Archives For October 2012

From Mark Bresnahan, LA TimesThe Lakers are clearly favored to win the Western Conference thanks to Oklahoma City’s stunning trade of guard James Harden. Just don’t tell them. “Let’s not fall into that stupidity from our end,” Pau Gasol said. As if expectations of the Lakers couldn’t get any larger, they just did. Oklahoma City broke up the core that went to the NBA Finals last season, concluding that its small-market budget couldn’t afford another large contract in addition to ones given to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in recent years. So the Thunder sent Harden to Houston for oft-injured shooting guard Kevin Martin, rookie Jeremy Lamb and three future draft picks. Durant assessed Saturday’s trade with a one-word post on his Twitter account: “Wow.” Dwight Howard was slightly more analytical a day later. “He was a valuable piece in Oklahoma and I think they’re going to miss him a lot,” the Lakers center said.

From Kevin Ding, OC Register: The question posed to Mike Brown is to describe Dwight Howard’s first weeks of practice, how the latest in the long line of great Lakers centers looks, whether the mighty expectations might actually be met. The words come to exist like popping corn inside Brown’s head, slowly but soon rapid-fire — because there are just so many descriptions the Lakers’ coach feels compelled to share in his answer. When you’re up close and you see,” Brown answers, “his power, his size, his strength, his agility, his quickness, his explosiveness, his skill set on a daily basis, it just amazes you that somebody can be that big and strong and do the things that he can do — athletically and physically.” Brown reaches for another word — “special” — to boil it all down. And that’s the one to explain why the Lakers pursued Howard for more than a year in a trade from Orlando before finally landing him in August, the latest monumental change of both earth and sky in Lakerland.

From Dave McMenamin, ESPN Los AngelesWith the 2012-13 NBA season just a day away, the Los Angeles Lakers still do not know if Kobe Bryant will be in the opening night lineup. Bryant did not participate in practice Monday, marking the seventh straight day he was sidelined with a strained and bruised right foot that he hurt during the preseason while tripping over a Sacramento Kings player’s foot. Bryant will be a game-time decision Tuesday when the Lakers host the Dallas Mavericks. Bryant underwent an MRI late last week that merely confirmed a strain and contusion of Bryant’s foot, Lakers spokesman John Black said. Two Lakers sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Ramona Shelburne Monday night that Bryant has made “progress” in the last few days, but there is still uncertainty over whether he will be able to play Tuesday night. Bryant posted on his Facebook page Monday night that he was “getting stronger” and added, “I will know more after shoot around tomorrow am. It’s still painful to raise up on my toes but, it’s strong. The decision to be made is whether the injury can heal while playing on it or if it will make it worse.”

From Brian Kamenetzky, ESPN Los AngelesWith the regular season opener against Dallas a little more than 24 hours away, it’s in that spirit I make the following 12 predictions about the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Which will be proven correct? Correct adjacent? Wrong, whether mildly or absurdly? We’ll know in six to eight months, give or take.

From Serena Winters, Lakers NationAt practice Monday, Mike Brown announced that Kobe’s play on opening night will be a game time decision. With Kobe out a seventh consecutive day (foot), Dwight Howard still not 100 percent in terms of endurance, and Jordan Hill sitting out another day at practice, the Lakers will be looking to their bench more than ever. Unfortunately, it sounds like the bench still has a lot of work to do, and only about 20 hours until their first regular season game against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday evening.

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen & RollWhat we hope is a triumphant new area in Lakerdom kicks off Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and to get ready for this matchup I’ve been trading Q’s and A’s with Kirk Henderson of our excellent sister site Mavs Moneyball. My responses to Kirk’s inquiries will be up on Tuesday over there. In the meantime you can read Kirk’s game preview here, and below are his responses to a few questions of mine about the state of the Dallas franchise.

