Archives For September 2012

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  September 28, 2012

Like many people, I was incredulous when I heard about the recent Steve Blake foot spike. On the scale of freak accidents it ranks pretty high but when it comes to sports, maybe not so much so. These are the vagaries of chance. The new Lakers roster has been compared to the 2003/04 team for obvious reasons – the star-studded aspect and the expectations game. We all remember what happened to Karl Malone that season – Scottie Williams landed on his knee and the season changed in a moment. Freak chances aren’t always injuries – the public’s attention was captured in a freeze-frame instant when replacement referees blew a late call in the Seahawks/Packers game. Did the outcry hasten a resolution to the union dispute? Maybe, maybe not. These things become part of the time continuum – we can say we know but we don’t really know. The narrative however, is often the way into the story. Some links for a Friday:

We’ve been winding our way through a ‘favorite role-players’ series here at FB&G. Dexter Fishmore and the gang at Silver Screen and Roll have also put up a great article on the subject matter. I especially enjoyed Actuarially Sound tabbing the Machine as his one true favorite. Bold move.

Andy Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers offers a brief video snippet of Dwight Howard working out, along with some typically enjoyable commentary. And, on the subject of good writing and Superman, if you haven’t read Emile’s extraordinarily good piece here, do it now.

Keeping it on the Dwight Howard beat, Dan Devine at Ball Don’t Lie reports on DH’s visit to the Ellen Show. This is the kind of stuff that keeps PR people fed and happy and I’m cringing just a little bit. Please feel free to complain.

Also at BDL, Eric Freeman has an update on the breaking news that the NBA is implementing measures to fine players that flop.

With training camp around the corner, players all around the league are in their teams’ cities, hitting the facilities, and getting in their last sessions before the fully structured days of an NBA season take hold. Over at Lakers.com, Mike Trudell has been observing the work guys like Jamison, Jordan Hill, Darius Morris, and several others are putting in. Here are his notes from a scrimmage last week as well as a couple of videos from action on other days.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the new Time Warner Lakers broadcast package. Joe Flint at the L.A. Times checks into some of the details. And speaking of the TWC’s Lakers’ coverage, another reminder that you can check to see whether or not your provider is slated to carry the channel and what you can do about it if they’re not.

I was browsing through HoopsHype and found this article about Keyon Dooling’s retirement, by Jessica Camerato. This is an article that I probably would have skipped right by but I began to read and got pulled in. It’s a substantial piece and covers some tough stuff.

On the subject of HoopsHype, this is a resource that’s been around for ten years now. I don’t spend as much time reading it as I once did, but it was one of the earliest internet basketball sites and data bases, and it has filled a lot of gaps over the years. It even predates Hunter S. Thompson and his ‘Hey Rube’ columns for ESPN and that’s going back a ways.

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While they interest me, I tend not to put too much trust into polls and predictions. They are snapshots, opinions, quantifiers. We can’t be assured of health, we can’t be assured of a championship season, we can’t be assured that a new offensive scheme will work or that it won’t work. We can however discuss it and anticipate it and above all, we can be along for the ride. Training camp begins next week and a summer of change fades from view and a new season begins – full of hope, promise and chance.

– Dave Murphy

 

Conflict Resolution

Emile Avanessian —  September 26, 2012

Imagine watching your dad parking a brand new Corvette in the garage, knowing that it’s all yours, but having to wait six months to get your license.

With the strangest summer since… well, yet another strange summer in Lakerland in the rearview, the goings-on of recent months have begun to take root in reality. Learning – while watching fireworks rain down on the Hudson – that one of the game’s true maestros will conduct the Lakers’ offense this season (and the next couple to come) is enough to slap a perma-grin on the most cynical of mugs. That said, not until the deal was legally consummated and Steve Nash presented to our euphoric lot (and the crestfallen masses) did his arrival begin to feel “real.” Even so, not until we see a purple- or gold- (or, on Sundays, white-)clad #10 tightrope the baseline – as only he can – will the 50-40-90-laced dream otherwise known as “Steve Nash, Laker point guard” truly be an actuality.

In similar vein, not until we’ve watched one of the NBA’s most incisive penetrators attack the paint and revisit the strategic misstep that brought him eye-to-(I dunno, chin? Nose?) with the league’s most dominant interior defender, or until an errant attempt on offense is rerouted through the Lakers’ goal with devastating force will “Dwight Howard is our freaking center!” be cemented in reality.

Thing is, for reasons that I struggle to explain, the notion of Steve Nash manning the controls of the offense, while no more enthralling, has proven easier to accept than has that of Dwight Howard assuming  the role of Laker legend in the middle.

