Archives For July 2012

On Monday, Rick Bonnel of the Charlotte Observer tipped us off that this was coming. And today, Marc Spears of Yahoo! confirmed that earlier report. When Antawn Jamison returns from his trip to Italy, he will sign with the Lakers for one season at the league minimum.

First and foremost, at this price, Jamison is a fantastic bargain. The quality of player that is typically nabbed for a minimum salary contract is low. There’s normally little expectation that he’d be a rotation player, much less one that can be depended on to contribute nightly. The Lakers know this well from some of their recent acquisitions using this exception (Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono are examples from last season) and have suffered from depending on them to fill real needs.

With Jamison, though, the Lakers have grabbed a player that can come in and instantly bolster their bench production. This was a hole that needed filling and the Lakers addressed it by grabbing one of the more accomplished players still available at this stage of free agency. Jamison’s stats from last season – 17 points and 6 rebounds in 33 minutes – show he’s still quite capable of contributing at an above average level (as does his 16.1 PER) and he instantly becomes the Lakers best bench scorer.

And, make no mistake, this is exactly what he’s going to be asked to do. His reputation as a boost to any offense is well earned, evidenced by the fact that last season the Cavs were 11 points better per 100 possessions when Jamison was on the floor versus when he was on the bench. Though his overall field goal percentage was the lowest of his career, his three point percentage was right in line with his career average. Most important, though, he provided a stabilizing force for the Cavs as a player that could hit spot up jumpers and still create shots for himself with his nifty in-between game that’s been a staple of his arsenal his entire career.

These are the same strengths he’ll bring to the Lakers, though without the constant pressure of having to be a go to player. Jamison can now do what he does best – spot up, make smart cuts, and finish off the open looks his teammates create for him. Add him to lineups that feature any combination of Kobe, Nash, Pau, or Bynum and Jamison bolsters the offense instantly. He’ll give those guys more space to work by occupying defenders and can serve as a capable outlet that can be depended on to make the right play when they give up the ball to him. His turnover rate his historically low and he ranked first in the entire league in points off open jumpers last year.

Where there are concerns, however, are on defense. Just as Jamison helped prop up the Cavs offense, he helped drag down their defense. The Cavs were 8 points worse per 100 possessions when Jamison was on the floor and is ability to lose his man off the ball and get beat while guarding it was pretty bad. And while his rebounding isn’t quite at that same lowly level, he posted his lowest total rebound rate in a decade. As a comparison, he had a lower defensive rebounding rate than Matt Barnes, while playing almost all his minutes as a PF compared to Barnes playing mostly SF and SG. Considering the responsibility bigs have in Mike Brown’s defensive schemes, playing Jamison will come with its issues on that side of the ball.

There’s some hope here, though. When Jamison was paired with Anderson Varejao, his defensive rebounding rate and  defensive efficiency metrics all improved. The hope is that if Jamison can be paired in the front court with a very good defensive big, he can respond similarly to what he did by playing next to Varejao. In Bynum and Gasol, the Lakers should be able to provide Jamison that partner. And, with some encouragement from his coaches and higher nightly stakes in swapping the Cavs for the Lakers, maybe Jamison will put forth a bit more effort on that side of the ball and produce results that go from bottom of the league bad to simply below average. Of course, time will tell if this is wishful thinking or not but he will be put in an environment where success is more possible.

Regardless of how the defensive issues play out, the Lakers will get better because of this signing. They’ve added a true offensive threat to a bench that ranked dead last in scoring last season. They’ve added a player that aids in lineup versatility; a player that can work off the strengths of his more talented teammates seamlessly. With Jamison on board they’ve shored up a weakness and have effectively replaced one of their lesser performers with an above average talent. And they did it via a minimum contract. You rarely get this good a player for that price and for his offense alone, he’ll be more than worth it.

*Statistical support for this post provided by NBA.com

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  July 18, 2012

While the Steve Nash signing was a giant step forward, there’s still holes to fill on the Lakers roster. And as the front office looks to do its business, the media’s merry go-round continues, with Dwight Howard scenarios tending toward the 24-hour news cycle variety. One day the Lakers are pushing hard. The next day Houston’s got a plan. There’s some truth to all of the rumors, given that discussions are as they say, fluid.  C.A. Clark at Silver Screen and Roll notes, it’s mostly reporting for reporting’s sake. Still, it’s hard not to buy in to some degree, and if we weren’t all hungry for spoon-fed items, there would be no need for links posts, right? Open wide!

