Archives For September 2012

Welcome to the Strategy Session. In this space we’ll explore different aspects of the game from a strategy standpoint. It may mean looking at a coaching decision — like determining a rotation. Or a specific offensive play that we think will work. Or it could be an examination of a defensive scheme. Sometimes we’ll use video others we’ll just blab away for a while on the topic of the day. Hope you enjoy it.

At the beginning of last season, the Lakers looked to be (at least) one player short from elite status. Sure, their top three players were as good as any other trio in the league, but outside of them they had a mash-up group of guys that would need to provide their best case scenario nightly in order for the Lakers to get that extra boost.

At the trade deadline, however, reinforcements arrived, mainly in the form of Ramon Sessions. Sessions flashed game changing speed and an attack mentality that helped boost the Lakers’ offense whenever he was on the floor. However, over time — especially after a shoulder injury curtailed his aggressiveness, the tighter defenses of the playoffs took hold, and the Lakers adjusted their offensive approach — Sessions’ aggressiveness waned and the Lakers again struggled to produce offensively at a consistently dangerous level. Thus, Ramon Sessions is no longer a Laker.

When Sessions was at his Laker peak, though, Mike Brown made the strategic decision of always having either him or Kobe on the floor at all times. The reasoning behind this was simple: for the Lakers to be at their best offensively they’d need a balance between the post and the perimeter. The only way to achieve that balance would be to have at least one offensive threat who called those places home on the court at the same time.

Brown’s strategy, then, was to not only have at least one of Kobe/Sessions on the floor at all times but to also do the same for Gasol/Bynum. This upcoming year, Brown would be wise to do the same with his new perimeter and post-up dynamic duos of Kobe/Nash and Gasol/Howard.

I understand that the hope is for all four of these players mesh seamlessly when they share the floor. The only way the Lakers are going to achieve at the levels they want to this season (aka win the championship), these guys will all need to blend together and find a comfort level where their games can not only co-exist, but collaborate to make each other better.

All that said, the Lakers are in the unique position of having two duos whose games not only compliment one another’s, but can be the foundation for an elite offense.

In Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, the Lakers have acquired one of the best pick and roll guards and the best pick and roll finisher in the league. They are, essentially, a symbiotic match in how their skills are best deployed. Mike Brown would do well to find line-up combinations that feature these two players as often as possible. Pair them up, flank them with shooters (Meeks and Jamison) and let them run a lot of one/five pick and rolls like they’ve both done their entire careers.

Ideally, I’d like to see Mike Brown use a substitution pattern that subs Nash out around the six minute mark, Dwight at the 8 to 10 minute mark of the 1st quarter, and then send them both out at the start of the 2nd quarter (or near the end of the 1st quarter). This would match them up with a lot of team’s 2nd units and let them wreak havoc against teams’ reserves by pounding them with P&R’s with the Lakers’ best shooters supporting them.

Opposite of Nash/Howard, Mike Brown could then use alternative lineup combinations around the duo of Kobe/Gasol. Remember, these two were the foundation for three Finals and back to back championship teams. Last season their chemistry suffered some, but I think it’s fair to say that both men will be rejuvenated this upcoming season. And, if both can be played together frequently — while being used as the key scoring options for their unit — I think we’d see a return to the chemistry of season’s past.

Plus, the games of Pau/Kobe would seem to be good matches for the other role players not playing with Nash/Howard. In Steve Blake the Lakers have a PG who is more adept at sharing ball handling duties and spacing the floor next to a more dominant perimeter creator. And Jordan Hill’s defensive ruggedness, penchant for attacking the glass on both ends, and offensive game that’s built off cuts and put-backs is nice match for Gasol. This unit could play together for stretches in the 1st, 2nd, & 3rd periods with Brown then using his starters as the primary closers every night (if they’re even needed to close).

Ultimately, we’ll see what Mike Brown actually chooses to do. But, with the way the Lakers’ roster is built they’re in a unique position of having two sets of wing/big-man duos that can not only compliment each other well but do so within the context of what the Lakers want to do on offense. In Nash and Howard, Brown can direct his troops to free lance a bit more by leaning on the pick and roll prowess the two newcomers bring to the table. With Pau and Kobe anchoring the O, the team can shift to the Princeton’s more formal structure and return to the read and react roots that those two have thrived under in their time together.

