for the EuroBasket Tournament in Lithuania. The tournament is now over and Gasol is once again a champion, playing a crucial role in his home country’s victory in the title game over France.

Over at The Painted Area (a site worth your time for more than today’s link) Jay Aych sums up Pau Gasol’s tourney quite well:

Another international competition, another sterling tournament for Pau Gasol. Pau capped off a great EuroBasket with another sharp all-around performance vs. the French with 17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three blocks. Pau added a 3pt. make on Sunday to finish Euro ’11 shooting 7-for-11 on 3PA.

Pau finished EuroBasket third in points (20 ppg), third in FG pct. (54%), fourth in rebounds (8.3 rpg), third in blocks (1.7 bpg). Pretty much does this everytime he suits up for Spain. If there were any doubts about his enshrinement into the Naismith Hall of Fame, they should cease forever. (We covered Pau’s FIBA accomplishments after Spain’s 2009 Euro final win.)

Don’t agree with the MVP vote–Pau should have won over Juan Navarro. Pau was more of a factor of both sides of the floor, with an underrated impact defensively once again. Navarro was clutch in the knockout round for Spain, but was a little off at the start of the tourney while Pau was consistent throughout.

As we’ve been saying, a strong effort from Gasol serves as a reminder that he is one of the best players in the world and also gave him the opportunity to be the focal point of a team – something that will serve him well when he’s back stateside with the Lakers. If Pau can channel that strong play and carry it over into next season, the Lakers are already a better team than they were when they faced Dallas in last season’s playoffs.

Now, if only we had some progress on the negotiations that will ensure there is a next season…

Like any of you that visit this site to read up on the Lakers and the NBA in general, I’m tired of the lockout. Tired of the back and forth from both sides, from the divisive rhetoric, from the threat that games will be missed. Every additional day that passess without a resolution leads me to feeling more and more like a that balloon you got for your birthday that’s sitting in the corner of your bedroom – slowly sinking lower and lower.

However, as I’m losing steam, others are coming up with even smarter ideas on how to get a deal done. One such person is Tim Donahue of the Pacers blog 8 Points, 9 Seconds. Today, he’s put forth a great read on how to resolve resolve the NBA lockout via a template for a CBA agreement. The key to it all is that he’s finding a middle ground on the so called “blood issue” of a hard salary cap. As he explains:

The system will include both a soft cap – more accurately described as a “threshold” – and a hard cap. Structurally, it is similar to the “flex” cap system previously proposed by the owners, but it is not the same. The mechanics would be:

  • The “soft cap” or “threshold” would be set by reducing BRI by $100 million to cover benefits, then taking 47% of the remainder and dividing by 30 (or total number of teams). Teams may spend above the threshold using an exception system that will be largely the same as the previous system – with changes to be outlined below.
  • A hard cap – which no team will be allowed to exceed at any point during the season – will be established by reducing the BRI by $100 million, then taking 65% of the remainder and dividing by 30 (or total number of teams).
  • A salary “floor” will be established at 75% of the soft cap. Any team who fails to meet or exceed this baseline in payroll will be ineligible for participation in the supplemental revenue sharing program.*  (* This is assumed to be the new program, which is expected deal with currently unshared revenue streams. The team will still receive their share of the national revenues – including television – as they do now.)
  • The luxury tax will be abolished. It will be unnecessary with the hard cap, and it’s revenue sharing function will be replaced in any new revenue sharing program the league implements.

You should read the entire piece for background on why he chose the thresholds he did and for great charts that map out what the system would look like over the course of the agreement. It’s truly a well thought out solution that calls for both sides to compromise some of their core beliefs for the greater good of the league.

And really, that’s what all sides should be seeking here. After last Thursday’s ownership meetings, it was reported that optimism turned to frustration after a couple of the more hawkish owners made pleas to continue with their hardline bargaining. For me, at least, reports like this are most frustrating because they can be viewed as obstacles to progress and in opposition to compromise. And as we get closer to when training camps should be starting, the time to get a deal done dissapates away.

One of the ongoing topics of discussion this off-season has been what the Lakers offense will look like next year. The perception that Mike Brown isn’t the most creative tactician on that side of the ball has only fueled this discussion. Here at FB&G, we’ve discussed it from a variety of angles, others have broken down game tape, and Mike Brown himself has spoken on the issue.

Just today, in fact, Kevin Ding has a column from his sit down with Brown and again the new Lakers head man reiterated what his plans are on that side of the ball:

When talking about the contrasting offensive styles Brown will show from Cleveland to here, the new Lakers’ coach summarized the coming Lakers offense as feeding Gasol and Bynum inside, not being the Kobe show. “This team is completely different from what I had in Cleveland,” Brown said. “In Cleveland, I had a guy who liked to come off the top of the floor, liked to play in space and play pick-and-roll and make plays for others. Here, I’ve got two guys similar to what we had in San Antonio; you’re able to throw them the ball on the block.” It’s impossible to imagine Bryant not getting his, however, and if the baseline for Brown’s Lakers basketball is going to be the passion and work ethic, though, Brown and Bryant will get along just fine.

This is nothing new, and ultimately doens’t require much analysis. Brown understands that a major strength of this team is his big men and he wants to use them as such.

To which I say: great. I think we can all understand that and welcome the philosophy.

However, this isn’t anything different than what Phil Jackson preached last year (and the years before that during both his stints as Lakers’ coach). And we all saw how that worked out as Lakers’ guards highjacked possessions by either hoisting long jumpers without even sniffing a post entry pass or manipulated the motions of the triangle to get the ball into the hands of other players not named Gasol or Bynum.

And this is the real issue that will need to be tackled. Coaching philosophy is the first thing I look for when evaluating if a person is a good fit for a team. But it’s the ability to get through to the players; for the players to buy into what the coach is saying that ultimately matters most.

This isn’t a swipe against Kobe Bryant, necessarily. Yes he had a league high usage rate and that’s something that will need to be addressed. But if you put Lakers’ offensive possessions from last season under a microscope you’d see plenty of Shannon Brown dribbling between his legs before pulling up for a long two pointer or Derek Fisher barrelling down the lane to try a scoop shot against challenging big men. This is to say nothing of Ron Artest or Matt Barnes’ shot selection (both were sometimes too quick to fire up the open jumpers that were available to them).

My point being, there were many culprits who contributed to the disjointed sets the Lakers ran last year. And if Mike Brown is going to rework the offense into one that goes inside-out it’s not the X’s and O’s that matter as much as his ability to connect with the players to get them on board with what he’s saying.

Team success is the result of many factors coming together. Talent is obviously needed but unless that talent is on the same page and working together the chances of getting the most out of the roster diminishes. The Lakers have the talent part covered. Where they’ll need Mike Brown most is in putting it all together in order to get the most out of his guys.

I love that Mike Brown is enthusiastic, is going to work hard, will preach accountability, and that he’s got plans to run an offense through is big men. But I’ll love him most if he can get his guys to buy into everything he’s saying. Because ultimately, that’s where his success is going to come from.