Archives For July 2012

Summer League Is Here

Darius Soriano —  July 13, 2012

At 5pm PST, the Lakers summer league team will tip off in Las Vegas against the Golden State Warriors. You can watch live on NBA TV or, if you have a few dollars to spare, you can purchase a broadband account and watch the games through the wonders of an internet connection. In any event, the game will be on and we’ll get some Lakers hoops to watch and discuss.

The Lakers’ roster is littered with names you’ll recognize and many others you likely won’t. Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris, and Andrew Goudelock all saw real NBA minutes this past season and this league will serve as a nice testing ground to gauge their progress. I’m anxious to see their growth from last year – especially in Morris and Goudelock – and gauge how well they’ve adapted to the NBA game. As for Ebanks, he’ll be entering his 3rd season in October and fresh off signing his qualifying offer, I hope he proves that he no longer belongs in this environment. Efficient scoring and an improved all court game will set him up well to compete for more minutes next year and that can begin tonight. Christian Eyenga will also be playing for the team so it will good to see what he can do in some game action since we saw very little of him after he was acquired from the Cavs in the Ramon Sessions trade.

The other players I’ll be watching closely are the Lakers two draft picks from this past season, Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre. DJO is said to be a tenacious competitor with a nice jumper and I hope to see both on display. Sacre has good size but questionable quickness so my hope is that he can be a deterrent around the rim on D and show the ability to move around the court well on rotations and P&R coverages.

The last player who I’ll be keeping my eye on is Reeves Nelson, the former UCLA product. Nelson is a talented player who was dismissed from the Bruins this past season for what Coach Ben Howland called being a “negative distraction” (and that’s probably putting it nicely). In any event, Nelson has a solid game and good size but one wonders if he’s mature enough to make it in the NBA. The Lakers are giving him a shot and if he plays well and shows he’s been humbled, he’ll likely get a camp invite from someone (and maybe even the Lakers who are shallow on the wing).

In any event, tonight we get some basketball to watch. And while we shouldn’t jump to conclusions about what we see, it will be nice to see some young guys go hard and show off how they’re progressing.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  July 13, 2012

The ink on Steve Nash’s contract has had time to dry, and talk has turned to systematic issues. Yesterday, Darius used a Henry Abbott article as an entry point in the conversation about Nash’s offensive modus operandi, and how to find the balance. The topic will be revisited many times, in many ways. We’re now officially into the Nash era, and if you missed his presser on Wednesday, take some time to watch. In a word, it was impressive.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers, offers the purple and gold butterfly effect, a chronicling of the many twists and fortuitous turns that it took to put Nash in a Lakers uniform.

Yesterday, Kobe Bryant tossed out an off the cuff assertion that the 2012 USA Team, could pull out a win against the Dream Team. In its essence, it’s one of life’s most common observations, that one could beat another. Yet in this heightened snapshot age, the comment went instantly viral. Here’s a take from Dan Devine at Yahoo’s Fourth Place Medal, incorporating the one and only Barkley.

Alex Dewey at Gothic Ginobili, takes a hilarious look at a Mike Brown plan of action for newcomer Nash – the Circle Offense.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register, brings the Nash conversation back to earth, and the idea of reaching a point in life where priorities change and realities crystallize.

Mike Trudell at the NBA.com Lakers blog, has an in-depth look at how Mitch Kupchak was able to bring Steve Nash into the fold.

The saga of Dwight continues, with Houston gaining momentum. Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo, has the story.

An AP report covers the U.S. Team’s win against the Dominican Republic, Durant’s 24 points, Blake Griffin’s injury, and a great, extended video of Kyrie Irving trash-talking Kobe.

On the subject of Kobe and the Olympics, this SB Nation article by Andrew Sharp, is well worth the read.

Apart from the home run sweepstakes, there’s still a lot of small pieces of the Lakers puzzle that need to be put together. Royce Young at Eye on Basketball writes about Grant Hill who turns 40 this year, and is looking at the Lakers, Thunder, and Heat.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times Lakers Now, profiles Jordie Meeks, the 76ers free agent shooting guard.

