After The Gold Rush

Dave Murphy —  April 18, 2013

There’s an oft-used saying, ‘it’s a tough act to follow.’ You don’t want to be the band that takes the stage after the last band just totally shredded. Or the comedian that follows the guy who had them rolling in the aisles. Phil Jackson was a tough act to follow. Just ask Rudy T, ask Tim Floyd, ask Mike Brown.

Mike D’Antoni could have been the guy that simply followed Brown, they might have given him the keys to the city. But Jackson was back in the picture and for the most obvious of reasons – he was probably the best man for the job, having delivered great riches in the past. D’Antoni’s preferred system of basketball wasn’t suited for for the All-Star roster he inherited and it certainly wasn’t suited for a revolving door of injuries. A pretty rough season followed.

The Lakers lost another giant recently, someone whose greatness defined the team’s identity and direction. Kobe Bryant rounded the corner on Harrison Barnes and headed for Achilles surgery and a new found hobby of tweeting. Who knew?

Things can turn on a trifle as someone used to say. The loss of Bryant was both stunning and surreal and a couple hundred epic articles dropped over the next 24 hours and observers burped and patted each others backs and headed to the sink with the dishes, ready to rinse and wash and move on to the playoffs. In this particular narrative, non-Laker fans could afford to be magnanimous with their sympathy – you guys always have next year. Or not.

A funny thing happened at the tail end of the regular season. In the absence of certain giants and expectations, a team began to form their own ad hoc destiny. You can’t really label them bad news bears, not when fronted by Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. You also can’t pin the month of April on the loss of Kobe and some new found freedom. The Lakers went seven and one and five of those games saw Kobe playing insane minutes and carrying much of the load.

Sometimes, you just have to watch. One of Mike D’Antoni’s pet phrases is ‘letting the ball find the open man’. He has no ownership of the concept, it’s as old as the game itself, a guiding principal in the sport, sometimes honored and often ignored. Over the last two games, the ball has found new movement out of necessity. Guys are getting touches they didn’t get before. And who would have guessed that Andrew Goudelock would get a call-up and join Darius Morris on the floor during pivotal minutes in a seed-defining win?

It’s not simply the loss of Kobe that has caused a change in the team’s philosophy. Steve Nash has been out of action and may suit up on Sunday against the Spurs, depending on the results from two recent epidurals. Will his return put a damper on Steve Blake’s resurgent play? There are no simple answers.

To say it has been a season of adjustment is saying just a little. There have been recent moments that show an interesting unity however. A time out and coaches interact with their players. Dwight’s chatting with Bernie Bickerstaff, Chuck Person makes a point with Metta World Peace. D’Antoni calls the guys to gather and they’re paying attention. A group that has seen little time together on the floor goes back out there and gets some stops. Games are won ugly but they’re won. And the Lakers are in the playoffs with the seventh seed and if nothing else they’ve earned the right to keep playing.

Spring is regarded as a time of renewal and hope. It’s not always pretty, it follows in the barren footsteps of winter after all. The NBA season is too long for the health of its players. It affects all teams and the San Antonio Spurs will be heading into the first round with issues of their own. For the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s a transitional era in ways that are sometimes willfully ignored. Their earth has been mined and harvested, it is in need of replenishment and the new CBA has thrown a few obstacles into the mix. It’s not to say you can’t use your remaining assets though or that you can’t use them well.

The past, present and future of the Lakers has coalesced for the moment – it may not be the most stable of circumstances but there is at least some acceptance – from a head coach willing to let his team play to its strengths to a team willing to share, no longer bound to a singular voice. The expectations game will be back in the summer, one way or another. For at least this moment however, it’s simply the game of basketball.

Dave Murphy

Posts

53 responses to After The Gold Rush

  1. It really irritates me that so many fans think Phil Jackson was the answer to all our prayers this year – if only Jim Buss hadn’t been so stupid.

    With Phil we certainly wouldn’t have had the number of injuries we had. With Phil Kobe would certainly still be playing. With Phil everything would have fallen into place. With Phil…with Phil…with Phil…

    First – there is no certainty that Phil would have taken the job, as offered – if offered. He can say anything now, but he was the one who said he wanted to think about it over the weekend. Phil had burned out on this team just over a year previously and he had burned out on the Laker management team as well. The Laker management had somewhat burned out on Phil – yes, including the great Jerry Buss.

    Second, the team – by the time Mike Brown was fired – was already injured and leaking water badly. The payroll issues weren’t going to make any desired changes very possible and the bench was thin. The players were old. This is not the type of team Phil would prefer coming back to.

    Third, Phil’s system wouldn’t exactly fit Dwight Howard any more than MDA’s system. Dwight is not Shaq and he does not have Shaq’s low post moves or offensive prowess, nor is he as big and bulky.

    This is not to say Phil is not without redeeming qualities for a veteran team. It is only that we can’t really lambast MDA because he isn’t the Phil Jackson from 2000. Of course, his record since mid-year ain’t exactly chopped liver, either.

