Archives For February 2012

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  February 10, 2012

No need to talk about a zig-zag season this morning, and don’t think I’ll bother with All-Star picks and misses. The OT game last night against the Celtics was a blow-by-blow affair and depending on your POV, either extraordinarily ugly or truly sweet. Personally, I go with the latter. Great outing for Pau Gasol, and now on to an early game tonight in MSG, against a team with a lot to prove and a kid with a red-hot hand in Jeremy Lin (again, depending on perspective, heh). On to the links:

Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’Lakers: Pau Gasol was huge, playing an excellent floor game providing all the scoring, facilitating and rebounding the Lakers need from him. On the night he was officially left off the this season’s All-Star team, Gasol turned in one of his best games of the season. He put the ball on the floor effectively, showed some good footwork in the post, and made some excellent passes as well. Then there were three key second-half putbacks, including one that tied the game at 82 with only 8.2 seconds remaining. Save a couple truly horrible decisions early, leading to turnovers and opportunities for the home team, Gasol was on point. Defensively, Gasol was big against Kevin Garnett, who basically disappeared as the game went on, then saved the game by blocking Allen at the buzzer on what would have been a game-winning putback off a Paul Pierce miss. Gasol finished with 25 points (12-for-20), plus 14 rebounds, three dimes and that one massive swat. 

Adrian Wojnarowski, Yahoo Sports: It’s no accident that Bryant loves to walk the streets of Boston on off days here and commune with the Commonwealth. For all the nastiness inside the arena, he’s always amazed at the way they welcome a Lakers star here. There’s a connection, and they all want to hold onto it as long as they can. “The fans hate your guts when you’re playing here, but very appreciative of the talent,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “When you see them out on the streets, it’s always a warm reception. ‘Man, I hate you, but … I love watching you. How do you think the Celtics are going to do?’ It’s a running conversation.” Bryant had to stay on the floor a little longer for the postgame interview, and when he finally ran through the tunnel on the way to the Lakers’ locker room, you could see all those Celtics fans leaning down, screaming, taunting, cursing him. Oh, how he loved it. And how he’ll miss it. Kobe Bryant will be back in Boston, but that old-school gang, those most familiar reflections with the Celtics, won’t be waiting for him. “We’ve played against each other so many times, you know what’s coming,” Bryant said. “It’s been a dream come true. I’ve grown up watching it, and here I am, part of it.” For one more night, when it still mattered anyway, when the Celtics-Lakers still commanded the sport’s stage. Next month, next year, it’s all coming fast now. Everyone wanted to hold onto this stage, this night – this long-running fight – a little longer on Thursday. Celtics-Lakers in overtime again, the clock running down. On his way out of Boston a winner one more time, Kobe Bryant made sure to breathe it all in.

Paul Flannery, WEEI Radio: The names on the periphery change, but it’s always the same central cast of characters. The Lakers played their Kobe-zone on Rajon Rondo. The Celtics trapped Bryant, something they rarely do against any player but him. Of course, all that trapping left the rest of the floor open for Gasol and Bynum to do their thing. “Rebounding, they’re big, man,” Garnett said. “Bynum’s come into his own. It’s good to see a big guy like that just kind of reestablish the big man back in our league. He and Pau have a great chemistry. They work really well together. The second-chance points hurt us, but we knew that coming into the game.” These two teams know everything there is to know about each other, and maybe we know everything about them, as well. The Celtics are 14-11 and stuck in the seventh spot in the East. The Lakers are 15-11 and mired in an also-ran logjam in the West. They are the proverbial teams no one wants to face in the playoffs, but they’re also no one’s idea of a true contender “Both teams shot 39 percent, so someone had to win,” Rivers said. “The game looked in slow motion, at times. So, I’m sure all the jokes, two old teams, Jurassic Park.”

Kurt Helin, ProBasketBallTalk: If you are going to impress Kobe Bryant, you’re going to have to do a lot more than have three good games in February. A lot more. Jeremy Lin is a sensation, “Linsanity” is sweeping New York as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers come to town Friday night. Two weeks ago the Knicks looked lost, then Jeremy Lin — the twice cut Harvard grad — burst on the scene with a skill set that fits the Mike D’Antoni offense. Suddenly the Knicks have won three games with Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony out of action, and New York is fun to watch.

Kobe is still not impressed. Via WEEI in Boston.