Suki Thind at Lakers Nation asks if Antawn Jamison would be a good fit for the Lakers.

And finally, Tim Gossett from the terrific Eight Points, Nine Seconds blog, has an article about our old friend Brian Shaw, a leading candidate for head coaching positions in both Orlando and Portland.

***

Summers are often a slow time of the year. Not so this one – summer league is upon us and it’s time to get a look at rookies, hopefuls, and the eternal chasers of the dream. The Olympics are also around the corner, always a momentous occasion, filled with personal stories of triumph over adversity. From free agency to fall training camp, there’s a palpable energy in the air. And for Lakers fans, anticipation for a season and a team that promises to be very different, thanks to the arrival of a 38 year-old soccer enthuiast from British Columbia.

- Dave Murphy

The Lakers have acquired Steve Nash. It’s official now. Yesterday, in his introductory press conference, he fielded questions like a gold glove short stop and dished out answers like the top 5 all-time assist man that he is. In those 40 minutes in front of assembled media, Steve Nash looked comfortable and at home.

Of course, looking comfortable in front a bank of cameras is less important than looking comfortable on the hardwood when playing with his new teammates. And, to that end, there are legitimate questions as to how well the Nash acquisition will work on offense. Over at TrueHoop, Henry Abbott explores one of the more popular concerns when asking if Nash can do his thing with the Lakers.

In essence, Abbott argues that historically, what has led to Nash being at his best is the offense revolving around him with the ball in his hands and how that’s not always so easy for his teammates:

Nash has rightly earned a reputation as a selfless player, but the fact is that when he does his brilliant thing, which often ends in a pass, he has the ball for an eternity, in NBA terms. If the first screen doesn’t get the job done, he’ll use another, then another. He’ll dribble all the way to the hoop and back out again, and then back in. Meanwhile, not having the ball very much plays havoc on the psyches of some teammates who feel they can and should do more. Marion and Joe Johnson are just two of the players who won a lot of games, starred in a lot of highlights and were tremendously productive alongside Nash — but nevertheless sought work on teams where they show more of their skills and win more of the credit. Stoudemire ultimately left for a bundle of reasons, money chief among them, but before doing so he expressed a will to, for instance, have the ball in the post once in a while, which seldom happens when Nash is dribble-probing all possession long. Here’s where we have to start thinking about how Bryant, Bynum and Gasol might handle life as a Nash teammate.

There’s really nothing to disagree with in that excerpt. I said something very similar when putting the Nash acquisition under the microscope. Getting the best out of Nash has often meant freedom to set and reset the offense as he’s seen fit in order to produce the best looks for himself or a teammate. Whether that meant pushing the ball or playing a half court game, Nash was literally the Sun  that Phoenix’s offense revolved around; the decision maker in which the entire offense was built upon.

So, when taking this idea a step further, it’s easy to see where issues may arise. Nash isn’t walking into a team that’s built around him, but rather one that already has 3 high functioning offensive pieces that have all had a lot of offensive success in this league. And with this the case, there will need to be adjustments from all parties on how to work with and off each other in order to maximize results.

From these adjustments, a balance must be struck.

The coaching staff must build sets that give Nash the freedom to be himself. He’ll need to be able to run pick and rolls, will need to be able to push the ball when the opportunities present themselves, and will need be able to set and reset the half-court offense as he sees fit. These are ways the Lakers can shape their offense to give Nash an appropriate comfort level within the offense that can help him thrive. Which, in turn, should also benefit his teammates. Pick and rolls – whether of the Nash/Kobe, Nash/Pau, or Nash/Bynum varieties – will create open shots for roll men and spot up shooters. More running opportunities will do the same. And with Nash orchestrating the offense, we’ll see more of these chances throughout the course of the game.

