Archives For Fast Break Thoughts

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  August 14, 2012

With the Olympics over and training camps still more than a month away, it will be a while before there’s meaningful basketball to discuss. To be honest, getting a break is nice but I still find myself wanting for more hoops. I guess that’s what happens when Nash and Howard become Lakers in the span of six weeks. Right now, they’re the big boxes under the Christmas tree screaming “open me!” only to realize we just ate our Thanksgiving turkey. Lots of waiting in front of us. Sit tight, you guys. It will be here before you know it. In the meantime, some thoughts on what’s happening with the Lakers and around the league…

  • Yesterday the Jodie Meeks signing became official. We went over what he brings to the table already but it’s nice to review: Meeks offers a viable back up to Kobe while also giving the team a shooter they’ve been seeking. For what he’ll be paid, he’s a great signing solely for those two reasons. The fact that his defensive numbers are better than you’d expect and this signing looks fantastic.
  • Devin Ebanks also signed his offer sheet yesterday. We’ve yet to fully see what Ebanks is capable of but the hope is that he can bring some of what Matt Barnes did over the past two seasons. Devin has good size, is a decent athlete, and seems to have nose for the ball with an understanding of space. If he can be a slasher off the ball and a guy that fills the lane when the Lakers run, he can be a nice addition on offense. If he can start to hit his jumper (even if it’s only an 18-20 footer) his value goes up immensely for a Laker team that will need all the spacing it can get. It remains to be seen if he’ll rebound as well as Barnes (which, at this point, is asking a lot) but he should be able to contribute there as well. Ultimately, it’s good to have him officially back in the fold.
  • With Meeks and Ebanks in the mix, the Lakers have a very nice 10 man rotation of Nash, Kobe, Ron, Pau, Howard, Blake, Meeks, Ebanks, Jamison, and Hill. A group like that allows the Lakers to play countless lineups and get all their main cogs the proper rest in the process. There’s not a lot of positional versatility there (I see Blake, Jamison, Meeks, and Ebanks as only being able to play one position effectively) but the versatility of Kobe, Pau, Ron, and Hill still gives Mike Brown a lot of options to mix and match personnel to find effective groupings. Training camp will be key to start to sort some of that out.
  • What may interest only me is what happens with the bottom of the Lakers’ roster. Outside of the aforementioned 10 players, the Lakers also have Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Chris Duhon, and Earl Clark under contract for next year. They also hold the draft rights to Robert Sacre and Darius Johnson-Odom. If you’re counting at home, that’s 16 players and the Lakers can only carry 15 in the regular season. At least one of those players won’t make the roster and maybe more.
  • The Lakers rarely carry a full roster, however. They typically carry 14 players, allowing them roster flexibility should they make a trade where they take back more players than they send out or if there’s a player on the market via a buy out that they’d like to add. It will be interesting if they take that approach this year and if they do, who is on their way out. Remember, Goudelock’s contract is not guaranteed so he could end up being a bubble player even though he has an NBA ready skill (his shooting). Also note that even though Earl Clark is listed as a PF, he’s not a “big” in the classic sense. This leads me to believe that Sacre may have a shot at making the team solely for his size and as insurance against injury/to be a practice body even though I expect Clark to stick due to his contract being guaranteed.
  • Moving away from hoops for a second, with the summer winding down are there any good books you’d recommend? The last book I read was Jack Macallum’s Dream Team and that was excellent. your recommendation doesn’t have to be sports related but, if it’s not, I’d prefer to read fiction.
  • Finally went and saw the new Dark Knight Rises movie last week. It was well worth my $12 (for a matinee!). If you haven’t seen it yet, I’d recommend it. Though, since it’s the 3rd part of a trilogy, seeing the other two first would be advised.
  • Some site news: I’m considering a slight redesign of the site. Anything specific you’d like to see? New banner graphics? Something else? Let me know in the comments.
  • Finally, in the weeks leading up to the season, I want to do some more mailbags. Send me a question by clicking on the contact me button in  the right sidebar. I’ll also start soliciting questions via twitter so follow me on there @forumbluegold and you’ll get some details on submitting questions via that platform too.

