Archives For Fast Break Thoughts

Happy Birthday Kobe

Darius Soriano —  August 23, 2013

It was 17 summers ago that Jerry West took a chance on a high schooler who had the NBA pedigree and the self confidence to realize those gifts. In the 17 summers that have passed since the Lakers acquired Kobe Bryant from the Charlotte Hornets for the rights to Vlade Divac, the team has celebrated 5 championships and been to the Finals an additional 2 times. As an individual, the accolades, awards, and milestones achieved are too many to rattle off without it seeming like overkill. Needless to say, the gamble has paid off.

Today, Kobe celebrates his 35th birthday. The kid that the Logo drafted has become a man. He’s had his ups and downs on and off the court in the time that he’s been a Laker, twice — once in free agency and once with a trade demand — even coming close to no longer being with the franchise. But here he is, going into his 18th season, still a Laker. And he will, at least if you listen to him and to ownership, retire one.

Only a few fanbases truly understand what it’s like to see a modern franchise icon stay with one team for their entire career. Today, only Kobe, Dirk, and Duncan can claim that honor. As a fan, it’s undeniably special to see and root for one of those guys. There’s a comfort in seeing him suit up every night, run onto that floor, and compete for the team you root for. I’m not sure outsiders can really truly grasp what these guys mean to these fans. They’re the on court pillars of the organization and have them continue to trot out onto the court is a reminder of all that has been accomplished and a flicker of hope that those past glories can be recaptured.

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Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  June 12, 2013

*The Spurs are showing the perfect blend between a team who starts a traditional lineup with two big men and one that has the shooters and versatility to play smaller while spacing the floor. They also run a fantastic system that relies on constant ball and player movement in order to generate good looks on most every possession. The Lakers, who have some of these same ingredients as the Spurs, could do well to take some notes on some of the things that are working for the Spurs on both sides of the ball and adopt them into next year’s team.

*Speaking of next year, Brian Kamenetzky argues that the Lakers should trade Pau Gasol. Several good points are raised and I found myself nodding along in several sections of BK’s piece. That said, I’m still not entirely convinced trading Pau is the right move.

*The NBA could see an all time high in coaching turnover this summer. We’ve already seen 3 coaches who led their teams to franchise records in victories let go or not had their contracts renewed for next season. Today, rumors resurfaced that Doc Rivers may not return to coach the Celtics should they go into full rebuilding mode this summer. With all these coaching changes on the mind, the guys at Silver Screen and Roll discussed whether or not Mike D’Antoni will return to coach the Lakers next season. I, for one, think he will be back.

*Of course, the prevailing wisdom is that if D’Antoni were let go it would be because Dwight Howard made it be known he’d like it to be case should he return to the Lakers next season. I doubt Dwight goes in that direction, however. Dwight may not be known as the most PR savvy individual, but attaching his name to another coach getting fired likely isn’t in his best interest even if there are fans that would praise him for calling for the hit.

*Speaking of Dwight, Shaq is back in the news saying the reason he’s so hard on Dwight is because he thinks it’s his “duty” to held him “become one of the best big men in the league.” Okay, Shaq. Next you’re going to tell me you actually drive a Buick.

*I can’t take full credit for that line, by the way. I got a variation of it from this video compilation of players reading mean tweets they received in a segment for Jimmy Kimmel.

*Shaq’s not the only former legend dishing dirt on Dwight. Today, in conference call in his duties as analyst for the Finals, Magic Johnson said that Howard needs to work on his offense while also mentioning that Mike D’Antoni needs to focus more on defense.

*Not sure if you got the chance to watch the Julius Erving film “The Doctor” on NBA TV when it aired, but if you didn’t you should find the chance to do so. It was a great look at one of the all-timers and true pioneers of the modern game. As a bonus, the film ends with the Doc throwing one down at the ripe old age of 63. Pretty incredible.

*Of course, one of Dr. J’s most famous plays came against the Lakers when he dunked on a leaping then ducking Michael Cooper in the open court. Here’s a neat story of Cooper talking about that play and how he gets a royalty check every time the clip is shown.