    We are what we are. Now let’s look forward and see what we can do, rather than cry about what we might have done. What if Shaq hadn’t taken Jerry West’s offer and we had just traded our starting center away for a high school guard, for goodness sake.

  2. If dwight and Pau are only willing to play inspired basketball when Kobe is hurt…how do you bring Kobe back? Especially if dwight is the future?

  3. Was it worth it to lose Kobe just to make the playoffs? For the coach(curse you!!!), for his own selfish reasons, it was worth it because he got to keep his job.

    Just to be clear, the Lakers ain’t winning anything this year without Kobe. That ship sailed the moment, the coach (i refuse to acknowledged him too!) ran Kobe to the ground

    And am i the only one hear still in the “denial stage”on the Mamba injury? Watching the Lakers without Kobe is like watching a U2 concert without Bono. It’s just not the same without him on lead.

  4. It has been stated repeatedly by surgeons and trainers who should know that an Achilles tear is not caused by over-use. You can say that if you move less you may be less likely to suffer the injury, but it is somewhat a freak occurrence that you can get stepping off a curb. Athletes may get it more often because they move so much more than the rest of us, but we all can have this injury.

    This constant assumption that MDA was the one who caused Kobe’s injury is simply self serving BS for people who don’t like MDA being the Laker coach.

    If you are going to attack the coach, at least use things that he controls and directs.

  5. Very true Jayz

    Except the defense sure seems better without Kobe and Nash. Just look at the numbers. Funny if that was the problem al alone.

    Excellent writing Dave.

  6. Thanks Ken, appreciate that.

  7. dave m: can’t remember ever seeing a laker team whose defense first is a matter of happenstance and not so much designed by numbers and set schemes and plays. the beauty and the beast of this newfound laker look can best be described an assortment of trench diggers. how do you play against something like that? it’s got to be a conundrum to face a team with a look that has no identity. and yet the torch bearer has emerged and his name is dwight howard. right now his defensive play and energy makes up for defensive miscues by others. and it’s working.

    if defense wins championships, then we have a chance to make a real dent in these playoffs. an occasional and timely basket or two won’t hurt but with the loss of kobe bryant the question on everyone’s mind is who will take the last shot, who will step up and who can and will be counted on in the fleeting moments? defense will keep us close, who will put us over the top?

    if we had that one person, we would become predictable and what’s the fun in that?

    these are thoughts i have and answers i will be looking forward to as the playoffs unfold for these 2013 los angeles lakers.

    of the three goals we’ve set for thes lakers this nba season, we met the first: kobe’s guarantee of making the playoffs.

    the second and third goals are yet to be fulfilled. prophecies are made of this.

    Go Lakers

  8. Fern

    Per your thoughts on MD getting coach of the month. Kind of like a guy who strikes out 10 times in a row and then gets a dribbled single to win the big game.

    Lest you forgot Jamison had 8 DNP early in the year, Pau was made a reserve and Kobe and Nash were over played into the ground while
    Morris(remember him) didn’t play a minute for 14 games.

    I guess you figure Meeks, who was 1 for 9 and 1 for 7 from three
    before the big play was MVP based on the one dunk.

    Perhaps if Jamison played, Pau starts, Morris spells the guards the
    Lakers are in 4th or 5th. And if anyone else was 5 for 9 the Lakers win by 8 Tuesday and didn’t need the crazy OT.

    Believe me I hope I am very wrong. But let’s hold judgement on Mike until after he coaches against Pops. Then we can talk.

  9. The defense is better without kobe and nash but the offense is much worse.

  10. the defence showed no major change when Nash went down. it was only after Kobe’s injury that there has been significant change. just saying.

  11. Awesome articles, thanks FB&G!

    I have derided Pau for playing every summer for his home country, only to return to the Lakers ragged at the ears with exhaustion. An injury slowed Pau down long enough for him to rest. Rest his mind, body and soul long enough to get that hunger to step back on the floor and impact a game with his myriad of basketball skills.

    The coach gets credit for Pau’s resurrection and reversion to a statistical proximity to his championship years with the Lakers. However, time away from any basketball court is more likely the cause. For years I’ve begged for Pau to take the summer off from playing for fun with his brother and fellow countrymen. In order for Gasol to hit the weights to re-sculpture his body so that he can endure the physicality necessary to play on the block in the NBA. To rest his body while working on new/stronger moves with his new contoured body.

    Jodie Meeks is learning how to be a “ready for primetime” the Lakers should definitely retain him for another season. If he subscribes to the “Kobe System” like Trevor Ariza did, then next year he’d be a reliable 3-pt shooter. Meeks, Clark and Morris are young athletic players that the Lakers cannot afford to let go.

    The question for the Lakers going forward, “Who will be in the starting lineup when Nash returns?” Will it be a Nash-Blake, Nash-Meeks, or a Blake-Meeks backcourt?

    At this juncture the Lakers are the opposing teams scouting nightmare. No one knows which player the coach will put on the floor. Maybe that’s it! The coach is purposely playing disjointed lineups to throw-off the other teams around the league.

