Remaining Playoff Teams Offer the Lakers A Reminder of What Works

Darius Soriano —  May 13, 2013

I’ve not stopped watching the NBA since the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs. While it’s disappointing seeing the post-season in full flow while the Lakers sit at home, the playoffs have been riveting to watch and I can’t imagine depriving myself of these games simply because the team I’d like to see still playing is not.

I’ve actually been covering the 2nd round match up between the Warriors and the Spurs for Pro Basketball talk. So if you miss my ramblings about X’s and O’s, adjustments, and everything else you can go there are check it out. In any event, watching that series unfold in the manner it has is sort of a cruel reminder of why the Lakers are in the circumstance they are.

(Tangent: One of key reasons the Lakers are in the position they are is because health literally crippled this roster’s ability to be competitive. I have no illusions of grandeur with this particular roster (okay, that’s not true, I have some), but I know that a completely healthy Lakers’ team would have been competitive with the Spurs with a real chance of winning that series. I said it at the time, but by game 3 the Lakers weren’t just missing Kobe but were also missing Nash, Blake, Meeks, and Ron. That’s 5 of the team’s top 9 players and their entire back court rotation. I don’t want to rehash all those feelings of frustration that stemmed from that series, but I can not be convinced those injuries didn’t mean a great deal to the Lakers. In just typing that sentence and reading it aloud, it seems silly to argue otherwise. But I digress. Back to our regularly scheduled programming.)

The Warriors and Spurs offer differing models for how their respective teams have been constructed, but both are quite successful.

The Warriors are a young team built, ultimately, through the fruits of their past failures. Don’t get me wrong, the trade of Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut was a deft maneuver that has paid off handsomely these playoffs. But even that swap was sweetened with Epke Udoh, a lottery pick who flashed very good potential as a versatile defender and rebounder. The Warriors could afford to trade Udoh because they already had two lottery pick building blocks in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson with the intent on tanking for another in last year’s draft. That pick would become Harrison Barnes.

Of course it takes more than just lottery talent and the Warriors have done a good job of surrounding that youth with quality veterans while also using picks later in the draft to pick up high floor/relatively low ceiling players who can contribute early in their careers. David Lee, Jarrett Jack, and Carl Landry (along with Bogut) are the veterans who bring leadership and toughness to the team while Draymond Green and Festus Ezili join the aforementioned lottery picks as young players who form the building blocks for the future.

In essence what the Warriors have done is mixed explosive youth with steady veterans (if you want to call Jarrett Jack steady) and built a playoff team that can compete in today’s NBA. They have shooters, some post players, and enough defense to win in the regular season and the playoffs. This model is similar to the one the Thunder has used in constructing their team. Mix young and expierenced with complementary skill sets, get the youth the reps they need, and then go out there and compete.

The Spurs, meanwhile, are an old-guard team who uses a different model. They have a championship core from an era past that they lean on heavily. Parker, Ginobili, and Duncan have played together for a decade and are still the key components to this team. Surrounding them are a mix of veterans (Bonner, Diaw, Gary Neal) and young-ish players (Danny Green, Splitter, Corey Joseph) who serve as specialists next to that core. (As a side note, Kawhi Leonard is also young but it remains to be seen if he becomes a “star” in this league. He certainly has the skill set and demeanor to be a key player on a championship roster.)

Further, the Spurs are a strict system team that stresses process over results. Gregg Popovich is a master general and his approach is to strip down the game to a level where every single player must do his job on every single possession in order get his team to play at its best. This is still a team that depends on talent to win, but the system helps maximize that talent and allows for the parts to be more interchangeable than with other teams. If the Spurs don’t have a player available, they plug in another player and expect that person to step in and do his job within the context of the team’s system. Again, it’s the process that matters most because by doing things right, the results will follow.