Simplistically, it may just be the passage of time. The Nash trade was announced on July 4, while Dwight was not Westward bound until August 10. Perhaps an extra five weeks of the Steve Nash Experience engendered a familiarity that’s not yet emerged in our relationship with Dwight Howard.

Eh. Unlikely.

Perhaps it’s preexisting familiarity. Born of eight years of divisional cohabitation and three playoff encounters – including 2006, in which the eighth-seeded Lakers squandered a commanding 3-1 series lead to the top-seeded Suns before succumbing in seven, and 2010, when an overachieving Suns squad took two from the eventual champion Lakers in the Western Conference Finals – Steve Nash has squared off against the Lakers 56 times in his 17-year career, 47 after rejoining the Phoenix Suns in 2004. For all the hype surrounding every Kobe-LeBron “duel,” and the compelling, evolving rivalry with the Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s difficult to think of an opponent whose path has more often crossed that of the Lakers, or one that has left a more indelible mark in the collective mind of Laker Nation. I know what they say about familiarity and contempt, but under the right circumstances it’s also been known to breed respect and admiration.

Meanwhile, over the same eight-year period (since entering the NBA in 2004-05), due obviously to his Eastern locale, Dwight Howard faced the Lakers just 20 times. And while 16.9 points (56.8% from the field) and 12.8 rebounds (3.55 ORB) per game is hardly pedestrian, most fans (this one for sure) are likely hard pressed to recall even one truly memorable performance turned in by Dwight against the Lakers –  and that includes the five encounters in nine days comprising the competitive-but-hardly-epic 2009 Finals.

More than either of these, however, is the degree to which each man impacts the roster. While each represents a significant improvement over his predecessor(s) in the Laker lineup, Nash is the Holy Grail, an oasis amid the Smush Vujamarsessisher desert, while Howard “merely” kicks the center spot up from All-Star to All-World. Again, though, this smacks of oversimplification.

I mean, as good as Andrew Bynum was, is and may be going forward, Dwight Howard is, right now, Andrew Bynum actualized. Howard is the most physically imposing and dominant big man since Shaq, with a dedication to conditioning mocking that of his fellow Orlando defector. Prior to 2011-12, Howard had missed an average of one game per season over his first seven in the NBA. And last season, the most injury-plagued and distraction-laden of his career? The one in which he missed 12 of 66 regular season games and had his back cut on upon at season’s end? (NOTE: These playoff stats are from the spring of 2011. In putting together this section of the article, I went with my Basketball-Reference muscle memory and totally overlooked Dwight’s absence from last year’s playoffs. HORRIBLE snafu on my part.) He capped it off with a six-game playoff run in which he averaged 27 and 15.5, and made not only 63% of his field goals, but 68.2% of his free throws (60-of-88).

Additionally, the consistency with which he has handled his business on the court is nothing short of staggering. Over his past six seasons, Howard has averaged no worse than 17.6 points per game (20+ four times) or 12.3 rebounds per (14+ three times), and just once (56.9% last season) posted a True Shooting Percentage below 60%. Howard is not only (by far) the NBA’s best center, but an evolutionary Moses Malone. A certified superstar. Were he to retire tomorrow, Dwight Howard would be Hallward bound.

Why then – again, despite incredible happiness and renewed optimism – am I unable to fling myself head over heels for the player with the greatest potential to pen the next chapter in the Lakers’ glorious tome?

Because Dwight Howard is a frightening study in paradox.

Despite a granite frame, physical gifts the likes of which the position has rarely seen and the advantage of youth over his veteran backcourt mates, it is Dwight who’s most recently faced the most potentially debilitating injury.

He is the 26 year-old manchild who led Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu and Jameer Nelson to the Finals, but has been accused (wrongly) of lacking the killer instinct of his top teammates – noted high-functioning sociopath Kobe Bryant and less-abrasive-but-equally-bloodthirsty Steve Nash – and… hey, cool elephant, dude… (Far more accurately) of holding hostage and tearing asunder the only NBA franchise for whom he’s (thus far) ever suited up.

Now in the role for which he was seemingly created. In the city, with the franchise that will deliver to him the ceaseless attention he seeks. He’s got a roster around him that’s not only prepared to win now, but consists of a trio of transcendent talents whose skills beautifully complement his own. Unfortunately, his contract offers the organization the least in terms of long term security and leverage, and his track record of accountability and, ahem, in just this scenario is, well… dicey at best.