Basketball can be a complex game. All five players on the floor must be in synch for the best results to be produced. However, basketball can also be quite simple where the two man game — a style we’ve all played since we were kids — can be the foundation for a unit’s success. It will come down to personnel groupings and rotations, but the Lakers have the pieces to produce two of the best two man games in the league. I’m excited, to say  the least.

Mo Money, Mo Problems

Zephid —  September 3, 2012

(Is it blasphemous to cite a Biggie song in an LA blog?)

While the Lakers have traditionally been one of the big spending teams in the league, the new CBA comes with new terms that will almost certainly curb the Lakers spending in more ways than one.  As of now, the Lakers have a whopping $99,981,237 in total salary (Thanks to Eric Pincus at Hoopsworld for his excellent work), and with the luxury tax coming in at $70.307 million, that means that the Lakers will have a total salary commitments of approximately $130M this upcoming season, which will easily be the most luxury tax the Lakers have ever paid (Don’t worry, the Knicks have the highest luxury tax payment ever with $45M in 06-07).  While that’s no small amount to scoff at, us Lakers fans have gotten used to Dr. Buss whipping out his checkbook and paying top dollar for the best chance to win a championship.  Bringing in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard over the summer certainly gives the Lakers that best chance, and the attention alone will make it money well spent.

Next season, however, is when things start to get hairy.  That’s when the new tiered luxury tax system begins, where teams pay extra amounts for every $5M they go above the cap (for a detailed breakdown, see Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ).  Currently, the Lakers will have somewhere between $68M-$80M, depending on which options are picked up, assuming they don’t sign any new players that are not under contract for that season.  In order to analyze further, we can make some base assumptions:

1.) MWP will NOT exercise his Early-Termination Option (which he would be pretty dumb to do, but he’s done crazier things).

2.) Chris Duhon will be kept this season and waived next season (his deal is only partially guaranteed next year).

3.) The Lakers pick up Jodie Meeks’ Team Option.

4.) The Lakers fill out the roster with minimum guys (or bring back some of Jamison, Clark, Ebanks, Morris, or Goudelock).

One thing we don’t have to assume is the amount of money Dwight Howard will get.  Since Howard’s contract is already over the maximum salary, the maximum salary for his new contract will be 105% of his old contract ($19.5M), so his new contract will be just about $20M.  This is the absolute maximum Howard can get from ANY team next season.  However, the Lakers owning Howard’s Bird Rights give them two advantages over other teams:

1.) They can sign Howard for a maximum of 5 years, as opposed to a maximum of 4 years for other teams

2.) They can offer raises of 7.5% each year, while other teams can only offer raises of 4.5%.

These two differences mean that Howard will be choosing between $85M for 4 years from any other team, and $116M for 5 years from the Lakers (He’s gonna have to really hate LA to leave $31M on the table).

Now, if we assume all the things I’ve listed, and given that Howard will sign a max contract, LA’s total salary will stand at approximately $97M in salary obligations next season.  Filling out the roster with minimum guys, this will put the Lakers right around $100M.

This doesn’t seem so bad at first glance, considering it’s only a little more than this season’s roster obligations.  The new CBA, however, takes this somewhat tame monster and turns it into a beast:

1.) For the first $5M over the tax level, teams will pay $1.50 for every dollar, giving a total of $7.5M.

2.) For the next $5M, teams will pay $1.75 for every dollar, a total of $8.75M

3.) Next $5M, $2.50 per dollar, $12.5M

4.) Next $5M, $3.25 per dollar, $16.25M

5.) For every $5M after that, add another $0.50 to the per dollar amount, so $3.75 per dollar for $20-$25M over the tax level, $4.25 per dollar for $25-$30M over the tax level.

If the Lakers have salary commitments of $100M, and assuming the luxury tax stays almost level at $70M, they will be $30M over the tax level.  Adding those numbers up, the team would pay a whopping $85M in luxury tax payments, for total salary commitments of $185M.  Note that this is almost twice the highest luxury tax payment ever.