Soon, we’ll have camps, pre-season games, and other matters surrounding the team to discuss. And, even sooner than that, we’re going to be doing offensive and defensive breakdowns on what Dwight Howard with looks at potential sets the Lakers can run to maximize their personnel. Just because basketball has stopped doesn’t mean we will.

With Summer League in full swing and the Lakers still looking to fill out their roster, there’s lots to discuss in Laker-land. So, lets jump right in…

  • The Lakers’ summer league team is winless so far and has had some truly horrible performances in their first few contests. They got blasted by the Warriors in their opening game and were trounced by 50 a few nights later against the Heat. While this is somewhat discouraging, don’t invest too heavily in the results. The Lakers don’t have a lottery level talent on their team. Their roster is full of players who are trying to fight for spots ten through fifteen on a roster, not for a starting gig. What we learn about this “team” is not important; we’re really looking at the growth of the individual players and evaluating their individual skill level.
  • Even evaluating the players as individuals is somewhat tricky, however. The summer team doesn’t have a single player that will ever be a featured guy within an offense. This roster is filled with role players whose talents will be maximized playing off of their more talented teammates (should they make the regular season roster). When you put 5 role players on the floor together, the results (offensively) will be what the Lakers have seen so far – tight defense, little spacing, and no one able to create the types of plays that generate sustained worthwhile basketball.
  • In yesterday’s game against the Spurs, the Lakers made adjustments with their schemes and that led to better spacing and ball movement. These tweaks compensated for the limited individual talent on their roster. But those adjustments only got them so far. It allowed for more space on the wing to operate off the dribble and more space for the post players to work in isolation. It opened up better passing angles for cutters. And, their improved effort put them in better positions to take advantage. But, in the end, this group was out talented again and lost by double figures.
  • All that said, we are starting to get a better picture of what types of talents these guys are. Darius Morris is showing that he can be a threat in the open court and in attacking the rim off the dribble in the half court. His size allows him to bully smaller defenders to get to the spots on the floor where he can be successful. His finishing is still up and down, however, and his jumper needs a lot of work. But, he’s showing more confidence in each game and his attack mentality has served him well so far. He certainly likes to pound the ball when probing the D, but that’s the case for most attack guards that create off the dribble as often as he does.
  • Andrew Goudelock looks like the same guy he was last year. His lack of size is giving him some issues on both sides of the floor and his lack of burst is making it hard for him to shake free from bigger defenders. His jumper has been off but we know he’s a better shooter than he’s shown so I’m not as concerned there. However, he’s still not shown much of an ability to create for others. He’s worked a lot in the pick and roll but rarely hits the roll man (who’s been open several times) and typically only gives the ball up when he’s exhausted his opportunity to score for himself. I’ve long believed that for Goudelock to stick in this league he’ll have to show adequate ability to initiate an offense and be a lead guard. So far, we’re not seeing it. Some of that may be what the coaches are asking him to do, but his instinct is to score first (and second) and his playmaking is suffering because of it.
  • Darius Johnson-Odom has shown some good qualities – he’s an active defender, possesses good court vision, and knows how to create his own shot. He’s also shown that he can initiate an offense and has no issues taking an outlet pass and running a delayed fast break. He shows good footwork in setting up his own shot and has a very nice shot fake that’s earned him trips to the foul line. However, his jumper hasn’t been falling even when he’s been getting open looks. This could simply be a small sample and nothing to worry about. But, he’ll need to hit shots eventually if he wants to stick.