    While the Spurs are sputtering into this year’s playoffs and will possibly not have their best players to the start the series, coach Popovich’s stratagems are in no such confusion. Pop will win games that he’s not supposed to, predicated upon his ability to devise game plans to be successful against the Lakers. Add to the fact that he’ll make in game adjustments that will catch the Lakers off guard.

    Lakers-Spurs series will be about coaching.

    Dwight Howard’s back is back, baby….wooo!

  12. With no consistent lineups it’s hard to tell why the defense is better or that a certain player being out is the sole reason. What we do know is this is Dwight’s Orlando team just in the west now. Dwight is Dwight, Pau is Turkoglu and the role players make 3s. Let’s see how that kind of team does in the west.

  13. Harvey,
    That’s disingenuous. The numbers and the eye test say that the defense is better when Blake plays instead of Nash. Blake is the better athlete, has more size (and longer arms), and makes more of a difference on that side of the ball. I’ve been someone who’s said that Nash does do some things well on defense (his off ball work has been solid and he plays hard on that end) but his limitations are real and it’s not imaginary that teams attack him on that end of the floor to good success. Every metric we have to measure defense backs that up. That said, having Meeks — who hustles on D off the ball and makes his proper rotations almost all the time — in the game instead of Kobe has helped the team defense a fair amount (though Kobe was making more of an effort at helping in the games before he got hurt).

  14. Dwight and Pau are sneaky and two faced.Only play engaged without Kobe.

  15. Warren Wee Lim April 19, 2013 at 1:38 am

    Amazing post by Craig and pretty much sums up my emotions. There simply is no way of knowing if this team under Phil, considering all thats happened would have been exactly where it is right now.

    Well, except perhaps Ken would have found a new poster boy for his complaints.

  16. Ken,

    The coach (damn you!!) won coach of the month because he finally realized in the 78th game of the season, that Pau was a good post player.

    ===================

    Craig W,

    I believe Aaron linked this a few threads back. It’s a good read.

    http://deadspin.com/how-an-achilles-tear-affects-nba-players-or-why-kobe-472944871

  17. Darius,

    Fair enough. probably an emotional response from me. I just know that on an otherwise effective defensive team, Nash is not a big liability as he is smart and responsible. Probably could never be part of an elite defensive team, but he was part of a very good defensive team in Phoenix in 06, till Kurt Thomas went down and they lost their key defensive anchor. And though that was some time ago, he hasn’t lost that much speed and agility, though one could argue that the league and the PG’s are that much quicker and athletic.

    I do know that the numbers show Nash being part statistically of groups that had poor defensive numbers, but Nash has also been on the court a lot with Kobe. So in a way, perhaps Ken is right to say that the combo of the two is the issue.

    I think, and my recollection is not that perfect, but the key there and here, is that Phoenix did things to protect him defensively, and we haven’t seen that in LA. I think again, with so many moving parts, perhaps there hasn’t been time to scheme for this (i.e. Nash on the court and how the team adjusts defensively).

  18. Cheam,

    I think your joke about other coaches not knowing how to scheme this team points out the real yin/yang of the team. With such a superstar heavy line up, and with that group, so heavily suffering from the injury bug, its really been a new team and a new look, every couple of weeks. I think a lot has to do with the big change that has occurred since Dwight got healthier around the ASG, and that is the biggest factor, but its not the only one, by a long shot. So, you need to be smart enough about this team to recognize that a lot of the statistical analysis, typically used to scout teams, may be useless and is certainly at least suspect.

    It will be very interesting to see, what this team would look like if it is all healthy. I don’t think the two platoon system, is comprehensive enough to really answer it. i.e. 2 units of 5, with kobe plus Pau anchoring one, and Nash/Dwight the other), as every one of those big 4 need more than 24 minutes each. Also, as Dwight seems even more insistent on getting touches low and less inclined to play PNR, he may now be a worse match with Nash, as it seems, he is even more inflexible about getting the ball in the low post.

    It would seem that they need at least two separate looks, whee you have a more conventional “twin towers/horns/high low post” look for Pau/Dwight, and perhaps a more PNR look when Nash is on the floor. but perhaps the key is to try to run Nash more often with only one big, rather than two, and to also limit the time that Nash and Kobe are on the floor together.

    And though, I would hate to see it, but perhaps, longer term, Nash is the odd man out, if this becomes “Dwight’s team”.

  19. I know this post is meant to keep MDA from being the scapegoat for Lakers’ some what disappointing season. I just like to point out, Phil or whoever else. There was one year somehow Shaquille ended up playing for Suns. Sure enough, they played against the Spurs in the playoff. There was one game came down to the wire, ans Suns had a small lead. Both teams came out of time out, some how Tim Duncan was wide open to hit a three point shot, Spurs won!!! Some of the Suns players, most notably Shaq, just stared at MDA. You can just tell MDA mis-judged the play. Pop will out-coach MDA. In a seven game series, you can’t try to milk same plays or same tactic too many times. You have to play the same team at least 4 games. Adjustments! I hope MDA has learned something over the years. Otherwise, Lakers might even pull an upset win at San Antonio, but lose in crucial moments when Xs and Os matter the most.