Dave McMenamin and Ramona Shelburne at ESPNLA, offer up the latest on the Lakers attempts to sign the league’s top big man.

Mike Bresnahan at the L.A. Times also weighs in, on the complexities of completing a Howard swap.

The Antwan Jamison situation is still in limbo, as reported by Janis Carr at the OC Register.

Mike Trudell at NBA.com’s Lakers blog, writes about the team’s 4th straight loss last night in Summer League play, while noting Darius Morris’s improved effort.

NBA.com has video of Jim Buss chatting at the Summer League games.

Yannis Koutroupis at Hoopsworld has an extensive interview with Jermaine O’Neal, about where he feels his game, health and career is at.

Andrew Greif at Dime, has Kobe talking Olympic trash to Pau.

Suki Thind at Lakers Nation says Metta is here to stay, and it’s a good thing.

Sam Amick at Sports Illustrated, examines the closing days of the Jeremy Lin saga, and the unwritten rule that Houston broke to get him.

***

Between now and later, there will undoubtedly be something new to report – there’s simply too many balls in the air. Grant Hill’s off the list now that he signed with the Clippers. The Lakers haven’t yet signed Devin Ebanks, which offers a bit of additional flexibility as various matters are discussed and debated. Brandon Rush worked out for the Lakers yesterday (along with Jermaine O’Neal), but it’s hard to see Golden State letting him walk. And then there’s the various amnesty situations – the Birdman was dropped right before midnight last night. For now we wait, read and wonder.

- Dave Murphy

With Summer League in full swing and the Lakers still looking to fill out their roster, there’s lots to discuss in Laker-land. So, lets jump right in…