However, the coaches must also work Nash into the schemes that are already in place. The expectation can’t be that the Lakers will suddenly morph into the Suns because that’s not how they’re built. They don’t have a big man that should be shooting half his shots from behind the three point line (ala Channing Frye) nor wings that like to camp behind the arc for full possessions just spotting up. The Lakers offer more diverse talent on O and that means more guys able to do more on their own without being spoon fed by their point guard.

Integrating Nash so he can mesh with this talent is also a priority. What needs to be said, however, is that Steve Nash can operate within and can help the sets the Lakers ran last season. Many of the Lakers’ offensive issues last season stemmed from the lack of space on the perimeter due to threat of the players who were positioned on the wing. Outside of Kobe Bryant – who was never left open for more than a split second – no perimeter player was respected enough to not be helped off of in the half court. This led to a crowded paint and disrupted passing angles to the Lakers post players and guys cutting through the lane. This then created stalled possessions that turned into iso heavy approaches where players – most notably Kobe – ended up forcing shots against the shot clock with little success.

With Nash in the mix, that changes. First off, Nash’s ability to make defenses pay for leaving him open creates floor spacing. Leave him to double team or to rotate to your next assignment and he will knock down shots. Second, his ability to create off the dribble to score means ball rotations to him put the defense in a dilemma. Once Nash makes a catch, he’s a threat to make a long jumper or beat his man off the dribble to create for others. Kobe used to be the only perimeter Laker that was respected in both of these areas and that gave the defense easy outs. They’d cover him, force him way out on the perimeter, and when the Lakers needed a player to create off the dribble from the wing it resulted in someone ill-suited to do so or Kobe making a catch 30 feet from the basket trying to create in isolation.

Not so sound redundant, but Nash changes this. The only Laker – at least in the starting lineup – that a team can consistently leave to help is Ron Artest. This makes defensive schemes much easier to decipher. If the double comes, it’s likely coming from the small forward. If it comes from someone else the odds of Kobe, Nash, Pau, or Bynum getting a one on one look go up exponentially. Even if it comes from Ron’s man, the read will likely be an easy one where the offense can simply move the ball to the open man. And with two players (Nash & Kobe) on the floor that must be respected beyond the three point line, the defense is compromised by having to make multiple rotations by design. With Nash and Kobe sharing the floor, the defense will be in scramble mode more often, opening up offensive rebound chances, passing angles, and driving lanes.

And, understand, it doesn’t take a Nash-centric approach to develop these sets. A simple post up where Nash brings the ball up with Kobe in the corner and Bynum in the pivot creates a problem for the D. Do you sag off Kobe in the corner to disrupt a post entry? Do you sag off Nash? Do you try to front Bynum and help off Gasol when Nash has the ball in his hands? Run a basic HORNS set with Nash cutting through the lane to screen for Kobe and the Lakers can create an action where Pau has the ball and Bynum, Kobe, and Nash are all running screen actions on the weak side of the floor to get a good shot up. These are only two options from the Lakers’ playbook this past season that change dramatically simply because the Lakers have replaced Fisher/Sessions/Blake with Nash.

When looking at specific sets that capitalize on the Lakers big men, the coaches need not look much further than some of the combo pick and roll sets they ran last season. At the start of the year, the Lakers were extremely effective running a Kobe/Pau P&R where Pau popped to the shallow wing while Bynum used his size to carve out position under the rim. Often times, Pau caught a pass from Kobe and either took a short jumper or tossed a lob to Bynum under the rim. The play was so effective it looked like a cheat code. As the year progressed, however, this play became less effective because Kobe started to have issues turning the corner with his handle (and Sessions wasn’t the same threat that Kobe was). The play was further disrupted when the defense helped off the SF and PG off the ball to gum up passing angles.

Now, replace Kobe with Nash and put Kobe off the ball. Help is less available to block off passing angles and Nash’s ability to either hit Pau on the pop, shoot the shot himself coming off the pick, or probe the lane for a shorter shot/dish to Bynum presents a slew of problems for the defense. Again, this just a single action but it’s derived right from the Lakers playbook this past season and proved it could be a devastating weapon without Nash on board. Add him to the mix and the possibilities expand.

