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The playoffs are showing each and every fan of the Lakers just how far away the team is from the level needed to play high stakes games in May and June. Look at the remaining five teams (bye, Chicago) and the same formula exists: superstar player (or players) in or approaching their prime, very good (if not elite) coaching, and role players who can perform steadily and/or reach a level where they turn a game in their team’s favor.

Look at the Lakers’ roster and there is no indication they have any of these things right now. While the playoffs offer fantastic entertainment (did you watch the drama of the Clippers’ collapse in game six vs. the Rockets?), they also offer a reminder the Lakers aren’t just at the bottom of the mountain, they are still in the supplies shop roaming the aisles looking for the right equipment to start their journey.

There are glimmers, however. Julius Randle may have missed his entire rookie season with a broken leg, but his season long commitment to his rehab — including weight loss which should help his already established quickness and athleticism — combined with an intriguing skill set is a nice piece to work with. As is Jordan Clarkson, a player who developed very nicely over the course of the season by showing a combination of athleticism, ball skills, and an ability to apply off-court teachings to on-court action. We do not yet know what these players will become, but their ceilings are high enough that envisioning them as contributors to a winning team isn’t far fetched.

The next piece of the puzzle, of course, is what occurs in the upcoming draft. Should the Lakers be able to keep their own pick, the ability to nab another player who has a combination of talent, pedigree, and potential to be able to provide similar impact to Clarkson and Randle is there. The Rockets’ pick (owed from the Jeremy Lin deal) and the Lakers own 2nd rounder offer less potential for immediate impact, but do provide additional avenues to improve the talent base.

Each one of those picks represents a potential step in the right direction. Just as every free agent signee is and every move to add or subtract from the coaching, training, and scouting staffs are. Mitch Kupchak has said many of the right things about not mortgaging the team’s future in the pursuit of quick gains, but that must also play out in strategy employed when managing the entire restoration of an on-court product which has been the worst, results-wise, the organization has ever seen.

The Lakers, even while a vocal sect of their fanbase festers with impatience, must understand they cannot skip steps. There is no such thing as a three-run homer when no one is on base. In order to be great once again, they must first merely be good. Good enough to develop winning habits, good enough to attract better talent, good enough so “making the leap” is realistic and not an endeavor destined to fail.

All of this will require several small — and some big — things going well. A foundation of success must be built and cultivated. And while we are in a time where, after two awful seasons, the desire is to be great again soon, simply being good may not just have to be enough, it may be necessary.

I will forever be fascinated by team building and the construction of rosters contrasted against the direction of the league. How players are grouped and assembled to form a team + the defining style of play of winning basketball will almost always go hand in hand as general managers and coaches look to steal ideas (and players who fit into specific archetypes) from each other in a race to the top.

After the Lakers won their second title in as many years in 2010, you saw this first hand as some of the western conference teams (most notably the Thunder in their acquisition of Kendrick Perkins) added size and physicality to their front line to match up against the Gasol/Bynum/Odom trio the Lakers hammered teams with up front. By the end of 2011, however, things started to shift again.

Those playoffs, in their quest for a three-peat, the Lakers were unceremoniously ousted by the hot shooting, and eventual title winning, Mavs. The reign of LeBron, Wade, and Bosh then began with two consecutive titles, followed by the Spurs return as champions last season after their heartbreaking defeat the season before. This season, the Warriors posted a historical season with 67 wins and top-2 rankings in both offensive and defensive efficiency. All of these teams relied heavily on outside shooting to fuel their offensive attacks, a drastic shift — at least aesthetically — from what the Lakers had offered in their title winning years.

Today, at SB Nation, Tom Ziller and Paul Flannery discussed these ideas, using a recent Phil Jackson tweet as a jumping-off point to their conversation. Ziller and Flannery covered a lot of ground, but a key part of their discussion centered on whether, as the style of play around the league shifts, we are too dismissive of “old-school” thinking about three pointers:

FLANNERY: I want to go back to something. Do we run a risk by dismissing wise old heads like Phil Jackson simply because they don’t conform to the style of the day?

ZILLER: Absolutely! It’s easily one of the most dangerous facets of the New NBA, where an increasing share of decision-makers come from business or law school in lieu of a fuller basketball background. We as a chattering class are, at this point, so much quicker to wax skeptical about Phil Jackson’s positions than those of Sam Hinkie. We’ve joked before that the nerds won. It’s legitimately true.

I feel guilty for ridiculing the concept of the Basketball PhD and the theory of its demise as a professional credential in the NBA. The presentation of the concern was worth ridicule; the concern is not. There is knowledge gathered from learning and excelling in a field that cannot otherwise be obtained. That doesn’t mean we need ex-players running every team, but it speaks to the value of their voices and theories.

