Archives For May 2012

Friday Forum

Darius Soriano —  May 25, 2012

The Lakers are now a team in transition. Transitioning from playoffs to off-season; transitioning from their current roster to one that will look different the next time they take the floor. That will require some difficult decisions to be made, where variables beyond player performance will matter. The Lakers will have luxury tax payments, revenue sharing payments, and new collective bargaining rules to navigate when reshaping this team. Mitch Kupchak has a real challenge ahead of him. History says he’s one of the few GM’s around the league that’s up to it. Whether or not that proves true remains to be seen but I’d rather be in a position where confidence is there than the alternative.

Speaking of Kupchak, Brian Kamanetzky has the details of his media session after the player exit interviews concluded. Some very good information from the GM who understands there’s change on the horizon.

Over at ESPN Los Angeles, Dave McMenamin has some comments from Kupchak’s mentor –  Jerry West – who also acknowledges the Lakers simply aren’t a true contender right now.

Kevin Ding also looks at the Lakers contender status and notes that the days of simply spending more to get there are probably over while not counting the Lakers out from making a big move.

Of course, payroll is a product of player salaries. Over at Silver Screen & Roll, Acturial Sound takes a look at which players lived up to their earnings with their play this year.

In some straight news items of the day, Mike Trudell of Lakers.com has all the information you need on Kobe Bryant’s selection to the All-NBA 1st team and Andrew Bynum’s selection to the 2nd team.

Over at GQ Myles Brown has been chatting with super fan (and Lakers season ticket holder who never roots for the Lakers) Jimmy Goldstein (even if you don’t think you know who Jimmy is, you know who Jimmy is). In their latest convo, Goldstein talks about his travel these playoffs, Kobe, Mike Brown asking him questions at post game pressers, and more. Good stuff.

Finally, this is a must watch video. Gotye parody meets Kobe Bryant. I’d say more, but I’d ruin it.

Where the Lakers actually go from here is anyone’s guess. They have several routes they can travel but a lot of what they do will depend on the market for players, payroll and tax concerns, and their internal analysis of their own players. This will all play out over time. Unfortunately, the Lakers have a bit

Of the exit interviews I watched yesterday, I felt Ron’s was the most intriguing. It definitely wasn’t necessarily the most profound or the most eloquent of the interviews, but it may have been the most eye-opening and showed his ever-growing maturity as a man, basketball player and teammate. When I watched Ron’s interview, I saw a guy who has the ultimate confidence in his teammates, a guy who understands what a weird season this was, and a guy who was willing to take accountability for the Lakers inability to get over the hump in this year’s post season. Ron has come a long way from his younger years in the league, and his 20+ minute interview really highlighted who he is and the genuine care he has for his coaching staff, teammates and organization.

During the interview, there were a few segments that really stood out to me. One was on the fact that Mike Brown put the Lakers in a position to win this series against Oklahoma City, and the Lakers weren’t able to make the plays down the stretch during a couple of key games to pull it off.

“Mike wasn’t out there guarding Kevin, it was me, Kevin scored on me. Mike didn’t throw turnovers at the end of the game. Mike didn’t miss three-point shots, I missed three point shots. Mike didn’t come in out of shape — well he did come in out of shape (laughs). But it’s all mental for coach, it was the players.”

A lot has been said about Mike Brown this season. He was given a raw deal by Lakers fans before the Lakers even began training camp. After two pre-season games, folks were asking for him to be fired and after this post season, there were questions about whether or not Brown should be on the hot seat. These ideologies are generally ridiculous, especially considering the way this season began, the shortened training camp, the loss of Lamar Odom and eventually the loss of Derek Fisher. The Lakers were inconsistent on the floor this year, no doubt, but the circumstances in which Brown was dealt were equally as inconsistent. However, despite the slow start, the change in both offensive and defensive philosophies, the changes in personnel, this Mike Brown led basketball team was in position to win two playoff basketball games in which they’d ultimately go on to lose do to turnovers down the stretch. I often grew frustrated with Brown’s ability to make adjustments on the fly, he never really figured out his rotations this season and his offense unsuccessfully tried to gain steam more than once this season — but Brown had to learn the intricacies of this team on the fly just as this team had to adjust from Phil’s style of coaching to his with a shortened, condensed season with a nine-day training camp. This season, the odds were against Brown’s success before we even knew if there would be a season at all. Ron understood that and realized that this team had to take accountability for their play down the stretch of those two depressing losses that could have had the Lakers up 3-2 with a close out game in Staples. They had a 7-point fourth quarter lead in one game and a 13-point fourth quarter lead in another, and Brown deserves some credit for that considering most pundits felt the Lakers didn’t have a chance to beat this Thunder team.