  • Christian Eyenga looks like the most pro-ready player the Lakers have but that shouldn’t surprise considering he’s their most seasoned player. His athleticism is as advertised – he’s had several above the rim finishes – and he’s mostly been under control when displaying it. He’s shown a nice little post game too, working over defenders from 10 feet and it with good strength and solid footwork. His jumper is not good, however and that limits what he can do on that end of the floor. Defensively, he’s been above average. His quickness, instincts, and desire to get into his man have all been plusses.
  • The surprise of this team, at least for me, has been Robert Sacre. He’s a bit stiff in his movement but he knows how to use his big body to his advantage. He aggressively fights for position on both ends of the floor, has shown nice touch on his mid-range jumper and his jump hook, and he plays hard. His biggest asset, though, looks to be his smarts. He knows where to be on both ends of the floor and seems to have a strong spatial awareness. He knows where to move to in the P&R game to get open and has made a few smart cuts to position himself under the rim where he’s been active on the offensive glass. In one of the games an announcer compared Sacre to Michael Doleac and that seems apt. Sacre has shown a bit more aggressiveness around the rim than Doleac used to, but all and all they have similar games. Doleac stuck in the league for a while as a back up big man and Sacre may be able to do the same.
  • Moving beyond the Summer League team, the Lakers are still in the middle of a lot of rumors. There’s been reports that Antawn Jamison will “choose” the Lakers soon. Yesterday the Lakers were present at a workout for Jermaine O’Neal who, after having the orthokine treatment that Kobe’s become the poster boy for, is looking to continue his playing career. Reports of how he looked in that workout have been mixed (I’ve read one tweet say he didn’t look mobile while others stated he looked as good as he has in the last 4-5 years), but he remains on the Lakers’ radar. Brandon Rush was also at that workout so the Lakers also got a look at the Warriors restricted free agent.
  • And then, of course, there’s still the pursuit of Dwight Howard. Reports had the Lakers meeting with reps from the Magic yesterday in what was described as a “hard push” to acquire the Magic big man. During the Lakers/Spurs game, Jim Buss commented (per team policy) that he had “no comment” about reports that there were negotiations going on. At ProBasketball Talk, Kurt Helin had a logical take, basically saying that there should be no expectation a deal gets done when neither Howard nor Bynum have (seemingly) changed their stances about re-signing with LA/Orlando should a trade happen. I tend to agree with this. It’s worth having the talks because you always try to make a move that improves your team, but expecting something to happen at this point is optimistic.
  • One thing I also wonder here is if there’s a point of no return with the Lakers and these Andrew Bynum trade talks. This is the longest he’s ever had his name floated in what seem to be legitimate trade rumors. For years his name was out there, but those reports were quickly shot down from the Lakers side (be it Jason Kidd, Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, or anyone else you can think of). However, this time, these reports seem to have legs and Bynum certainly seems available in a deal for Howard. Whether this is really something to worry about isn’t something I have any inside information on. However, I wonder if there’s a stop point where the Lakers simply call off their discussions with the Magic and make nice with the all-star Center they have in house. You can only window shop so often before you either have to make a purchase or go home and keep with your same wardrobe. I wonder when the Lakers are going to make that call. Remember, Bynum is a FA after next season as well and if nothing happens with Howard, the Lakers will surely want Bynum back for the long haul. If these talks go on for too much longer, does a long term commitment from Bynum get put in jeopardy? These are questions that need to be asked.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  July 3, 2012