Every theory ought to be judged by its merits, not by the ideology it fits within or the orientation of its presenter.

FLANNERY: It doesn’t help that each side can drip with condescension when it wants to either. There are insights and intel to be gleaned from vets, quants, scouts and cap gurus. Sometimes it doesn’t jive with a preconceived notion, but that shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. It should be embraced. I feel like the best organizations are the ones that blend all that stuff together into a basketball bouillabaisse. Of course, there’s a difference between having all those people on staff and giving them all a voice.

What’s interesting to me isn’t whether Phil is right or wrong, it’s that as the league moves forward and embraces whatever innovations that can assist in winning, it’s easy to forget that there actually are multiple ways to win and that most successful things build on previously used concepts as foundation for their success.

Phil actually spoke to this, somewhat, in the tweet following the one that got so many in an uproar:

In it’s most simplest form, basketball is about penetration. The Triangle used penetration in the form of the dribble, the pass, or a shot – this is one of the key principles that Phil and Tex Winter often harped on. The advent of “pace and space” style offense that optimize three pointers uses penetration against a spaced floor to accomplish this. And, as Phil noted with the Heat, the dive out of the P&R to collapse the defense in ways that open up the outside shot was key to their runs. What people also often forget is that Phil consistently used Kukoc, Horry, and Odom as stretch-y PF’s on his best teams and that, at least with the Lakers, his teams were consistently in the top half of the league in three point field goals attempted.

For the current carnation of the Lakers, they too would be wise to understand where the league is going, but not forget there really are multiple ways to win. Byron Scott got himself in some hot water by downplaying the value of the three pointer, but as the season went on his team did shoot more shots from behind the arc and opened up their offense to incorporate more P&R that helped space the floor. Finally playing Ryan Kelly at PF also helped. Having enough flexibility and finding that proper balance between optimizing inside play and being able to space the floor via effective shooting should continue to be a priority for Scott and his coaching staff.

The playoffs have been a great mix of high quality, intense games and top flight teams dispatching their more inferior foes unceremoniously. Some might disappointed with the lack of drama the latter brings, but I’m more of the mind that the cream really rises in the second season and if you’re a team that can’t compete, the quicker you find the exit the better. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love for every series to offer what the Clippers and Spurs did, but both of those teams were conference final quality and that simply won’t exist when over half the teams in the league make it to the post season.

In any event, the playoffs go on, and as the games get played we also get sprinklings of Lakers’ news and quality takes on where the team is and where they are going. With that, some quick thoughts…

*I’m for the Lakers getting better next season, not making lateral moves nor treading water to try and make a big push next summer when the cap explodes. Grabbing useful players — even if they’re not stars — and using them to up the talent level is an approach I strongly endorse.

*In saying that, they shouldn’t chase guys just because they have name recognition, which is why I’ve been against pursuing Rajon Rondo. Here is a great case against chasing the former Celtic (and Maverick) this offseason.

*Byron Scott will represent the Lakers at the draft lottery on May 19th. If the Lakers actually keep their pick or move up, I’m wondering if he will unfold his arms in celebration or not.

*Speaking of the draft, should the Lakers keep their pick and draft in the top 5 there will be no shortage of good articles to read on the top prospects. A good place to start, however, is with Chris Herring’s reports at the Wall Street Journal. Here are his columns on Jahlil Okafor, Karl Anthony Towns, Justise Winslow, and Willie Cauley-Stein. The articles are Knicks-centric (he covers them for the WSJ), but the information in them is great.

*It’s NBA award season and Steph Curry was the MVP over James Harden. Both were deserving candidates, but Curry would have been my pick. And, for the record, I also would have picked Draymond Green for DPOY, Kerr for COY, and Lou Williams for Sixth Man of the Year. If those picks seem a bit Warriors heavy, I think when a team wins 67 games, it’s usually because they had many high level contributors performing at or near the top of the league in what they do best.

*My 2nd round playoff predictions: Warriors in 5, Rockets in 7, Hawks in 7, and Cavs in 7.