We’ve spent months chronicling what went wrong with this Lakers’ campaign. And, to be completely honest, I’m tired of doing so. There’s only so many words to be devoted to the countless injuries, the faults of the coaches, or even the death of an owner. This season brought many more lows than highs and for that it was memorable, even though I’d pay to forget.

In the wake of such a season, the impulse is to try and fix things; to figure out a path to avoid the same results the next year. For the Lakers, this won’t be easy. There are too many questions to answer in one day. Health, personnel decisions, coaching, the salary cap and luxury tax, the draft, and on and on we could go.

The Lakers are a team that needs to take some time to reflect and reassess. The plan was to always make a push in the final two years of this core’s contracts. Does the utter failure of this season change that? Do the injuries and uncertainty of key players heading into next season? Do the feelings of a fanbase about a coach?

Only the Lakers’ brass knows the answer to these questions, but I’ve a feeling that even they don’t at this time. There’s simply too much to comprehend to think logically on such things right now. Anyone who claims to know, for certain, what will work and the moves that need to be made are either lying or so cocksure their opinions are likely not worthy of legitimate discussion. It’s one thing to think you know, another to know you know. At this point, no one can know those answers.

The only thing anyone can know is that next season can’t be like this one. Whether the front office believes that will be the case with minimal changes or believe the opposite and try to make sure through radical ones won’t be decided today. The draft isn’t until June and free agency doesn’t begin until July. As much as we’d like for the makeover to begin now, it will have to wait.

And maybe that’s a good thing. Most great things take time to come to fruition. It may seem like they happen in an instant, but that’s just the moment when many hours of thought and hard work combine to create that defining moment. For this organization, some of those hours have already been put in but there are many more to go. From Jim and Mitch on down through the players.

In the end, I think Rey said it best when noting that this season was mercifully put to an end last night. Through all the bad moments I’ll try to recall the good ones, but even those are crowded out by what went wrong. As we transition to next year, hopefully what was will not be what is to come.

It’s been about 12 hours since word hit that Kobe Bryant suffered what looks to be a torn achilles tendon. And, to be completely honest, I’m still struggling to form fully developed thoughts on the idea of him suffering this type of injury.

I’ve seen Kobe hurt before. The list of injuries he’s suffered and played through is endless — a torn labrum, severely sprained ankles, mangled fingers, a torn ligament in his wrist, a fractured nose, and on and on it goes. He’s been something different than human in his ability to battle and fight through. It’s part of what’s made him Kobe; one of the reasons that he has universal respect even from those who openly root against him.

This is different, though. Seeing him clutching at his lower leg, that look on his face — not of determination to battle through, but of knowing something was really wrong — was something unseen to my eyes before. He’s really hurt this time and the impact it will have on what’s left of his career is unknown. Will he play again? If so, when? How well? Have we seen the last of the Kobe Bryant we know?

Where he goes from here remains to be seen. On his Facebook page he spoke openly about the doubts he has about coming back strong and the fire that burns to do just that. Kobe, more than any other athlete of our time is complicated that way. He’s been the ultimate yin and yang player. He’s the guy with the genius level basketball IQ who sometimes makes the plays that make you scratch your head. He’s the ultimate solo artist who will throttle an opponent with fantastic team play. He’s the guy who offers the most biting critique only to later put his arm around a teammate and offer sage words of wisdom. It seems the players he is most frustrated with are the ones he respects the most; the ones who physically challenge him are the ones he wants by his side in the trenches.

In the past few months Kobe has talked about the mental drain of continuing to compete at the level he has been while wondering if he could continue to do it. The next day he’d remark how he could play for 5 more years if he wanted. This injury will challenge him in new ways and only he will be able to know how much he has left to give to try and get back to the court.

What this means for the Lakers is clear. They’ll still function as a team because they still have several very good players. Losing Kobe hurts in many tangible (and intangible) ways, but they can and will adjust. They’re professionals, after all. But Kobe was their best wing player and, for pretty much this entire season, their best player overall.

He carried their offense in a variety of ways and replacing his production will be nearly impossible. Replacing it from the wing, will be impossible. The Lakers simply don’t have the players to do so. Whether they make the playoffs or not — and I bet that they do — they’re worse off and whatever hope they had of challenging a top seed is now nearly gone. I expect they’ll compete hard and still challenge, but you don’t lose your 5-star general and become a better army. The team will close ranks and try their best and that will lead to some wins but it won’t be the same. It just won’t be.