“I know who he is, but I don’t really know what’s going on too much with him. I don’t even know what he’s done. Like, I have no idea what you guys are talking about. I’ll take a look at it tonight though.”

[Asked again about Lin] “I don’t even know what the [expletive] is going on. What the [expletive] is going on? Who is this kid? I’ve heard about him and stuff like that, but what’s he been doing? Is he getting like triple doubles or some [expletive]? He’s averaging 28 and eight? No [expletive]. If he’s playing well, I’ll just have to deal with him.”

[Would he consider guarding Lin?] “Jesus Christ. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

First rule of Kobe — the more he cusses in a conversation the closer you get to the truth. That said, Kobe is a guy well aware of what is going on in the NBA — he knows who Lin is and what he’s done. He’s just not impressed.

C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: In what was one of the uglier games you’ll see all season, the Los Angeles Lakers got a much needed road win, by the final score of 88-87 in overtime. They achieved victory by sucking slightly less down the stretch. Kobe Bryant was at his brilliant worst, taking terrible shots throughout the 4th quarter and overtime, hitting just enough impossible looks to keep his strong 1st half looking decent, ending the game with 27 points on 11-24 shooting, and Pau Gasol had one of his best games of the season, possibly in response to being left off the All-Star team, going for 25 and 14 boards, and a key block of Ray Allen on the Celtics final possession of overtime. Andrew Bynum struggled with the Celtics physical defense, but made a few very big plays, including an and one buzzer beating offensive rebound just before the half. Off the bench, Matt Barnes provided great energy, Troy Murphy somehow found ways to contribute while he missed nearly every open shot he took, and Steve Blake played big minutes in his return from injury due to Derek Fisher being Derek Fisher.

***

There’s plenty more good reading to be had today but my laptop has been playing cruel tricks on me all morning and I weary of battling it. Plus, the neighbor’s dog won’t stop barking and I’m about to go over there with a tree branch. Talk amongst yourselves, figure out the next great free agent signing that won’t happen. If it comes down to it, we can always bring Ammo back.

– Dave Murphy

Box Score: Lakers 88, Celtics 87
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 91.9, Celtics 90.4
True Shooting %: Lakers 44.1%, Celtics 43.9%

The Good:
First and foremost, any win on the Parquet is sweet. That the Lakers, coming off a tough loss in Philadelphia, have now won four straight regular season contests in Boston, this one on the heels of yet another crushing Patriots’ Super Bowl defeat… brings a little extra something to the table, no?

As far as the actual game is concerned, the most praiseworthy performance, on either side, was turned in Pau Gasol. Consistent throughout, Gasol connected on 12 of his 20 (!!) field goal attempts (3 in the first quarter, 3 in the second, 4 in the third and two in the fourth), 10 times converting from inside the lane, en route to 25 points. Additionally, he was a force on the glass, collecting 14 rebounds, four on the offensive end (more on this in a minute), handed out three assists, blocked a pair of shots (more on this in a minute) and made every play the team needed from him down the stretch.

A mere 13 seconds after reentering the game in the fourth quarter (at the 7:13 mark) Pau hit a 17-footer to put the Lakers up by two points. A quiet six minutes later, with the Lakers down a bucket, on a play in which Steve Blake’s hustling offensive rebound netted the Lakers a second shot, Pau followed up a 10-foot jumper from Kobe, tipping in the rebound to tie the game at 82. It was his fantastic closeout on a beyond-the-arc Ray Allen that derailed the ensuing Celtics possession, forcing overtime. In OT, despite missing his only field goal attempt, Pau continued to make his presence felt, grabbing four defensive rebounds and, most important of all, swatted away a point blank, potentially game-winning put-back attempt by Ray Allen to secure the Lakers’ 15th win of the season.

Tonight, Pau eats first.

Deserving of an honorable mention here is the effort of the entire Laker team on the boards. In addition to Gasol’s 14 rebounds, Andrew Bynum was a monster on the glass, with 17 of his own, including a massive seven offensive rebounds. Also deserving a shout are Troy Murphy (9 in 24 minutes), Matt Barnes (4, 3 ORB, in 17), Kobe Bryant (5) and Steve Blake (3), all of whom helped the Lakers to a 55-45 rebounding edge on the night.

The Bad:
As this is the first Laker victory I have recapped for FB&G, I’d like to keep the negativity to a minimum.