Balance will be the key here. The Lakers should try to capitalize on Nash’s skills within offensive sets where he’s had a lot of success. Not giving him those same freedoms would be an issue. I see no viable argument where turning Nash into a glorified Derek Fisher is the right plan. But, by simply running sets the Lakers ran last season but replacing their previous PG’s with Nash changes the Lakers offense a great deal. Help schemes change, rotations change, and fantastic one on one players get to play more one on one basketball.

It will take time to strike this balance. And it will take adjustments from everyone involved (coaches and players). But, it can certainly happen and, with time, I fully expect it to.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  July 11, 2012

Jack McCallum’s Dream Team book was released yesterday, prompting a number of worthy discussions and reviews, such as FB&G’s roundtable. The midnight hour brought an additional momentous occasion, the end of the league’s moritorium, meaning that free agency signings could become official. This leads us to the here and now, with the Lakers set to kick off their introduction of Steve Nash, at noon Pacific Time. The presser will be carried live by the Lakers website. Other teams will be holding their various functions throughout the day but this by no means puts the brakes on the continuing feeding frenzy, replete with the kinds of deals that had owners screaming foul during last summer’s lockout. Apparently, a level playing field is best accomplished by either overpaying stiffs, or stripping out assets before the season even begins. Here in no particular order, are some links:

Kevin Ding at the OC Register brings us the news of Steve Nash’s official signing, at midnight Eastern Time, last night.

Ian Thomsen for Sports Illustrated, writes about Kobe Bryant, Team USA, and the continuing quest to achieve more.

Ben Rosales at Silver Screen and Roll has an article about the Lakers bigs, and offseason planning.

Dave McMenamin at ESPN Los Angeles reports on Devin Ebank’s new one-year deal with the Lakers.

Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld has a report about a possible three-way between Orando, L.A., and Houston in the Dwight sweepstakes.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers writes about joyful playing returning to the Lakers.

Ben Bolch at the L.A. Times, writes that Steve Nash is an efficiency expert.

Ryan Ward at Lakers Nation reports that Jordan Farmar is being bought out of his Atlanta Hawks contract and will head to Istanbul.

And finally, Fran Blinebury for NBA.com writes about Adam Morrison’s road back to the NBA., and summer league. I truly hope Ammo catches back on – one of my favorites, always.

***

Trying to embed links during the height of free agency, sometimes feels futile – I have no idea how the national writers are keeping up with this shapeshifting serpent. Today could very well be pivotal in the ongoing Dwight Howard saga – the Nets are working to resolve their own part in it, one way or another. They’re having to deal with the Brooks Lopez situation, which basically amounts to multiple teams throwing max offers at a center that was out of action for most of last season. When Brooks did play however, he managed a mind-boggling 3.6 rebounds per game. That’s not a typo. Swing for the fences, big guy.

- Dave Murphy

Yesterday, Jack McCallum’s highly anticipated book “Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles And The Greatest Team Of All Time Conquered The World And Changed The Game Of Basketball Forever” was released for purchase (you can get a copy here). A few of us here at FB&G were able to get an advanced copy of the book to review and, well, we loved it. What follows is our email conversation about the book…

Darius Soriano: First things first, what did you guys think of the book?