With free agency in full swing and the repercussions starting to set the landscape for how the Summer may play out, there’s plenty to discuss…

  • The Dwight Howard situation has been complicated greatly by the Nets’ trade for Joe Johnson. They no longer have the cap space to sign Dwight outright. And while they’re still working to try and trade for the league’s best big man, they lack the assets to make the type of offer that is likely to sway the Magic to deal with them.
  • With a trade to Brooklyn looking less likely, the team that trades for Dwight now will have the inside track to keep him. The teams that are (reportedly) still interested are the Rockets, the Hawks, and the Lakers. The Mavs would be interested as well, of course, but they lack the assets (like the Nets) to make a compelling offer. If you’re one of that Lakers/Rockets/Hawks trio, now is the time to truly evaluate what you’re willing to give up and push your chips into the center of the table. For the Hawks that may mean dangling Horford. For the Rockets that may mean a lot of their stockpiled young talent. And for the Lakers, that likely means Andrew Bynum. What package the Magic would prefer isn’t known, but all three would have their pros and cons.
  • From the Lakers side, even with all the risks associated with trading for Dwight, parting with Bynum for him is worth it. Lets remove the variables of injury concern and whether or not either will commit long term (after all, those concerns apply to both players). Dwight Howard is the better player. He represents an upgrade in nearly all ways (including star power). This really isn’t a worthwhile debate. The argument that the Lakers problem wasn’t their big men and that improving in that area doesn’t fix their problems misses the bigger point: you always want the better player. Always. Those that feel differently remind me of the Blazers and the decision they made in the 1984 draft when they drafted Sam Bowie instead of Michael Jordan because Clyde Drexler was already on their roster. Both MJ and Clyde had stellar careers and both went to the Hall of Fame, so obviously the Blazers knew they had a great talent. But Jordan was the better prospect and, to state the obvious, ended up being the better player. So, again, you take the better player and deal with the other stuff later. Whether or not the Lakers can make such a deal is a different story that depends on the Magic. But even with the risk involved, I’d support that type of move. As Kevin Ding said today:

It’s time for the Lakers to get back to the pioneer spirit that brought Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal together and enabled the Lakers’ brass to hold but not fold when Bryant was so frustrated he was bouncing off the planets before pulling the Gasol trade on the river. The Lakers need a healthy dose of gambling’s fear to bring out the best in them – and the prospect of trading for Howard and losing him for nothing in a year is certainly plenty scary. But the reality is that there are benefits awaiting the Lakers even in that worst-case scenario that could easily be explained by Dwight again being a loon who fails to listen to reason: What can you do if the goofy dude walks away from far more money from the Lakers because he wants to dress up like a cowboy in Dallas or curl all the way up into the fetal position in hometown Atlanta?

The Lakers have long been a patient team that takes strategic gambles on players with extraordinary talent. This could be another opportunity to make a bold move.

  • The rest of the free agent market is also taking shape and there are some interesting deals already out there. Bulls back up Center Omer Asik has been signed to an offer-sheet by the Rockets for 3 years/$24 million. Some might think he’s overpaid, but John Hollinger did a good job breaking down why that’s not the case (as well as shedding light on the loophole that allowed the Rockets to make an offer). (Insider article $.)
  • Speaking of Houston, it looks like they’re going to lose Goran Dragic in free agency. He wants $10 million, they’re offering $8 million and the Suns are offering $9 million. If Dragic does bolt, Kyle Lowry is likely off the trade market which means he and Kevin McHale are going to need to do some making up. After all, it was a conflict between those two that had Lowry on the market in the first place.
  • KG is staying with the Celtics and honestly, this is what’s best for everyone. For all my dislike of the C’s, KG’s been great for them and should end his career on his terms with the team he won a title with.
  • Roy Hibbert has signed a max level offer sheet with Portland. The Suns are potentially looking to make an offer to Eric Gordon for the max as well. Both players are restricted free agents so the Pacers and Hornets, respectively, will have the right to match those offers but that’s a lot of cash to throw out to players that likely aren’t worth that much. And, this is why the lockout bothered me so much. Arguments were devised with lines drawn in the sand over player compensation but here we are in the off-season following those battles with nothing having changed. Until owners realize that there’s not a max-level player in every free agent class their cries about losing money should fall on deaf ears. They’re willing to shell out the cash so let them. But don’t complain about how it affects your bottom line after the fact.

 

The torches are raised, the moat has been crossed, and the rebels are at the castle gates ready to storm.

The Lakers are again home watching the Finals rather than participating. For fans, this is a special type of anguish as they expect the Lakers to be where the Thunder and Heat are year after year. The fact that they were just there two seasons ago can actually make this harder, as being that close and then receding to a lesser position can be worse than attempting to climb the mountain in the first place.