With that said, I would remiss if I didn’t mention the Lakers’ work from downtown on Thursday, which I will generously describe as “putrid,” only because a sincere assessment might result in Darius amnestying me from the site. I realize that at this stage of the season, having gotten to know our personnel and watched them fight tooth and nail to barely escape the 3-point shooting cellar (at a blistering 29.4%, just edging out Utah, at 28.9%), having any expectation of a potent attack from the perimeter is an invitation to disappointment, but seriously guys? 1-for-15? 1-for-f*$^ing-15?? That’s 6.7%.

For those of you keeping score at home, Metta World Peace has now made nine of his 53 3-point attempts on the season (17%), Derek Fisher is 11-for-41 (26.7%), Matt Barnes is 8-for-37 (21.6%) and Kobe Bryant, raising the team’s percentage, is 38-of-129 (29.5%). Ugh.

The Lakers’ stalwarts on the perimeter are Steve Blake (18-52; 34.6%), Andrew Goudelock (12-30; 40%) and Troy Murphy (13-32; 40.6%), all of whom are hitting at rates ranging from “respectable” to “pretty good,” but do not yet inspire confidence in crunch time.

The Ugly:
By and large, Kobe Bryant enjoyed an efficient and productive game on Thursday night – 27 points, on 11-24 FG and 5-5 FT, five rebounds and four assists. At halftime he’d attempted just six shots, making four, and had 11 points. He added another 10 points in the third (on 4-of-9 FG, plus a pair of free throws) in third, including an extremely contested fadeaway – a harbinger of things to come. After making one of three in the fourth quarter, we moved to overtime, where Bean produced a pair of possessions, one actually successful, that are best described as “cringe-worthy.”

A minute and a half into OT, Kobe received the ball on the left wing with ~15 (don’t remember exactly) seconds remaining on the shot clock. At this point he proceeded to pound a dead spot into this Garden floor, attempting a couple of times to probe the defense, before (in a move I deemed “aggressive Usage”) letting go of a contested 20-footer… which found the bottom of the net.

Net result? Good. Process? Not so much.

Three minutes later, after an Andrew Bynum putback had given the Lakers an 88-87 lead, Kobe brought the ball up the floor, and with a four-second difference between shot and game clock, had an opportunity to time his attempt in such a way that the Celtics would be lucky to gain possession with more than three seconds remaining. Rather than doing this, however, Kobe began to back down his man on the left wing with about seven second left on the shot clock and, in a move diametrically opposed to the off-the-charts basketball IQ we’ve come to expect from him, launched a 17-foot turnaround that was off the mark, and recovered by the Celtics with six seconds remaining. Now, all’s well that ends well, but…

I love Kobe Bryant. With the exception of Magic Johnson, no player has meant more to my basketball life. Having Kobe as a member of the Lakers for 15+ years, and having the opportunity to watch 75%+ of his career games has been nothing short of a gift.

However, this season, and seemingly increasingly with the passage of time, Kobe has stretched the role that he’s defined for himself – “I eat first” – to obscene lengths. That he’s earned his free rein on the floor is, in my mind, beyond question, but there is something a problem festering. What is at times troubling is not the fact that Kobe is clearly unwilling to subjugate his role on the team, but the fact that he is becoming increasingly brazen in reminding the world, and I mean the world – fans opponents, his teammates, coach Mike Brown – of this fact.

Play of the Game:
In Andrew Bynum’s beautiful, hard-nosed and-1 just before halftime – in which he recovered a loose offensive rebound and flipped the ball back over his head (and in!) while getting hacked – and Pau Gasol’s game saving blocked shot at the end of overtime we have a couple of extremely deserving honorable mentions. However, a play in the dying moments of regulation combined hustle, excellent fundamentals, equisite skill and grace under pressure.

Trailing by two with roughly 15 remaining, Steve Blake, from the left wing, attempted to feed Andrew Bynum in low post. Bynum had the “chair pulled” on him, resulting in a loose ball along the baseline. Rather than a potentially game-sealing turnover, however, the Lakers retained possession, thanks to some fantastic hustle by Steve Blake. At this point, Kobe Bryant made a beautiful cut toward the basket along the left edge of the key. Seeing Kobe, Blake, now on the baseline about 15 feet from the rim, made a slick pass of no more than five feet to Kobe, who elevated for a 10-foot jumper, which rimmed out.