Prior to the moderately coherent babbling above, my joy, optimism and trepidation over the Lakers’ acquisition of Dwight Howard has been available exclusively in 140-character increments. I could present semi-legitimate explanations involving travel, work schedule, evil corporate web filters and a comprehensive, gaming-inducing immersion into college football. And I wouldn’t be lying. Thing is, as much as any of these obstacles stood in the way of long-form pontification on D-12, the fact of the matter is I really was not sure what my thoughts were on the matter.

I’m still not entirely certain.

Dwight is obviously a monumental pickup and an upgrade over an already excellent center. I am prepared, eager, to welcome him into my sporting family. I look forward to the lane being off-limits to the opposition, to dominating the glass, to top-of-the-square catches on alley-oops, to five months of open spot-ups in the corner for Metta, to the ascent of the pick-and-roll to its highest elevation, to the two-man game with Pau Gasol, and to regular 20-20s. A healthy (thus far there is no reason to believe that he’ll be anything but) Dwight Howard, a generational superstar at the peak of his powers, will rank among the great acquisitions in NBA history. That said…

To ignore to manner in which he handled his business with the Magic, and the unseemly manner in which he orchestrated his exit from Orlando would be to willfully rejoice in the suffering of a fan base whose emotions and allegiances mirror our own (remember Kobe in 2007?). I have not one iota of blame for fans in central Florida whose anger over Dwight’s conduct – the false hope, the wishy-washiness, the contradictions, the insincere people-pleaser routine – does not subside for some time. That said…

While I did not initially celebrate the arrival of Dwight Howard with the childlike enthusiasm that came so easily for Steve Nash, I think I have arrived. I’m not sure the process leading up to Dwight’s departure from Orlando will ever not feel kinda gross. And yes, like anyone entering into a relationship with someone with checkered past, my guard may be up a bit higher than normal for a little while. But, as with Shaq, Kobe, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum, I look forward to watching – with a clean slate – the growth and evolution of Dwight Howard, as he pens what are certain to be the defining chapters of his legendary career.

Dwight Howard is our freaking center.

The Other Guys Countdown

J.M. Poulard —  September 25, 2012

In case you missed the opening post of this series, the FB&G panel recently sat down and voted on the best role players in Lakers history. The details can be found here on the collective thought process of the panel as well as the first player in our top 10 countdown.

Now we move on to our next man up.

When we recall meaningful role players, we usually have a multitude of memories of how they contributed to a successful team; they did the little things but also had times in which they came up big because their teammates needed it.

That’s usually how it goes, and yet our next player may very well challenge that notion.

The ninth best role player in Lakers’ history…

Rick Fox

Fox started his NBA career as a member of the Boston Celtics and spent six seasons on the east coast playing for a decent team that eventually became a perennial loser. Eventually, he packed his bags and headed out west to join the Los Angeles Lakers.

In retrospect, it’s coincidental and yet both weird that the former Tar Heel played for only two teams in his career; and they happened to be the most storied franchises in the NBA.

Fox left Boston and joined Los Angeles hoping to be part of the solution that helped an immensely talented Lakers team turn things around and compete for a title. Instead, he joined a squad that was seemingly dysfunctional given the egos on the team.

The Lakers had Elden Campbell, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and a young Kobe Bryant but just could not avoid getting swept in the postseason. Even worse, a team that many thought should reach the title round every single season just could not figure out how to get there.

One thing was for sure at the time though, Fox might not have been a huge part of the team, but he was definitely part of the solution.

Players were moved, coaches were brought in and out and eventually Phil Jackson came to town to bring a stabilizing influence over the team starting in the 1999-00 season.

Rick Fox’s role under Jackson was to come off the bench, play solid defense, take open shots, feed the post, get out in transition and essentially play to his capabilities.

The North Carolina product took his role a step further, even at times playing the role of enforcer for a Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Shaquille O’Neal.

Indeed, the former Tar Heel played physical defense, hit players after the whistle, slapped the ball out of the hands of opponents even after calls were made by officials, trash talked and found ways to get inside the heads of opposing players. Fox was an instigator, but he was also a solid role player.

With Fox backing up Glen Rice during the 1999-00 season, the Lakers won 67 games, struggled a little during the postseason but managed to win the group’s first title.

Glen Rice was shipped out of town after the 2000 playoffs, which meant that Rick Fox had become the starter for the Lakers.

The 2000-01 season was one of turmoil for the Lakers as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal fought for control of the team but role players such as Fox still managed to play to their strengths throughout the Bryant-O’Neal rift. The Lakers’ starting small forward saw more minutes that season and thus increased his scoring and rebounding.

Also, with more playing time alongside the starters, Rick Fox had more opportunities to get repetition in the triangle offense and thus had a better understanding of where to get his shots from. Consequently, he improved his field goal percentage, going from a poor 41.4 percent to a 44.4 percent mark.