More Ron:

“I think at the end of the game, guys gotta trust themselves more,” said MWP. “I think sometimes, not myself, but sometimes guys, they look to Kobe too much. I think they gotta understand Mitch (Kupchak) brought you here. Mitch also assembled teams that won championships, so he knows what he’s doing. And he brought you here for a reason. Because you’re good. So believe in yourself[...]

“You’re playing with a great player. Five championships. I don’t know how many people can say they got five championships in any sport. So no matter who the player is, you come to this team, you will look at Kobe as one of the greatest players ever. You know? But playing with Kobe for a long time, I understand I gotta chip in. I must chip in. So I think the young guys, not the older guys, a lot of young guys went through it this year. And I think coming back next year, they just have to understand, we gotta chip in.”

For those who didn’t get the opportunity to watch Ron’s exit interview, I think it’s important to note that he really emphasized how much he believes in the younger guys and how much he thinks the organization believes in the younger guys as well. He spoke a lot about self confidence and the the ability to chip in more often with said confidence. He talked a lot about Ramon Sessions who he said was a very good point guard and Devin Ebanks who he felt played great in limited, inconsistent minutes. I think the same applies to Jordan Hill should he come back. The operative word here is genuine, as there was no point where it felt like Ron’s answers were scripted (have they ever?) or that what he was saying wasn’t heart felt. He honestly believes that when the younger guys get over the fact that they’re playing with one of the greatest players ever (Kobe), that they’ll be able to “chip in” during the times when the Lakers need it most. I do find some truth to these sentiments, as Sessions, Ebanks, and Hill have all had some very good moments against some very good basketball teams when they’re playing with their head in the game instead of playing with their minds on Kobe. This must be reciprocal, of course, because nothing is harder than trying to play with out watching Kobe when Kobe is dominating the ball — but even in those games Sessions has looked off Kobe to penetrate or to dump it into Bynum/Pau for easy buckets; Ebanks has slashed off the ball and made tremendous defensive and hustle plays; and Jordan Hill was a monster on the boards for about 70 percent of the games he actually got real playing time with the Lakers. Ron has seen the positive in the younger role players (and even Steve Blake, who is a bit older, but is in a similar caste in the Lakers system), and chose to focus on those positives in hopes that they shine a bit more next season. This is admirable after a tough season.

The last Ron quote follows:

“The Lakers, they did a lot for me so I like it here,” smiled Metta “I like it here. But whatever is best for the Lakers. If it’s me not being here, if it’s good for the Lakers, it’s good for me because the Lakers, they did nothing but great things for me. I got a championship here, something I always wanted. And then being here is great also. I’ve liked it. I’d definitely would like to be here. I don’t really talk about myself. I always talk about what could make the team better. Whatever is in the best interest of the Lakers, that’s what’s important to me.”

You don’t hear these kind of sentiments from a guy who loves the position he’s in, but Ron is a different kind of fellow (understatement), and again, I felt that he was truly genuine when he said that he wanted whatever was best for the organization. It’s not a secret that the Lakers are going to try and cut down on salary for the upcoming season, and Ron could easily be one of the guys that ends up at Staples as a visitor at some point next season — and I’m sure he’s fully aware of that fact. There’s a certain level of respect I have for people who put others above their own well-being, and this is just another example of Ron doing just that. He hasn’t been perfect this year (the elbow to James Harden, intentional or not, brought back glimpses of “Indiana Ron), but if nothing else, he cares about his coach, his teammates and this Lakers organization even if one, or all three, don’t have his general well-being in mind. I personally would love to see Ron stay in the Forum Blue and Gold and get acknowledged for his contributions on the defensive end of the floor next season, fully aware of how much his contract is worth. I believe his maturity will being an element to this Lakers organization that’s just as valuable off the court than it can potentially be on the court if we can see him healthy for a full season again. With every risk, the reward isn’t always promised, but with Ron, I think we won’t only be rewarded by his presence as fans, but the coaching staff, his teammates and the whole Lakers organization will be rewarded with is knowledge of the game, the fire he’ll light under the younger guys and his dedication to being the best Lakers he can be on and off the court.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  May 23, 2012

I freely admit that I haven’t been reading a ton of basketball over the past few days. I’m just not ready yet. It was a season born under a bad sign, with bumps and roadblocks and departures, but the team made some runs at it and there was reason to believe that it could win more games than not, in a series. Thanks to Darius for sending me some choice links to include, and to him and everyone else at FB&G for a lot more than that. Here’s the bullets:

Ramona Shelburne at ESPN, on what drives Kobe, and his dwindling inner circle. This one’s gold.