This level of luxury tax hell will almost certainly last only one season.  Assuming Howard re-signs, the only players under contract the following season would be Howard and Steve Nash, leaving the Lakers plenty of room to sign new, smaller contracts once Kobe and Pau’s huge contracts are up.  Relief would come just at the right moment as well, since 2014-15 will be the first year of the repeater tax, in which each of the per dollar amounts given above would be increased by $1.  This basically means that LA would be paying the new tax and the old tax, so if they were to say, have $100M in payroll with a $70M luxury tax level, they would pay a total of $215M in total salary commitments, more than double their original payroll.

Some could make the case that the Lakers don’t need to go into cost-saving mode, simply because they have a local tv deal that will net them 5 freaking billion dollars over the next 25 years.  The reasons for not wanting to stay over the luxury tax, however, may be related to roster flexibility as opposed to fiscal responsibility.  The new CBA places a number of restrictions on team that are over the “apron,” or $4M above the luxury tax level (found here), which include things like losing the Bi-Annual Exception, having a smaller Mid-Level Exception, being able to only take back %125 of outgoing salary in trades (as opposed to 150% for nontaxpaying teams), and loss of the Gilbert Arenas Provision (recently used to sign Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik).

Perhaps the greatest loss, however, will be the inability to perform sign-and-trades, a rule which comes into effect in 2013-2014.  This means that trades like the recent Steve Nash trade will be impossible for teams over the apron like LA.  If they wish to re-load around Dwight Howard, they’ll either have to maintain their current amount of salary and trade for stars using their existing assets (a very, very expensive option), or they’ll have to get as far below the cap as possible to make a max offer (while almost certainly gutting the team around Howard).  So while the Lakers may have all the money in the world to pay all the luxury tax they could ever spend, it may be that the type of talent that the Lakers wish to acquire simply won’t be available to them.

Lakers Countdown: At #2…

J.M. Poulard —  September 2, 2012

One could argue that the Lakers are the NBA’s marquee franchise given their rich history, tradition, glamour, superstars as well as their multiple championships.

The Minneapolis Lakers may have been the league’s first ever dynasty, but even after moving to Los Angeles and seeing the roster change through the years, the franchise eventually bounced back and became a dynasty once again by the 1980s and also during the 2000s.

Mind you, there was once upon a time where many felt as though the Lakers were doomed to falter with the chips on the line despite their star studded roster given their multiple defeats in the NBA Finals.

Eventually, the idea that the franchise could be a perennial disappointment on the grandest stage would become almost ludicrous as the team would reach new heights all the while providing a brand of drama and excitement along the way that only perhaps the 2012 NBA champion Miami Heat could replicate.

However, before the Los Angeles Lakers could become a league powerhouse for years to come, they would need to secure their first title in the city of angels.

Clocking in at the second spot in the Los Angeles Lakers title teams…

The 1971-72 Lakers

During the 1971 playoffs, the Los Angeles Lakers were soundly defeated by a Milwaukee Bucks (66-16) team that many argued was one of the best ever in the history of professional basketball. The Bucks were led by perhaps the best guard of his generation as well as the best weapon in the sport in Lewis Alcindor (who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).

A Lakers team loaded with star power bowed out to the eventual champs and thus made changes in the off-season.

They hired former Celtics great Bill Sharman to coach the team with the hope that he could use his coaching experience — won the ABA title as a head coach in 1971 with the Utah Stars — coupled with his knowledge of the game from a players perspective — he helped the Boston Celtics win four championships — to get the Lakers to play up to their potential and finally claim the championship trophy.

Sharman made his mark very early with the team with the requests he made from his players. Jerry West would play point guard while Gail Goodrich would play without the ball. The adjustment made for a high scoring backcourt, but also a guard tandem that shared the wealth with their teammates. In addition, Wilt Chamberlain would now be asked to cede the scoring duties to his teammates and instead concentrate on defending, rebounding and getting the fast break going with his outlet passes.