I think Dwight Howard will try to fill the void of production, that Pau Gasol will take up the mantle of leadership, that Steve Nash will return and play his brains out (that guys is competitive too, you know). I think that team will still be entertaining and fun and a lot of things that we’ve wanted them to be all season. But they’ll be it without Kobe and that, for me at least, will be hard. And strange.

The quest for blame is on and I understand the sentiment. When things go wrong we want to know why. We ask and answer the question ourselves and then react accordingly.

Mike D’Antoni’s name will ring out as the culprit here and while I can relate to throwing blame in his direction, I don’t do so myself. Yes, one of his chief jobs is to manage a player’s minutes and to protect them from themselves. This is especially true of the super-competitive players who, if left to their own decision making, will play through whatever their bodies will tolerate. Kobe’s body can tolerate more than others and I do believe that D’Antoni could have been better at managing the situation to try and keep Kobe from playing to the level of fatigue he reached this year.

But Kobe wanted to play and the Lakers needed him to play. That much is not arguable. There wasn’t the luxury of rest when every game mattered so much. Do you rest Kobe now when there’s no guarantee the rest will even be applicable towards your ultimate goal? If the Lakers don’t the games they do with Kobe in the game for so many minutes, they don’t qualify to play the games where that rest matters. What then?

This is why the situation was lose-lose. The hole was too deep and the team had to fight too hard just to get in a position to qualify for the chance to reach their goals. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but it was. Fault for that lies with everyone. With the players for playing poorly enough to lose all those games. With the front office for building a roster so dependent on a select few, aged players. With the injury bug who feasted on the Lakers all season. And, yes, with the coach who was too stubborn and sacrificed long term thinking for the types of short term returns that were needed to try and, ironically enough, get back to where the long term view could be taken.

It’s been a sick season that way and there is no remedy for it. So blame who you want, just know that whoever you blame isn’t alone, as there’s plenty to go around.

After all these words, I still don’t really know what to think about it all. Kobe and I are close in age. In a way, I’ve always related to him simply because we come from the same time and have been influenced by the same things when it comes to the game we both love. He’s one of the best to ever play the game and I’m just a guy observing it all from a distance, but that distance between us has been closed through my television, the internet, and a press pass or two.

His career likely isn’t over, but it feels like an era is. The era where I could depend on seeing number 24 (and before it number 8) take the floor under every conceivable circumstance certainly is. For that I’m incredibly sad, but also tremendously appreciative. I got the chance to see one of the very best ever do what he does best. I also saw him go down swinging, competing his hardest, performing at the some of the highest highs he ever has.

And in a way it’s fitting. Cruel and undeserved, but fitting nonetheless.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  March 14, 2013

Last night’s game with the Hawks actually provided two losses — one from the game itself and one in the form of the Lakers’ superstar shooting guard to injury. Kobe’s ankle looks like it’s about nine months pregnant and the team says he’s out indefinitely with a severe ankle sprain. So, with plenty to discuss in Laker-land, here’s some fast break thoughts on the injury bug, the playoffs, and other general musings…

  • Was the play dirty? That’s the question of the day and that gets complicated rather quickly. On twitter I used that term, but would amend it to say, instead, that it was simply an unsafe play by Jones. There are plenty of ways to contest a fadeaway jump shot, but walking into and underneath an airborne player is one of the more dangerous ways to do so. Here’s a screen shot of Jones contesting Kobe’s shot:

