Winning, Rotations, & The Rumor Mill

Darius Soriano —  March 1, 2012

The second half of the season is upon us, and so far the results are promising. The Lakers took down the T’Wolves in convincing fashion with a true team effort. Some thoughts on that game and where the Lakers go from here…

  • Kobe’s mask was the talk of the night with fans wondering if he’d stick with it the entire game and what type of mask they’d like to see him wear instead (it even prompted a tweet to me that produced a hilarious picture). But beyond the comic relief, Kobe’s play is what stole the show. The 31 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists were stellar and the way he attacked off the dribble and in the post was noteworthy. Via the MySynergySports twitter account Kobe did a lot of his work of cuts, post-ups, and in transition while only working in isolation twice. Considering how often we request Kobe to work off the ball more, last night’s play was a welcomed sight.
  • Also important to note, though, is that Kobe’s performance may go down as him simply “playing through injury” again, but I don’t see it that way at all. This wasn’t a sprained ankle or a bad wrist, after all. Kobe suffered a concussion in the all-star game and needed to pass several neurological exams before being cleared to suit up. The fact that he was able to do so is great, but I’ll also admit that it’s a bit scary to think that a guy could suffer what is, essentially, a brain trauma on Sunday and play in a full contact basketball game on Wednesday. There’s an aura of toughness that surrounds Kobe, but I must say at certain points during the game, I was a bit uneasy with him being on the court (though still in awe of what he was accomplishing).
  • One of the moments when I was most uneasy came when Mike Brown decided to insert Kobe (and Pau) back into the game with a 19 point lead and a shade over 6 minutes remaining. While the bench had given up some of the lead and the momentum was shifting, I was concerned that a fully cooled down Kobe and Pau were brought back into the fray to close out a game that was still seemingly in hand. At the time, my reaction was frustration.  The fact that Kobe, coming off a concussion (and what he described post game as a “constant throbbing” at the base of his head and neck) was put in the game was only part of it. The other part was a strong feeling that Brown needed to get on his reserves and motivate them to play better, not yank them in favor of the starters. There will be a time when Brown will have to rely on his reserves to play well and not have the starters come in to save the day, and I thought last night was an opportunity wasted to show some confidence in that group. A chance to truly coach his team in what he needs from them slipped by, and from a long-term perspctive, that concerns me. Leads me to believe Brown is not a fan of Royal Jelly.
  • The other reason the decision to not let the reserves finish the game was a sour one relates to the fact that the bench actually did play well last night. As mentioned earlier, this game was a total team effort even though Kobe went off and the Bynum/Gasol duo played well and were the obvious focal points. Every available Laker played, only two didn’t score (Ebanks and McRoberts), and the others contributed in all facets of the game to help build the Lakers’ lead up in the first place. So in a season where Brown’s decision making about rotations and distribution of playing time have been sources of frustration, last night continued the trend.

Ultimately though, it’s hard to complain too much in a contest the Lakers won by 19 points. Yes, the tenor of the contest changed when Kobe was cleared to play while Love was a late scratch, but those are the breaks in this league.

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Of course, a single game isn’t necessarily the only point of focus for the Lakers right now. Reports of trade rumors are rampant and the speculation is only starting to warm up. Now that players who signed contracts during the off-season are eligible to be traded, the expectation is that more deals will come to fruition.

How this affects the Lakers remains to be seen. As discussed in this very good post at Land O’ Lakers, the Lakers reportedly turned down a deal for another mercurial small forward with some scoring pop. A deal like that sounds nice on the surface until more details come out about what the other team wants and what the Lakers are willing to give (and willing to spend).

My two cents on the trade deadline are this: the Lakers are obviously looking to upgrade the roster. From the beginning of the season and what’s transpired on the trade front this isn’t really a question, but while fans want action now, the team must still make the right deal, and not just any deal. Identifying what the right deal might look like is different from an outsider’s perspective than what those inside the organization may think. Maybe there are salary considerations – especially when measured against  the improvement likely to be made. Considerations of assets (draft picks, young players) are also surely important, as the team only has so many bullets in the chamber to fire in any given trade.

This is why, in my opinion, the team has not yet made a move. The right deal must include the player (or players) that make this team better, while giving the team the most bang for its buck and also maximizing the assets the Lakers have to give up. Finding the deal that does all those things isn’t always easy.

All this being the case, maybe a deal won’t be made. I think we’re all a bit hopeful something is done to improve the team, but the fans’ definition of improved may differ from that of the coaches or the front office. So until the 15th of this month, we wait. Wait for the deal that may or may not come; wait for the team to play at the high level they’ve shown they can reach on a more consistent basis than they’ve been able to show for most of this year.

Darius Soriano

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