-Ryan Cole

After a nearly flawless off-season, we saw all of the Lakers flaws come to the forefront during the pre-season as the Lakers went 0-8 as Mike Brown tried to work around a new offensive system, new personnel, injuries and a roster that was simply too long with too many fringe guys. In the midst of the new personnel and injury reports was the Lakers newest big man who reportedly has biceps the size of ostrich and a smile as broad as his shoulders. More importantly, however, he jumps like a small forward and moves his feet like a shooting guard. Dwight Howard only played in two pre-season games, but how he’s played on the defensive end has already gotten my wheels turning about how the rest of the Lakers are going to have to defend differently with Howard on the floor.

It isn’t a secret that Kobe has lost a step on the defensive end of the floor despite the fact that he continues to rack up All-NBA defensive team awards. However, even when Kobe was at the apex of his defending abilities, he always had the tendency to creep into the paint and try to sit on passes or help out post defenders leaving his man open for jump shots. The Lakers have been burned time and time again by perimeter defenders getting sucked in too deep only to have the ball kicked out to a wide open Jason Terry or Shane Battier. Derek Fisher had this problem, Steve Blake has this problem, and I’ve noticed that Steve Nash has also had this problem in his eight games as a Laker. With Howard in the middle now, more than ever, the Lakers perimeter defenders should be encouraged to stay home on their man and force guys to beat them off the dribble instead of giving up wide open jump shots because Dwight can jump like a small forward and move his feet like a shooting guard. This first video is a perfect example of the good Howard will bring to the defense being negated by the bad habits that the Lakers perimeter defenders are going to have to change to maximize Howard’s talents.

Howard’s man, Jason Thompson, clears out from the left wing to the right block to create an ISO for Demarcus Cousins. Howard follows Thompson but stays help side to help out on any penetration. As the play progresses, Howard keeps an eye on both his man and the ball as Steve Nash comes down from the wing to unnecessarily front Thompson. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) Howard is already between Thompson and the ball, which makes Nash’s action redundant and 2) Nash is essentially using Thompson to set a screen on himself should the ball be kicked out to Isaiah Thomas, his assignment, in the corner. Tyreke Evans comes around Cousins and receives a handoff and drives baseline with Artest trailing and out of position to make a play. Dwight slides over and makes a great play on the ball as Thompson is boxing out Nash. Unfortunately, Evans recovers the block and kicks it out to Thomas who receives the pass and is already in rhythm to shoot the ball by the time Nash gets his first foot out of the paint. Nash exudes tons of effort to try and get back out to Isaiah but his efforts are futile. Splash.

While some of the faces to this Lakers team are new, the problems presented are not. The Lakers were consistently burned by kick out jump shots last season and it’ll likely continue to be a problem this year. However, this year that issue seems more correctable with Dwight, rather than Andrew Bynum, in the middle. A lot of this preseason has been focused around this team “gelling” together and this concept has been discussed about the offensive end of the floor ad nauseam. What hasn’t been discussed nearly enough is how they’re going to need just as much time to gel on the defensive end of the floor. Just like they’re going to have to break some bad habits and get used to the Princeton Offense, they’re going to have to do the same with Dwight in the middle as he corrects a lot of mistakes around the perimeter — but only if they’re making the correct mistakes.

As fantastic as Howard is on the defensive end, he can only do so much which is why the Lakers are going to need to play tighter coverage around the perimeter. Dwight can help clean up guys getting blown by or a defender losing his man on a back cut, but he [probably] can’t clean up a skip pass that leads to a wide-open corner three or a kick out from the post to the wing. Take the following for example.

The play begins with Kobe guarding Tyreke Evans, who kicks the ball to the corner and runs a cross screen action with Thomas Robinson in the paint. Kobe haphazardly follows Reke into the screen while watching the ball and follows the first body he feels behind him instead of finding his guy then getting back into a help position. Dwight does his job and stays with his man as neither screen was any good. As the double-cross screen is happening, Isaiah Thomas dumps the ball into James Johnson on the right block (being guarded by Artest). As he turns to face the rim, Robinson begins to clear out (taking Kobe and Howard with him) and Reke cuts through the wide-open for what should be an easy layup. Instead, Howard comes back across the lane and blocks the shot as its on its way up.