  • The Lakers’ summer league team is winless so far and has had some truly horrible performances in their first few contests. They got blasted by the Warriors in their opening game and were trounced by 50 a few nights later against the Heat. While this is somewhat discouraging, don’t invest too heavily in the results. The Lakers don’t have a lottery level talent on their team. Their roster is full of players who are trying to fight for spots ten through fifteen on a roster, not for a starting gig. What we learn about this “team” is not important; we’re really looking at the growth of the individual players and evaluating their individual skill level.
  • Even evaluating the players as individuals is somewhat tricky, however. The summer team doesn’t have a single player that will ever be a featured guy within an offense. This roster is filled with role players whose talents will be maximized playing off of their more talented teammates (should they make the regular season roster). When you put 5 role players on the floor together, the results (offensively) will be what the Lakers have seen so far – tight defense, little spacing, and no one able to create the types of plays that generate sustained worthwhile basketball.
  • In yesterday’s game against the Spurs, the Lakers made adjustments with their schemes and that led to better spacing and ball movement. These tweaks compensated for the limited individual talent on their roster. But those adjustments only got them so far. It allowed for more space on the wing to operate off the dribble and more space for the post players to work in isolation. It opened up better passing angles for cutters. And, their improved effort put them in better positions to take advantage. But, in the end, this group was out talented again and lost by double figures.
  • All that said, we are starting to get a better picture of what types of talents these guys are. Darius Morris is showing that he can be a threat in the open court and in attacking the rim off the dribble in the half court. His size allows him to bully smaller defenders to get to the spots on the floor where he can be successful. His finishing is still up and down, however, and his jumper needs a lot of work. But, he’s showing more confidence in each game and his attack mentality has served him well so far. He certainly likes to pound the ball when probing the D, but that’s the case for most attack guards that create off the dribble as often as he does.
  • Andrew Goudelock looks like the same guy he was last year. His lack of size is giving him some issues on both sides of the floor and his lack of burst is making it hard for him to shake free from bigger defenders. His jumper has been off but we know he’s a better shooter than he’s shown so I’m not as concerned there. However, he’s still not shown much of an ability to create for others. He’s worked a lot in the pick and roll but rarely hits the roll man (who’s been open several times) and typically only gives the ball up when he’s exhausted his opportunity to score for himself. I’ve long believed that for Goudelock to stick in this league he’ll have to show adequate ability to initiate an offense and be a lead guard. So far, we’re not seeing it. Some of that may be what the coaches are asking him to do, but his instinct is to score first (and second) and his playmaking is suffering because of it.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom has shown some good qualities – he’s an active defender, possesses good court vision, and knows how to create his own shot. He’s also shown that he can initiate an offense and has no issues taking an outlet pass and running a delayed fast break. He shows good footwork in setting up his own shot and has a very nice shot fake that’s earned him trips to the foul line. However, his jumper hasn’t been falling even when he’s been getting open looks. This could simply be a small sample and nothing to worry about. But, he’ll need to hit shots eventually if he wants to stick.
  • Christian Eyenga looks like the most pro-ready player the Lakers have but that shouldn’t surprise considering he’s their most seasoned player. His athleticism is as advertised – he’s had several above the rim finishes – and he’s mostly been under control when displaying it. He’s shown a nice little post game too, working over defenders from 10 feet and it with good strength and solid footwork. His jumper is not good, however and that limits what he can do on that end of the floor. Defensively, he’s been above average. His quickness, instincts, and desire to get into his man have all been plusses.
  • The surprise of this team, at least for me, has been Robert Sacre. He’s a bit stiff in his movement but he knows how to use his big body to his advantage. He aggressively fights for position on both ends of the floor, has shown nice touch on his mid-range jumper and his jump hook, and he plays hard. His biggest asset, though, looks to be his smarts. He knows where to be on both ends of the floor and seems to have a strong spatial awareness. He knows where to move to in the P&R game to get open and has made a few smart cuts to position himself under the rim where he’s been active on the offensive glass. In one of the games an announcer compared Sacre to Michael Doleac and that seems apt. Sacre has shown a bit more aggressiveness around the rim than Doleac used to, but all and all they have similar games. Doleac stuck in the league for a while as a back up big man and Sacre may be able to do the same.
  • Moving beyond the Summer League team, the Lakers are still in the middle of a lot of rumors. There’s been reports that Antawn Jamison will “choose” the Lakers soon. Yesterday the Lakers were present at a workout for Jermaine O’Neal who, after having the orthokine treatment that Kobe’s become the poster boy for, is looking to continue his playing career. Reports of how he looked in that workout have been mixed (I’ve read one tweet say he didn’t look mobile while others stated he looked as good as he has in the last 4-5 years), but he remains on the Lakers’ radar. Brandon Rush was also at that workout so the Lakers also got a look at the Warriors restricted free agent.
  • And then, of course, there’s still the pursuit of Dwight Howard. Reports had the Lakers meeting with reps from the Magic yesterday in what was described as a “hard push” to acquire the Magic big man. During the Lakers/Spurs game, Jim Buss commented (per team policy) that he had “no comment” about reports that there were negotiations going on. At ProBasketball Talk, Kurt Helin had a logical take, basically saying that there should be no expectation a deal gets done when neither Howard nor Bynum have (seemingly) changed their stances about re-signing with LA/Orlando should a trade happen. I tend to agree with this. It’s worth having the talks because you always try to make a move that improves your team, but expecting something to happen at this point is optimistic.
  • One thing I also wonder here is if there’s a point of no return with the Lakers and these Andrew Bynum trade talks. This is the longest he’s ever had his name floated in what seem to be legitimate trade rumors. For years his name was out there, but those reports were quickly shot down from the Lakers side (be it Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, or anyone else you can think of). However, this time, these reports seem to have legs and Bynum certainly seems available in a deal for Howard. Whether this is really something to worry about isn’t something I have any inside information on. However, I wonder if there’s a stop point where the Lakers simply call off their discussions with the Magic and make nice with the all-star Center they have in house. You can only window shop so often before you either have to make a purchase or go home and keep with your same wardrobe. I wonder when the Lakers are going to make that call. Remember, Bynum is a FA after next season as well and if nothing happens with Howard, the Lakers will surely want Bynum back for the long haul. If these talks go on for too much longer, does a long term commitment from Bynum get put in jeopardy? These are questions that need to be asked.

