Archives For September 2011

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  September 15, 2011
  • Derek Fisher has sent a letter to every NBA player, laying out the union’s position while also issuing a rallying cry to garner continued support in the ongoing negotiations with the owners. You can read the entire letter here. One takeaway I have, beyond the rhetoric, is that Fish continues to be the consumate professional and I doubt there’s a better player in the league to be head of their union.
  • On the other side of the negotiating table is Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss. Today, it’s come out that Buss is in favor of a hard cap and is on board with revenue sharing. The money passage from Kevin Ding’s article:

As much as Buss loves his rum and Coke, he has held a Molotov cocktail with the NBA’s limited revenue sharing and soft salary cap. It has allowed Buss and his minority investors to make a lot of money and feel comfortable spending a ton of it on great players others can’t afford. But dramatically increased revenue sharing will inhibit the Lakers’ spending. A hard cap will flat-out prevent the Lakers from spending. It’s lose-lose when Buss is 77 years old and determined to come from behind the Boston Celtics in total championships, 17-16. Yet the Lakers have accepted it. Why? For the greater good.

  • I, for one, am not surprised that Buss feels this way. First off, I think Buss understands better than most that a healthy league will benefit the Lakers in the long run – even if that means financial concessions or a system that limits his ability to spend on a roster. Second, though, is the fact that the Lakers haven’t always been the team that out spent everyone to build a championship roster. That’s obviously a big part of their recent success but this most recent run isn’t the only success the Lakers have had under Buss’ stewardship. The Showtime Lakers were built primarily through the draft and savvy trades. The Shaq/Kobe teams were not just the product of out-spending teams for Shaq, but also in dumping salary to even be able to pay the Diesel and then making more moves to acquire Kobe and the rest of the veteran core that won those titles. In the end, Jerry Buss knows that it’s a combination of financial resources, a favorable market, and smart personnel decisions that build a winner. If one of those variables changes – namely, the ability to spend more – I’m of the mind that Dr. Buss trusts the other factors won’t. That may be a gamble, but history says it’s not.
  • In some non-lockout news, Andy Kamentzky sat down with Ron Artest to talk DWTS and basketball. Ron, of course, said some interesting things and the entire interview is worth your time.
  • One part of that inteview that caught my eye was Ron’s mentioning that a role off the bench may be in his future. Over at The Point Forward, Zach Lowe explores this idea and gives his two cents on how this may or may not work and also discusses how a theoretical lineup where instead of Artest being benched, it’s Derek Fisher that’s replaced in the line up:

As wonderful as Odom looked running the triangle, serving as point forward for a more traditional offense, heavy on pick-and-rolls, is a different responsibility. Playing longer minutes without a point guard will inevitably shift more of the playmaking burden onto Bryant. He’s obviously up to it; he has long been the Lakers’ best playmaker, both off the dribble and in the post. But handing Bryant and Odom (32 years old, by the way) more ball-handling and playmaking duties during the regular season is risky.

Risk is good, though, especially for a team that looked a bit stale by the end of last season. Mike Brown could experiment with this in small doses, rather than as part of the Lakers’ foundation, and if it works in March, he could lean on it a bit more in the playoffs. But that might be the ceiling here.

  • Lastly, I mentioned that the Impact Training Series that’s currently taking place in Las Vegas would give Derrick Caracter a chance he needs to continue his development. It turns out that – at least from the box scores – he’s been taking advantage of his opportunity. In Tuesday’s game he had 19 points on 14 shots and pulled down 7 rebounds. Yesterday he went for 20 points on 11 shots with another 7 rebounds. Without seeing the games or watching film it’s tough to give these numbers context, but strong shooting percentages and decent rebounding numbers are always good signs. For what it’s worth, Caracter thinks he has a good shot at sticking on next year’s roster. If he can carry over strong play from the summer to training camp (or whatever team’s have to prep for the season) he may be right.

Since the lockout began I’ve been optimistic that the owners and players would reach an agreement in a timely manner and that the NBA season would start on time. I had a variety of reasons for thinking this but the main one is that both sides understand the importance of building on the momentum of the last several seasons in order to maximize the league’s popularity. There’s simply too much at stake for both sides to shun an agreement for the prospect of their hardline ideology becoming the status quo.

Yesterday, my beliefs seemingly took a hit as lockout doom and gloom took hold after the players and owners had a bargaining session that went absolutely nowhere. Our friends at Silver Screen & Roll summed up the mood around the talks quite well. Basically, the players seem to be inching towards a compromise and the owners continue to dig in their heels and pull on that rope to gain further leverage like a high stakes tug of war match.