Phillip Barnett: Off top, it was just an absolutely fantastic read. I’m a bit younger than both of you, so I really only got to watch the tail end of the career of most of these guys (I was only five in the Summer of ’92). For me, I can only rely on ESPN Classic games and accounts like Jack McCallum’s “Dream Team” book to get a feel for how much this team meant to the game of basketball. That said, I think the best thing about this book is the format in which it was written. Instead of a long, drawn out chronological tale about how the Dream Team came about and how dominant they were, the book is broken down into 40-someting smaller chapters that allowed McCallum to tell a lot of the back stories that went into building this team and gave him the freedom to do a lot of character building — which isn’t always the case in non-fiction narratives. “Dream Team” reads more like a novel than it does a historical account of a hoops team, and it allows for younger guys like myself to learn a bit more about the individuals on the team, the relationships built and even some of the animosity between guys who were and were not on the Dream Team. Furthermore, the book takes a few “Where are they now” glances at some of the players with six interludes throughout the book which provide for some interesting — and some would even say juicy — nuggets in which the players didn’t hold back on their feelings on others on the team. In one of the interludes, Clyde Drexler suggested that Magic was getting the “benefit of the doubt” because people “kept expecting him to die” following his AIDS announcement and went on to suggest that there was nothing that Jordan could do that he could not. It was really those kind of anecdotes, and the more fun ones like Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing’s unexpected friendship, that kept me turning pages. Were there any back stories in particular that you two found more interesting than others?

J.M. Poulard: After reading multiple books on superstars who also happened to play on the Dream Team (Bird, Magic and Jordan), it always felt as though the 1992 Olympics served more as a footnote in their illustrious careers as opposed to one of its bigger events.

After reading “Dream Team”, that sentiment has been rendered null and void. McCallum covers all bases in order to give readers a detailed depiction of the team. Whether it’s the decision to finally allow NBA players to compete in the Olympics or the reasons that prevented the team from staying in the Olympic village; the author goes to great lengths for all to understand what actually transpired.

If there is one back story that struck me more than any, it’s the dynamic between Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson.

Both were icons at the time and continue to be even today and the book captures that perfectly.

Magic had always exhibited a seemingly unparalleled ability to communicate with people — whether it’s teammates, opponents, coaches, media or fans — thanks in large part to his smile, charm and willingness to voice his opinions.

Michael on the other hand was known as a leader that practiced hard, led by example and chastised teammates whenever they failed him.

And yet in Barcelona, their personalities blended together as Magic serving as the team’s voice while Jordan was its motor and its heart. McCallum relates this perfectly and gives us the lenses to view the two leading alpha males on a team composed of such individuals.

It’s worth noting that “Dream Team” perfectly captures the pulse of the team through interviews and tales that were shared with Jack McCallum almost 20 years after the team won the gold medal in the 1992 Olympics.

Darius: I couldn’t agree more about MaCallum’s approach to the book. By giving readers the backstories to the players and then providing fascinating tidbits of information about the dynamics between them in the lead up to and throughout the Olympics, he gives readers an insider’s perspective that takes you along for the ride.

And, I also completely agree about how the Magic/MJ dynamic proved captivating. Having just met in the Finals a year prior to the formation of the team, it was clear that there was both a healthy respect and rivalry still at play between the teams’ two top names. In fact, I think Magic’s portrayal in the book is one of the more interesting aspects touched on.

McCallum did an excellent job of giving the reader so many sides of a very complex man within the context of this extraordinary team. Not only was there the Drexler interlude that touched on Magic’s HIV, but there was also how his disease served as a backdrop for Magic’s hands on approach to leadership and how it (seemingly) drove him to prove that he was still at the top of his game (and thus still one of the team’s best players) after not competing in the league since that Finals loss to Jordan (outside the 1992 All-star game).

On the other side, though, was the respect that Magic had amongst his peers, how his mates saw him as a genuine leader – and mouthpiece – for the team, and how his past accomplishments (remember, at that point Magic had 5 championships to his name whereas Jordan only had 2 while Bird had 3) gave him some bragging rights within the group. All of this combined to create a complex character that could rub his teammates the wrong way and inspire respect.

Besides the stuff on Magic, though, there were so many other parts of the book that stood out to me. The Bird/Ewing friendship, the Isaiah Thomas exclusion, the narrative surrounding how the NBA got involved in the Olympic process, and the behind the scenes descriptions of the now infamous practices and scrimmages were all so great.

What about for you guys? Was there one story in particular that stuck with you?