The Big Dipper had the lowest scoring season of his career at that point, averaging 14.8 points per game. Sharman’s decision to make Chamberlain more of a defensive presence stemmed from his Celtics background, as he essentially asked Wilt to become the Western Conference’s version of Bill Russell, and he obliged by reducing his point totals and leading the league in rebounding and field goal percentage.

The head coach’s last order of business was to get Elgin Baylor to come off the bench and to promote Jim McMillian to the starting lineup to better complement the starters. Baylor instead chose to retire, since he felt he could no longer perform like he once had due to injury.

And just like, after pulling all the strings and setting things into motion, the Los Angeles Lakers went on a streak. A huge one.

On November 5th, 1971, the Lakers defeated the Baltimore Bullets 110-104. Bill Sharman’s team wouldn’t lose again until January 7th, 1972.

For those counting at home, the 1971-72 Lakers were undefeated for two whole months. The Lake Show managed to win an NBA record 33 games in a row, a record that still stands to this day. As impressive as the string of victories were, their dominance as a unit was reflected in how they defeated teams.

During the 33-game stretch, the Lakers defeated their opponents by 15.7 points, and only won six games by less than double digits. Think about that for moment, the 1971-72 Lakers were so good for two months that save for six games, every single outcome was a blowout or close to it.

Although the win streak ended at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in January, the Lakers still managed a couple of other modest win streaks stretching out to four games (once), five games (once) and eight games (twice).

The regular season was one for the history books as the Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with an unprecedented 69-13 record, breaking the record of the 1967 Philadelphia 76ers that went 68-13 with Wilt Chamberlain manning the pivot for them.

In addition to their impressive regular season record, the Lakers led the league in scoring and sported an average scoring margin of plus-12.3 points.

It set the stage for the postseason where the Forum tenants faced off against the Chicago Bulls (57-25) who were for all intents and purposes outmatched. One would expect a 57-win team to be one of the best in the league, and yet they barely truly bothered the Lakers, falling at their hands in four games by an average of 10 points.

The Chicago sweep set up a rematch with the Milwaukee Bucks.

With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar playing some of the best basketball of his young career, the Bucks blew out the Lakers off their home court in Game 1 by 21 points. Jerry West and company bounced back and won the next two games and to take a 2-1 series lead; only to see Milwaukee even things up in Game 4 with a 26-point win.

The Lakers managed to go back to the Forum and won a pivotal Game 5 in a rout as Oscar Robertson struggled to play to his usual standards due to injury. With a chance to close out the series in Game 6, the Lakers did just that, winning by the narrowest of margins to secure a trip to the NBA Finals.

Surprisingly, the Bucks lost the series in six games despite outscoring the Lakers by 14 points thanks to a pair of blowout victories while the Lakers won Games 2, 3 and 6 by a total of eight points.

In order to secure their first title since moving to Los Angeles, the Lakers would need to take out the New York Knicks (48-34).

The NBA Finals initially had the same feel as the Western Conference Finals as the Knickerbockers blew out the Lakers in Game 1 in Los Angeles.

With Jerry West stuck in a woeful shooting slump, Sharman decided to go to the imposing Chamberlain who was still an ultra effective scorer.

With Wilt asserting himself on the block and patrolling the paint defensively, the Lakers won the next four games and secured the first and only title of Jerry West’s illustrious career. Chamberlain won the Finals MVP award thanks to impressive averages of 19.2 points per game and 23.2 rebounds per game on 60 percent field goal shooting in five games in the title round.

The ’72 Lakers were one of the most dominant teams the NBA has ever seen as evidenced by their record setting regular season that was punctuated with a championship at season’s end.

If there is one tiny blemish for this team, and really it’s nitpicking; but we have to mention their relatively low plus-3.2 average scoring margin for the playoffs. This is obviously a direct result of the blowout losses at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks (two such defeats) and New York Knicks (Game 1 of the NBA Finals); which happen to be their only defeats of the 1972 postseason run.

Sharman led his unit to a 12-3 playoff record as well as six double-digit playoff wins and overall record of 81-16 when we combine the regular season with the playoffs. The ’72 Lakers are both statistically and also according to the eye test one of the best teams in the history of basketball and come in second in our Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown.

