Around The World (Wide Web): Questions of Leadership & New Directions

Darius Soriano —  August 19, 2013

From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: Sad note for talk-show hosts: Mike D’Antoni isn’t turning up his car radio to hear you and your faithful listeners destroy him. ”Hell, no,” D’Antoni said on a sunny Manhattan Beach afternoon, plenty of time before rush-hour shows typically unleash another round of venom aimed at the Lakers’ coach. These are trying times to be a Lakers fan in Los Angeles, the playoffs hardly a guarantee next season as the Clippers continue their assumed ascension past the 16-time NBA champions. Naturally, many of the verbal arrows get fired at the affable D’Antoni in comments at the end of online stories, letters to the editor and the above-mentioned airwaves. No, the specter of Phil Jackson never quite left the Lakers. ”I think anybody that comes in here the next 10, 15 years, it’s going to be that way,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t think there is any doubt that he was so good and so large and he’s still sitting out there. ”Had that bothered me, I shouldn’t have taken the job because you know it’s going to be there. I wasn’t stupid enough to think that, ‘Oh, they won’t remember him.’ Sure they will. It doesn’t really affect what we do day-to-day and how we approach the game.”

From Ric Bucher, The Hollywood Reporter: A pair of reading glasses sits atop the dresser in Jeanie Buss’ bedroom. There’s nothing remarkable about the frameless specs except for one detail: They sat on the nose of her father, Dr. Jerry Buss, whose smiling face forever will be identified with the Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA franchise he owned for 34 years until his death in February at age 80. Under Dr. Buss, the Lakers’ purple-and-gold colors became so synonymous with both winning and entertainment that it’s hard to decide who resides in whose shadow, the team or the star-glutted city it calls home. “I wanted to keep something that was as close to him as possible,” says Jeanie of her dad’s glasses, discussing him publicly for the first time since his death from kidney failure after a battle with prostate cancer. “And they help me remember how he saw the world.” The challenge facing Jeanie, 51, and her 53-year-old brother Jim – along with four other Buss siblings who share a 66 percent controlling interest in the Lakers — is not merely to see the world as their father did but to act on that vision with equal success. The Busses have inherited a team at a crossroads. The Lakers are the NBA’s most successful franchise of the past 30-plus years — winner of 10 championships since 1980, valued by Forbes at $1 billion, with a local TV deal worth $3.6 billion over 20 years — but it is an organization whose allure has been defined by a peculiar mix of success on the court and Hollywood flash among its fan base. Dr. Buss understood both sides of that coin. Now, after a lackluster season in which the Lakers exited the playoffs in the first round, longtime star Kobe Bryant, 34, ruptured his Achilles tendon and center Dwight Howard opted to depart after one season, it remains to be seen whether this Buss generation can keep Tobey Maguire, Ari Emanuel and Jack Nicholson dropping $100,000 apiece for courtside season tickets. “The shoes they’re stepping into are so huge and epic,” says Bryant. “It’s on the next generation in line to figure out what their leadership style is going to be and to do it their own way.”

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Still, the question for Lakers fans isn’t whether or not Jim Buss is a playboy, as he seems to think based on his response, but whether he’s competent as a player personnel guy. Can he identify talent? Can he pick the right coach? Talking about the Bucher feature with Andy earlier today, he made a great point about Jeanie: It’s so much easier for fans to like her, because what she does and how well she does it has a far less tangible impact on wins and losses. It matters a great deal if she’s good, but drawing a straight line to her success and championships isn’t nearly as easy as it is on Jim’s half of the operation. Fair or not, every game has become a mini-referendum on his skill set. People assume, I think correctly, that were Jeanie in charge of the basketball operation, she’d hire people to run it and stay out of the way. Jim, meanwhile, is seen by many as interfering with Mitch Kupchak, micro-managing and meddling in important decisions of the basketball people. But he’s not. Jim is one of the basketball people. He’s doing his job, as any personnel types would around the league. The question is whether he’s good at it, and how well he’ll perform in a world where he, not Dr. Buss, is the final authority. This gets to my major problem with Jim, and it has less to do with his thought process in any particular  trades, signings or coaching hires: Fundamentally, it’s a mistake for the same person to be responsible both for signing checks and determining who gets them. Even if that guy is bright and capable, that model has been a bad one in professional sports. Over the last few seasons, Jim has consistently combated assertions he was Godzilla let loose on Tokyo by noting how all big decisions still ran through his father. Now, though, there’s no question he’s the one with the final authority on basketball matters. The owner and player personnel hats are very different. Wearing both at the same time is a bad idea.