What can’t be overstated enough is how he’s going to change the complexities of this defense simply by his ability to move in ways that Andrew Bynum could not. Two years ago, I wrote a bread down post after Chris Paul picked and rolled the Lakers defense to death, and said if Andrew Bynum could continue to move his feet like he did in this single play, then the Lakers defense would be much improved. Of course the Lakers went on to win that series but their defensive efforts were not improved as they were eliminated in four games by another team who abused P&R sets. Now, the Lakers do have a guy who has the ability to hedge on the P&R, move his feet and recover on P&Rs and made Steve Nash look half way decent on one action that the Kings ran.

That was a fantastic example of how the Lakers perimeter defenders can take advantage of Howard’s range on the defensive end. After the Howard hedge, Nash was able to get back in front of Jimmer both times he received a screen. Also, Kobe was in a good spot defending Francisco in the corner. He still got sucked in trying to help in the paint, but as the P&R action was happening he kept one eye on Garcia and had only one foot in the paint, giving him a short enough distance to where he could effectively close out on a shot if the ball was swung to the corner. Even Pau did a great job of playing the back side of the cutter while Howard recovered from the hedge then used his length to close out on DeMarcus Cousins’ 17-footer.

It’s going to be a long process getting all of the guys on the same page on the defensive end of the floor, but this team is definitely better off with Howard prowling in the paint and beyond altering shots, correcting mistakes and finishing possessions with rebounds. I’m looking forward to seeing what ways the perimeter guys adjust to playing with a defensive force behind them, starting with their opening night game on this Tuesday.

The Pau of Los Angeles

Danny Chau —  October 29, 2012

I’d like to welcome Danny Chau as a contributor to FB&G. He’ll be joining us from time to time to write on the Lakers, basketball in general and, if we’re lucky, what he ate for lunch and where he got it. Danny brings a unique and incredibly thoughtful writing voice to the game we love and his L.A. roots make him well versed on what the Lakers mean to the city and the league at large. We’re lucky to have him. You can find more of Danny’s work at Hardwood Paroxysm and you can follow him on twitter here. His first effort is on Pau Gasol. Enjoy.

A nationally broadcasted Lakers game wouldn’t be complete without the panned-out shot of the ubiquitous Hollywood sign, standing tall and inert as it has been for almost 90 years. Hollywood is the spiritual home of the Los Angeles Lakers, a team with a history of blockbusters and A-list celebrities — and that doesn’t count the stars who attend home games. The team is one of the most recognizable in all of sports, and the idea of Hollywood is one of America’s most important and enduring cultural exports. It’s a symbiotic relationship that begets continued dominance.

With the introduction of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, the Lakers have their highest-profile team in almost a decade. The team, if the Hollywood spirit is still alive and well, will be among championship favorites just from the breadth of their star power. And in one fell swoop, Pau Gasol, once the team’s unquestioned second option, becomes the fourth player mentioned in any Lakers conversation. Naturally, he takes it in stride. After all, after a couple years of dealing with serious trade rumors and internal strife, it’s probably a blessing just to be standing as a Laker.

But Gasol’s relationship with dominance—and with those who expect him to dominate—has been tenuous at best, nonexistent at worst. Three consecutive trips to the Finals (with each one incrementally better than the last) as Kobe Bryant’s right hand man can do wonders for a player’s image, but Gasol has found out how soon the heaps of praise can wither when expectations are stacked too high. In four years time, he shed the “soft” label and then, once again, emerged as one of the softest players in the league. This is no small feat given the timeframe.

However, it seems most can agree that Gasol’s role in on this season’s team will be a positive for all parties involved. But if Kobe, Dwight, and Steve keep the team Hollywood as Hell, where does that leave Pau? I suppose with the rest of Los Angeles — a county that doesn’t always have the luster of its internationally-recognized focal point, but one with a compelling collective narrative all its own.

