Archives For June 2012

It was rumored that he’d go this route, but it’s now pretty much official. Per Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times, Ramon Sessions has declined his player option for next season – which would have paid him $4.5 million – and will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st.

From what the front office has said since the off-season began, the Lakers will try to bring Sessions back. The question is, at what cost and for how long a contract. The Ramon Sessions that posted a PER in the 20’s for his first 15 games is certainly worth more than he was set to make next season. That player was a difference maker that gave the Lakers an added dimension through his speed, play making, and ability to score the ball. The Ramon Sessions that posted a single digit PER in the playoffs was another player entirely. That guy looked out of sorts and tentative on offense, making little impact in the second season.

Ultimately, I imagine the Lakers will take a cautious approach here. The free agent market for point guards isn’t amazingly deep, but there are options out there – Nash, Andre Miller, Ray Felton, *Jameer Nelson, and Lou Williams will all be searching for homes this summer. All of those players offer pros and cons and the Lakers must judge if any of them represent an upgrade over Sessions and if any of them are even gettable. After all, the Lakers will only have the mini-mid level to offer FA’s while they can offer Sessions more than that.

In the end, I can imagine the Lakers negotiating with Sessions in the same way  they negotiated with Trevor Ariza. If you recall, the Lakers offered Ariza what they thought was a fair offer. When he and his agent asked for more, the Lakers’ brass told him they’d be happy to let him explore his options to see if he could obtain a better offer and that if they found one, they’d be happy to match. If that same approach nets them Sessions they’ll get him at a price they think he’s worth. If he finds a better deal, all the best to him as he’ll likely be moving on. The Lakers are typically pretty firm in what they believe are fair offers, showing that they’re willing to spend but not break the bank just because they can. Plus, with the new CBA, spending just to spend isn’t a sound approach.

If Sessions is to stay on, however, the Lakers will have to commit to him in more ways than just giving him the contract he seeks. In the same way Gasol will need to have his role better defined and his strengths played to, Sessions will need to be catered to a bit more on offense to get the most out of him. That means he’ll need the ball more, should have more P&R actions designed for him, and should be let loose more often in the open court. It was obvious that near the end of the year he’d lost his confidence but some of that was surely related to him being asked to slow the game down and the offense being shifted even more towards Kobe isolations and post ups for Bynum. When asked to play off the ball more than he ever had before, he didn’t play as well as he (or anyone else) would have liked. To maximize what Sessions can offer, he must be more of a featured player. That, of course, means a more balanced attack and a clearer offensive system than the one the team used last year.

But, those are things that will only matter should he be retained. Which, for now, is an open question. The Lakers are once again searching for a PG and will have one more decision to make come July 1st. As we’ve been saying, strap on your seatbelts the ride is sure to be interesting and is only just starting.

*Update: Jameer Nelson has a player option for next season. Original reports had him opting out, but he’s actually still undecided and has been granted an extension to make his decision. His new date to decide on whether to exercise his option is June 29th.

It’s been the running narrative for a few seasons now and I’m as guilty as the next person. When Andrew Bynum emerged, we rushed to classify Pau Gasol as a Power Forward and hailed his move to that spot as one that placed him in his “natural position”.

The logic was simple, really. Pau, and his willowy frame, would be better off not dealing with the constant pounding of playing Center. As a PF he’d no longer be exposed to the physical toll of being guarded by the big bruisers of the league and instead would play more against guys that weren’t as strong and not as tall. It would be better for his career; better for his production.

Well, I’m now of the mindset that those opinions miss the mark. Pau is not a Power Forward. Pau is a Center. Consider the following:

  • Pau Gasol has posted a better PER at Center than at PF in all but one season since he’s come to the Lakers (this includes the 2007-08 season).
  • Including that first half a season of his Laker career, Gasol has posted PER’s while playing C of 26.7, 26.3, 28.1, 24.3, and 21.7.
  • As a PF (excluding that first half season, as he didn’t play any PF for that stretch), Gasol has posted PER’s of 21.0, 21.4, 25.4, and 20.1.
  • As a post up player, Gasol has ranked in the top 26 players in the league in points per play in two of the past three seasons.

So, in essence, what we have is a player that in 4 of the past 5 years has posted better PER’s as a C while also being one of the best post up players in the league. Yet, the running notion is that he’s better off playing a different position.

It seems, what we’ve done is mistaken Pau’s versatility to play PF as an indicator that he’s better playing that position. We’ve overvalued his height advantage, overplayed his strength deficiency, and concluded that his best fit is one that explores the facets of his game that aren’t as strong (his mid-range shooting) as the ones he’s used to his advantage his entire career in both the NBA and internationally (his post up game). The reality is, though, what we’ve really done is not looked closely enough at the advantages of him playing C.