HOWEVAH…

In keeping with the play’s heady/hustle theme, Pau Gasol attacked the offensive glass, skying over a pair of Celtics that had inside position and, avoiding a loose ball foul, tied the game (ultimately forcing overtime) with a left handed tip-in.

If ever a reminder is necessary of Gasol’s sublime combination of grace, body control, otherworldly length and basketball IQ, this is it.

Records: Lakers 14-11 (7th in West), Celtics 14-10 (7th in East)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 103.9 (14th in NBA), Celtics 102.3 (19th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.5 (11th in NBA), Celtics 97.5 (2nd in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Celtics: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Blake (game time decision); Celtics: Marquis Daniels (questionable), Keyon Dooling (out)

The Lakers Coming in: The road woes have continued as Lakers are coming off two losses in games that were completely winnable. Whether or not that inspires confidence due to the fact that the team can compete and put themselves in position to win or reinforces the holes in the roster remains to be seen (though I think most fans have made up their minds). However the result of those games affects the team though, the Lakers have had some days off and time to reflect on what needs to be done and put in some practice time to shore up some of their issues. Kobe called Mike Brown “chippy” after Wednesday’s session so we can only hope that some needed practice time with an emphasis on defense and offensive execution does this group some good.

What may also do the team some good is the potential return of Steve Blake. The Lakers’ PG is finally recovered from his chest/rib injury and has been cleared to practice, making him a game time decision for tonight. We’ll see if Blake actually gets some run tonight or if he waits until tomorrow (vs. the Knicks) or Sunday (vs. the Raptors) but the prospect of getting him back in the lineup should be a net positive for a team that can use the depth while offering another late game option at the lead guard spot.

We’ll have to see how Blake’s return affects the rotations, however. Since Blake has been out, Andrew Goudelock has proven to be an offensive spark off the bench and continuing to find him minutes where he can handle the ball and attack off the dribble should be a priority. That said, I’d rather have an issue of needing to find time for a capable player than how to limit the minutes of one that can’t perform well.

The Celtics Coming in: After a slow start to the season, the Celtics have found their stride by winning 5 in a row and 9 of their last 10 contests. They’re back to defending at an elite level (2nd in defensive efficiency) and have found a rotation that works by going 8 deep with Avery Bradley, Mickael Pietrus, and Brandon Bass doing the heavy lifting for their second unit.

What’s also helped is the Paul Pierce playing like Paul Pierce again. Early in the year, the Celtic captain struggled with an injured heel missing the team’s first 3 games. When he returned, he was slow and looked like father time had rapidly caught up with him. As the season’s progressed though, Pierce has found his game and in the last 4 games has averaged 21, 7, and 7 while shooting nearly 37% from long range. When you combine Pierce’s production with the aforementioned elite level D, it’s no wonder the C’s are back to looking like a team that can do some damage in the playoffs.

Celtics Blogs: Jeff runs one of the great (and OG) sites in Celtic Blog and the guys at Celtics Hub do a tremendous job of covering this team. Check out both sites.

Keys to game: While motivation hasn’t been an issue for the Lakers this season, it really won’t be an issue tonight. These teams flat out don’t like each other whether talking the rivalry between the franchises in general or the history these teams have had since 2008. There may be bigger games on the schedule from a standings perspective, but there’s not one that means more on a personal level to a lot of the guys suiting up tonight.

To win the game though, the Lakers must clean up some of the issues that have dogged them in recent contests. That means keeping up a consistent attack offensively and sticking to what works over the course of the game. Tonight that means attacking the paint and making an aged Boston front line deal with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol on the majority of the possessions. While Jermaine O’Neal and KG are historically strong defenders, they’ll still have their hands full with the Lakers starting duo and they must be forced to protect the paint. This is especially true for Bynum working on O’Neal. Drew needs to establish the post early, not just because he has an advantage but to see what the C’s strategy will be when defending him. Will they double team or play him straight up? The answer to that question will then influence how the Lakers can attack the rest of the Celtic D the rest of the night.

The Lakers, of course, can’t ignore Kobe though. The Lakers still need to work their screen sets and try to get Kobe the ball in areas of the floor where he can do damage. The Celtics have traditionally played Kobe straight up with an eye at helping quickly whenever he gets near the paint and if that continues tonight, I expect Kobe to work the mid-range with his jumper and try to find the creases in the defense by curling into the paint. These actions can also serve as a great set up for Kobe’s teammates because when Kobe curls into open space, the defense is sure to react which can then give the other Lakers (especially the screeners) the opportunity to make clean catches and go to work against a recovering defense. With this in mind, I hope to see Kobe and Bynum working on the same side of the floor so that when ‘Drew sets a screen he can then step in, seal his man, and look for a quick pass from Pau at the high post.