However, that talk of doom and gloom is just that: talk. When you dig a bit deeper, look at the nature of this last meeting, and start to read between the lines what we saw yesterday should have been somewhat expected. Chris Sheridan sums up this position well:

…I am not the least bit surprised that everyone is emerging from the meeting in New York spewing doom and gloom. That is what always happens when the owners’ and players’ full bargaining committees get together. It is a total dog-and-pony show, and anyone who expected the sides to emerge today with a sense of optimism was fooling themselves. This dispute will get settled when there are a lot fewer people in the room. David Stern and Billy Hunter can reach a suitable middle ground by meeting by themselves for a couple hours, which was what happened back in 1999 when that lockout was settled.

Ken Berger of CBS also dives into the rhetoric from yesterday and isn’t convinced progress has stalled. In fact, he sees steps in the right direction:

Though no written proposals were formally exchanged, hidden amid all the rhetoric and doomsday prognosticating was something extraordinary for how lost it became: the NBA and its union are on the verge of solving the biggest dispute between them, as in how much money each side gets. It was still happy hour when Stern strolled out of the NBA offices, so someone should have been raising a glass for a toast. Neither side would say how far the players moved economically, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations said they expressed a willingness to move lower than the 54.3 percent of basketball-related income they last proposed on June 30 as a starting point in a six-year deal. Stern disputed the players’ contention that the owners haven’t made an economic move since the day before the lockout was imposed. Nobody outside the room knows how many millions the two sides shaved off the gap, but it hardly matters since everyone seemed willing to concede that they’ve at least dipped their toes on common ground when it comes to dollars.

Getting a handle on what’s really happening will always be difficult. No one doing the actual reporting is in the room during the talks and those that are emerge with handy quotes in front of cameras and voice recorders meant to spin their side’s positions in order to gain public support and/or portray the other side as unreasonable/unwilling to bargain in good faith. Even anonymous sources have agendas (not unlike what we see around the trade deadline) and, while I wouldn’t call anyone dishonest, I certainly believe that quotes fed to reporters are meant to serve multiple purposes beyond informing the public.

So, while I’m more pessimistic today at this time than I was yesterday, I’ve not yet abandoned hope. There’s a deal to be made and both sides continue to work towards it, even if progress is slow and hard line rhetoric knocks us off its scent.

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.

In the spring of 1985, the Los Angeles Lakers faced off against the Boston Celtics for the ninth time in the history of both franchises with the championship on the line. It was said that Boston had history on their side given that they were undefeated in the playoffs against the purple and gold. Most observers believed that the Lakers could not and would not vanquish the Celtics’ Curse. Indeed, for fear of upsetting the balance after the Lakers took a 3-2 series lead; Jerry West refused to travel to Boston with the team for Game 6 because of his fear that he would bring back to life the ghosts of Celtics past.  

Much to the chagrin of the Boston faithful, Los Angeles was victorious and finally had the opportunity to celebrate a title at the expense of the Celtics (in Boston no less). The following season, many expected that the Lakers would face off against their foes in the NBA Finals once again but it was not to be.

Magic Johnson and his teammates were eliminated in five games by the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference Finals and watched as the 1986 Boston Celtics won the NBA championship and were anointed by many outsiders as possibly the greatest team ever assembled.

Thus, the 1986-87 season would be special in Los Angeles because it would give them the opportunity to not only get back to the Finals, but also to prove that they could take down the wildly popular Celtics.

The Lakers would mostly coast during the regular season, going 65-17 and claiming the best record in the league. The team featured Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Michael Cooper and Byron Scott; but the big acquisition would come in February 1987, as the Lakers acquired Mychal Thompson in a trade from the San Antonio Spurs.

The Thompson move was a big one because not only could he play both the center and power forward positions (he made the Lakers much quicker racing down the court when he played center alongside A.C. Green), but because he was Kevin McHale’s former college teammate and thus could defend him better than anybody else in the league.

This Lakers team might have had the same core, but they were not the team from previous seasons. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still the team’s low post option, but now this had become Magic Johnson’s team. No longer would he take a backseat to anyone. He would become the primary scoring option all the while maintaining his playmaking responsibilities. His performance would earn him MVP honors at the conclusion of the campaign.

And so after breezing through the regular season, Los Angeles looked even more dominant in Western Conference play during the playoffs. Indeed, they swept the Denver Nuggets, dispatched the Golden State Warriors in five games (losing only the Sleepy Floyd game) and swept the Seattle Supersonics.