From Brett Polakoff, Pro Basketball Talk: Until and unless Jackson is able to get to the point where he’d be completely healthy enough to patrol the sidelines once more, whether or not he wants to coach again is a moot point. Lakers fans can chant “we want Phil” all they want during times when their team struggles next season, but it simply isn’t going to happen. Now, could it happen the following season, with current assistant coach Kurt Rambis easing the transition or perhaps even sharing the head coaching duties with Jackson so he wouldn’t have to travel as much? Of course. And LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony could be on the squad by then, too. It just isn’t the most likely of scenarios. Jeanie Buss, who has an ownership stake in the Lakers and is also Jackson’s fiancee, believes Jackson isn’t done coaching for good. One never knows what the future may hold, but at this point, it appears to be a long shot at best.

From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN LA: Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak doesn’t doubt Kobe Bryant’s will or toughness. When the 17-year veteran says he’s way ahead of schedule in his recovery from a ruptured Achilles, Kupchak believes him. But when assessing the state of the Lakers at this critical juncture — after the departure of free agent center Dwight Howard – the “uncertainty” of Bryant’s health remains Kupchak’s most pressing concern. ”The primary weakness is uncertainty. I don’t think that’s a secret to anybody,” Kupchak said Thursday in a wide-ranging interview with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio’s “The Herd.” “Our best player, one of the best players ever to play the game, is recovering from an Achilles tendon tear and one of the other all-time best, Steve Nash, ended the season injured. ”Steve, to my understanding, is close to 100 percent, but he’s not as young as he once was and Kobe’s a big question mark. We’re very optimistic, he’s getting treatment every day, he’s in the facility right now, but he hasn’t been on a basketball court. Uncertainty going forward, I guess with our health status would be the biggest question mark.”

From Mark Medina, LA Daily News: The Lakers usually enter a season with championship aspirations. But not this year. The Lakers lost in a four-game sweep to the San Antonio Spurs in the first round. The Lakers lost Dwight Howard (free agency to Houston), Metta World Peace (amnesty provision) and Earl Clark (free agency to Cleveland). The health status remains uncertain regarding Kobe Bryant (torn left Achilles tendon), Steve Nash (right hamstring) and Pau Gasol (knees). Despite the Lakers’ financial limitations, they acquired decent talent in center Chris Kaman, forward Nick Young and guards Wesley Johnson and Jordan Farmar. But with the Western Conference featuring plenty of young and emerging talent in Oklahoma City, the Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets, the Lakers face a daunting task in competing with a veteran-laden roster. That leaves the Lakers, for once, using diminished expectations as motivation. “A lot of people don’t believe in us. That’s always good,” Young said. “That’ll add more fuel to the fire. It’ll demand Kobe come back stronger. It should motivate all of us.”

Darius Soriano

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25 responses to Around The World (Wide Web): Questions of Leadership & New Directions

  1. hey darius: as we all know, in four days kobe bryant will turn 35 years old. in nba basketball years, that’s considered old. in real time, people that age are pretty much coming into their own.

    when contemplating questions of leadership and sensing new directions for the los angeles lakers one could look over across town and see what magic johnson and company are accomplishing at the ravine. the current dodger organization is rewritting history before our eyes this century. good for the dodgers, good for magic johnson.

    happy birthday to kobe and happy belated birthday to magic.

    can’t wait for the new direction lakers and questionable leadership to commence.

    Go Lakers !

  2. Robert,
    Don’t worry… The dream is still alive! And also… You won’t need to guess… If I hear the dream is dead I will post it on this site right away. Let’s hope I don’t have to do that.