The Lakers, meanwhile, didn’t really follow either of these paths this past season. In a way, they’re built more like the Spurs, using aging players from a championship teams as the core to their roster. But with their early season firing of Mike Brown they went away from a “system” style of play to more of a “philosophical” approach where “the ball finds energy” on offense. Mike D’Antoni has principles to what he likes to run, but with this roster he couldn’t really implement that style due to variety of reasons (several players who are most comfortable in the post, a lack of shooters, injuries to his key ball handling guards).

As for building through youth, the Lakers haven’t had that luxury due to them not being a team bad enough to grab lottery level talent through the draft. The Lakers did trade for Dwight Howard who remains one of the best young-ish stars in the league (Dwight is still only 26 years old), but outside of him the team has very few players under 25 none of which are currently rotation level players.

This isn’t to say that the Lakers’ model doesn’t or can’t work. They’ve assembled a talented roster, but one that is expensive and top heavy, making it harder to supplement with a lot of serviceable depth. Injuries can devastate a roster built like this and, as the Lakers saw, can derail a season if too many of them occur at the same time.

But, when looking at the Spurs and Warriors I’m reminded of what actually does work in this league and how, whether through bad luck or due to the choices they’ve made, the Lakers didn’t go in that same direction. There are many ways to skin a cat in this league, but ultimately you need a combination of talent and direction to achieve at the heights this team strives for. The Lakers diverged off that path somewhat this year and paid the price for it.

Next year can be different. But the choices they make must work out and the direction provided by the coaches and the buy-in from the players must all be there as well. Because, as the teams remaining in the playoffs are showing (and not just the Warriors and Spurs — look at the other teams too), you need more than just an idea of what your team can be, you need follow through and commitment from everyone to advance.

Darius Soriano

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40 responses to Remaining Playoff Teams Offer the Lakers A Reminder of What Works

  1. A lack of identity really defined the Lakers this past season. Players either didn’t know their roles or were not comfortable in them. That may have to do with a combination of coaching changes, incompetent coaching and managing, and a collective of star egos. Also, I never really got the vibe that the players were playing for each other, which is something I sense in the current playoff teams.

  2. Jordan,
    I guess I have to disagree. Our players did begin to understand their roles and how to play in the 2nd half of the season. If not for that we never would have qualified for the playoffs. Ultimately the injuries derailed everything. The fact that the Spurs swept us shouldn’t take away from what was accomplished in the 2nd half of the season. That is the point those of us who want to finish the two-year plan next year are arguing. This isn’t really, “trying the same thing and expecting a different result” kind of situation. If we undergo the type of injuries next year I doubt we will fare as well as we did this year, but that is also unlikely.

    We do have the talent and if we add someone young and able to defend – like the previously mentioned Wes Johnson – and perhaps another serviceable 2/3 player, I actually like our chances.

  3. jordan farmar?

  4. Farmar is supposedly coming back to the US.

  5. Wojnarowski:
    _________________________________

    General manager Danny Ferry has made Van Gundy his top target to replace Larry Drew, sources said.

    The Hawks plan to make a hard push for free-agent center Dwight Howard on July 1, and there’s some belief that Van Gundy could actually turn out to be a benefit in recruiting Howard back to his hometown.

    Howard has expressed some sentiment that he better appreciates Van Gundy as a head coach, despite their clashes together in Orlando that ultimately led to the coach’s firing after the 2011-12 season.

  6. rr
    thats what i heard…wouldnt mind him back in the fold…by the way where all the fisher guys at? horrible pass at the end! lol still love dfish…but boy that was just awful!

  7. Warren Wee Lim May 14, 2013 at 5:11 am

    Reading Drew’s article at Lakers Nation made me realize how many fans just want to sign Cp3 and other marquee free agents outright without realizing the ramifications of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

    I highly endorse it coz it deserves a good read. http://www.lakersnation.com/10-misconceptions-regarding-lakers-free-agency-and-off-season-plans/2013/05/12/

  8. We’ve been witnessing the “Kobefication” of Kevin Durant for the Thunder against the Grizz, and it hasn’t been pretty: 27 shot attempts, decent stats, 4 turnovers, unbalanced team scoring, and impossible triple teaming situations to face with the game on the line. Regardless of the superstar–not the best way for a team to go.

