Archives For

Throughout his career Kobe Bryant has rarely been one to hold his tongue when it comes to speaking what he sees as the truth, but over the past few seasons, that’s been even more true. Put a microphone in front of Kobe and he’s going to give you his unfiltered opinion on whatever topic he is asked about.

It should come as no surprise, then, that when Kobe announced he would not return this season he was very open about his thoughts on this season and what his expectations for the Lakers are moving forward. While the entire sit down is worth your time, the part that was most compelling, at least to me, was when he spoke about next year’s team and whether he could wait another year after this off-season to improve the roster:

No, nope, not one lick. Let’s just play next year and suck again. No, absolutely not, absolutely not. It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it. You have to get things done. Same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court, the same expectations I have for them up there. You have to be able to figure out a way to do both.

On top of those comments, were these given within the last couple of days:

The one sure-fire way to be a contending team is to have an abundance of talent (newsflash, right?). And in today’s NBA, the way you accumulate high end talent is by drafting it (the Thunder), signing it in free agency (the Heat), or trading for it (the 2008 – 10 Lakers). And once you have that talent in house, you have to be able to pay for it. It’s a pretty simple formula.

The problem for the Lakers is that none of those things are really possible next season. And a lot of it has to do with the CBA.

Let’s start with the draft since that is the one thing that the CBA really does not affect. The Lakers are primed to have a very good pick in the upcoming draft. That player should aid in bolstering the team’s core talent and, hopefully, be a building block player for years to come. But that player is only one guy. The Thunder didn’t get good with just Durant. They got good when Westbrook, Harden, and Ibaka were added to Durant (not to mention the time that was given to let them develop). The only drafted players the Lakers will have on their roster next season will be whoever they pick this June, Robert Sacre, and Ryan Kelly. While I like Kelly and Sacre, let’s not confuse them with elite prospects.

But when it comes to trades and free agency, the Lakers are really stuck in dealing with the rules that govern the league.

While the Lakers have cap space to offer free agents or to use as a mechanism to absorb money in a trade for a high salaried player, the rules say the team cannot go over the salary cap unless they are using that money to sign their own players. That last point is a crucial one, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

So while you (or Kobe) can say “we just need to sign (or trade for) player X, Y, Z” it’s really not that simple. The Lakers can spend all their cap space on a marquee free agent (or two if those guys decide they want to take a bit less), but even in the most ideal world the roster would still be one built around Kobe and that marquee free agent (or two). The same is true for a trade — the Lakers can try to work a deal for a quality veteran (say, Kevin Love) and offer to sign and trade one of their own free agents (say, Pau Gasol), but even if that were to happen the Lakers would have Kobe, Love, and….not much else. Yes the could fill out their roster with role players,  but the types of players they’d be signing are the exact type of guys they signed last off-season (guys like Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Xavier Henry, Wes Johnson, and Chris Kaman; guys who took less money to play in L.A. for the Lakers or guys who no one else wanted and are looking to redeem their careers with no other option but to take the minimum).

Let’s go the other way, then. Let’s say the Lakers should maximize their spending by inking their own players via their Bird Rights and building up the roster that way. Only, if you do that, you’re essentially committing big dollars to the likes of Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Nick Young, and Farmar. In other words, you’re going over the cap to keep the same team you had this year. This, as far as I know, isn’t what Kobe means when he says he wants a quick turnaround. In fact, I’d imagine it’s the opposite.

This is the part of the story where I tell you this is actually, at least partially, Kobe’s fault. After all, he took a huge salary in the coming seasons and that salary is what is eating away at the team’s cap space and limiting their ability to sign multiple high level players. And there is some truth in that. If Kobe and the front office had been able to agree on a contract that paid him less, those savings could have been transferred into the pockets of other players the Lakers would want to acquire.

That said, what’s also true is that the Lakers are simply in a position where the rules are somewhat against them. By having so many contracts expiring at the same time, the Lakers will fall beneath the salary cap. This, then, puts a limit on what they can actually spend on players this summer. (If you even wondered by Pau Gasol makes more money than LeBron James, this is why — LeBron took less than the maximum salary (just like Wade and Bosh did) so that their contracts could fit into the Heat’s cap space.) Further, because all those contracts expire at the same time and the assets they do have under contract aren’t that valuable around the league, they cannot easily flip those pieces into the better players that would accelerate the rebuild in the manner that Kobe describes in his quotes above.