  20. Ken, reserve what judgment? You already judge him every single minute of every game and lets not get started on Meeks, i agree that MDA stubborness almost costed the season and i knew this was foing to be troublesome when he said on his initial press conference that, ” post up plays are inneficient.” I was like ” oh man i guess he forgot about Dwight and Pau” but the huy coaching has improved and finally realized that his system dont work with this bunch, have to commend him on that. But lets be real, this job was a set up for failure for anyone. About Phil? I leked him as a coach as much as the next guy but i sour on him when i heard of his unwillingness to go to the road and that rumor true or not that what he wanted was basically a coup d’ etat against Mitch and Jim Buss. Phil dont want to coach he want a role like Saint Riley on the Heat. About MDA breaking Kobe thats a lot of horse crap, first Kobe wanted to play and second if Kobe didnt play the minutes he played and the things he did the Lakers would had lost almost every single game during that stretch. That was a situation were there were no other choice but to ride Kobe, that coach of the month award is Kobe’s we all know that but i tend to give MDA the benefict of the doubt because the circunstances of his hiring and all the things that had gone down on this team , every single thing that could go wrong did. Not even Phil or Red himself could had done better with all the turmoil.

  21. Ok Albert not defending MDA but wasnt Shaq supossed to guard him? Where was he?and second i would not expect Duncan to be chucking 3s either.

  22. If Phil Jackson were the coach……….

    - it would not have taken WEEKS and a players only meeting to realize that this team should play through the post. How obvious can this be? The team is made up of three elite post players, yet we hire a coach that avoids the post like the plague?? By most accounts, the decision to start playing through the post was a decision by the players. Phil would have made that decision the second he got hired. Instead, the first couple weeks under MDA were wasted by trying to convert this old and slow team into a run and gun P&R team.

    - Phil would not have played Kobe into the ground. In Phil’s final season, Kobe played 33.9 minutes a game. Under MDA, Kobe was playing close to 48 minutes a game in the week leading to his injury. Phil looks at the big picture, like most championship coaches do. MDA only sees five feet ahead.

    - Phil would not have played Kobe after two leg injuries in one game, including a hyper extended knee. He was not a desperate coach fighting for his job, like MDA. Phil’s goal was to prepare the team for the post season. MDA’s goal this season has been to secure his job.

  23. Fern,
    We don’t know what was said during the time out, it could be MDA not telling Shaq or Shaq not listening to MDA. The result is the same, right? So is it not coach’s responsibility to prepare the players on how to guard plays, and also has enough respect from players to follow the instruction? Shaq is lazy on switching defensively. I get that. But MDA could have made a defensive rotation, too.

  24. LT,
    In Phil’s last year, Kobe barely practiced due to an ongoing knee issue. The same knee issue that led to Kobe going to Germany for the PRP treatment that he’s said helped him. Both Phil and Kobe spoke openly that season about how he was playing through real pain and it’s pretty much a given those circumstances contributed to his dip in minutes. I know fans love to point out that Phil wouldn’t have played Kobe heavy minutes and I think that’s true to an extent — I doubt Phil runs him out for there nearly 48 minutes a night the way that MDA did for the that final week, for example. However, if you look at the 2010 championship season, Kobe’s minutes were right in line with what he averaged this season. I know there are caveats (Kobe being younger then) that work in Phil’s favor. That said, the injury caveat (Nash being out) is something that works in MDA’s favor as the team simply didn’t have a lot of wing options besides Kobe. So, again, it’s not so simple to say anything about Kobe’s minutes besides playing 45-48 of them a night is too many. But looking at 2011 as a way to justify that is off base, in my opinion.

  25. I always want the Lakers to win every game whether it’s Smush Parker at point or Del Harris at the helm. Blake has played well for the last few games but I’m not going to abandon memory that he’s sucked for the bulk of his Laker career at least. I wanted MDA as coach (Actually I’d have preferred Dunleavy for 1 year and I HATE Dunleavy more than MDA) almost as much as I wanted Jason Kapono to win the dunk contest this year. However, the team made the play offs and Mitch said that he doesn’t foresee any coaching changes. Disliking Pringles isn’t a call for bringing back Phil and his bionic hip, either. With all of the BS flying around, it could be said that Bickerstaff could have yielded similar results this year as well as keeping last years punching bag MB.

    Kobe’s 400 in basketball dog years yet he’s supposed to give it all on both sides of the ball for 48 minutes each game? The Cult of Nash has ignored that he has been getting regularly undressed on individual D and absolutely bullied at the point on O. The front office did a lot of right things at the beginning of the year. Kup nailed it though by saying he wishes they were all in their early 20s. I’ve never been a D12 fan but if he and his S.E. grin can make this a team a winner, more power to him. Health, a perimeter terror, and this Laker squad can do real damage with or in spite of MDA.

  26. Fern: Last I checked, part of a coach’s job is to manage players minutes and protect them from themselves. And If he can’t tell Kobe to sit down, then he shouldn’t be even coaching this team.