    Kobe might have won it. Durant didn’t.

  9. Rusty Shackleford May 14, 2013 at 7:16 am

    drrayeye – The glaring difference I see between Kobe and Durrant right now is the commentary on their play. If Kobe scores 27 points on 27 shots he, “Shot his team out of the game” and “The defense made him a volume scorer”.

    The word on Kevin Durrant in this series is, “Is doing everything he can to help his team win” and ‘Is not getting enough help”. I know he is missing all-star point guard due to injury but this Laker fan has zero sympathy for any teams having their season derailed by injury.

    I do think this series without Westbrook is exposing some of the limitations to Durrant’s game. He is not on Lebron’s level.

  10. According to Woj re Steve Clifford “coach Mike D’Antoni, Brown’s successor, plans to keep Clifford as part of his revamped staff next season” assuming he doesn’t get the head coaching jobs in Milwaukee or Charlotte.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/news/nba–lakers-assistant-steve-clifford-interviewing-for-bucks-job-174314114.html

  11. rr: Nice find with regard to VG – I had not seen that. So if you were in the Lakers FO, what would you do to perhaps mitigate this threat? As we know, Van Gundy is a guy who has been called Master of Panic by Shaq. Then was moved aside by Pat Riley so Miami could win a title (other teams seem to respect our legends more than we do), then had at best a rocky relationship with DH himself. The quote you included suggests that this guy could be an advantage to Hawk recruiting of DH? Wow – if that is true – perhaps do we need to step our game?
    Rusty: Excellent points. Many subject Kobe to the double standard. First they pulled credit away from him because of Shaq’s shadow, then when Kobe took over, he was simply not a Team player. Kobe forces, guys like Durant just try real hard. Also – your point about the gap between LBJ and Durant is accurate. Thankfully – as it seems I will have to root for LBJ in the Finals again this year – even though I don’t want to.

  12. rr: You left a key quote out:

    As Wojnarowski notes, Howard has said that be appreciates Van Gundy as a coach now that he has been subjected to the managerial flailing of Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni.

    “Managerial Flailing” – I will have to start using that – it says so much – so succinctly.

  13. Seems that the remaining teams have one thing in common. Coaches with a plan. I bet they also have a team blog so that the FO and coaches can see there obvious issues. Maybe we can rent out the Roberts, rr, drey, Craig’s, Rusty and other top posters.

    Yaa we will franchise out our basketball minds to other teams!

    Who might even listen.

  14. @Robert
    I can’t believe Howard used those words directed at his current and former coaches. If he did, then that is very troubling.

  15. Please take trade speculation that you claim “isn’t really trade speculation” somewhere else. Those comments will simply be deleted, not moderated. I don’t have the time to read through a 500 word comment and pick and choose what stays. As a long time commenter, you know what the site’s commenting guidelines are.

  16. I have a hard time dwight howard said something close to “managerial flailing” – that’s too much editorializing by Woj. DH hopefully realized that his recovery exposed his limitations and he really is not in a position to criticize any coach, no matter how badly management bungled this year. Someone wrote earlier that the lakers lacked an identity, and there’s a lot of truth to that. The bulls are injury depleted but they know who they are. They obviously have some history together and a top 5 coach – two things the lakers lacked. But there were enough veterans on the team where chemistry should not be so big of an issue, but chemistry was one of the issues Eddie Jordan recently mentioned in an interview.

  17. Rusty Shackleford May 14, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Darius –

    I live and work in the East Bay here in California and am up to my ears in Warriors fans. They are truly an amazing fanbase and the Warriors are very lucky to have them. Last year when Golden State was sitting everybody and tanking for that protected draft pick they were still selling out and just about every fan you talked to (once they were mathematically elimintated from the playoffs) was totally on board with it. I have never been to an OKC Thunder game but the Warriors fan base seems very comprable to them and has been around for a lot longer.