The Finals would have the Lakers play the Celtics once again with bragging rights on the line for the next 21 years (this would be the last time the teams would play until they met again in the 2008 Finals).

At home, Los Angeles took care of Boston, winning the first two games by a combined 32 points. The Celtics would come back on their home floor in Game 3 and win by six points, setting up a monumental Game 4 in Boston that would allow the Celtics to either tie the series or face a 3-1 deficit.

The Lakers started Game 4 by feeding Abdul-Jabbar on every trip as they tried to get him going early to set up their half court offense. However, Kareem struggled to hit his skyhook over the outstretched arms of Robert Parish and thus the purple and gold struggled to score early in the game. Complicating matters for the team, the Celtics did a great job of getting back in transition and limiting the Lakers fast break.

Struggling to hit shots, Los Angeles hit the offensive boards. But once that failed, Magic Johnson abandoned his role of point guard and instead became a scorer. And boy did he score. Magic hit the offensive glass for put backs, attacked the lane for lay ups and floaters and even posted up his defender and hit a series of right and left handed hook shots. At the half, the Lakers trailed by eight with Johnson leading the charge with 19 points.

The Lakers fell in a rut in the third quarter as they tried once again to feed Abdul-Jabbar who was unsuccessful in his scoring attempts. Then they switched strategies and went to Worthy who did a good job of scoring but Los Angeles’ defense got exposed. Indeed, Bird and Parish regularly ran pick and rolls that left Kareem guarding Larry Legend (I believe the term used to describe this would be mismatch).

The switching defense meant that not only did Bird get a lot of opportunities to put up points, but even when he missed; the Celtics were able to get second chance opportunities. And thus, with 5:08 left in the third quarter, Boston was up 77-61 with the Lakers slowly unraveling. Magic tried to bring them back with his scoring but just could not put a dent into the lead. With the Lakers needing a spark; Pat Riley made the adjustment of the game and sent in his athletes.

With Michael Cooper, Byron Scott, James Worthy, A.C. Green and Mychal Thompson on the court, Los Angeles went to a half court zone trap. The strategy caused the Celtics to become impatient and fire ill-advised shots; also they started to turn the ball over which sped up the tempo. By the end of the third quarter, the Lakers were down a mere seven points.

The Lakers brought back most of their starters in the fourth but kept Thompson and Cooper on the floor with them. Worthy carried most of the scoring duties in the fourth but Boston maintained their lead late into the fourth quarter.

With 2:09 left in the game, the Celtics seemed like they were well on their way to tying up the series at two games apiece with a 103-96 lead. Here’s what happened the rest of the game from that moment on:

  • Magic feeds Thompson at the basket and he gets fouled. Makes one of two free throws. Boston leads 103-97.
  • Parish is double teamed in the high post and coughs up the ball. Magic runs the break and finds Cooper for a three-pointer. Boston leads 103-100 with 1:32 left.
  • Bird tries to feed McHale and throws the ball out of bounds. The Lakers come back and isolate Worthy against McHale on the right wing and he makes into the lane where he fakes the post up and turns for a fade away jumper that goes all net. Boston leads 103-102 with 58 seconds left (the Boston Garden crowd starts to quiet down like the Utah crowd in the 1998 NBA Finals).
  • Bird runs a pick and roll with Parish and gets matched up with Kareem (because of the switch) and dribbles towards the baseline where he fires a contested jumper. The Lakers rebound and Magic brings ball up on the right side of court and sends Cooper into the post against Dennis Johnson as a set up play. Cooper then leaves the area and goes across the lane to set a screen on the left block for Kareem who becomes free for an alley-oop score. Lakers lead 104-103 with 29 seconds left.
  • Celtics come back and feed a wide open Bird (Worthy had to rotate to an open Danny Ainge) who scores a killer baseline three-point shot. Boston leads 106-104 with 12 seconds left.
  • On ensuing possession (after a Laker timeout), the ball goes to Kareem in the post where he is fouled on the shot. He makes the first attempt but misses the second one as Kevin McHale tips the ball out of bounds. Boston leads 106-105 Celtics with 7 seconds left.
  • Lakers inbound the ball to Magic on the left baseline where Parish jumps at him and retreats so that McHale (Dennis Johnson switched on screen and picked up Worthy) can come to pick him up. Magic head fakes and stutter steps off the dribble, goes to the middle of the lane and scores on a beautiful junior skyhook with McHale getting a piece of the ball. Lakers lead 107-106 with 2 seconds left.
  • Larry Bird misses a three-point shot at the buzzer. Game blouses. Lakers grab a 3-1 lead.