    LT mitchell: Well played Sir. Well played!

  27. Dave Murphy,

    A well written, thought provoking post.

    I’m sure there will be lots more from Darius and others regarding keys to the Spurs series, but I hope that Dwight can keep the fouls down (Parker a problem with that) and Pau can come close to the form he has shown the last few games. If the Lakers can defend the perimeter and perhaps make some 3s themselves, things should be interesting.

    Easy for me to say!

  28. I think its safe to say in hindsight that playing Kobe 48 mins was a mistake. Problem is 1) hindsight is 20/02. 2) are we all really certain that playing Kobe 41 mins would have made that big of a difference, to the injury?

    As I have said, I would agree with the sentiment that MDA deserves some blame here. I also agree with the sentiment that having seen a few minutes here and there for Morris has not hurt and actually helped, and that this is proof that it was a mistake to ride Kobe for 48. I think MDA deserves some criticism for that and for not using Morris earlier (like in the b2b loss to Phoenix, when he used just 7 guys).

    But it needs to be counter balanced. The team has been playing with excellent chemistry and real desire for, at least, the last 6 weeks, and probably all the way back to the Memphis game and the 17-25 record. And unexpected role players have emerged (now Blake, before Clark, and Jamison has overall been a bit of a surprise and Meeks defence recently has been a nice add) and MDA deserves some credit for that, and for plowing through all the challenges this year. As for playing through the post lets remember DH was not really ready to play till February, and Pau was not ready to play until sometime in January and even then he went down with a further injury. So its all well and good to say in retrospect it took to long to run through the post, but our best post players weren’t ready to go, until sometime, well into 2013.

    So pluses and minuses, more plusses than minuses in my opinion, but that can be debated.

    And as Fern points out, what PJAX actually wanted, it appears, was a front office job not a coaching one.

  29. What’s lost in this is Mike Brown wanted to play to the team’s strengths. He was implementing an offense that was going to keep the possessions and score low. He held all players accountable on defense and his vision was right for this roster. The front office got impatient and changed coaches. That’s where it starts the front office looking for a quick fix not the bigger picture. And it’s crazy because this style won them 5 rings in the last decade.

    Kobe wasn’t taking himself out the game and wanted to play to back up his Lakers making the playoffs gurantee. D’Antoni could’ve developed players along the way to avoid playing a guy 48 minutes but he didn’t. That’s where most of his blame goes not building confidence in his bench when so many players got hurt. Kobe’s hurt and there’s nothing we can do about it injuries happen. He’s on the road to recovery now. If your going to blame D’Antoni for anything it’s not being able to trust a role player to play 8-10 minutes.

  30. Mike Brown was not the answer either.

    If you didnt remember our guys were running into each other on offence, spacing was non-existent, and overall the whole team did not know what they were doing which lead to a Jerry calling the shot to fire brown from the hospital because they knew they only had this year for Jerry to still be around.

  31. Shaun: The offense wasn’t a major problem they played well on that end it was defense. Easy to look back but Pau had knee tendinitis and those were Dwight’s first games in 6 months after back surgery. Could Mike Brown have turned Dwight into a defensive monster after he got healthy? Probably. Could he have got a 7 seed? Probably. Could he have gotten the results the last 2 games from Pau and Dwight all season? Yes. They had success from the beginning. The offense was fine but since Nash wasn’t running around the court getting 10 assists it was looked at as a failure. All revisionist history but I think brown could’ve done a as good or better job. This all started from the Phil and D’Antoni talk and Brown being lost in the shuffle.

  32. Jayz,
    We all will go to those experts/references that reinforce our previous opinion, so with that in mind…

    I was listening to Dr. Clapper on the radio the other day – he is the head surgeon at Cedars Hospital in L.A. and deals with athletes every day – and he said the knowledge and techniques of dealing with an Achilles rupture today are ‘light-years’ different from what was done 20 years ago. What this means is that a statistical analysis of these injuries over the last 20 years will not yield completely accurate information.

    His comment was that the first 6 weeks will be the most critical because Kobe can do nothing during this time to help his injury – it is in the hands of his body – but he could slow his recovery by trying to take things into his own hands. At the end of 6 weeks the Achilles will be strong enough to withstand working to bring the body back. That is when Kobe, and his work ethic, will come into play.

    The real question is, “Can Kobe hold still for 6 weeks?” If he can, Dr. Clapper and Kobe’s trainer feel his recovery will be on the optimistic side.

  33. thank you craig w. Let us know when we should pledge allegiance to jim buss.

    I’d be interested to know where you got your information on who’s being burned out? You clearly make it sound like Phil was more tired of coaching than the management was of Phil.

    How do you know that?

    Second, how do you know what type of team Phi liked? Do you really think he liked coaching Smush Parker and those guys?

    You clearly have forgotten how much he liked Kobe the first time around and you missed the book he wrote about it!

    Third, I think Phil would have found a way to make his system work with the players he had.
    You know, I think Mike D’Antoni might agree with that, because the Lakers almost beat the suns with Smush!