Los Angeles is a sprawl — as iconic as New York but nowhere near as condensed.  It’s a result of centuries of various ethnic migrations and subsequent white flight. Good, bad, or neither, it’s how the county became the cultural jigsaw it is today. Each city is its own archive; many of which are part of a grander story of how the underrepresented can still cultivate vibrant communities in spite of external forces. It’s a collection of compartmentalized clusters loosely sutured together by the freeway system.

Navigating through the county is a lifelong endeavor, and there are many who have made it their life’s work to map out as much of L.A’s everchanging landscape as humanly possible. Of course, food is a convenient way to experience much of L.A.’s cultural diversity. But it’ll take a drive. In the day time, head to the Harvard Heights district for a pupusa; at night, have as many tacos as you can handle from the taco tables that line Pico Blvd. Less than five miles away is Langer’s, where you will get some of the best pastrami anywhere on earth. Neighboring cities Gardena and Torrance are about 20 miles south, home to many stellar mom-and-pop ramen shops. A few miles east is Bludso’s BBQ in Compton, where I would suggest the Texas Sampler (bring a friend, or five) and the mac and cheese.  And I’d be thoughtless to neglect the San Gabriel Valley, my home, which in my unbiased opinion has the best regional Chinese and Taiwanese fare in America.

(Oh, and one of the best burritos I’ve ever eaten was from a small little shack in La Puente, an almost exclusively Latino community. It’s a family business owned and operated by a Korean father and son, obviously.)

It’s all worth taking in. It just requires time and patience and gas.

Pau is reading The Taoof Pooh by Benjamin Hoff. Actually, he’s probably finished it by now. He’s not exactly taking up Daoist teachings from the source, but it’s a start. The core beliefs of Daoism center on the idea of flow and wu-wei, the way of being natural, of uncontrived action. Phil Jacksonsaid Gasol is the oil that makes the machine run. Kobe has said similar things in the past. Despite being lower on the chain of command, Gasol is the only player of the without a rigid set of objectives in the system. We have a good idea of what Dwight will bring to the team, and we know that Kobe, regardless of system, won’t be deviating far from what has made him the player he is. Nash’s historic shooting and pick and roll ability will both be viable at the beginning of any possession and as safety blankets when options begin to crumble. In an offense that won’t key in on strict sets and a defense with the most intimidating stopper in the league, Gasol will need to fluidly switch in and out of his many compartments to keep the Lakers steady. That means being a dual threat from the high post, defending the opposition’s best big man to give Howard the freedom to make plays elsewhere, and remaining aggressive on scoring opportunities.

A Gasol that can and does do everything on the court isn’t beyond the realm of possibility — he’s done it before. His game is understated; as understated as it can be when he’s basically good at everything. It’s easy to focus on Gasol’s startling passivity last year and how his role as a facilitator seemed to overshadow the rest of his game (never mind that Gasol averaged more shots a game than in any previous season as a Laker). With Andrew Bynum’s emergence over the last two seasons, Gasol adapted to the shift in focus in a sensible manner. Compartmentalizing his game allowed Bynum to blossom, but in sealing off portions of his game for the sake of continuity, he ceased to be the player the team needed. And when you’re playing alongside an obsessive maniac, dips in assertiveness are magnified. It’s baffling to consider Gasol the “glue guy” on this team when he is still among the league’s top talents, but he is. He’s the freeway system that can connect the team’s newfound diversity.

Pau is entering his fifth full season as a Laker, but there still seems to be a disconnect between the player he is and the player fans are expecting. In the new offense, perhaps Gasol’s freer role can serve as a reminder of why Gasol has been so integral to the Lakers’ success. With Howard and Nash soaking up a larger portion of the spotlight, it’s a good season to stop and appreciate the nuance of Gasol’s vision and footwork and balance. The team’s new look promises Michael Bay-esque explosions on screen. Gasol should ensure that the dialogue won’t be half bad either.