I have no complaints as to how the Lakers’ off-season has progressed.

Steve Nash has been acquired. The Lakers summer league team – though oh-fer through their first two contests – is showing some positive returns with their young players. Devin Ebanks’ return isn’t yet official, but reports say he’ll sign his qualifying offer soon to return for his third campaign with the team. And while there’s no other big move to report, the Lakers are, reportedly, actively exploring all their options to hit another homerun this summer. There’s no reason to feel bad at this point in the process.

There is still work to be done, however. In several recent interviews, Mitch Kupchak has mentioned that the Lakers must improve their bench and I couldn’t agree more. While getting Ebanks in the fold should provide a capable player on the wing, there’s still a need to find another player who can play behind Kobe and/or Ron to help give the Lakers proper depth. The same can be said of finding more help behind Pau and Andrew to help give the front court the bodies they need to keep everyone fresh next season. Because while rookie Robert Sacre has shown to be a banger in Las Vegas, he looks more like a 5th big man rather than one that can step in and fill any sort of meaningful role next year.

That leaves the Lakers wanting at least one wing and one big man to help fill out the roster going into next year. Who would be good fits, though? Let’s look at some options and gauge how realistic they may be.

  • OJ Mayo/Courtney Lee: I’m grouping these two together because they represent the types of players fans should realistically forget about. After Eric Gordon’s contract is resolved (after signing an offer sheet with the Suns, the Hornets have said they will match), these two players represent the best names on the SG market. They will command more money than the Lakers can pay and it’s really that simple. Coming off their rookie contracts, these two would both be wise to find contracts that can maximize their earnings on teams that are competitive. The Lakers offer the latter, but can’t pony up the dollars.
  • Grant Hill: Hill is said to be deciding between several teams or simply retiring. As a minimum contract player, he’s certainly in the Lakers’ price range and his familiarity/friendship with Steve Nash could help the Lakers snag him. Hill could be a good reserve SF in 15-20 minutes a game – playing defense, hitting mid range jumpers, and filling the lane on the break. He’s old, but doesn’t have as much mileage on his legs due to the multiple injuries that robbed him of his prime years. I’d think the Lakers have a realistic shot of signing him if he decides he wants to play next year.
  • Mickael Pietrus: I’ve read that there’s mutual interest for him to return to the Celtics so his inclusion here may be all for naught. However, last year Pietrus played for the league minimum and may fall into that category again next year. Even at a little bit more than that (say $2 million), he’s a good value as a defensive wing that can shoot the three pointer fairly well (35.7% career average). He has playoff experience, has shown is not scared of big moments, and by all accounts is a good teammate. If he wiggles loose from the C’s, I wouldn’t mind looking at him closely.
  • Brandon Rush: Rush is a restricted free agent so signing him away from the Warriors seems unlikely. Stealing a RFA from a team typically means overpaying and the Lakers have no such luxuries. That said, seeing what it would take to get him would be worth while. He’s one of the best three point shooters in the league (41% career average, 45% last season), has good size, and can play either wing position. His defense isn’t especially strong but he has the physical  tools to at least be passable on that end of the floor & will be held accountable to do so on the Lakers. Again, it seems unlikely the Lakers could sign him outright and his price tag may end up being too high even if they could. However, he’s the type of player that could really help the team and if there’s not a lot of interest for him on the open market (combined with the glut of wings the Warriors have on their roster), exploring trying to secure him would be nice.
  • Other names that fit the guard/forward profile are Carlos Delfino, Martell Webster, and CJ Miles. If any of them could be signed for the minimum, I’d be okay with any of this trio. They’re all capable pros that offer solid skill sets that can help the team. I’d prefer the guys mentioned earlier over them, but I’m not so picky that I’d turn any of these guys down.
  • UPDATE: In the comments, Jodie Meeks and Ronnie Brewer were mentioned so I’ll touch on them here. I’d be happy with Meeks, though he’s a SG prospect only and isn’t that strong a defender. His shooting ability would definitely help the Lakers  and I’d welcome the floor spacing his presence could add. As for Brewer, he’s an intriguing defender because he can swing between SG and SF on that end of the floor, guarding the other team’s primary threat. He’s not a floor spacer at all but his slashing and ability to make smart cuts would help an offense – especially one with one on one threats that occupy the D like the Lakers have. If either could be had for the minimum, I’d welcome either with open arms as both could help – though in different ways.
  • As for Big men, the pickings aren’t nearly as deep (which, in itself, is saying something), especially when you consider the Lakers are likely looking only at minimum salaried players. Recent reports have the Lakers interested in Antawn Jamison and Jermaine O’Neal. The former could provide a nice offensive boost to a reserve unit that sorely lacked punch. Jamison can still score and still has some range on his jumper (though his efficiency has decreased steadily in recent years). What Jamison doesn’t do is guard anyone and considering the level of responsibility big men have in Mike Brown’s defensive schemes that would be a problem. Jermaine O’Neal does play defense, but he’s perpetually injured. He’d help the Lakers if their quest is to acquire more players from the 1996 draft to go with Kobe and Nash, but beyond that I’d question how dependable he’d be. The Lakers need dependable bodies to back up their bigs (remember Theo Ratliff?) and O’Neal has more questions than answers when analyzing if he could do so. If I had to choose between these two, I’d choose Jamison for his shooting and scoring pop and hope that the Lakers’ D wouldn’t suffer so much since he’d likely be flanked by either Pau or Bynum at all times. Even he has his risks, though.
  • The player the Lakers would likely be best off getting to fill the role as the additional big man would be their own free agent Jordan Hill. He’s as known a commodity the Lakers can realistically get at this point and has already proven he can play next to either Bynum or Gasol as the third big man in the rotation. When you add him to Josh McRoberts (who I haven’t given up on at all), the Lakers could have a decent duo of back ups that offer a nice cross-section of skills teamed with high activity. If the only big man the Lakers signed this summer were Hill, it wouldn’t be all that exciting but it would be useful.