Phillip: Not to completely overdo the Magic aspect, but he really was one of the keys, not only in this book, but really in getting this whole team together. McCallum — and the Dream Team documentary a few months ago to some extent — spoke about how no one really thought the NBA’s brightest stars would buy into playing for the Olympic team. It was Magic who enthusiastically signed on first and helped push some of the other key guys (Bird and Jordan, namely) to join on as well. McCallum described Magic’s and Jordan’s leadership roles metaphorically when he said, “Magic was the Sun and Jordan was the North Star,” and there was a lot of truth to that. Like Darius noted, Magic was the vocal leader of the team and took on a lot of duties to make sure the  – how do you say this — general ideology of who this team was revolved around him. There were anecdotes about Magic taking number 15 so his name would be called last and him holding the flag when the team was introduced for the first time. But as much as the team revolved around him in almost every aspect off the court, Jordan was the unquestioned leader on the court as the team seeked his direction once the ball was in the air. I found that dynamic fascinating.

I also ate up everything on Barkley. Even though I really only remember his career as a Houston Rocket, he’s always been my favorite NBA player after Eddie Jones. I continue to save a special place in my heart for undersized forwards who can rebound the ball, but Chuck was one of those special, once in a lifetime kind of athletes. He often seemed overweight, but got off the ground so easily, was deceptively quick in the open court and was nearly unstoppable when he got a head of steam going toward the basket. Then you get to couple that generational talent with one of the most unique personalities the league has ever seen and you’ve got yourself one of the most memorable ball players ever. McCallum has a few Barkley anecdotes that really stuck out — one of them being that Larry Bird said he was a student of Barkley’s game and even added a few of his tricks to his own repertoire. The fact that such a talent almost missed out on the Dream Team is hard to wrap your head around. But the fact that his talent generally overrode his off the court antics speaks volumes just to how great he was.

Darius: Ah, good old Chuck. He definitely was one of the choice “characters” in this book.

The anecdote about Barkley that stood out the most to me had nothing to do with his escapades on the town in Barcelona, how his selection came about, or even is rivalry with Malone. It was how often it was hinted at that he was one of the most dominating forces on the team. I can’t recall how many times it occurred but multiple times coaches and teammates said that if the Dream Team ever needed a basket they could just “throw the ball to Charles”. Considering that team had Jordan on it, I thought that was the highest compliment that could be paid to him and his skill level at the time of the competition. He was an explosive force of nature that could play an all court game. I’m convinced we’ll see countless players of Jordan’s “type” (athletic wing players) before we ever see another player that’s like Barkley.

J.M.: Not too get too much away from the book, but I recall watching the Dream Team when I was younger and Barkley was by far one of the most athletically gifted players on the court at all times.

There were times it seemed as though he could breeze by guards on a fast break and his size was problematic for everyone.

For those only accustomed to Barkley through his TNT gig, McCallum does a great job of bringing us back to his playing days. Indeed, the Chuckster was a lethal weapon — fun fact, he led the team in scoring — that no one had an answer for.

It’s clear from the details of the book that Barkley always knew he was a great player, but showcasing his talent with the Dream Team gave him some validation that perhaps few remember today.

With that said, one of the most fascinating aspects of the book is the non-story of David Robinson. I have long theorized that the Admiral should have been one of the greatest players ever but he seemed to lack something.

McCallum provides some terrific insight into the player, but more importantly the man; and although it gives the readers a greater of appreciation of Robinson as an individual; one cannot help but feel cheated about the Spurs center.

For all of the criticism thrown at Shaquille O’Neal for not putting more into basketball, Robinson not only deserves the same amount throw his way, but perhaps more.

As great as he was as a center, he never had the edge needed to carry his team to the promised land and put the fear into the hearts of his opponents. And to his credit, Robinson is perfectly at ease with who he is and shows no sign of remorse whatsoever about how his career unfolded. Nonetheless, the question “what if” still looms…

Darius: I think we could go on and on with anecdotes and insights gleaned from this book. McCallum simply did a fantastic job of giving the reader so much information in an easy to consume format. At this point though, I’d rather not give away too much more and just suggest that everyone go out and buy the book. You won’t be disappointed.