Ethan Sherwood Strauss at The Classical, writes about Andrew Bynum and the evolution of his running style.

There’s a number of exit interviews at the Kamenetzky brothers’ Land O’Lakers site, but I found the Jordan Hill piece especially interesting. His season was a unique one, inserted into the lineup at the very tail end of the season but he immediately became a factor.

C.A. Clark’s Lakers/OKC series review at Silver Screen and Roll.

Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times writes that the Lakers’ roster options are limited.

Steve Fryer at the OC Register takes a closer look at positional needs.

Marc J. Spears at Yahoo Sports says that Kobe’s ready to bet the house on the Lakers’ future.

There’s still basketball to be played, of course. Tim C. at Pounding the Rock, writes about match-ups with OKC.

The seasons come and go, and to each a unique rhythm. This one was closer to a series of aftershocks on a Richter scale. From a mass exodus to a new coach and staff, from lockout to the blockbuster trade that wasn’t, and from departures to arrivals – 2011/2012 had a certain oddball sense of character and I won’t soon forget it.

– Dave Murphy

There was a point in yesterday’s game that, to me, fully encapsulated what this Lakers’ season was about.

The 4th quarter had just started and Kobe Bryant was getting his normal rest, sitting on the bench with an anxious look on his face. Mike Brown was in an uncomfortable bind here, his team sitting on the precipice down by 6, seeing the Thunder with their big three on the floor, knowing that his key closer had faltered down the stretch in previous contests and need to get some rest, and needing his bigs and reserve wings to hold the line until he could insert Kobe back into the game. In less than 90 seconds, that hope’s expiration date came and went with OKC rattling off 8 straight points to turn what looked to be a close game into a blowout. A roster that was put together on the fly over the course of the season fell short. Kobe’s face showed the frustrated expression of a player that saw the reality of not being on the better team, of being on the team that would lose and be eliminated.

The Lakers simply didn’t have it this year. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to 29 a teams a year, so in this way the Lakers are not alone. The roller coaster ride of a new coach with his new schemes, a vetoed trade, the loss of leaders like Odom and Fisher, the initial boost from Sessions, the emergence of Bynum and everything in between gave this campaign so many twists and turns it was tough to keep up. The highs and lows were so great that even a team as used to living in the eye of the storm surely found it difficult to stay balanced.

Ultimately, I respect this team for what they achieved under the circumstances in which they achieved them. For the most part they played hard if not always smart. They won some big games and lost some head scratchers. They frustrated and wowed and the entire time I cheered for their success. Yesterday they lost to the better team and while I can understand and rationalize that, it doesn’t make it any easier. The Thunder deserve all the credit they’ll receive but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m struggling today. Losing is losing, after all.

Today, the Lakers organization must look in the mirror and be critical about what they see and about the choices they’ve made. They have a team that has some top level talent, some okay role players, unproven youth, and veterans at the bottom of their roster that likely needs some churning. For the second straight season they’ve come up short and while there are legitimate circumstances that played into those failures, those variables can’t be at the center of the analysis. They’re contributing factors, but not the reasons.

This front office must make decisions about the construction of this team and whether or not the model they’re using – two low post centric big men and an aging wing superstar – is the one that will get them where they want to go. There aren’t any easy answers here and that needs to be taken seriously. Fans will over-react and push hard for change but, like any other choice that’s made in life, it better be the right one or you’ll end up running in place, like on a treadmill. The right decisions are the ones that will get this team where it needs to go and those won’t be made today. The wounds are still a bit too deep for sorting out those issues.

And beyond the pain of defeat, there are real variables that must be accounted for. The new CBA limits what they an spend in free agency. The Lakers will pay out a hefty dollar amount in revenue sharing. There will be luxury tax payments to dole out as well, with the amount they pay going up exponentially in two seasons should payroll stay above the tax line. This makes it a priority to think long term while living with the reality that short term success is also a major goal. I mean, Kobe Bryant isn’t getting any younger.