    Better yet, why don’t you show me the triangle being run when GP and Karl Malone were lakers?

    Phil has won 11 rings. Is he a royal pain? Does he use players and staff as pawns? Does he make mistakes (Hello Mr. Penberthy!)when it comes to certain players? Does he stink at developing rookies?

    But he’s still way better answer than Mike – take your pick. He’s better than both Mikes put together and the 9 other coaches on the bench.

  34. First of all, it is amazing that the Lakers won their last two games with a starting backcourt of Blake and Meeks and Jameson playing critical minutes at small forward. If that does not tell you how dominant a defensive player Howard is; nothing will. It also attests to the defense Gasol played away from the basket helping to close off the lane and funneling drives to either side so Howard could come in and help. Both Howard and Gasol needed to get healthier to perform at their current level and fortunately they have.

    The discussion about Brown and D’Antoni is moot – neither had nor has the respect of all the team. Even Kobe was changing the offense right up to the point where he got injured. Kobe had no business playing 38 min/game let alone 40+ min/game. If you do not believe me then believe Popovich, Rivers, and Riley who all regulate the minutes of their stars. D’Antoni has a track record of using a limited rotation during the regular season and it accelerated wear and tear on Kobe who did not have much wear and tear left. The good news is that the Lakers will get a better idea of which players are worth keeping for next season.

  35. fisrt off,
    another fine post by Dave M., thanks (and congrats on `Coma Dog´ Dave, you must be thrilled)
    secondly, this has been a great thread to read;
    I´d add that it´s heartening to´ve seen the team step up big these past couple of games when both adversity (Mamba going down) and a major challenge (filling the gaping hole KB´s absence has left) have forced our guys into, in my humble opinion, a long look in their respective mirrors. That is to say, they´ve been confronted with a career-defining moment here: Am I a true professional that can bring out the best I have and even more so, reach for further? What will my efforts on the court, right now(!), mean to my standing as an ex-NBA pro when I´m retired?
    I may have stepped out on a limb here, no one but the players themselves know their own motivation and deepest thoughts, but they sure as heck have worked hard since that team meeting way back when we were 8 games under .500, and game 1 on Sunday is proof.
    To sum up, it´s going to be the challenge of a pro basketball lifetime to advance in this year´s playoffs. One game at a time fellas! But at this moment I truly feel our beloved Lakers (& that includes our injured guys watching from the sidelines) will dig deep within their hardwood souls to attain the best possible outcome; & may it be a jaw-dropping-can´t-hardly-believe-my-eyes-or-ears ending to this the most umpredictable, unthinkable of seasons.
    GO LAKERS GO!!!

  36. @baylor – the starting backcourt of Blake & Meeks plus defensive efforts of Dwight & Pau intrigue me as well. It’s a bit of a scouting challenge for opposing teams who are used to keying on a Kobe-centric system. The novelty won’t last but it’s been fun to watch,.

  37. Thanks always, PB! You rock.

  38. Harvey, attributing the criticism of MDA overplaying Kobe to “hindsight” is a direct slap in the face of the numerous people (on this board and elsewhere) who criticized it when it was happening. I, for one, did not raise the heightened injury risk from overplaying Kobe and other starters, but like many here I pointed out that running 7 guys into the ground was a sure fire way to ensure a first round wipeout.

    Watching Kobe give consecutive postgame interview bent over at the waist, hands on knees, was a pretty good indication that he was being ridden too hard….

  39. Funky,

    Fair enough…I agree that it was discussed, and I myself thought it was a mistake, while it was happening…even Dantoni talked about it (we are taking a hell of a gamble type of thing, playing with fire…..). The hindsight I am talking about was that it would actually result not in just fatigue and relatively poor play (what most were worried about) but actually a very, very bad injury.

    Incidentally, in addition I agree with those that it got even worse in the game just before he got injured, and I felt they were really playing with fire in that second half, when he started to look real bad. but here is the greatest irony of all..he hits a huge 3 that might have won/saved the game/season on the possession just previous to the injury and hit another huge 3 just a few minutes before that. Almost like his body gave out once the key stuff had already been delivered.

    So its something that is hard to quantify, and that is where the hindsight comes in. In retrospect, knowing what we now know that he would have a torn achilles, the decision is obvious, the gifts given in clutch shots was not worth the extra 7 minutes of play on his body. But if he had come out without a crazy injury we would have just moved on and ignored it, as a risky but succesful decision.

    I get that its a very hard one to forgive and the only reason I can cut Dantoni some slack, is that it seems obvious that it was kobe’s decision and not his, and whatever you want to say, I am sure that Dantoni at least raised with him, quite a few times, that he should come out for a blow.

  40. Only other thought that I know won’t appease the die hards, but should be considered. Few if any in the history of the NBA have a better tradition for playing through serious injury with no serious long term consequences. In this regard, I think Kobe is unprecedented. but it is the nature of people (and spare the analogy, but the framework/business model of american capitalism) to keep pushing what has worked right to the end of the rope until the rope snaps.