By the time the playoffs started, the 2001 Lakers morphed into the third best Los Angeles Lakers team of all time, going 15-1 in the playoffs and destroying all of their opponents on their way to the title.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal enjoyed arguably their best collective postseason together that year, but they were also aided by their role players that rose to the occasion whenever the situation called for it.

And that’s what’s particularly tricky about Rick Fox: he played up to par, played to his strengths and made several contributions but none of them truly stood out; unless we count the amount of times he agitated opponents.

Seriously, by the time the Lakers hit their stride in the playoffs, Rick Fox complemented the superstars with timely shooting, a couple of unimpeded drives to the basket as a result of double teams and some solid perimeter defense.

If the 2001 playoffs failed to properly hammer this point home, the 2002 postseason highlighted this perfectly.

After helping the Lakers win back-to-back titles, Rick Fox was not only a starter on a championship team, but an integral piece to the championship puzzle. He played well off of his superstar teammates and even asserted himself offensively at times to help take pressure off the more heralded players on the team.

The box score often failed to accurately capture Fox’s contributions because so many of them came in the form of deflections, charges taken, box outs and the pass that led to the pass that set up an assist. Hence, it’s somewhat difficult to find one game that encompasses the type of player that Rick Fox was for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Difficult, but not impossible.

With Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals scheduled to be played in Sacramento, many thought that the Kings would dethrone the defending champions.

The Kings were deeper, younger, more athletic and thus better, as the story went.

The Lakers on the other hand had arguably the two best players in the league as well as championship experience and that essentially sealed the fate of the Sacramento Kings.

The home team bricked free throws, struggled to execute and get good looks at the basket late in the game, while the Lakers looked like the fresher team, unbothered by the pressure and weight of the moment.

Rick Fox was at his best in a Lakers uniform that day, scoring 13 points, snatching 14 rebounds and dishing out seven assists in 48 minutes of playing time. The North Carolina product was all over the court, and yet never looked as though he was playing above his customary level of basketball talent.

And in addition, although Peja Stojakovic had been hampered by an ankle injury during the playoffs, he had still averaged 21.2 points per game on 48.4 percent field goal shooting during the regular season and was the Kings second option on offense. In the series against the Lakers mind you, Rick Fox played physical and smothering defense on him, holding him to a mere 6.7 points per game on 20.7 percent field goal shooting. His ankle might have been problematic, but so too was the Lakers forward.

That victory over the Kings propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals where they swept the New Jersey Nets and completed the ever rare — this is the most recent occurrence of this in the NBA — three-peat.

Fox played the role of occasional scorer, shooter, defender and rebounder at times, but his best role by far with the team was that of winner.

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  September 21, 2012

Yesterday, Darius took a look at Lakers bench players through the prism of both past and present. How the new group will fit together is one of the fascinating unknowns going into this highly anticipated season. The countdown seems to move ever faster – the start of training camp is only ten days away. Here’s some links to carry into the weekend – as always, if y’all have more, post them below.

Brian Kamenetzky at the Land O’Lakers examines the recent Jalen Rose admission that he intentionally hobbled Kobe Bryant in the 2000 finals.

Andy Kamenetzky from the LOL offers up a podkast featuring Chris Duhon who came over in the Dwight Howard trade, and saw the Orlando trials and tribulations up close and personal.

Mark Medina at the LA Times reports on MWP’s assertion that the Lakers could very well set a new NBA record for wins this season.

This is an ESPN Insider pay-to-read but if you’ve got a subscription, check out John Hollinger’s Lakers player profiles.

This Sean Sweeney article in Dime is part of the magazine’s larger current feature on Kobe Bryant as Player of the Century.

ESPN Go has the Mason & Ireland radio interview with Lakers Coach Mike Brown.

Aaron McGuire at Gothic Ginobili took on the task of writing 370 NBA player profiles recently. These daily capsules are grouped three players at a time and go way beyond simple summaries. Today’s trio includes Steve Nash. Head’s up going in – Aaron calls it as he sees it and that often involves some tough criticism. Regardless, he’s one of the smarter writers out there in my opinion, and I’m always interested in bringing diverse voices to these posts.

We’ve all heard about the possibility of Dwight Howard working with Laker legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Captain’s been tutoring someone else as well – Joakim Noah from the Bulls. Kurt Helin at ProBasketballTalk has the story.

Arielle Moyal at Lakers Nation has a regular column combining commentary and links that is well worth checking out.

How on earth could this gem not be included – Kelly Dwyer at Ball Don’t Lie brings us the night that Manute Bol got hot from behind the three-point line. Andrew Bynum, take note.