That Hollywood sign is why many come to Los Angeles, but you stay for the rest of it. Los Angeles is dense, but it rewards your effort. So take a drive. Maybe put on the new Kendrick Lamar album. The world of Los Angeles can’t be taken in all at once. There’s just too much there hidden from plain sight and so much left undiscovered. Absorb the experience in bits and pieces, and live without ever expecting to complete the jigsaw. If that sounds like an endeavor worth undertaking, then there’s one reason why Pau Gasol is worth rooting for.

From Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN Los AngelesWell, this was unexpected. Not because I thought moving James Harden would be unfathomable for the Oklahoma City Thunder. I actually expected OKC to explore trade options if contract extension terms weren’t agreed upon come Oct. 31. I’ve heard people saying the Thunder should have just played out the season, then traded Harden in the offseason if need be, because you don’t break up a young, ever-improving core fresh off a NBA Finals appearance. I understand that rationale but, at the same time, you don’t want a potentially acrimonious situation hanging over the campaign — and perhaps bleeding into the locker room and onto the court. I’m also a firm believer that if it’s a foregone conclusion your star player will eventually be dealt, better to do it sooner than later. The haul is typically better –Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb and some draft picks ain’t peanuts — and you’ve cut off any drama at the knees.

From Janis Carr, OC RegisterThe season hasn’t even started and Dwight Howard already has been waving the cautionary flag. The new Lakers center said fans need to be patient in the early going as the team’s chemistry comes together. “I know everybody wants it right now, right now,” Howard said Sunday. “But we want to win in June, that’s what counts.” Some of the anxiety stems from the Lakers’ 0-8 exhibition record combined with the high number of turnovers that have marked each game. Another worrisome factor is that the starting five have played one exhibition game together; a foot injury to Kobe Bryant and Howard’s recovery from spinal surgery slowing the process. “We don’t expect to win every game and be 82-0,” Howard said. “But we do expect, say by midseason, that everybody will have the offense down pat and we’ll be flowing.”

From Eric Pincus, LA TimesThe Lakers have unofficially decided to go with 15 players to start the season. Teams are required by the league to submit their opening-night rosters on Monday.  If non-guaranteed players Darius Johnson-Odom and Robert Sacre weren’t going to make the team, they would have been cut before Sunday to allow for the 48-hour waiver period. Coach Mike Brown indicated after practice that he doesn’t expect the team to drop any additional players before the start of the season. “I don’t think so right now.  I’ll wait and see what management says and ownership,” said Brown. “Right now this is where we stand.  For how long? I don’t know.”

From Trevor Wong, Lakers.comWith only one day separating the Lakers from their season opener, the primary question at the team’s practice facility on Sunday was whether or not Kobe Bryant would play against the Dallas Mavericks. L.A.’s co-captain is still recovering from a strained/bruised foot, and did not participate in practice again on Sunday, his sixth straight day of inactivity after initially hurting the foot last Sunday. “I don’t know; I have my doubts,” said Pau Gasol, when asked if he thought Kobe would be ready on Tuesday. “He hasn’t been able to practice for six days. He’s been off that foot for six days. It’s no joke; I don’t remember the last time he took that many days off. It’s a little concerning.”

From Ryan Ward, Lakers NationOne of the other additions to the Lakers’ roster in free agency was sharpshooter Jodie Meeks. With Meeks’ ability to be a force from beyond the arc and another offensive threat off the bench, the signing of the 25-year-old was a given with the Lakers’ need for a threat from outside. Even though the signing of Meeks was considered a move in the right direction, the Lakers have yet to see it pay dividends with the backup shooting guards struggling in the preseason shooting an ugly 26.7 percent from the field. Despite a poor start with his new team, Meeks believes things will begin to turn around once the rotation set by the Lakers’ coaching staff

From “Actuarially Sound”, Silver Screen & RollOver the last two weeks, the scribes here at SS&R have previewed all aspects of the Lakers. They have dissected the rotation at each position, analyzed the offensive and defensive strategies, and dived into the roles of the bench unit. As we have done in years past, when all this information is complete we then input it into our top secret super-computer to crank out the projected stat lines for this year’s squad. So for those of you who have yet to complete your fantasy league drafts, you can toss whatever cheat sheets you have for the Lakers players because here are the best predictions in the industry*.