  3. Darius,

    Another article that just appeared this morning (after you had recorded your post) is an article by Michael C. Jones of Yahoo! Contributor Network: “5 Reasons Why Jordan Hill Needs to Start at Power Forward in 2013-2014″: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/los-angeles-lakers-5-reasons-jordan-hill-needs-161900684.html

    Jones’s reasons are as follows: 1) Hill’s Defense; 2) Hill’s Rebounding; 3) Pau can play Center (if Hill starts at PF); 4) Hill is working to improve his jump shot; and 5) Intangibles (Hill’s energy, his relative youth, his potentially coming into his own, etc.).

    I might add one other reason–Hill complements Gasol very nicely. It’s a provocative article, hot off the press.

    In summary, then, Jones is saying that Hill should not only play but that Hill should START and that he should play as many minutes as possible (health permitting) alongside Pau Gasol. He makes, I think, a convincing case.

  4. Mid-Wilshirem,
    Starting Hill should be a no-brainer. If the Lakers start Pau and Chris Kaman then that will be a clear signal that they intend to to tank the season.

  5. I agree that Hill should start, and I would start Johnson at the 3.

  6. Aaron: Good to hear. I need a light at the end of this tunnel. Actually I just want the digging to stop : )
    Brian Kamenetzky: “The owner and player personnel hats are very different. Wearing both at the same time is a bad idea.” Well – uh – yes. Bad idea always even for a guy who is an experienced basketball guy. for one who isn’t. Horrendous idea.
    “Playboy”: When I look at Jim Buss, I think about a lot of stuff, but that is not on the list.

  7. rr,

    I agree with you–Hill should start at the 4, Wes Johnson at the 3.

  8. If Kobe cannot start the season playing, then its a lineup of: Nash, Blake, Young, Hill and Pau starting. This is due to familiarity and not to mention how good the seasons were last year for Blake and Hill (when he was playing). I expect Nick Young to come in due to his offense and his ability to slash and create his own shots. Although there is a real possibility he shoots us to death some nights.

    I agree w/ Hill starting. He was the guy I had shoed-in as Dwight’s partner after we trade Pau for depth and signed Dwight. I’ve been pretty vocal w/ this and now that its happened some other way, Hill’s role beside Pau is magnified.

  9. I really do think Hill is an exceptional player. However,I’m predicting barring a roster change Ryan Kelly will at some point be the starting PF.

  10. I’m predicting Kelly. As offensively he has to be better then Hill. Defensively he has to be quicker then Kaman. If you answer yes to both those questions. Kelly will be the starter.

  11. Vasheed,

    Sorry. But I just don’t see Ryan Kelly as a starter. He’s only a rookie (and a 2nd round draft pick at that). Although, more of a stretch-4 than Hill, he’s still basically a finesse player. As a result, he doesn’t complement Gasol at all. For all we know, he may not even get off the bench.

    If you have too many finesse players, you loose toughness, energy, rebounding, and defense. Defense in particular will be this team’s weakness. That’s why it will be important to have Hill and Johnson start and play extended minutes. Otherwise, the starting 5 will be an absolute sieve. No matter how many points they score, they’ll always be playing catch up.

    I really believe in the virtue of having a balance between toughness and finesse, defense and offense, grit and elegance. The pairing of Hill and Gasol should work, I think, precisely because they ARE different. And that can actually be a good thing.

  12. Nash, Blake, Young,

    This group would be badly overmatched on D. If MDA wants to do something like this, he would be better off starting Farmar at the 2. The main thing that the Lakers need to improve is perimeter defense.

  13. I doubt that Kelly will see much PT unless:

    a) Pau, Nash and Kobe can’t stay healthy enough to make trying to win worth it, and the Lakers are in tank mode.
    or
    b) D’Antoni is simply so stubborn about having a nominal stretch 4 out there that he ignores everything else.

    It is really very simple: the Lakers were 20th in D and lost their defensive anchor and their second-best defensive player. If Pau. Kobe and Nash can play, the O will be decent. If they can’t, the team will be terrible no matter what. Young, Farmar, and Kaman all have skills that can contribute to an NBA offense. So, in order to have a decent team, the Lakers need to work on doing everything they can to avoid having one of the 2 or 3 worst Ds in the league. Playing a slow rookie with foot problems at the 4 is not the way to do that.

    We need to realize that MDA, just like all the guys on the roster who are playing for their contracts, is perhaps coaching for his future. If the Lakers are really bad this year, Buss may fire him, and after New York and this gig, MDA probably would not get another NBA head coaching job. He will be 63 years old next year, and is not considered to be a particularly easy guy to get along with. He could definitely get hired as an O assistant and could almost certainly get a gig in Europe, but his NBA head coaching rep, at a career low point, is on the line this year to some extent as well. He needs to pull the team together and make it fun to watch and competitive. So I don’t see him playing Ryan Kelly over Hill, Harris, Kaman, Pau, and Landry unless Kelly is lot better than I am guessing that he will be.

  14. “i’m not a young guy, i grew up in the eighties” is my exact description of a young guy, not super young, but young. perspective changes things.

    reality is a slippery thing.

    the Lakers don’t need to STOP anyone. they just need to keep their arms up and their hands in people’s faces. they need to stay active. that’s good d. that will win games.

    us us better to have shutdown guys for your defense? of course it is! the name of the game is win and win=scoring more points than the other guy.

    D’Antoni doesn’t coach d? the way i hear it, Phil never devoted practices to defense either. i remember him saying quite clearly that the first step to playing good defense was to play the offense properly. good shots with rebounders in position keeps the other team out of transition. transition is where defense is the weakest.

    i keep hearing that defense is effort. if that’s so, the Lakers should be ok. i think these guys are willing to make an effort. yes, Dwight would have helped because he’s very mobile and quick and he changes shots. they will obviously miss that, but at least i won’t have to watch a guy with no post moves demand to be the center of the offense from the low post. i won’t have to watch him get stripped and the other team get in transition and score a layup. i think that the Lakers can do enough to help themselves, although we’ll have to see what happens in close games. i think this season will already be better than last. i bet we’ll play some ball and if things go well, i.e. health is good all year, we’re legitimate challengers.

    are the odds good for a championship? no, but even for the best teams, good fortune is required. some excellent teams have failed to win it all(ask Jerry West) amd some mediocre teams have won from time to time. “that’s why they play the games”.

    the knowledge of what is to come is zero. if you make an educated guess and are correct, it doesn’t pay off much, so there’s no reason to be cocky about it. what if Greg Oden is fully healed and finally plays to his potential? Miami wins again? what if Lebron slips on a spilled soda and tears his knee so badly he never plays again? what if Kobe heals nicely? last time they had a serious one on one, Kobe kicked LBJs butt, even blocking his shot from behind. i think he still remembers how to play ball. i think Pau’s knees will finally feel good for the first time in a long time. he’s finally had a summer off! will it last? you don’t know.

    everyones’ opinions are really interesting. that’s why i read them.

  15. Ouch

    Why not make that Nash, Blake, Kamen, Pau and Woody Harrilson and we have Whiteman can ‘t Jump 2?

  16. Ken,

    Ha ha. You scored points with that one. A straight away three; Splash (all net).

    Rotations – While it’s definitely important as to who starts, what I’m more interested in seeing is whether D’Antoni stands by his words and goes out of his realm by stretching his rotation. He mentioned in an article earlier this summer that he’s looking to go 11 deep. While that may be a stretch (as far as on a nightly basis), with the pieces that Mitch acquired after Dwight’s departure, I don’t see any reason why he shouldn’t be able to go, at the very least, 10 deep.

    I’ll also reiterate that if this team is to have any type of success, imo, it’ll have to sacrifice offense for the sake of defense. Therefore, plenty of floor time should be given to Farmer, WJ and Hill at the expense of Nash, Young and Kaman. Especially if/when Kobe returns to health.

  17. Hill should definitely be given the chance to be a starter

  18. Theres an old adage, “You don’t have to be faster then the bear, you just have to be faster then the other guy running from the bear.” Hill does not fit in the starting line up unless you are willing to play Pau at PF. Which has been stated ad nauseam as to the problems with that.