The Los Angeles Lakers would go on to lose Game 5 but would travel back to Los Angeles for Game 6 and win the title at the Forum. Magic Johnson would earn the NBA Finals MVP after averaging 26.2 points, 13.0 assists, eight rebounds and 2.3 steals per game on 54.1 percent field goal shooting in his six games in the Finals.

In his book The Show; Roland Lazenby was able to get this quote from the former Spartan:

“See everybody thought I couldn’t score. I had said, ‘You know, I’m just gonna go along, and one of these days it’s gonna be my show.’ That shot proved it to everybody, and that was the year I won the MVP. That’s the year Pat said, ‘Okay, Earvin, I want you to take over.’ And that’s what happened. After that, people said, ‘It is Larry and Magic,’ instead of ‘Larry can do this, and Magic can’t do that.’ You always had to fight that.”

If not for Magic’s shot, the series might have taken a completely different turn, and the Celtics could have well won the 1987 NBA title. But that’s the thing with basketball legends; they tend to come through when needed and Magic Johnson did just that with his junior skyhook….

A moment frozen in time forever.

-J.M. Poulard

Today, the Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series (aka the Lockout League) begins play in Las Vegas. For those that aren’t familiar, 60 (or so) current (and former) NBA players are gathering in Las Vegas to play some organized pick up games that will be refereed by real officials and played under NBA rules. With the lack of a real summer league (where young players typically go to get run, further their development, and be evaluated by NBA teams), this is the closest thing we’re going to get to real basketball with real NBA players (unless you’re watching EuroBasket or the FIBA America’s tourney).

Among those participating is the Lakers’ very own Derrick Caracter and I, for one, am interested in seeing how he performs in these contests.

Even though he’s only a second year player, Caracter enters a critical time in his tenure with the Lakers. He’s by no means ensured a roster spot; his contract is not guaranteed for next season and there is speculation that he’s not long for the Lakers roster due to his lack of size and his issues staying out of trouble last year. That said, the Lakers’ big man depth could generously be described as shallow with few options outside of their big three of Gasol, Bynum, and Odom. There is a role available for a big man of Caracter’s skill set but how far he progresses will be a key component in whether or not he’s retained.

And, to put it mildly, progress is needed. Last season saw a mostly down season for the rookie big man as he had trouble staying on the floor for extended periods without fouling or being a defensive liability. His rebounding numbers weren’t that strong (Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks had higher total rebound rates) and his plus/minus numbers were some of the worst on the team (he had the worst net plus/minus at -56 on the team according to 82games). He flashed some of the offensive polish that drew rave reviews in last year’s summer league but the tendency to rush his shot attempts or over think his positioning too often found him missing shots in his wheelhouse. As the season progressed, his minutes dried up and for a team that needed big man play, that didn’t speak well to his prospects. Overall, the negatives outweighed the positives and a step forward in his development is needed.

However, the Impact Series may just give Caracter his chance to show some of that growth and, ultimately, show that he can contribute to the Lakers next season. The roster he’s been assigned to includes some seasoned NBA players and he should have a good opportunity to get minutes considering he’s one of the only true big men on his team. Playing with this specific group of guys should enable him ample chances to do some of the dirty work that was lacking in his game in his rookie campaign. He’ll be asked to rebound, defend the paint, set good screens, and provide some offense through hustle plays and put backs. If he’s lucky, he’ll also get some low post chances and some shots out of pick and roll sets both as a dive man and when popping out to shoot short jumpers.

If Caracter shows he can excel in this environment, it may be enough for him to stick with the Lakers next year. And really, that’d be a great thing for both him and the team. With what will likely be a condensed training camp period, hold over talent that can contribute will be a big plus for incoming coach Mike Brown. If Caracter proves to be a capable 4th or 5th big man, it will cross a need off the Lakers shopping list in what will surely be a hectic free agency period.

Hopefully Caracter seizes this opportunity to show that he’s ready to be a contributor next year. Because if he doesn’t, the odds are strong that we’ll be saying “former Laker” when discussing him next season.