    The lessen is learned that X works, so you keep doing X and ramming it down people’s throats till it fails. If you don’t go till failure you have no idea what the limit is. Kobe is just another example of that. Do we expect, calmer heads (i.e. coaches, management) to prevent this kind of dangerous behaviour? yes we do, and for that, management/coaches need to shoulder some of the blame…just saying its a fine line when you have an athlete of superior will, who has never actually experienced the downside of these type of risks and is bolstered by that, opposing you.

  41. This is simple, if Kobe didnt played the minutes he played during that stretch, would the Lakers be in the playoffs today? NO. Sorry but it was necessary.Every game was a playoff game.

  42. Harvey, I think where we differ is that I don’t think that the torn Achilles was the evidence of MDA making a bad decision by overworking Kobe, nor do I think we’d have moved on and ignored it–other than for about a week and a half, at which time we’d see Kobe running out of gas and unable to bring the Lakers back against a well-coached, talented Spurs team.

    Few of us were predicting an injury, much less a severe one, but many of us were saying “what’s the point of running this player and this team into the ground only to watch them run out of gas in the playoffs because they are burnt out?”

    Moreover, while it got ridiculously extreme in the final few games before his injury, Kobe’s minutes were much higher this year from the very beginning. The argument (and the message sent to his teammates) was that this team simply cannot win without Kobe playing more than 40 minutes a night. I felt like that message was a bad one to send to guys on the bench who, predictably, would ultimately be called upon to deliver in key situations, because virtually no team goes through a season and a playoff run without needing guys coming off the bench to spell injured, tired, or foul-plagued teammates.

    Fern, your comment essentially says that D’Antoni was right to play his starters heavy minutes and to not give reserves much of a chance all year. On this, I completely disagree. The fact is that this team has actually played some of its best ball without Kobe even being in uniform, which doesn’t say that they are better without him (a laughable proposition) but unequivocally proves that this roster has enough talent to get through games against average or poor NBA teams while giving Kobe more than a few minutes of rest. That’s where MDA deserves criticism, because he totally blew it with his rotations and belief that he had no option other than to ride his starters heavy minutes. To suggest otherwise is to pretend that the Lakers didn’t pull out that win against Golden State once Kobe went down, didn’t just beat San Antonio and Houston to close the season, and didn’t win on the road in Indiana without him.

    This team can be successful playing inside out, but that’s something MDA only saw after he was forced by Kobe’s injury to take his blinders off….

  43. Harvey: I think you summed it up best a while back when you stated that PJ was the only one who could control him (if anyone could). So if PJ was here, would he have controlled him to the extent that he played less, and then in turn would that have prevented the injury? Nobody knows. We only know what did happen.

  44. Who is to blame? the Lakers themselves, by blowing at least 10 games they should had won, this team even with all the issues should had won between 50-55 games. Nobody can convince me that losing to such teams as the Raptors, the Cavs!!, that game we blew a 18 point lead in Houston, dropping games against Phoenix and Washington, oppening night against Dallas and then Portland didnt bring as a direct consequence Kobe having to literally put the team on his back, what should had been a 4 or 5 cozy cushion between the Lakers and 9th place became a month long sucession of game 7s. Even if they were in 8 th place but with a confortable lead it would not had been necesary to witness Mega Mamba every single night to just barely win. The Lakers win just 2 of those games Kobe probably would be playing. This is been the season of shooting ourselves in the foot.

  45. Funky,

    Good post. I agree with much of it, just not with the hyperbole. I agree that Kobe should/could have played less all year, and that the rotations were too short and that just a bit longer rotation would have helped and kept everyone in better shape and rythym. And I agree that some of the best ball was without Kobe and that there was way too much Kobe in crunch time.

    I don’t completely agree about the confidence thing as this is the yin and yang of Dantoni’s approach. By playing a shorter rotation, he invariably gives the 5-8 guys more time than they would normally have, thereby increasing the confidence of that part of the rotation, possibly to the detriment of the 9-11 guys on the roster. So the confidence of the very first bench guys (Blake, Clark, Jamison, Meeks) is actually increased, and we can see that that has actually happened and been a key part of the resurgence of the team. I think where the rubber really hit the road is that with Hill going down, a little of the better depth was lost, and so the choice was to dip further into D league territory, with Morris, Duhon, Ebanks or go with more minutes for the better guys. And early in the season, I think a big part of it was he just didn’t have a training camp to know what he had, so he wanted to see more of the key pieces first and get roles for them, before playing the bottom of the depth chart.

    But I still overall agree that the rotation was generally a bit too short. Interestingly, Alvin Gentry was a big disciple of Dantoni, but he tweaked the system, by going a bit deeper into the rotation and got better results out of the bench and the team overall.

  46. I would be willing to bet that there are medical professionals who would say that it is quite possible that Kobe’s minutes contributed to the injury. I don’t think we should draw conclusions about that one way or the other, and frankly, I do not think that even medical pros can really say for sure. I disagreed with MDA doing that for “basketball reasons” in any case, and a lot of this dialogue is simply the Craig W thing of attacking people who criticize the FO in ways that are not to his taste.