    That said, the pulse I feel of this fanbase is extremely cautiously optimistic. This group has been kicked in the nuts many times during the Donnie Nelson era and endured many seasons of irrelevance. They do, however, know what they have in Stephen Curry.

    Watching teams like Golden State makes me hope the Lakers’ front office begins to value draft picks a little more in future years. I understand with this being the twilight of Kobe’s career it was important to have proven vets (and I use that term loosely) on the roster but the Lakers continuously throw their draft picks away and end up having to fill the end of their bench with the likes of Chris Duhon. Plus, I like rooting for guys like Derick Character, Darius Morris & Andrew Goudlock. Poor Ebanks. This isn’t the NFL where 5th and 6th rounders can develop into starters at their respective positions within a few years but I don’t think I can take anymore headlines of “Lakers add front court depth with additions of Joe Smith & Theo Ratliff”.

  18. Lebron might be a better player than Durant, but I think it’s unfair to compare them in this particular context.

    Durant, especially without Westbrook, does not have the luxuries that Lebron does — a superstar wing player/shot creator/playmaker in Wade to take pressure off…..floor spreaders at every position, including at center, to punish the double/triple teams, and to open up the driving lanes for Lebron. It’s much easier for defenses to pack the paint and focus on one player against OKC than it is against Miami.

  19. Some numbers really show how much less Nash had the ball this year than in year’s past. That was a product of his injuries and better players on the team. He also seemed to be a players who needs the ball in their hands to get in rhythm. Kobe needs the ball too which made watching them sometimes unbearable. He was semi effective on offense because he can shoot so well but his defense negated any positives from his offense. His turnovers were the lowest in 9 years so were his assists. Truth be told Kobe’s injury may force him to dial it back throughout the game and that assists Nash in playing his game even if he isn’t that guy anymore.

    His percentages and attempts stayed the same across the board whether it’s at the rim, mid range or threes. One thing that spiked was the percentage of shots that were assisted on. At the rim it tripled from 10.3 to 29.5. From 3-9 feet it went up times 5 from 3.8 to 15.8. From 10-15 feet it spiked from 2.7 to 10. Same thing from 16-23 but not by as much 14.1 to 19.3. And from three it doubled from 40 to 82.5. A huge shift in play from the way Nash is used to playing from being the distributor to being distributed to. All his assist related stats were down as well. I think a similar role next year is what’s best. He’ll be more comfortable so he’ll probably handle the ball a little more. I think problems can arise that way but if Pau and Dwight are back. Hopefully D’Antoni can convince Nash and Kobe to play inside out like Memphis to conserve their legs for defense. If Dwight leaves, I still think Nash should embrace a spot up role the majority of the time. The threat of the three is something this team needs.

  20. If the Lakers do not acquire another PG, I think the team would be better off limiting Nash’s minutes next season, not only for health reasons, but for basketball reasons as well. Blake might be the better overall PG at this point. Even when healthy, Nash was not able to get by his man without a pick, making it easy for defenses to trap any potential pick and rolls. This was the main reason Kobe took over PG duties with great results. I think Blake has earned at least a time share with Nash next season.

  21. KenOak/trianglefan: I think Woj “could” have edited that a bit, however we all know DH does say such things. I do not think Woj totally made it up, so there is probably at least a basis in fact.
    Rusty: Joe Smith + Theo Ratliff: If you ever wanted to know what I meant by the term vagabonds, that is 2 prototypical examples. I agree with you – that is exactly what we do not need. However, your list of guys you like to root for is not exactly what we need either : )
    Kevin: With regard to “3′s”, here is what I do not get. Nash and KB are 2 of the NBA’s all time leaders. Pau has a great outside shot for a PF. How can that not be the foundation for we needed around DH for an effective offense? Yet it wasn’t

  22. darius: even though you haven’t said as much, i too feel with health, the lakers would be playing golden state right now and would benefit from the injury to david lee. and with the injury to westbrook, would be a shoe in to be playing the grizzlies in the western conference championship. a healthy laker team would have matched up perfectly with the grizzlies …..either team the miami heat would prefer to avoid provided they themselves get past the indiana pacers.

    can’t remember a playoffs whose survival of the fittest is the rule and not the exception. in a bizarro world all these things would make sense.

    what could have been, should have been.

    go lakers.