Around The World (Wide Web)

Darius Soriano —  September 12, 2011

From Sam Amick, Spors Illustrated: While the cloak of secrecy has been draped over the recent discussions, two sources with knowledge of the talks indicated that no formal proposals were exchanged. The players expected the owners to put forth a new proposal for quite some time now, and the continued absence of one at Tuesday’s bargaining session would be a foreboding sign for the fate of the coming season. Meanwhile, the reading of the labor tea leaves will continue. On the heels of Roger Mason’s now-infamous tweet in which the NBPA vice president wrote, “Looking like a season. How u,” but later claimed his account was hacked, one league source claims that union president Derek Fisher text-messaged numerous players last week indicating that some progress had been made and imploring them to be physically prepared just in case the season started on time.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Derek Fisher’s work as president of the players’ union continues this week with more highest-level meetings with NBA officials in New York, but he is scheduled to get some basketball work in when he is in Las Vegas on Thursday for a larger meeting with the players he represents. Fisher is listed on one of the eight teams put together for Impact Basketball’s upstart two-week summer league in Las Vegas. That league of NBA-level players begins play Monday, although Fisher won’t arrive till Thursday for a planned meeting to share details of negotiations with union members…One of Fisher’s teammates in the Vegas league will be Derrick Caracter, who is under non-guaranteed contract for another season with the Lakers but might not be back with the team.

From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Now West is writing his own autobiography (due out in a couple months) and Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News got an advanced look (via Eye On Basketball). He says the book is very West — unflinchingly honest. And very interesting. West is an iconic Laker, but when Phil Jackson came in to the franchise (the first time) he changed the dynamics of power structure and with that pushed West out. Almost literally at one point — Jackson famously threw West out of the Lakers locker room after a game. Phil needed power, West had it and that was the seeds of the issue. West talked about that relationship — to say that there wasn’t one.

From Mike Trudell, Lakers.com: It was a long summer in Lakerland, the May 31 hiring of Mike Brown as the new coach of the franchise feeling like quite a long time ago. In the meantime, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has had a chance to get to know Brown quite well. “Since we’ve announced Mike as the next Lakers coach, we’ve spent a lot of time together talking basketball, talking personnel,” Kupchak said during a Live Chat on Lakers.com. “Obviously, looking to put together as much of his staff as possible. He’s very energetic, upbeat and eager to coach the season. Lately, the assistant coaches and Mike have been meeting every day, sometimes at Mike’s home, and sometimes here at the facility in preparation for the upcoming season.”

From Mark Medina, LA Times Laker Blog: Various incidents trigger Lakers forward Lamar Odom to reflect on losing his mother at age 12 to colon cancer. It happens whenever Odom takes out a pair of white, purple and gold Nikes before every game and writes out Cathy, referring to his mother, Cathy Mercer. Memories spark whenever he accomplishes something, such as when he approached the lectern last spring to accept the NBA’s sixth man of the year award. Odom’s gratitude toward having a life insurance policy when Mercer passed away served as inspiration to becoming a spokesman this summer for Life Insurance Awareness Month, appearing in a recent PSA on behalf of the nonprofit Life Foundation.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Most Lakers fans following Pau Gasol’s progress with the Spanish national team through the European Championships are looking for three things each time he takes the floor:  1. High end, skill-sharpening, confidence-galvanizing performances helping destroy, like hardwood Listerine, any lingering bad mouth flavors following last spring’s playoff letdown.  2. Everything in item 1, done in as few minutes on the floor as possible. 3. Don’t get hurt.  If that’s your formula, and it’s certainly mine, then Thursday’s 84-59 victory for Spain over Serbia was about as good as it gets. Pau was dominant on the floor, making nine of his 11 field goals, along with seven-of-nine from the line en route to 26 points. Add in eight rebounds, three assists, and a pair of blocks, and it all adds up to a very, very productive night. Best of all, Pau played a grand total of 23 minutes. In the wake of a 30 minute night against Germany, coming after he sat out Monday’s game against Turkey with a bad ankle, a little extra rest is a very good thing.

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Lastly, over at TrueHoop, Henry Abbott has done fine piece of reporting on the CBA negotiations looking at the owners positions on the key parts of a labor deal. He’s created a handy chart on the subject that’s worth your time as it explains that while larger negotiations on hand are between the owners and the players, there is also some agreeing that needs to happen between the owners themselves. He had this to say about his chart, and the Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss:

The 30 NBA teams have varying positions on collective bargaining and revenue sharing. Based on insight from more than a dozen well-placed sources, here is our best assessment of where the 30 owners stand at the moment — although all of this can change quickly. There is a big difference between owners who would like a much better CBA, and owners who would hold up a deal over a much better CBA.

The Lakers have good revenues that they’d like to keep collecting. Jerry Buss is close to David Stern, and likely to support any deal the league is pushing.

 The Lakers stand to lose the most in revenue sharing, by far. Reports are conflicting about whether they have accepted the idea of paying tens of millions per season. This is a huge issue.