This is the reality the Lakers face. And, ultimately, Kobe must face it too. There is only so much you can do when all your talented players diminish in quality at the same time while simultaneously lacking alternative assets to improve your roster via the other avenues the CBA allows. So, while Kobe can talk about turning things around quickly the fact is the Lakers aren’t in any position to actually make that happen. Unless you see LeBron, Bosh, and Carmelo all deciding they want to make $7 million a year to come play for the Lakers. Yeah, me neither.

There is really no way to spruce up a game like the one that will occur tonight. When the Orlando Magic come into Staples Center tonight to face the Lakers, two of the worst teams in the league will be facing off.

The Lakers now boast the 4th worst record in the entire league. Read that sentence again. If they hope to avoid the worst season in franchise history they need to win nine of their last 14 games. Considering they are 3-7 in their last 10 games, I am not optimistic this will occur. And while the team continues to play hard, they do not play smart or together defensively. I don’t want to undersell the former point, but if you are looking for why this team continues to lose it are those latter points that mean more. As the great John Wooden said, do not mistake activity for achievement.

The Magic, meanwhile, boast the league’s third worst record and are one of only three teams to not yet even win 20 games this year. They are a roster of mostly young players and are still trying to recover from the departure of Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy two seasons ago. They have some nice pieces, but do not know how to channel that talent, often experimenting with lineups and trying sort out what positions maximize their players’ production.

In a way, Orlando represents an interesting look at what the Lakers hope to try to emulate while not replicating the results. With prospects like Victor Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Tobias Harris, and Mo Harkless the Magic possess a core of young players who, if they reach their respective ceilings, can be a nice core of contributors for a competitive team. That said, it takes time for young players to maximize their potential and without high performing veterans to serve as mentors and provide a baseline of production for a successful record the team as a whole flounders. In the coming seasons, then, the Lakers will try to acquire young assets like the Magic possess but try pair that talent with the types of high quality veterans that can keep the team among the ranks of the competitive.

That’s down the line, however. Tonight, this game is probably most important because of how it affects lottery positioning. As mentioned, the Lakers have the 4th worst record, but a win would put them back into 7th place by percentage points. I don’t root for losses, but it is wise to understand how each game affects the outlook of the draft through the lottery process.

If you do root for losses, though, one thing that will be in your favor is that the Lakers will again be a bit short handed tonight. Xavier Henry had an MRI on the wrist he injured on Friday and it revealed a torn ligament. He has been ruled out of this game and will be reevaluated on Tuesday. And, after having a nice return to action against the Wizards, Steve Nash is a game time decision after tweaking his hamstring (which is a symptom of the nerve root irritation he’s dealing with). At this point, I think it is doubtful Nash gives it a go all things considered.

The flip-side of this, however, is that the Magic also have plenty of variables against them tonight. Jameer Nelson is doubtful to play. The Magic are also on the 2nd night of a back to back, playing last night in Utah (a game they lost). This game also marks the final contest in a 4 game west coast road trip, which should only contribute further to whatever dragging feeling the team may have already.

In summary, rather than thinking about why either team would win this game it is much easier to give reasons why they will lose. Thank goodness there are only 14 games left in this season.

This could be said on many nights this season, but tonight’s match up is quite the role reversal for a late March game between these two teams. The Wizards enter tonight two games over .500 and the 6th seed in the East. The Lakers enter tonight’s game 23 games under .500 (seriously, that’s not a misprint) and are dead last in the West. I don’t need the Elias Sports Bureau to tell me that this type of discrepancy between these two teams has rarely (if ever) happened this late in the season. But here we are.

The good news for the Lakers (at least if you like watching more talent) is that they get some reinforcements back tonight. Jordan Hill and Nick Young are slated to return to the lineup after dealing with their respective ailments. Steve Nash will also be available to play tonight, likely playing anywhere from 5-7 minutes a half according to Mike D’Antoni. Adding those three to the lineup, even if they are diminished (especially Nash), improves this team a fair amount. Hill’s work on the glass and general hustle, Young’s scoring punch and ability to absorb possessions while creating shots offensively, and Steve Nash’s all-around game on O greatly improve what this team wants to do schematically.