Today’s NBA is really about speed. The quicker and more athletic the player, the better suited he is to today’s NBA. If that athleticism comes in a physically imposing frame (think LeBron or Dwight Howard) the better, but this is not a requirement to be effective. In playing Pau at PF he is effectively surrendering his quickness and athleticism advantages on nearly every night.

This really can’t be overstated. When a player has a quickness advantage it makes every part of his offensive arsenal more effective. If on the wing or at the elbow, it’s easier to beat your man off the dribble. If cutting off the ball to either catch a pass on the way to the basket or to establish prime position on the court, that advantage can be all the difference. When working in the post, quick spin moves or drives after turning/facing are much more effective. Even in pick and roll situations, a big man that can screen and then use is quickness to dash into the open spaces on the floor is immensely valuable. As a C, Pau has that advantage almost nightly. As a PF, it diminishes greatly.

(As an aside, I liken this to the Lamar Odom at SF experiment we saw for brief stretches under Phil Jackson. The idea was that Odom’s guard skills would translate to playing SF and it would give the Lakers an unprecedented size advantage against teams. However, what actually happened was Odom’s quickness advantage disappeared against traditional SF’s and his size did little to give him an edge if he couldn’t use his quickness to get to the spots on the floor he favored. Phil ultimately scrapped the idea entirely.)

But, Gasol has been put in a position where he cedes that advantage more and more with the emergence of Andrew Bynum. This isn’t to blame Andrew for anything. He’s earned his increased role on offense by becoming one of the most difficult big men to manage defensively. But with Bynum becoming more of a focal point, Gasol’s role has shifted. He’s been asked to space the floor, be more of a distributor, and operate as a 3rd option. It’s a testament to him that he remains as effective and put up the numbers he does while playing more and more minutes as a PF when he’s been much more effective as a C throughout his career.

What this means for Pau’s future remains to be seen. He will likely be shopped on the trade market this off-season and whether he remains a Laker will depend greatly on how much his value to the team can be replicated through what he’d fetch from another team. However, after the last few years it’s become more and more clear to me that whatever team he suits up for next season should try to better optimize his role by playing him more at C. It’s the position he’s shown to be most effective at and the one where he’s also shown the most comfort. Whether it agrees with the narrative or not.

*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com, 82games.com, MySynergySports, and Hoopdata.

Father’s Day Reading

Darius Soriano —  June 17, 2012

First and foremost, happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there. I’m eternally thankful to mine for all that he’s done for me in my life and know that many others out there feel the same about their dads. And while I rarely make this site about anything other than basketball, I must also say that after having my first child in the past year, it’s been great celebrating my first Father’s Day. Watching your child grow up is a gift all to itself and in that sense every day is a reason to celebrate.

But today is a special day. It’s a day that all the dads out there get to do what they want. Maybe that’s relaxing and doing nothing. Maybe that’s going fishing, or watching Tiger go for his 4th U.S. Open title, or maybe it’s watching game 3 of the Finals this evening. I know I’ll be doing at least one of those things today.

What I’m also doing is thinking about the ways that father’s influence their kids. And with that thought I remembered this fantastic piece that Chris Ballard wrote about Kobe and his father. In it, Ballard sheds new light on Joe Bryant and with his tale, his son as well. It’s a fantastic read and well worth your time whether you’ve read it already or not.

So, before you get to too caught up in your Sunday – whether that’s as a son or daughter calling/visiting your father or as the dad getting to relax – take a few minutes to read up on Jellybean and his boy. After that, enjoy the rest of your day. And again, happy Father’s day to all the dads out there, especially mine.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  June 15, 2012

On a blazing hot afternoon in Austin, Texas, I did a cursory search through a few major news outlets that normally carry timely and fascinating stories about the Los Angeles Lakers. My quest proved fruitless. I then did what any mortal would do, and explained my dilemma to Darius. Our intrepid leader pressed a couple of magic buttons and my in-box was suddenly replete with bountiful and tasty items. This is what Darius does. Like a wise city desk editor with samurai skills and jumper cables. He also writes really good original content. You should thank him, each and every day.

With the league looking forward to a quasi-normal off-season, the Lakers have released their summer league schedule.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register reports that Quin Snyder may be close to winning the Bobcats lottery. It is entirely possible that Quin can improve on last season’s 7 & 59 record. We wish him luck with that Jordan fellow.

Rembert Browne at Grantland writes a twitter thing about Metta World Peace.

Here’s a chestnut from two decades back, Bob Ryan out of the SI Vault, on Magic and Bird.

Moving on the world outside of Staples, David Stern recently parried Jim Rome’s questions with deft and charming replies. Dan Levine at Ball Don’t Lie, reports.