Of course there will be plenty of time to dissect what may come next, what should come next, and what actually does. We’ll be doing that here at this site while also talking draft, summer league, and everything else Lakers up until the start of the season and beyond. Sadly, we’ll be doing that for a bit longer than we’d hoped, with the Lakers again falling short of their ultimate goal.

Box Score: Lakers 90, Thunder 106
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 94.7, Thunder 111.6
True Shooting %: Lakers 55.7%, Thunder 55.5%

Ya know… I don’t even know how to start this as I have the unenviable task of writing this Game 5 recap. I’m going to be all over the place (I’m probably not even going to make sense) and I’ll try my best to be my usual upbeat mood. But it’s tough when your favorite team gets eliminated from the postseason.

And that’s what happened today to the 2012 version of the Los Angeles Lakers. After quite the rollercoaster of a season, the Lakers’ campaign is done after losing Game 5 to OK City, 106-90. Yes, there were times when the Lakers outplayed the Thunder… and we even had fleeting hope that they could pull off the upset series win over Oklahoma City. But the difference between a good team and an elite team is that they make the big plays under pressure. And that’s what the Thunder did when they snatched away Games 2 and 4 against the Lakers.

In this game? At times, it seemed only Kobe Bryant (42 points… and he was killing himself in this game carrying the team on his back) wanted to go to a Game 6. Andrew Bynum’s selective focus this game basically summed up his year: all-world center at times… and goofy space cadet at other times. It’s frustrating but we all put up with it because he was so friggin’ good. Pau Gasol had an otherwise good game (14 points, 16 rebounds, 3 blocks) but they seemed to have little impact on the overall game itself. Metta World Peace tried hard on both sides, too (11 points) but it was amazing he only had five shots. The flagrant foul was a bad call but, ultimately, that’s not what lost the Lakers the game as bad calls happen throughout each game.

Ramon Sessions, aside from having a couple of moments in the playoffs (big three-pointer in Game 4 against Denver), never looked comfortable out in the bright lights, including tonight. This is where we appreciate guys like Derek Fisher (who is doing decent in the postseason) because they’re not afraid of those moments. Steve Blake was invisible today after having an up-and-down postseason. Jordan Hill, at least, showed some hustle and life that you wished you saw out of the other bigs.

Mike Brown did all he could. Yes, we all wished he could’ve made better in-game adjustments but no coach is perfect. He did what he could with the talent and as far as I’m concerned, he did a good job taking the Lakers to the second round of the playoffs. If it’s any consolation, this group won one more game in the playoffs than the group from last year.

Oklahoma City Thunder showed why they’re a great team. Kevin Durant (25 points, 10 rebounds) is cold-blooded. The scoring champion seems to get 30 at will and is the most dangerous player with the ball in his hands in the waning seconds of a game. Russell Westbrook (28 points) is the guy that keeps the Thunder afloat or within striking distance. He was so phenomenal in this series, hitting big shot after big shot. And James Harden did all the little things off the bench. Kendrick Perkins (11 rebounds) did a great job battling Andrew Bynum and Serge Ibaka (3 blocks) was awesome with his help defense and protecting the rim. They’re going to have one hell of a battle against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

As for where the Lakers go from here? We’ll have weeks and weeks to dissect that. But we should keep this in mind.

Kobe Bryant is 33 years old. He just finished his 16th season. I know some of you are irritated by some of his on-court decisions but we are watching one of the greatest ever to play this game. Let’s appreciate him while he’s still here because one day, that day will come and we’re all going to miss him. Kobe Bryant is truly the ultimate warrior. With him on your team, you always seemed to have a chance to win the game.

As far as the Lakers go? We should be happy that the Lakers are always in the hunt for the championship. Yes, the Lakers have 16 NBA titles but each and every one of them are earned. We have to realize how hard it is for teams to go after an NBA championship. Only one team wins it every year… and there are still some franchises and players that haven’t won one. Teams like Phoenix and Utah have been around forever; those teams haven’t won championships. Great players like John Stockton, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Elgin Baylor, and Charles Barkley haven’t won a ring. Let’s not take this team for granted, guys (though you kinda wish that certain players didn’t take it for granted, either).

Thanks to all of you that have gone to this site for some Laker talk and, on a personal note, thanks to all of you that read my goofy and unfunny recaps. I enjoyed doing them and, hopefully, Darius thinks I’m good enough to do some more writing on this wonderful site next season.

In the meantime, be safe out there. After all is said and done, remember that this is still… just a game. Let’s not do anything drastic just because our favorite sports team lost.

Have a good evening, ladies and gentlemen.