*Other notes on the playoffs to this point and moving forward:

  • The Spurs showed, again, how taxing consecutive deep playoff runs can be. After two straight trips to the Finals, making a third run was always going to be very tough. Yes, home court advantage would have helped against the Clippers, but getting through two more rounds against the Rockets and then the winner of Warriors/Grizzlies is a nightmarish gauntlet that I simply do not think they would have conquered.
  • Blake Griffin’s evolution as a player has been something that should be discussed more. He went from being just a supreme athlete who could finish over the top of a defense to a multi-skilled PF who can handle, pass, shoot with some range, and operate in the hub of an offense as a scorer or a facilitator. I would not mind one bit if Julius Randle looked at Blake as a guy to influence his game.
  • If the Cavs are going to beat the Bulls, I think they need to play LeBron at PF for the majority of his minutes and get good shooting from James Jones and Mike Miller (who has not been a big part of the rotation this season). LeBron will need to guard Pau, but he’s more than capable of doing so if he’s willing to expend the energy to front the post and battle on the glass as he has in past years.
  • John Wall really is a great player. He doesn’t always come to mind when talking about the league’s best PG’s, but I’d have him only a slight notch below they Curry, Paul, Westbrook group with Kyrie (and Parker). He’s not the shooter/ball handler Kyrie is (few are), but he’s the better defender and has better court vision in my opinion.
  • It’s a shame we won’t get a full series with a healthy Mike Conley to see how hard the Grizz could have pushed the Warriors. Memphis misses their floor general severely on both sides of the ball so much. Tony Allen can’t guard Steph and Klay at the same time and Conley would have at least made Curry work on both ends. Calathes and Udrih are fine backups, but are just not in the same class as Conley and the Dubs will make the Grizz pay for that nightly.
  • Assuming Paul is healthy enough to play the entire series, the Rockets/Clippers match up will turn on how well Barnes can defend Harden without fouling. If Barnes can stay in the game and not get fooled/frustrated by Harden’s tactics, the Clips have a real shot. If I were a betting man, though, I’d say Harden wins this battle and, with it, Houston claiming the series.

*Thank you to everyone who read my post asking for contributors and for sending emails expressing interest. I am in the process of reading through everything that you all sent and will have updates in the coming week or so.

Forum Blue & Gold was founded a little over a decade ago with the intention of being a place where fans could discuss, and the writing would focus on, “on-the-court Laker analysis and information, not the off the court soap opera that dominates the local and national media.”

I’ve no clue if our old buddy Kurt Helin — you might know him from this other little thing he runs now —  thought his “hobby”, as he would often call it, would last this long nor that he would, eventually, pass the reigns on to some random guy who started leaving his thoughts in the comments section of the wonderful space he’d created and cultivated. Yet, here we are.

For a little over five years I have run this site, writing about and talking Lakers with a community of smart, passionate fans who want the best out of the team. We don’t always agree, but that’s part of the fun; part of what makes this site one that I am proud of. The names of the people who visit every day and whose time and effort drives the conversation have changed over that time, but I think the spirit of the venture Kurt started so long ago remains.

And so, today, I do what Kurt did to me nearly seven years ago to me — I am reaching out and asking if you would like to contribute to FB&G.

Maybe you’re a master narrator who can compose a recap for the ages for even the most lopsided blowout. Or you might be a breakdown artist who loves dissecting the X’s & O’s. Or are you a stat geek who wants to take the deep dive into advanced analytics to figure out what’s ailing the Lakers’ offense? Maybe you’re a college hoops junkie who wants to keep us up to speed on the latest prospects? A humorist who can tackle the issues facing the team with gallows humor? Or you could be someone who just wants to add thoughtful observations to our community.

If any of these things sound like you, shoot me an email at darius@forumblueandgold.com with whatever it is you think I need to see (writing samples, links, proposals, references, etc). We hope to bring on multiple people who can add to this place and keep it going for, maybe, another 10 years.

The Lakers, with Kobe Bryant’s disastrous extension wiped away that summer, could sniff three max cap slots. The Lakers’ cap flexibility yielded nothing of note last summer, but a Lakers team with the ability to offer a package deal to multiple stars is the ultimate NBA bogeyman.

(via Zach Lowe: How the NBA’s New TV Deal Could Blow Up the Salary Cap)

In the coming summers, this upcoming one included, the Lakers should have immense spending power. They purposely built their roster to “maintain flexibility” and be able to be a major competitor on the open market for the league’s best free agents.

This upcoming summer, for example, should the team not exercise their team option on Jordan Hill and get two first round picks (their own — which is still in question — and the Rockets, which is not) the Lakers would have between $20-23 million in cap space come July 1st. This number would include cap holds for Jordan Clarkson, Tarik Black, Robert Sacre, and Jabari Brown. Jump to the Summer of 2016 when, as Zach Lowe notes above, Kobe’s contract comes off the books, and the Lakers could be in a position to spend boatloads of money on free agents to rebuild their roster with an influx of amazing talent.

When viewing the team’s trajectory through this prism, visions of what the Miami Heat did in the Summer of 2010 becomes a model many fans hope to follow. Keep the cap clean — maybe even losing a lot next season to get another high pick — and then spend like crazy in the summer of ’16 when there will be a batch of free agents worth spending the cash on. There’s a seductive logic to this that is easy to be roped into. I get it.

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