For a fairly long stretch, this team was the standard by which every Lakers championship team was measured up against and rightfully so…

Until another team dethroned them…

With training camp a month off, most of the talk still centers on the Lakers’ big four – Bryant, Gasol, Nash and Howard. There’s obvious reasons, these are the guys who win you ballgames, these are your stars. Nobody’s going to lead off the conversation with Jodie Meeks. Yet, at any given moment in a game, there will be players on the floor who are not the headliners, and at any given moment they can make a difference.

Phil Jackson was famous for letting guys figure it out on their own. Mike Brown’s wound just a little tighter – he threw subs in and reeled them back even faster last season. At the same time, the disparity of minutes was striking – Kobe, Pau and Andrew were heavily used, all season long. I’m hoping Brown uses his star power more prudently this time around, put a little in your pocket and save it for the playoffs. As for the fifth member of the starting five, I’ve got Metta lightly penciled in – abstract decision making aside, he comes to play and brings the necessary toughness.

Competing for short minutes will be nine or ten other guys. The combination of new players, new assistant coaches and some degree of Princeton offense, will likely bring us another round of musical chairs until it all gets sorted out. Here’s some bullet points on the bench:

Darius Morris signed his qualifying offer to return this summer. I’m not quite sure if it’s guaranteed for the whole season. My guess is that he’ll be very much on the bubble.

Andrew Goudelock still feels like an experiment in progress and like Morris, he’s got a pretty steep hill to climb.

Steve Blake hasn’t really lived up to expectations since signing with the Lakers but last season was an improvement over the year before. He’s probably got the edge when it comes to backup minutes at the point, and admits that he has something to prove.

Chris Duhon’s most productive season was 08/09 with the Knicks when he started 78 games and scored. 11.1 ppg. He wasn’t a fit with Orlando. My clearest memories of him are his early years with the Bulls, including a very decent rookie season.

Former Kentucky standout Jodie Meeks was a default starter under Doug Collins but his role here will be as a short minutes shooter. Whether it’ll work with the Lakers is debatable – Brown didn’t give his gunners a lot of rope last season. I’ll say this, Meeks fills a need and the Lakers went after him pretty hard.

Christian Eyenga runs the floor, throws down some monster dunks, and the coaches like him. He’ll get a look this season but there won’t be a lot of available minutes. I’ve been reminded that Eyenga is no longer a Laker. As I’ve noted several times, my brain is still foggy after getting Steve Nash and Dwight Howard in the same off-season. It’s all still a giddy haze.

When Devin Ebanks entered (restricted) free agency, his agent said he was looking for more playing time. He’s at a crossroads in his young career – there’s obvious potential but he needs some room to grow. I’m not sure how that works with this star-driven lineup but it’ll be interesting to watch. He’s back for a one-year deal.

Antawn Jamison figures to fill the sixth man role this season. He’s been in the league a long time but he’s still putting up numbers. He’s never been known as a defensive stopper but he’ll get after it on the boards now and then – two years ago he grabbed 23 rebounds against the Knicks. He’s a great pickup at the veteran minimum salary.

Earl Clark is a utility big man who came in the Orlando trade. Clark flirted with free agency earlier in the summer. It’s doubtful that he’ll get much playing time here.

Jordan Hill didn’t get off the bench until late in the season last year but he made a difference with energy and raw athleticism. He’s by no means a finished product but he’ll see some minutes at the center position, especially in the early part of the season.

And then, the rookies, Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre. If you’ve been counting, there isn’t room for both of them on the roster and to be honest, there probably isn’t room for even one, given the fact that Mitch prefers to keep the 15th slot open. I liked Sacre’s court hustle and attitude during summer league and at any rate, they’ll be in camp and they’ll give it a shot.

This above is by no means the definitive list. If I’ve left somebody out, post it here. If Matt Barnes has finally dealt with the tentacles of the law, post it here. If Slava Medvedenko makes his long lost return, I’m buying rounds all night long. Otherwise, let’s hear how you see the roster shaping up – sub patterns, rotations, weaknesses and strengths and any needs that haven’t yet been filled.

– Dave Murphy