Aaron McGuire at Gothic Ginobili, brings us the unprecedented fatigue of LeBron.

Steve McPherson at Hardwood Paroxysm, about the Dream Team. Choice.

Here’s an AP report through ESPN, about Dikembe Mutomobo’s Basketball Without Borders.

Another AP gem about Kobe & Pau’s racehorse, finally ready to start after being scratched from its last race.

Fran Blinebury at NBAdotcom, has a tantalizing list of free agents.

***

This year’s NBA draft is just two weeks away. We’d obviously like to move up in the grand order of things, but until then, we’re left with number 60. It’ll be hard to improve on last year’s sublime pairing of Chukwudiebere Maduabum & Ater Majok, but I have faith in all of you – let your brilliance flow.

– Dave Murphy

The torches are raised, the moat has been crossed, and the rebels are at the castle gates ready to storm.

The Lakers are again home watching the Finals rather than participating. For fans, this is a special type of anguish as they expect the Lakers to be where the Thunder and Heat are year after year. The fact that they were just there two seasons ago can actually make this harder, as being that close and then receding to a lesser position can be worse than attempting to climb the mountain in the first place.

Expectations, though, aren’t always rational – especially when we’re talking about sports. And now is the time for expectations to be slotted correctly.

The Lakers are in the midst of a transition and have been since being swept by the Mavericks a bit over a year ago. That defeat sent Phil Jackson into retirement and set off a string of events both in and out of the Lakers control:

  • Rather than hiring Brian Shaw, the Lakers decided Mike Brown was the better fit. Bringing in Brown meant the Lakers would have new schemes on both sides of the ball. For the key, long time Lakers (Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Fisher) this would be a radical shift from the ones they’d grown accustomed to running.
  • The lockout wiped out any pre-season teaching opportunities and drastically affected the learning curve for the team.
  • In the pre-season the Lakers – likely recognizing the need for roster change in accordance with their new systems – pulled off a trade for a franchise altering talent. However, that trade was then vetoed and the Lakers were back to square one.
  • The fallout from that trade, however, was that one of their key players who would have been dealt felt his position with the team was untenable and asked to be traded. The result was him being dealt.
  • In season, the Lakers again recognizing the need to shift their roster, performed two other significant trades. One brought in a point guard and the other brought in a serviceable back up big man (that also saw the departure of another key leader). Both players had to adjust on the fly to new roles with new teammates and had an up and down stretch run with the team. Meanwhile the team that remained had to adjust to not having one of “their guys” in the bunker with them.

To summarize, in the past year the Lakers have: changed coaches, traded key players, and added key players to “replace” the ones lost. The result was mish-mashed year that provided flashes of ability to contend for a title and flashes of a team that may have trouble escaping the first round. What ended up happening was the Lakers getting to the 2nd round (in a hard fought series) and then winning one more game than they did last year in the playoffs.

This was, pretty much, a failure. The fans wanted better, the players wanted better, and the executives in the front office wanted better. In the face of that, there’s a need to look in the mirror and see how better can be achieved.

This will likely mean more change. In fact, it’s already started. Ettore Messina has left after his lone season as an assistant coach/consultant to Mike Brown, heading back to Europe to coach CSKA Moscow. Quinn Snyder is still in house but is one of the final 3 candidates to land the head coaching job with the Charlotte Bobcats.

Beyond the coaches though, there will surely be changes on the roster. Gasol’s name will be floated heavily (after all, he was already traded once last pre-season). One can only assume Andrew Bynum’s name will also come up as a potential piece to be moved for a player (or players) of better quality and/or fit. Free agency will be explored and there have been hints that the Lakers may even look to get into a higher slot of the draft to add another young player.

These are all options the fans want to see happen. Two straight flameouts require change. However, as the landscape of the roster shifts more adjustments will follow. Players will need to get used to playing with each other. Coaches will need to learn the strengths and weaknesses of those players and learn how to get the most out of them. Players will need to adjust to what it means to play for the Lakers and the distractions that come with. These are things that take time.

So, as we all sit back and wonder what the next move will be; how the Lakers’ brass will fix this team it’s best we also acknowledge the fact that whatever changes are made they will not be ones that instantly make anything better. What we’ll see are surface changes. But to win at the level the Lakers want to win, surface changes are only the beginning. It’s the changes that happen deeper; the changes that happen after real connections are made that make the real difference and lead to long lasting success.

We’ve seen this before in 2008 when the Lakers were transformed via the rise of Bynum, the acquisition of Gasol, the return of Fisher, and the proper slotting of Odom that all combined to change the DNA of the team. But even that year saw a terrible defeat in the Finals before they took that next step to be champion. It’s important that we remember this when we get the change we seek. It’s a long and rocky journey to get where the Lakers want to get back to. Best be prepared for it.