    As to the backcourt D, I think Blake/Meeks, mediocre as they are, are in fact probably better on D than Nash/Kobe. But I think the sudden drop in opponent FG% in the SA and HOU games is partly just small sample. 4-7 games is a small sample, too, but I think that this series will expose them. Blake and Meeks are bench players, who will be playing starters’ minutes, and that will show.

    Phil/MDA: Harvey overreached a little but again, his point about plusses and minuses is well-taken. If Ken is going to bag on Jamison’s 8 DNPs, then he (Ken) also should give MDA credit for how the team played in the last two games and over the second half:

    1st half: 17-24
    2nd half: 28-13

    Overall,though, I think the minuses for me, outweigh the plusses.

  47. I’ve enjoyed this blog for years. Very grateful to Darius and the other writers. I have never commented until now, but I cannot stand idly by while people are complimenting Jody Meeks on his defense (Darius included.) Meeks is almost always out of position, consistently “trails” his man, is seemingly unable to see both ball and man at the same time, and is “back doored” with regularity. I don’t think I need to mention his post defense, which is non-existent and much worse than D-Fish who was shorter and less athletic. Meeks reminds one of John Wooden’s axiom “Do not mistake activity for achievement.” He runs around a lot but he has no court sense. At all. My 13 year old son and I will replay Meeks defensive plays over and over again and marvel that he does the same things repeatedly. I would talk about his offense but…

  48. Look, coaches aren’t perfect.
    – Brown had some technical ideas that made sense, but he was rigid, couldn’t think/adjust on the fly during games, and had a questionable leadership hold over the team – he came off as a highly competent ASS’T coach.
    – Jackson’s resume speaks for itself. But so does the weak hold he had on the team his last year of coaching. The team was somewhat limp through the latter part of that season, and playoffs. I don’t think they “quit” on him by any means, but his effectiveness with the Lakers team seemed to have waned. I wasn’t confident, early this year when Brown was fired, that Jackson’s impact would be any different or fresher.
    – MDA (sigh), well, he’s got known weaknesses, but is far from an idiot and has his strengths … there is only 1 Pop and 1 Phil … the other 28-29 teams have got to accept the imperfect – but talented and professional – coaches that they get.

    The Lakers are old which begets injuries. The coaching is so-so, and the Jerry-free leadership by Jimbo is still working out the kinks (maybe it never will, but let’s see).

    Go Lakers.

  49. @ Funky you missunderstood me, i said during THAT stretch and like i said on my other comment all this was self inflicted, he didnt played his starters heavy minutes, he played Kobe heavy minutes because every single other starter and role player played wildy inconsistent all season long, those inconsistencies brought losses that should had never ever happened and brought as a result that Kobe had to literally kill himself during the home stretch to bring this team kicking and screaming into the playoffs.And lets be honest not a single one of us was confortable with Kobe out of the game. He was taken out of a game during that stretch and the Lakers faltered. And lets not kid ourselves the Lakers rode an emotional high during the last 3 games, they showed more grit and determination during those 3 games than they did the 79 before, for every win against an Indiana or OKC there were the losses against the creme of the crap, lets not kid ourselves, unless Nash comes back and the Spurs choke in an epic way and get every vital player injured we aint winning against SA. Our team is just not good enough with or w/o Kobe, what im hoping for is for a massive upset.

  50. @Craig W…

    I’ll agree with you that Phil has some issues that may have stopped him from doing a good job with the Lakers. But Phil was a big picture guy as opposed to MD’A who saw every regular season game as life and death. It seems with Mike the only reason he’ll play his bench is because of injury. Earl Clark only emerged because of injuries in the front court. When Nash and Blake got injured, MD’A still wouldn’t give Morris a chance. Phil knows how to manage a season. An NBA coach has to develop his bench to survive the regular season. D’Antoni’s failure to do so is my biggest gripe with him. He basically ran Kobe into the ground when there were alternatives sitting right next to him on his bench. That, I have a real problem with. I’ll never be able to embrace Mike as the Lakers’ coach. As a fan of the team, I’ll support him as long as he’s the coach. However, I won’t miss him when he’s gone,

  51. To me, this is pretty simple. Early in the season, I thought to myself that for the Lakers to be really good, Dwight and Kobe would have to lead the way and approach the excellence they had both displayed in the past. Kobe was able to. His preparation and weight loss over the summer had him exploding out of the starting block. Dwight couldn’t be himself because of his injury. It’s just that simple. The biggest reason for the Lakers’ struggles this year is that Howard didn’t regain his form until late in the season. I cannot believe that a team with an efficient and facilitating Kobe Bryant and a defensively dominant Dwight Howard struggles to make the playoffs. Think I’m wrong? Replay early season games and watch how Howard runs and jumps. Then re-watch the Houston game this week and see how he changes ends of the floor with speed and defends the paint with power. It’s like night and day.

  52. Don Ford,
    “Not an idiot”, that’s a ringing endorsement if I ever heard one.