  23. Matt Barnes just said on sportsnation that Lakers with time would compete. We just need 1 more athlete at the wing position.

  24. The Lakers will be fine all this bs about clippers and hawks its all speculation of the highest degree. Howard is kind of dense bit he would be beyond stupid if he leave 30 mill on the table even if it is to play across the hall, the clips need to worry about CP not bolting, what this looks like is the media triying to feed on the carcass of this Laker season. Im not worried, im not dissapointed we got swept given the injury epidemic we had, this team healthy would he playing right now. Im just on a holding pattern until July 1st.

  25. sufian, It just so happens that Matt Barnes has a certain, FA, athletic wing in mind.

  26. About this playoff i want the Dubs to win, you can only go to the Manu,Tim and Tony well so many times. And Memphis is beating OKC because there is no Westbrook, RW would had been running circles around this slow team, with him absent they can throw everything they have a Durant and dig down on D, they would not be able to do that with RW running around. but i dont have simpathy for injuries since all those fanbases mocked us after the Lakers meet their fate, so there is some karma involved there. I think only the Dubs have a lil chance to give the Heat some trouble because of all the atributes Darius mentioned. If Memphis or SA make it to the Finals they are going to get swept.

  27. David H… I totally agree, i think the lakers would still be in the playoffs if Kobe was never injured.

    Although, I am completely, 100%, biased. :)

  28. Fern,

    I’m not so sure about Miami sweeping any team from the West. If Wade is playing on a hobbled knee Miami becomes very vulnerable. His health has been masked by the fact they played a Bucks team that lost more games than it won. Then they got a depleted Bulls team. With defenders like Allen, Prince, and Gasol I can’t see Memphis getting swept by any team. I can’t see the Spurs getting swept either.

  29. REGARDING THE HOWARD QUOTE ON MIKE D’ANTONI:

    I thought it was a little odd that Howard would characterize Mike D’s coaching as a “flailing” or something to that effect – particularly because he is a free agent whose best option may be to stay a Laker – so I went to Yahoo to read the article myself.

    Well.. what do you know. There is only 1 sentence where Woj talks about Howard’s opinion of SVG. Here it is in its enterity:

    “Howard has expressed some sentiment that he better appreciates Van Gundy as a head coach, despite their clashes together in Orlando that ultimately led to the coach’s firing after the 2011-12 season.”

    No where in this story does the term “managerial flailings” appear. So, I wondered, where the heck did that comment come from. Maybe Yahoo pulled the story and edited the language?

    Well, I did a quick google search and I think I found the source of the”flailings” comment. As it turns out, the description of “managerial flailings” in the context of the Woj article comes from a guy at NESN who is a beat writer for their local sports team. In his “article”, this so called “journalist” states that Howard appreciates SVG more now that he has been subjected to MIke D’s failings (the beat writer even begins this sentence with: “as Wojnarowski notes”). Problem is, Woj never noted so. In fact, Woj’s article NEVER mentions Mike D. So, where the heck did this guy get this scoop that has Robert and others gitty like school girls making it appear as if DHoward wants Mike D gone (or does not like him)??

    I couln’t tell you. However, what I can tell you is that, for those of you not familiar with NESN, those four letters stand for the “New England Sports Network” and their “local” sports team is the Boston Celtics. The beat writer i mention above is Ben Watanabe. A die hard Celtics fan and Laker hater.

    So the moral of the story is: sometimes it pays to check your sources.

    Peace!