The market has slowed down and it seems that all teams have taken a step back to reexamine needs while trying to best sort out player values. This may ultimately be to the Lakers’ benefit as players and their agents find that the money they seek isn’t there for them. If you recall, this happened two years ago with Matt Barnes and the Lakers ended up with a solid contributor for a very good price. If they same thing shakes out this year, the Lakers could find themselves with two (or more) contributors added to their roster for minimum (or slightly more) value contracts who end up being rotation players.

Considering the payroll issues the Lakers face and the fact that they may not want to use their mini-MLE this year, spending little but getting viable contributors is the best case scenario. That said, getting those contributors isn’t an option. The Lakers must find some in order to be on comfortable footing with the other top teams (namely Miami and OKC) next year.

After the game between the Lakers’ summer league team and the Golden State Warriors (the Lakers looked like a disaster but, hey, it’s Summer League!), we talked to Lakers assistant and summer league coach Chuck Person about a few topics.

FORUM BLUE & GOLD: The key young guys like (Darius) Morris and (Andrew) Goudelock. What do you need for them to improve?

ASST. COACH CHUCK PERSON: They need to come out and slow down. Obviously, the summer league guys come out and they’re frantic with their breakneck pace. We need to have them slow down, see the game, make the right play, make the right pass, and then defend. The one thing that a Mike Brown team does is we defend so we need to make sure they do that first.

FB&G: Do you expect them to be contributors on the bench next year?

PERSON: Well, there’s an opportunity. We have a core group that we play with but there’s a chance for a guy like Goudelock to come in… Christian Eyenga… and Darius Morris to get some minutes. If they come out and do the right things and impress Mike and our staff, I think they have a chance to play.

FB&G: What was the biggest problem last season?

PERSON: Down the stretch, we didn’t score the ball like we thought we could. We only shot 42 percent in the playoffs and our defense struggled a little bit, at times. For the most part, we played okay. We just ran up against a tough Oklahoma City team.

FB&G: And, lastly, Steve Nash. You have to be excited for this one.

PERSON (smiles): Well, one of the greatest point guards of all-time. He knows how to run a team. He can facilitate very well and he can make threes. So we’re looking forward to having him our team and being able to get more guys involved in our offense.

We’d like to thank Coach Person for his time as well as Lakers’ PR John Black for letting us have access.