Kobe Ankle

  • The reason why I’d say “unsafe” rather than “dirty” is because the latter implies intent. I’ve no clue what Jones’ intent was and prefer not to get into that at all. This in’t the real world where we get to go into a court room, hear testimony, and make a determination. There’s no “you can’t handle the truth” moment coming here. So, I see no need to get into that. Instead, let’s focus on the act and that act was Jones walking underneath a player in the air. That’s an unsafe play no matter how you slice it. I’m not out to disparage Jones or judge his actions through the prism of what I thought he meant to do. What he meant to do isn’t as important as what he actually did. And, in this case, the pictures and video show what he did.
  • What’s done is done, though. Arguing over it is less important than what happens next. The Lakers, simply based off their press release, imply Kobe will miss time. And, while there’s a train of thought that Kobe won’t miss any time (he is Kobe after all), I think he’ll miss at least a game and maybe more.
  • If that ends up being the case, the Lakers’ lack of depth on the wing will be a big challenge to overcome. Forget for a second that it’s Kobe missing time and simply focus on the fact that he’s currently the team’s starting shooting guard and its backup small forward. Coach Mike D’Antoni’s first substitutions are typically for Jamison to come in for Clark and for Meeks to replace Ron. That latter substitution slides Kobe up to SF where he’s a fixture of a small ball lineup. If Kobe can’t play any SF, who will?
  • Meeks and Blake are undersized for SG, much less SF. Ron has actually been playing PF more than SF if you look at who he defends on a nightly basis. Does this mean more minutes for Clark? He’s seen a decline in his minutes and production over the last month and isn’t exactly 100% healthy either (he’s had ankle, knee, and finger issues lately). Ebanks is glued to the bench and has played exactly 11 minutes since the turn of the calendar year. I don’t see this going well if Kobe is out for a prolonged period.
  • That said, knowing what we do of Kobe, he’ll get treatment on his ankle 24/7 until he can get back on the floor, though. He’s really not human in that regard.
  • In better injury news, Pau Gasol says he hopes to be back next week and it’s being reported he’ll return to the lineup as a starter. This is good news on both fronts. Yes, on both fronts. Before Pau got hurt, we were already starting to see a trend where Clark’s value as a starter was slipping from a team performance standpoint. The starting lineup that included Clark was essentially playing even basketball, their plus/minus numbers flat and their efficiency differentials hovering near zero. Meanwhile, when Clark was replaced by Pau, those numbers were beginning to trend up in a way that reinforced all the preseason belief that these players actually could perform well together as complementary pieces. Yes the sample was small and there were issues to work out defensively, but the numbers and the eye test support the “Big four plus Ron” lineup was starting to make headway as a cohesive unit.
  • Even though Pau will return as a starter, his biggest value should still come as an anchor for the 2nd unit. The bench has really struggled to create consistent offense outside of some good chemistry between Steve Blake and Jamison in the P&R. With Pau back, he can be the man in the middle whose passing and ability to score from all over the floor serve as a ballast for the bench.
  • Furthermore, his defense should also be quite useful. The Lakers’ defense is actually 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Pau is on the floor versus when he sits, per the NBA’s stats database. It’s often easy to forget that even though Pau isn’t the best option to cover perimeter oriented bigs, he still can protect the rim with his length and do so without fouling. Don’t get me wrong, teams will still attack the paint when Dwight sits, but I’d much rather have Pau back at the basket than a combination of Jamison and Clark.
  • How the rotation shakes out when Pau is back will remain to be seen (and we’ll cover this in detail when he does return), but I would not be surprised to see Clark become more of a SF backing up Ron with Jamison taking the majority of the PF minutes when Pau is out of the game or playing C. Simply based off recent trends and how this coaching staff has deployed lineups in the past, I could see a bench lineup of Blake, Meeks, Clark, Jamison, and Pau starting the 2nd quarter, for example. But, I could also see Clark on the bench with a Dwight, Jamison, Ron trio next to Kobe (or Meeks) and Nash (or Blake) getting big minutes with Clark the odd man out due to Jamison’s greater ability to stretch the floor.
  • Getting away from Laker stuff for a second, show of hands (or, in the comments below) of who would want to do a FB&G March Madness bracket challenge. We didn’t do one last year but I’m considering doing one again this year, but only if the demand is high. We’d figure out a prize for the winner.
  • Also, I’m interested in reviving the FB&G mailbag, but only if there’s interest in it. If you have questions, you can email me by clicking that envelope on the right side of the banner at the top of the site. Just put “mailbag question” in the subject line and ask away.
  • Lastly, friend of FB&G and video maker extraordinaire LD2K has produced another gem that is worth your time. Here you go: