Archives For Fast Break Thoughts

More than any other game this year, I think, the win over Portland has fans experiencing a wide range of emotions.

Those who still try to find joy in watching the Lakers play well and actually win games found themselves beaming after the game. A win in Portland is always hard to come by, but a win by this version of the Lakers in Portland seemed impossible 24 hours ago. But there the team was, throwing hay-makers in the form of three pointers and digging in defensively (as best they could) to try and slow down a Blazer attack that features some of the best spacing and outside shooting around. When the game got close at the end, I think everyone was resigned to this being another loss, but a fantastic out of bounds play produced a game winner:

On a side note, that really was a great play design by Mike D’Antoni. He played up the idea that he would run a play for one of his guards, but then had Farmar set a pick (and an excellent pick was set) for Wes Johnson which freed him up for the lob. What also can’t be overlooked is Kent Bazemore’s pass. It takes a fair amount of skill and touch to get that pass there, on the money, to a slashing Johnson. He has to compensate for Aldridge’s length and the defender waving madly in front of him.

In any event, if you like watching this team play well, you were thrilled.

But if you are someone rooting for losses, odds are you were left disappointed after a win this team had no business getting when looking at the schedule. Each loss is a coveted asset for some fans as they represent a closer step to the promised land of a high draft pick. You want Joel Embiid? Andrew Wiggins? Jabari Parker? Then you probably want losses. And the more of them the better. Last night’s win vaulted the Lakers into a tie for the 7th worst record this year. At that spot, the odds of securing one of the super blue-chip players from this heralded draft class diminishes greatly. In other words, nice win team who can’t even tank right.

And then, of course, there’s the group of fans who liked the win but were mad about how it was delivered. An exploration of the boxscore shoes both Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman were DNP-CD’s. That duo getting zero minutes in a game where LaMarcus Aldridge is a featured player for the other team and had Robin Lopez getting a lot of garbage man points in the paint after the Lakers’ D was left scrambling to help was a point of frustration for many. D’Antoni’s insistence on going small and playing Johnson at the “4” and Kelly instead of his more heralded teammates is too much, was a common refrain during the game. And so there these fans are, struggling with the idea that the coach won a game and did it using his style with the players he wants to play in an environment he had no business doing it in.

I bring this all up because expect these to be the major themes over the last 22 games. There is no one right way to view these things. I know because I struggle with the conflicting nature of all these points of view myself. I hate losing. I want to see the team do well and, in the process, the players to get some joy out of what they do while improving upon their craft. I also want the best player possible from the upcoming draft and while there is no guarantee that a higher pick produces that player, what a higher pick does guarantee is the Lakers’ brass the option to make the choice they want rather than leaving the Lakers with whatever leftovers exist at pick 7 or 8 or 11. Further, I like Jordan Hill. I like Chris Kaman. I enjoy watching these guys do the dirty work and don’t like it when other teams’ big men do that work against the Lakers. I think there’s value in playing a style less reliant on high variance shot selection and a fast pace.

And I don’t think I am the only one thinking these things. Nor do I think I’m the only one thinking all of them in the course of a single game. Where that leaves us is in this strange middle ground of fandom that I don’t think can truly be balanced.

Tonight, though, the team is back at it. They face a Pelicans team who, like the Lakers, isn’t doing well and will be among the teams vying for one of the top 10 picks in the upcoming draft. They, like the Lakers, would like nothing more than to add to their core and improve their long-term fortunes with another high quality player. Can you imagine Wiggins playing with Anthony Davis? What about Parker? Or maybe Dante Exum in the back court with Jrue Holiday flanked by Davis in the front court? These are the ideas that a lot of fanbases are dreaming about right now.

What happens on the floor tonight, then, will be played against this backdrop. Enjoy the game however you see fit, folks. There’s only 20 some odd games left before everyone will argue about who to draft.

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

With that said, you have to continue to monitor your roster as the season goes on. That’s the job as a general manager. You have to be more realistic. Most of the time, we start the season with a certain ratio in mind. It could be 80 percent looking at the current season, and 20 percent at the next season. If you have a chance to win a title in a given season, maybe you sacrifice the next year to a certain extent. Or, maybe that ratio changes with injuries, from 60-40 in December, to 50-50 in January or 30-70 in February looking to the future. Now, the coach is 100 percent focused on winning that year, but part of the manager’s job is to have the future of the organization in mind.

(Via Q & A With Mitch Kupchak, Lakers.com)

The Lakers are, for all intents and purposes, a bad team. Losers of a large amount of their last many (do the actual numbers even matter?), they are in a position where they must start to tinker with the ratios Mitch Kupchak mentioned in his candid, revealing sit-down with Mike Trudell earlier this month.

Injures have decimated this roster beyond a level where they can be truly competitive night to night. The injuries have gone on for so long, however, that the roster we see in front of us has become the new norm and we start to evaluate them based off whether they are winning and losing.

I do this myself.

A bad defensive approach to a final play cost the team a game in Chicago. Playing an overmatched Ryan Kelly against Carmelo Anthony while limiting the minutes of Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman (as the Lakers got killed on the glass) might have done the same against the Knicks. I find myself frustrated with the details that, for all the team’s lack of competitiveness, seem to cost the team games.

But should I be?

The Lakers are, for all intents and purposes, a bad team.

Forget, for a moment, about tanking and the potential talented draft pick that may come the team’s way this summer. Forget the salary cap limitations of Kobe’s extension. Forget who is available in free agency next year (or even the year after) too. Instead focus on what talent is on the roster now and what is most valuable about them.

Is maximizing their talent and trying to win as many games as possible what’s best? Is finding out what the team has in younger players who have not yet had the opportunity via extended minutes to prove if they really belong?

As someone who hates losing, I can identify with the mindset of wanting to win now. Why does Jordan Hill play so few minutes when the team struggles so much on the backboards while Ryan Kelly is grabbing so few of the available caroms? Why is Chris Kaman a regular recipient of DNP-CD’s while Robert Sacre is a fixture (even in limited minutes) of the rotation? These are questions I find myself asking on nearly a nightly basis and I know I’m not alone. Especially since I don’t think it can really be argued who are the better, more refined professional players at this stage of their respective careers.

As someone who appreciates the idea of player development, however, I can also sympathize with the idea that, at some point, the Lakers need to find out what they have in these players. Is Sacre more than a 4th or 5th big man on a good team? Can Ryan Kelly, with some of his athletic limitations, actually be a rotation player in a league that is demanding more and more from its power forwards on both sides of the ball? The sad reality is, that while I want to win as much as the next guy, there really may not be a better time to seek information that helps answer these questions than this season.

This is the fallout of forward thinking.

Maybe that’s why, in the heat of the moment when the battle is being decided, it can seem so backward.

I find myself struggling with this idea more and more, especially when remembering that these decisions really don’t exist in a vacuum; that we really cannot forget about the draft in June, free agency in July, and how to build a roster with an aging Kobe Bryant taking up a substantial portion of the salary cap. The answers to questions about the young players on the roster are vital when put in the context of roster construction for future seasons.

That doesn’t make accepting the decisions that go into seeking out those answers any easier. And, for all we know, this isn’t even what the head coach is doing.

But as Mitch Kupchak said, at some point an organization has to start to adjust its view from the current season to the next. For Lakers’ fans, maybe the hardest part is that the reality of that usually comes around May, not in late January.

Happy Holidays from FB&G

Darius Soriano —  December 24, 2013

After Monday’s loss to the Suns, I’m not sure many are feeling very good about where the Lakers stand right now. Two consecutive blowout losses will do that. As will a slip of the tongue from the head coach talking about fans and which team they should root for. Combine it all with the injuries and the reality that the team simply isn’t very good right now and what you have is a sour taste in the mouths of many fans.

While I fully understand that feeling (I’m not immune from feeling about down about the position of this team today), I also take a step back and realize that not all is awful with this team nor with their prospects. The context to Mike D’Antoni’s quote to the press was whether or he is discouraged about this team. His comment to the fans aside, he noted that he has a group of players who are good guys, who play hard, and have played well this year. He expects them to play well again, so why would he be discouraged? While some of this is coach speak, it’s also pretty much true.

The Lakers are filled with good guys. They do play hard and put in the necessary work to be their best. The fact that they’re not the most talented (and that they’ve had some injury bad luck) hasn’t discouraged them from going out and competing as best they can. Sometimes the results aren’t good and that can lead to frustrations by anyone and everyone who is associated with or roots for this team. Sometimes, though, the results are surprisingly great and it inspires some positive thoughts about the state of the team and their prospects for the future.

Kobe tweeted that referencing the broken bone in his knee, but it might as well have been about the state of his team right now. No, they don’t look good; they do look broken. But my guess is that they’re going to continue to go out and play their hardest and try to win games; they are not yet beaten. What results will come we don’t yet know, but I do know we’ll all be there watching and hoping for the best.

On a somewhat similar note, as we told you earlier, our friends at Draftstreet have another fantasy game they’re making available to you. This game isn’t free — it’s $11 to enter — but will pay out $100K in prize money, including $25K to the winner. You can learn more about the game and enter right here. So while the Lakers are taking on the Heat, you can keep tabs on the team you create is doing. If you’re the top performer, you may get a some extra cash in your stocking.

Happy Holidays, everyone. Hope you all enjoy your day.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 30, 2013

*Over at ESPN LA, Dave McMenamin has a hefty and informative Pacific Division preview with takes from anonymous scouts and front office reps. He has the Clippers winning the division which, honestly, is exactly who I would pick as well. That said, he also has the Lakers winning 44 games this season. Go read why.

*If you think 44 games is high, you’re likely not one of the 31.85% of Lakers’ fans who believe the team will win the championship this year.

*Nick Young goes back to his old neighborhood and donates supplies in his 3rd anual back to school event. I love stories like this.

*Whose throwback jersey should you buy for every NBA team? This post has your answers.

*Both Kobe and Pau are rehabbing surgeries this summer, but both seem to be going about it a bit differently. Here’s word of Pau, steadily progressing, starting to run (albeit on grass) as part of that progression. And here’s Kobe diving feet first off a 40 foot high platform into a swimming pool. To be fair, this probably isn’t part of Kobe’s rehab regimen.

*Speaking of Kobe, if you’re into such things, here’s a new color-way of his signature Kobe 8 sneaker dubbed the “pit viper”.

*One last Kobe note: check out this fantastic teaser for the latest video from Meir21 called “The Last Chapter”. Let’s just say this got me excited.

*Congrats to friends of FB&G Andy and Brian Kamnetzky for winning the Best Sports Blog of LA award from LA Weekly. Well deserved.

*On a personal note, you may not have noticed, but I’ve not been writing as much lately as I’d like. Some of that is because there’s not a lot to say about the team in this dead zone of summer where nearly every roster move has been made and we just wait for training camp. The main reason, however, is that my wife and I just had our second child and this recent development has taken its rightful place as my number one priority. In any event, I’ll be back on these pages soon rambling more than you’d probably like me to.

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.

Continue Reading…

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.