    Hill has the skills of a Center trapped in a PF body. His value lies in playing as Center in small ball line ups. As a starting PF unlss he can vastly improve his jumper he is a liability on offense.

    We know MDA has thrown the idea of starting Kaman and Gasol together. This is precisely because of Hill’s lack of range. Anyone should quickly follow that while this may solve the offense issue Kaman and Gasol are way to slow to play Defense together.

    This then gets to Kelly. He has the offensive skills to stretch the floor as desired. And while his defense I have my doubts about its still likely to be better then a combo of Kaman and Gasol. Barring major health issues or roster changes I think Kelly has a high probability of starting. Not because its a great option but because its the best of worst options. Although I am hopeful Kelly will be a bit of a surprise.

  19. Lakers have never been a dominant defense in my lifetime, they’ve just been able to get stops when they need them. Dwight being gone hurts the rim protection, altered shots and blocks. But it’s not like guys were waltzing in the paint all last year anyway. Quicker guys on the perimeter who are committed to that end of the floor could help in steals, making teams go to their 2nd and 3rd offensive options and man to man defense. Listening to their words we already have two Farmar said in Europe if you don’t play defense you don’t play over there and Nick Young recently said “pride factor” will kick in. We know Nash and Blake try. Hopefully a small forward surprises us with all out effort.

    As far as Mike D. being stubborn, Lakers brought him in to run this type of team. And what if it works?

  20. Kevin,

    D’Antoni ball requires speed and shooters. His best teams in PHX had Shawn Marion at the 4, Joe Johnson at the 3, and Amar’e Stoudemire at the 5.

    But, really, it comes down to talent. Hill is probably the Lakers’ 4th best player; he needs to play. In addition, as Darius pointed out weeks ago using numbers, Pau and Hill were very effective together last year, and Mid-Wilshire also explained it, in a non-stat way.

    If things work for Ryan Kelly, he will be sort of a taller Matt Bonner. There is a place for a guy like that, but when you already have two slow bigs, you have to spot him carefully unless you want your D to get torched.

  21. Lakers DRTGs during the run:

    2011 6th
    2010 4th
    2009 6th
    2008 5th

  22. Lakers DRTGs post-run:

    2012 13th
    2013 20th

    I am not saying all of that is on Brown and D’Antoni; a lot of it was personnel. Odom was a big part of the team D during the run. But, basically, it is very hard to have a good team with a below-average defense.

  23. rr: they were good defensively but not dominant, mainly because of their size. More off. rebounds and second chance points allowed them to get back on defense surrendering fewer transition points. They weren’t dominant defensively like the bulls, heat last few years. They could get stops in the 4th when they needed them and were so good offensively that put them over the top.

  24. There were two interesting tidbits in the comments above:
    - Mike D. will be playing for his job, and
    - Success is usually a matter of balance between offense and defense

    First, I agree Mike D. is coaching for his head-coaching life. That, and the type of team Mitch has assembled for him, mean he will have to be flexible in his approach.

    The comment about not worrying about a ‘shut down’ defender, because you will succeed with organized offense and fundamental team defense, argues for what Phil was coaching for – everyone in an offensive place where we would be least compromised when the other team got the ball. That is why I doubt we will be playing ‘scatterball’ this year, but will have an offensive philosophy that puts everyone in a place where they can not only succeed – Mike’s strength – but also where they can react defensively to everything except turnovers – nobody can deal well with them.

    This balance is why I suspect Hill will be starting with Pau and Johnson will be starting if Nick Young replaces Kobe.

  25. “Lakers have never been a dominant defense in my lifetime”
    The Lakers have had dominant defenses each time they won their championships. Shaq anchored defenses that were awesome. The Lakers outplayed Boston’s (Thibodeau’s) defense when they won 2 out of 3 finals from them. The Heat’s awesome defense let an unknown player rain 3′s on them in the finals. If Popovich does not out think himself in game 6, the Heat’s defense would have lost the finals.

    The Laker defense next season will be okay once they learn the offense and how to get back in transition.