Defensively, the plan to slow the Celtics is the same as it’s been since this group was formed back in 2008. Some of the pieces may be different but the primary actions will be the same. Rondo will push the ball in the open court to try and get the defense to retreat so he can hit trailing shooters in rhythm to take unconsted jumpers. In the half court, the C’s will run Ray Allen off a myriad of picks to free him up on the wing to take his silky jumper – especially from behind the arc (a shot he’s hitting 50% of the time, by the way). If Allen is covered, Pierce will be sitting weak side looking for a catch either at the high post or behind the arc where he can go to work and get off his jumper from his pet spot of the elbow or the shoulder of the three point line.

To defend all these actions the Lakers must first get back on defense and mark shooters in the open court. In the half court, we’ll see if Mike Brown stays with Phil Jackson’s strategy of putting Kobe on Rondo to discourage him from penetrating while also disrupting passing angles. This year Rondo is a more confident jump shooter and will take that open look more often, but it’s still the sound strategy. Slowing Pierce, meanwhile, will come down to an engaged Metta World Peace. If MWP can bring the same type of intensity he brought to the Clippers game he should be up to the challenge of denying Pierce his spots on the floor and playing a physical brand of D that keeps him off balance. If MWP isn’t up to that standard, it may end being a long night considering how well Pierce has been going of late.

The other key tonight is the bench play. The C’s have added Pietrus and Bass and both have been solid contributors for them by knocking down open jumpers. Bass is key to the P&R game the C’s like to run and Pietrus is very good at finding open space behind the arc (especially in the corners) to get off clean looks. The Laker reserves must be aware of these two and mark them consistently because they will hurt you if given the open shot. Also key will be Avery Bradley’s ability to pressure the ball and whether or not Goudelock is up to the task of facing a defender that will hound you. Goudelock must show poise tonight while also not getting tentative. His biggest asset has been his willingness to attack the paint in the P&R and he mustn’t lose that tonight in the face of extreme ball pressure.

In the end, this is a game that matters a lot. Not just because it’s a rivalry game, but because it can get the Lakers back on track and give them a chance to still have a winning road trip. A loss tonight puts them at 1-3 on the Grammy trip and would hurt them psychologically and in the standings. It’s time to get a win.

Where you can watch: 5:00pm start time on TNT. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

Are You Ready For Tonight?

Darius Soriano —  February 9, 2012

If you’re not, this video should do the trick. (Thanks to Meir21 for providing this.)

Reflecting On Kobe

Darius Soriano —  February 8, 2012

I watch the video above and have a variety of thoughts. I think of how long it’s been; how young Kobe was when he got started and how much of a grizzled veteran he is now. How much wear those legs have endured. How much time in the gym he’s spent. How tired he looks in some of those clips. I marvel at the legends he’s passed during his ongoing scoring binge and wonder how much higher on that ladder he can climb.

Then, I’m almost overwhelmed by a sense of appreciation. Kobe and I are roughly the same age. I’ve been lucky enough to see his entire career unfold, watching nearly every game, and seeing how he’s grown from that young kid with the mini-afro to the the man that stands before us today. I’ve seen the ups and downs; the championships; the devastating losses. And through it all, I’ve seen him persevere – playing a game with a drive and dedication that not too many give in any apsect of their lives.

As we sit here today, in Kobe’s 16th season, I reflect and try understand how far he’s come in his basketball journey and how much longer it will be. He speaks in interviews acknowledging his mortality, talking about how he won’t hold on to be an 18 point scorer and how he won’t chase rings on another team. How he’ll retire a Laker.

I listen to the words and I feel thankful. Thankful that he played at all but even moreso that he played for the team that I cheer for. Fans of some teams never get to call an all-timer their own. Even fewer get to see that player only suit up for their team. There’s a kinship that develops between you and that player. Not to the point that you don’t see their faults, but to the point that you accept the flaws and appreciate the player anyway. Fans of the Spurs who got to see Duncan work all these years know what I mean.

So, enjoy the video above. Enjoy the time he has left and revel in the accomplishments to come. Odds are, we won’t have another player quite like him that we call our own for some time.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  February 8, 2012

The Lakers are currently in Boston, either strolling around the Commons in 34 degree weather (unlikely) or getting some practice in before tomorrow night’s game against the Celtics. Recent blog talk has run the gamut from Kobe’s recent milestone to long term versus short term market needs. I wish I had a scoop on J.R. Smith’s next move but I get the feeling he’s enjoying his moment in the weak free agency sun. In the meantime, a few links to read and enjoy:

In the wake of Kobe passing Shaq for fifth place on the all-time scoring list, Kevin Ding at the OC Register examines the Mamba’s new test, making room for Bynum.

The Lakers margin for error is credit-card slim says Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times.

Some thoughts about Kobe and the desire for one more ring by Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

The Pau for Rondo rumors have been testing their wings, largely on the basis of the Mitch Kupchak/Mike Trudell interview. Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld explores a bit more deeply.

As everyone knows by now, the Lakers’ well liked but seldom used Derrick Caracter was cut, preserving a roster spot and avoiding the payment on a guaranteed contract. Brian Kamenetzy from the Land O’Lakers shares some thoughts.

As much as we love to hate on Paul Pierce, he has stayed with Boston his entire career and just passed a Larry Bird milestone, Brian Robb at Celtics Hub has the interview.

Over at Grantland, Sebastian Pruiti gives the nod to Andrew Goudelock for 10th spot on his rookie rankings. Not bad for a guy drafted at 46.

Here’s a very cool post from Ettore Messina in Tribuna Sports about the differences between euro ball and the NBA. It’s a nice and rare treat, to read detailed thoughts and analysis from an elite coach, not to mention one currently on the Lakers staff.

***

If anyone comes across more readable tidbits, please post them. Maybe one of y’all can be the first to break our next big signing, in which case I’ll come up with an appropriate reward, like claiming credit and spinning a new post out of it. Enjoy your Wednesday everybody!

Right now, the Lakers are a competitive, yet average team. They have been close enough to win many of their games but have often fallen short, to the frustration of everyone that wishes success for this group. Whether you’re an outsider watching the games, or an insider who has access to practices and the mindset of the coaches and front office, it’s seemingly obvious that this team has holes to fill, despite their ability to compete. Point guard and small forward play, bench production, and outside shooting are all glaring deficiencies and it’s up to the coaches and the front office to find solutions to those issues.

With that in mind, what those key organizational minds think about the roster and where it can be improved matter. So, it’s helpful when we get insight into their thought proccess, especially when it’s general manager Mitch Kupchak’s. It just so happens that Mike Trudell of Lakers.com was able to sit with Kupchak before the Lakers went on their road trip and was able to take his temperature on a variety of subjects. A few responses to Trudell’s probing caught my eye:

*In response to questions about the Lakers continuing to look at deals and if there’s something he (Kupchak) would like to accomplish before the deadline:

It’s my job to look at everything, small or big, to try and improve the team. We continue to look at everything, and if there’s something that we can do today to improve the team for this season and into the future, we’ll consider it….if there were a way for us to get a 25-year-old, All-Star, ball-handling guard we’d love to do it … but that’s not likely in February. So you look at other alternatives, and see if it’s better than what you have. That’s all.

*In response to a question about Mike Brown and his staff’s performance in what has been a very busy Lakers’ schedule so far this season:

A coach and his system is going to help, but at this level when you play 82 games, it’s about talent. If you have a lot of talent, coaching staffs are typically going to win a fair share of games. Our staff has had a tough act to follow, with Phil Jackson’s Hall of Fame, 11-championship career as a coach, but they’ve embraced the challenge. They had a shortened training camp, but there’s no question to their dedication and how hard they work. They’ve been received by the players with great enthusiasm, and I think our players want to play for them. They do a good job at practices, as well, so that’s all good. As I mentioned, there are certain areas of our roster that need to be improved, which falls on my shoulders. Having said all that, we have had a favorable home schedule that we mostly took advantage of, despite the two games (vs. Chicago and Indiana) that you could argue that we should have won, but we need to win some road games. All in all, I think we’re probably within striking distance of where many thought we would be. But we played an awful lot of games in a short period of time to start the season, and I think you can look around the league and in a week or two begin to tell how things will play out. For the first third of the season, especially for a new staff, much of the time is spent figuring out the rotation, but when we get back from this trip, we’ll be almost 30 games into the season, and we should have a better idea.

What I take from all this is pretty straight foward. Kupchak understands that this team is weak at PG while again acknowledging that getting your hands on an impact player at that position will be difficult. Furthermore, he seems to think that the players are taking to Mike Brown’s coaching well but that the roster limitations are real and that it’s his job to correct them.

———————-

This brings us to the million dollar question: What are the Lakers going to do about it? It’s clear that the team needs to make a trade but that’s not always easy. Beyond the fact that it takes a partner to make a deal, the Lakers must decide if they want to move forward with this big three intact or if the need for an impact player at a different position will give them a better chance to win, thus facilitating a trade of one of their big three. After making that determination, they need to target who they want and try to get that player (or those players).

For what it’s worth, I think the Lakers are focusing more long term than they are on this season. The new CBA is set to hammer them financially so cutting payroll is surely a consideration. Plus, Kobe looks to be in good enough condition that he’ll play at a high level through the end of his current contract. When you add in the hiring of Mike Brown – and with him the removal of the only system several key players have known – and dropping him into a truncated season where training camp was almost non-existent and practice time will be severely limited, the balance between this year and the future seems even more tilted towards what happens next rather than now.

This isn’t to say the Lakers can’t be a contender this year. The trade of Lamar Odom – irrespective of how we all feel about it – does give the Lakers options and an additional asset (Dallas’ protected 1st round pick) to make a trade. The Lakers can absorb a contract directly into the Odom traded player exception or sweeten any deal with a draft pick to try and get a player of interest. Considering Kupchak’s comments about wanting a PG (even though he mentions a 25 year old all-star level player) is telling in that it directly acknowedges his team’s biggest weakness. It also shows a desire to better balance his team and (potentially) take some of the load off Kobe Bryant in the coming seasons. The trick is, of course, getting that player in house.

And that brings us back to that million dollar question above. The Lakers are obviously waiting for the bigger names on the market to get sorted out (Howard and, potentially Deron Williams) before they make a move. This is an approach that I agree with as I think chasing the best players in the league when they’re realistic gets is one of ways you build a championship contender in this league. When you run a storied franchise in a glamour market, I think those types of moves make even more sense. However, when does the pursuit of those players become too burdensome? And, when should those pursuits be abandoned to instead make smaller, less impactful, deals that could help the team now but may not set you up for the future as well?

These are questions the Lakers front office is facing daily and I don’t know that there’s a good answer, to be honest. In the meantime, though, we wait.

————————-

UPDATE: Reports have been confirmed that the Lakers have released 2nd year forward Derrick Caracter. If you read the Kupchak interview in its entirety, a move like this was hinted at as February 10th loomed as the deadline day to cut unguaranteed contracts before they became fully guaranteed.

Caracter never really got a chance to play meaningfuly minutes for this team as he was part of a crowded front court rotation that up to this season included Bynum, Gasol, and Odom. His injury coming into this season also put him behind the 8 ball as he was now looking up to Pau/Drew and Murphy and McRoberts with few, if any, minutes to be had.

That said, when Caracter did get a chance to play last season he flashed a solid offensive game with good post moves and decent range on his jumper. His rebounding and defense needed work but those are things (especially the defense) that can be improved over time with more exposure to the complex schemes and multitude of responsibilities big men have as back line defenders.

Ultimately, I wish him nothing but the best and do think he will land on his feet somewhere. Some team will certainly take a chance on his talent and try to develop him into a contributing big man. But, whatever team does give him a shot will need to make sure he keeps his nose clean and stays committed to keeping his weight down. These have been issues in the past and could resurface if not monitored by the team. Good luck to him, though.

Box Score: Lakers 90, 76ers 95
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 106.1, 76ers 112.5
True Shooting %: Lakers 50.1%, 76ers 53.7%

The Good:
It’d be criminal to simply gloss over Andrew Bynum’s performance. ‘Drew was, for the most part (the five turnovers are a bit ugly), sensational on Monday night, posting the second 20-20 game of his NBA career, and generally dominating the paint at both ends of the floor. ‘Drew poured in an efficient 20 points (8-of-13 FG, 4-of-6 FT) and absolutely owned the offensive glass, tallying as many offensive rebounds (8) as the entire Sixers team. He added three assists – including a beauty to Pau Gasol (who had an impressive 16 and 11, with 6 offensive boards of his own) early in the third quarter for a dunk – and swatted three shots at the defensive end. Like I said, criminal.

Well, here’s hoping it’s a misdemeanor, because as they tend to, this evening belonged to Kobe Bryant.

Needing just 23 points to surpass former running mate Shaquille O’Neal on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, it stood to reason that Monday would mark the last time (for several years, at least) that Kobe would rank outside the top-five in career scoring. That he quickly and aggressively set about amassing those 24 points should also come as no surprise. The manner in which he did it however, while hardly foreign, never ceases to be the rarest of treats for Laker basketball fans the world over.

The numbers (24 points on 8-of-14 FG and 4-of-6 from beyond the arc), while impressive, simply do not do justice to the deadly precision with which Kobe Bryant struck in the opening half of Monday night’s contest. With arguably the world’s best perimeter defender draped all over him, Kobe was, as he always is, undeterred. This was his night, in his hometown, with his continuing march toward immortality front and center, and Kobe came out throwing haymakers.

Call it what you will – Kobe doin’ work, going Mamba, going nova, one of those Kobe games – Kobe Bryant’s first half in Philly on Monday night perfectly encapsulated everything we’ve come to expect from the Lakers’ superstar – an unabashed, almost delusional sense of self-confidence made to appear sane by the brilliance of one Kobe Bean Bryant. No matter how many such performances we see – and we have been privy to a great many – it’s debatable whether we will ever truly understand the heights to which we have consistently seen the game elevated.

Congratulations, Kobe. And thanks.

The Bad:
Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before: the Lakers turned the ball over too frequently, failed to force turnovers and did not receive nearly enough help from the second unit.

Despite boasting the league’s top mark for defensive efficiency (by a considerable margin), when it comes to forcing turnovers, the Sixers are completely average, equaling the league average by forcing 14.3 turnovers every 100 possessions. Not to worry. Regardless of opposition, there is not a team that these Lakers, in a careless and lackadaisical manner that is all their own, cannot elevate to upper reaches of ball-hawkery on any given night. In this case, the Lakers turned the ball over 16 times, a majority coming in the second half, while managing a pathetic four takeaways at the defensive end, and losing the “points off of turnovers” battle by a 20-6 count.

A bad pass by Troy Murphy. An ill-advised jump pass from Kobe. Andrew Bynum’s third quarter entry into the “laziest post-up ever” sweepstakes. Each of these, along with any of 13 other giveaways, represents an opportunity missed. This is a team that has neither the depth nor the firepower to justify cavalierly frittering away a half-dozen or more possessions, game in, game out. The margin of error is simply not there.

Speaking of which, Monday night is yet another in a long line of subpar performances by the second unit. On a relative basis, Monday’s performance by the four Laker reserves that took the floor (Troy Murphy, Andrew Goudelock, Matt Barnes and Jason Kapono) was actually not that bad. What’s sad, however, is that what constitutes “not that bad” ‘round these parts lately is a 71-minute, 7-of-15, 16-point, 11-rebound, 6-assists outing. Throw in sadly characteristic 1-of-6 for four points from Metta Wrold Peace and a six-point, six-rebound outburst from Derek Fisher, and… sigh.

The Ugly:
After playing an excellent first 43:30, for the second time in three nights, the Lakers were done in by lackluster late-game execution. On the heels of his sublime first half performance, Kobe Bryant took the floor in the second half in “facilitator” mode – running the pick and roll beautifully, looking not for his own shot, but for the proper pass. This was vital in helping the team find a rhythm on the offensive end and seemingly take control of the game with 4:37 left, when Kobe found Bynum with a beautiful lob pass that the All-Star big man hammered down to stretch the advantage to seven points.

At this point, although turnover differential and hot 3-point shooting by the Sixers had prevented the Lakers from capitalizing on their best stretches of play and opening up a sizeable gap, the Lakers still appeared to be the superior team. From that point forward, however, all semblance of rhythm was taken out of the Lakers’ offense, as Kobe Bryant grew weary of his facilitator role and opted to attempt to recapture the magic of the first half – without success – slamming the brakes on the team-oriented ball with which they’d built the lead in favor of attempting seven shots in the final 4:37, of which he made just one, and putting the finishing touches on a 2-of-12 second half shooting display that undermined the near-perfect game he’d played until that point, and will be remembered for being as fruitless as his first half was brilliant.

Play(s) of the Game:
I’m guessing you don’t need to ask.

Kobe Bryant now has more regular season points than Shaquille O’Neal. This is how it came to be.