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One of the pleasures of writing a links post is the reading part – there’s an extremely wide variety of styles, content and purpose and it’s easy to get lost in the task and realize that an hour or two has slipped away. This piece by Jonathan Abrams at Grantland, grabbed my attention and would not relinquish it – an uncommonly good story of a father and his son. If you read one thing today, read his profile of J.R. Smith.

– Dave Murphy

Return Of The Bench Mob?

Darius Soriano —  September 20, 2012

When the Lakers made their surprising run to the Finals in 2008 and won back to back championships in 2009 and 2010, a major key to their success was the play of their bench players.

In Lamar Odom, Jordan Farmar, Sasha Vujacic, Shannon Brown, and (to a lesser extent) Josh Powell, the Lakers had a nice mix of veterans and young players that changed the tempo of the game whenever they took the floor. Nicknamed the Bench Mob, this group loved to push the ball, break away from the Triangle offense, and play more frenetically to unnerve their opponents. They weren’t the most consistent bunch and they had their share of ups and downs, but overall they were mostly an asset to team that heavily relied on the methodical manners of their first unit.

However, in the past two seasons the bench’s play has suffered. Beyond Lamar Odom’s stellar 2011 campaign that earned him the Sixth Man of the Year award, the Lakers’ bench has under-produced. The young legs of Farmar, Sasha, and Brown were replaced by those of veterans like Steve Blake and Matt Barnes. Lamar Odom’s trade led to signings like Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy.

None of these moves really worked out and the only player remaining from that bunch going into the upcoming campaign is Steve Blake (who looks to regain the form that had the Lakers pursue him in the first place).

This off-season the Lakers have looked to remedy their bench issues in hopes of reestablishing a reserve unit that can impact the game when the starters leave the floor. They’ve brought back Jordan Hill to be an energy big, signed Antawn Jamison for his scoring punch, and picked up Jodie Meeks as a back up to Kobe who can space the floor and produce points in bunches.

In order to maximize this group of reservers, however, the Lakers must also determine an identity for them. But when looking at this group and their disparate skill sets, it may not be that easy. Consider the following:

  • Antawn Jamison is a scorer at heart that has been defensively challenged for most of his career.
  • Jordan Hill, meanwhile is a defensive minded big man who’s shown little on offense beyond his stellar work on the offensive glass and ability to convert shots at the rim via putbacks and spoon fed assists.
  • Jodie Meeks is a quality scoring threat but not a ball handler by nature nor someone that’s proven to be a shot creator for himself or teammates.
  • Devin Ebanks is a slasher with a limited jumper and ball skills. He’s a fine defender and rebounder but has shown he can be mistake prone in defensive transition as the last man back.
  • Steve Blake is mostly a spot up shooter who has good set up ability but not a lot of creative skill off the dribble to threaten the defense.

At first glance, these pieces do not really fit together as a cohesive unit and maximizing them when playing together will prove a bit difficult. Do you tell this team to push the ball to capitalize on the skills of Ebanks and Hill? Do you run more half court sets that can take advantage of the shooting Meeks and Jamison offer?

And what of the defensive issues? During the aforementioned period of the Bench Mob, the Lakers’ reserves were a ball pressure team that tried to disrupt the flow of the game via extended defenses. They’d pick up ball handlers full court, throw out a half court trap, and flash strong side zone principles to flood driving and passing lanes. The current group of Lakers’ reserves don’t possess a singular type of player to pull off a dedicated approach in that manner.

Much of these concerns can be mitigated through various lineup combinations and substitution pattern that Mike Brown decides on as his core rotation. However, there will still be times where up to four reserves will be on the floor together at the same time and there will need to be a plan in place to optimize their production when they’re not flanked by multiple starters.

In recent campaigns, the Lakers’ bench hasn’t had much direction beyond “lean on whatever key starter(s) they shared the floor with”, but to be successful next season that likely won’t be enough. And with the additions of Jamison and Meeks, the Lakers now have two players with starting experience who can be looked to as producers of offense more often than the players they’re replacing from last year. A group identity beyond ‘role players playing next to starters’ would certainly help, here.

While the Lakers have had as impressive an off-season in recent memory by adding star players and excellent assistant coaches, it’s looking more and more like this campaign will be shaped by some of Mike Brown’s smaller, yet still key decisions. And while we all look to the Princeton O or a revamped defense led by Dwight as the difference between a championship or an early exit, don’t forget how important a role the Lakers’ bench has played in the recent seasons when the team was most successful.

Mike Brown will need to remember this fact as well and plan accordingly.