  30. It is interesting that a post concerning sources is posted under “anonymous”. That said, as stated above, Howard may not have said exactly that, however it probably has some basis in truth. I do not really care. What I care about is DH staying here and if MD is not a positive for that (neutral is not good enough), then that is not acceptable. We need a coach who will help attract and retain players. Feel free to post links where DH is endorsing MD and is staying in order to play for him. I would be extremely happy to read them. DH may indeed stay either way, but I would like to increase the odds as much as possible. I would also like to make this an attractive destination for players. A Dynamic coach with great leadership skills, matching gold t-shirts worn by everyone in the 100 section, and an attractive female owner would all help make that possible : )

  31. LT, I agree with you fully on Nash. He’s a hell of a competitor but I’d rather see his minutes at a peak 20 minutes than getting bullied for the bulk of the game. His coming back healthy could prove me wrong but I thought similarly when he was with Phoenix that he should play around 30 minutes max.

    I don’t wan’t Darius Morris just in Summer League. Just like some bigs are planning pilgrimage to the Shrine of Hakeem, I’d like to hear of him getting some of that old school guru tutelage. For some reason I have an Alvin Robertson-type in mind for Morris but I can’t seem to come up with anyone whose game is closest to Morris and his body type who is not a coach or current player for another team.

  32. I love Curry’s offensive game, but his defense is borderline atrocious! I love watching this young Warriors team.

  33. Did anyone saw Eddie Jordan’s comment about the Lakers’ season?!

    Better read it, that solves some of our questions why this season is a mess…

  34. Robert,

    Wojnarowski is pretty well-sourced, but he is also a guy who grinds a lot of axes. I just put it out there; I have no idea if it has legs. I don’t think many people really know what Howard actually wants to do, and I think it is likely that Howard has not, in fact, made up his mind. We will know soon enough. Howard actually has to make a decision now.

    And, obviously, Kupchak should talk to Howard about D’Antoni.

  35. by the way where all the fisher guys at?

    That only happens when Fisher plays well. He was 1/5 and had 3 points for OKC in Game 4.

  36. Robert, I realize you are one of the people who would like to see Phil Jackson back and Jeannie in charge. You might like it, but that is not how Jerry Buss planned to leave his organization. He left the operating power with Jim and his henchman Mitch. He left the business power with Jeannie, not Phil. We all agree he was a good owner and these decisions go back quite a number of years.

    What all this says is that you are not going to get your wish. Sorry, but that is the way things look at this time, and that is all any of us can say. What it also means is that Jerry probably had some pretty good reasons for making that decision, so many years ago, and then sticking with it over time.

    Good or bad – and we fans are notorious for blowing with every wind that comes along – the Lakers are set on a path to open up the game via future players and current coaching choices. My biggest worries aren’t about arguing about who should be coaching next year, but how are we going to get better at drafting young players? Of course that won’t be much of an issue this year – only a #48 draft choice.

  37. Vhanz

    Can you find it? It appears Yahoo pulled it as it says no longer available when I try to pull it up.

  38. but how are we going to get better at drafting young players?

    Like I have said a few times, Jim Buss apparently cleaned out a lot of scouts and some talent evlauation people, including Ronnie Lester, and I have read in a few places that the Lakers make less use of advanced statistical analysis than any other team in the league.

    As to the “opening up the game” thing, that may have entered into the thinking, but like I said last time, Memphis is 30th in Pace Factor and is built around two big slow guys. Indiana is 25th, New York 26th, and Chicago 27th. If Buss wants to eneterain the fans, he needs to put a winning team on the floor–just like in any other city.

  39. It may be too early to say that Jerry Buss made a mistake in his separation of powers amongst the siblings, but it’s clear that the discord between the siblings (if true ) is not helpful. The way PJ was cleared out the lakers organization was not helpful and the lack of interest to bring him back into the organization, since he’s engaged to one of the principals, is a mistake. Jim Buss needs help. I think Mitch is a terrific GM, but Mitch knows his role. I don’t think Buss has developed the staff to support him, and it’s a bummer because he’s had some time to do it. He’s spent a lot of time around the league, but he’s made some rookie mistakes. And PJ is not a saint. I can certainly see why Jim Buss would not want him around. But having PJ makes the Lakers a better team than without him. At least with the current crop of players.