And call me a sap, but I’m happy that Nash will be able to give it a go tonight. I know there are no guarantees he even makes it through the game (even if only playing short stints), I’ve always liked watching him out there on the floor. If he’s able to make a few “Nash” plays when out there, I’ll be satisfied. I also hope the fans give him a nice ovation when he makes his first appearance. For all we know, this may be the last time we ever see him play.

This is normally the part where I’d talk some strategy or discuss the Lakers’ chances of winning this game. Not today, however. It’s not that there aren’t X’s and O’s that intrigue me this game. It’s quite the opposite, actually. The Wizards young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal are difference makers and offer ever improving games that should give the Lakers fits. And with Nene out and Marcin Gortat missing their last game, that duo will have to do even more of the heavy lifting than normal. We also can’t forget the return of Drew Gooden and his all court goodness! (On a serious note, Gooden has been making some plays lately and the Wiz recently signed him for the rest of the season after initially inking him to a 10 day contract.)

I am not going to get into many details, however, because I’m not sure it matters all that much at this point. I mean, I care how the team plays and there are several things that still intrigue me about what this group does when on the floor. But in reality, this part of the season is less about the schemes the team is using or what they can do to win, and more about what the guys are offering as individuals and whether those traits can be incorporated into a team, down the line, that wins games. There is individual growth to be made as well and getting extended looks at several players (especially Sacre, Bazemore, and Henry) can help continue the evaluation process. I want to see how those players operate within the scheme more than what the scheme is itself, if that makes sense.

At this point, though, these are the things that matter most to me. Whether this is true for you or not, let me know in the comments. My guess is that many still care about the wins and losses (especially related to the lottery), but as a guy who is also thinking roster construction and the need to fill some gaps with cheap talent, these last games will hopefully continue to inform those decisions as well.

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.

With only 15 games left in this forgettable campaign — or maybe it is a memorable one for all the wrong reasons — the shift in focus from this season to next is basically complete. Wins and losses this year matter more from the perspective of how they impact lottery odds and draft position than anything else.

With that, the questions that are being asked now relate to prospect watching and the NCAA tournament, who the team should draft should players X/Y/Z be available, what free agents the Lakers should chase, and whether or not Mike D’Antoni should be retained. Nearly everyone has strong opinions on these questions (especially the last one) and these have become the major talking points in this final month of the season.

I would argue, however, that the biggest question isn’t any of those listed above, but a more foundational one: whoever coaches the team next year, will he be flexible enough to adapt his philosophy to the roster he has at his disposal?

If Mike D’Antoni is that man, I think it is very much fair to doubt that this will be the case.

Whatever you think of D’Antoni, it cannot be argued that last season he showed a fair amount of flexibility in what offense he ran in attempting to maximize his roster. No, Pau Gasol wasn’t optimized, but at least he played next to Dwight Howard often. He was also utilized as a decision maker in the team’s HORNS sets, playing a fair amount at the elbows with the ball in his hands.

Beyond Gasol, the Lakers’ offense also featured a fair amount of direct post ups for Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant. Both preferred to work from the post and both got opportunities to do so — even if both would likely say they wanted more of those chances. Both also got to work in isolation more than a typical D’Antoni offense would allow. Go back and watch the tape and you will find many times where Kobe and Dwight got the ball in the mid post (or further), had teammates clear a side, and then got a chance to work one-on-one against their defender. These are the types of actions both players have utilized most of their careers and D’Antoni did a decent job of accommodating them last season — something I don’t think he got enough credit for.

This year, however, those adjustments have not been present. Gasol is better utilized this season than last, but has been used more as the lone big man on the floor in an offense that resembles what D’Antoni would traditionally run. The HORNS sets that were so prevalent last year have all but vanished and have been replaced almost entirely by sets predicated on pick and rolls or ball reversals through the big men at the top of the key.