-Ryan Cole

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 26, 2012

For your weekend pleasure, some random musings (and a couple of updates) from around the basketball world and, of course, the Lakers. Let’s get to it…

  • Dave captured the mood perfect in his Friday Forum, I think. We’re all a bit salty after a preseason lacking any wins. But saltiness is always best mixed with some sarcasm. Fwiw, if there were stages of worry (like there are with grieving), I’d be somewhere near the bottom of the scale right now. Over at PBT, our old buddy Kurt nailed how I’m feeling so I’ll let his words fill your screen.
  • I do have a couple of preseason thoughts, however. First, I’m more convinced now than ever that neither Andrew Goudelock nor Darius Johnson-Odom make this team. The decision was probably made before last night’s game but if it wasn’t we didn’t learn anything new about them in that contest that would change things. I wish both well and hope that they catch on somewhere. If they don’t I’d love to see them on the D-Fenders. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see if my inkling is right.
  • Second, back before the NFL’s Detroit Lions were a somewhat good team me and my buddies would always note how the game they’d host on Thanksgiving was their Super Bowl. They’d play as hard and as well as they could that day in the hopes of winning and were always more competitive in that game than in their other ones. In hindsight, I feel that every opponent (but especially the Kings) treated their preseason games against the Lakers like the Lions on Thanksgiving. They wanted those wins. The Lakers clearly could have played better and have a myriad of things to clean up going into the regular season (at the top of the list is turnovers) but I also think they weren’t nearly as up for these games as their opponents.
  • Also, by the end of the preseason it really did look like the Lakers would rather just have the regular season start already. We’ll see what that translates too next week.
  • If you’re looking for some good X’s and O’s writing, you should check out the newly created HoopChalk. They’re doing good work there. In the past week, they’ve covered Kobe working off the ball and the Lakers’ 1/5 pick and roll and both were detailed and well done.
  • If you haven’t seen the work that Rare Ink has done in its partnership with the NBA to produce some stunning artwork, you should do that now. There are some great pieces on display that would look great on anyone’s wall. Being a Lakers fan I gravitated towards their work on our guys, but a couple of my other favorites were the Payton/Kemp piece and the Nets’ Dr. J one. All of them are fantastic, though. Go check them out.
  • Another reminder to check out the season preview that the writers from Hardwood Paroxysm put out. It really is fantastic and includes some original artwork that’s also very good. Also check out this year’s Basketball Prospectus season preview. Loads of good information in that publication as well.
  • In another good read, Ethan Sherwood Strauss put up a worthwhile post at TrueHoop on an overtime classic from the 90’s between the Rockets and the Sonics. Brings new meaning to the term “6th man”.
  • Lastly, in a bit of personal (as well as some site) news I have a couple of announcements to make. First, you may or may not have heard that I’ve joined the staff at NBC’s Pro Basketball Talk for the upcoming season. I’ll be doing some part-time work there on more league wide stuff, including news updates as well as some long form posts. My most recent contribution is actually Lakers’ related, focusing on Steve Nash and his fit into the offense. This will not affect my work here and I will continue to post here as often as I do now (if that was a concern for you). But FB&G will not be the only place you can find my rambling this year.

Second, within the next couple of days there are going to be a few tweaks to the site that you’ll notice. The sidebar will be cleaned up some for easier digestion and I hope that also leads to some of the loading time issues folks have pointed out to me. A mobile site won’t yet be available but the tweaks should lead to easier reading on your handheld device.

The other change you’ll notice is that there will be some advertisements at the site. FB&G has not run ads in the past (for a variety of reasons) but that will be changing. I’ve never made a big deal about this before but the operation of this site does cost some money and that has pretty much come out of my pocket since I took over. In order to better make the site self sufficient in that way and to help out financially in general, we’re moving in this direction. I hope no one sees the ads as an intrusion and I can say for certain they will not affect the quality of the work put up at the site. But they are coming soon. I just wanted you, the readers, to know.