This style has also led to an abandonment of nearly all lineups that feature two traditional big men, especially as the season has progressed. This has translated to D’Antoni swapping out Hill and Kaman in favor of Shawne Williams, Ryan Kelly and Wes Johnson as the primary frontcourt partners for Pau. And while all three of the latter players have their strengths (with Kelly projecting well as a nice offensive player as a stretch big man), I don’t think it can be argued who the more effective players are at this stage of their respective careers.

The counter to this is that lineup data shows what groups have been more effective this season and an examination of these groups point to the more successful lineups having guys like Williams, Kelly, and Johnson playing the PF. However, when adjustments to playing style are not necessarily made and there is an emphasis on pushing the pace and taking shots early in the clock (the Lakers play at the 2nd fastest pace this year), I would argue you are probably not going to get the most out of a lineup that features two of the Pau/Kaman/Hill trio on the floor together.

Ultimately, maybe D’Antoni didn’t see enough of a talent disparity between the bigs he chose to play versus the ones he did not to make the types of adjustments he did the year before. It’s not like Hill and Kaman are Dwight Howard and necessarily deserve to be catered to. It probably also helped that Kobe wasn’t on the floor to dictate more of how the offense was deployed — remember, he was a major beneficiary of the teams HORNS sets last year. In the end, though, what D’Antoni showed this year was that his marriage to his system mattered more than making adjustments to maximize the likes of Hill or Kaman.

This was his right, of course. He is the head coach. And I have long argued that if you’re going to be held accountable for the results the team produces, you might as well go about achieving those results in whatever manner you see fit. That said, when heading into the next season the Lakers must ask themselves if this year’s inflexibility in terms of style of play and in lineup deployment will carry over into future seasons. If that answer is “yes”, the answer to whether this coach stays on may be the opposite.

If it seems like the Lakers haven’t played a lot lately it is because they haven’t. This will only be their fourth game in the last 10 days and their first since Friday. If you were hoping that all that time off would help with the injury bug you’d be right and wrong all at the same time.

Nick Young and Jordan Hill are close to returning and if they are not active tonight, they should both be soon. However, while those guys are on the mend, Jordan Farmar is on the shelf again, this time with a strained groin suffered in practice earlier this week. Farmar will be out at least two weeks and with only a month left in the season, who knows if we will actually see him again this year.

With Farmar out tonight the Lakers will again be down to a single point guard who is available to play. Kendall Marshall won’t be able to play the entire game, but he will likely see heavy minutes with Xavier Henry returning to his role as de facto backup PG as well as playing his natural role on the wing. The rest of the lineup will remain the same with Kelly, Pau, Meeks, and Wes Johnson likely the other starters.

That group will have their hands full against a Spurs team that has once again surged their way to the top of the Western Conference. At 50-16, San Antonio has the best record in the league and, as the Lakers know from the drubbing they took from them on Friday, are playing some really good ball right now.

What is most impressive about the Spurs is that they are winning while not having very much lineup consistency this season. A little while ago I wrote about how the Lakers have not had very good luck in putting the same groups of players on the floor together this season. That type of lineup disruption — and the “why” it has occurred — has been a major reason the Lakers have been so bad this year.

The Spurs, however, actually haven’t had any high minute groups this year either. On the season, their lineup with the most minutes played is their starting group of Parker, Green, Kawhi Leonard, Tiago Splitter, and Duncan. However, due to injuries (mostly to Green and Kawhi) and the regular regimen of rest that Pop employs for Duncan and Parker, that group has only been on the floor for 210 minutes this year. Yet, here the Spurs are with the best record in the league.

A lot of credit must go to Gregg Popovich for this. He has established a system and has complete buy in from all his players to operate within it. Further, he’s done an excellent job of playing to his guys’ strengths and ensuring that he puts them in positions to succeed every night. What also helps is that the Spurs have had relatively no roster turnover over the last few years. This has given those players a chance to not only learn what Pop wants from them, but to master their roles within the team’s scheme and then perform when they do get their chance to play.

In any event, the Spurs are, again, one of the best teams in the league. Meanwhile, the Lakers are one of the worst. We are a long way from when this game was one the entire league had circled on their calendar as a must watch. No, this season, and especially after last Friday’s game, this may be a game that people want to turn off before halftime. I, however, will be watching the entire thing regardless of the outcome. Join me, won’t you?

Where you can watch: 7:30pm start time TWC Sportsnet. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.