Expectations, though, aren’t always rational – especially when we’re talking about sports. And now is the time for expectations to be slotted correctly.

The Lakers are in the midst of a transition and have been since being swept by the Mavericks a bit over a year ago. That defeat sent Phil Jackson into retirement and set off a string of events both in and out of the Lakers control:

  • Rather than hiring Brian Shaw, the Lakers decided Mike Brown was the better fit. Bringing in Brown meant the Lakers would have new schemes on both sides of the ball. For the key, long time Lakers (Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Fisher) this would be a radical shift from the ones they’d grown accustomed to running.
  • The lockout wiped out any pre-season teaching opportunities and drastically affected the learning curve for the team.
  • In the pre-season the Lakers – likely recognizing the need for roster change in accordance with their new systems – pulled off a trade for a franchise altering talent. However, that trade was then vetoed and the Lakers were back to square one.
  • The fallout from that trade, however, was that one of their key players who would have been dealt felt his position with the team was untenable and asked to be traded. The result was him being dealt.
  • In season, the Lakers again recognizing the need to shift their roster, performed two other significant trades. One brought in a point guard and the other brought in a serviceable back up big man (that also saw the departure of another key leader). Both players had to adjust on the fly to new roles with new teammates and had an up and down stretch run with the team. Meanwhile the team that remained had to adjust to not having one of “their guys” in the bunker with them.

To summarize, in the past year the Lakers have: changed coaches, traded key players, and added key players to “replace” the ones lost. The result was mish-mashed year that provided flashes of ability to contend for a title and flashes of a team that may have trouble escaping the first round. What ended up happening was the Lakers getting to the 2nd round (in a hard fought series) and then winning one more game than they did last year in the playoffs.

This was, pretty much, a failure. The fans wanted better, the players wanted better, and the executives in the front office wanted better. In the face of that, there’s a need to look in the mirror and see how better can be achieved.

This will likely mean more change. In fact, it’s already started. Ettore Messina has left after his lone season as an assistant coach/consultant to Mike Brown, heading back to Europe to coach CSKA Moscow. Quinn Snyder is still in house but is one of the final 3 candidates to land the head coaching job with the Charlotte Bobcats.

Beyond the coaches though, there will surely be changes on the roster. Gasol’s name will be floated heavily (after all, he was already traded once last pre-season). One can only assume Andrew Bynum’s name will also come up as a potential piece to be moved for a player (or players) of better quality and/or fit. Free agency will be explored and there have been hints that the Lakers may even look to get into a higher slot of the draft to add another young player.

These are all options the fans want to see happen. Two straight flameouts require change. However, as the landscape of the roster shifts more adjustments will follow. Players will need to get used to playing with each other. Coaches will need to learn the strengths and weaknesses of those players and learn how to get the most out of them. Players will need to adjust to what it means to play for the Lakers and the distractions that come with. These are things that take time.

So, as we all sit back and wonder what the next move will be; how the Lakers’ brass will fix this team it’s best we also acknowledge the fact that whatever changes are made they will not be ones that instantly make anything better. What we’ll see are surface changes. But to win at the level the Lakers want to win, surface changes are only the beginning. It’s the changes that happen deeper; the changes that happen after real connections are made that make the real difference and lead to long lasting success.

We’ve seen this before in 2008 when the Lakers were transformed via the rise of Bynum, the acquisition of Gasol, the return of Fisher, and the proper slotting of Odom that all combined to change the DNA of the team. But even that year saw a terrible defeat in the Finals before they took that next step to be champion. It’s important that we remember this when we get the change we seek. It’s a long and rocky journey to get where the Lakers want to get back to. Best be prepared for it.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  May 31, 2012

With the conference finals in full swing and 26 other teams already into their offseason, there’s plenty to talk about in the NBA. So, lets get right to it…

  • While I’m not counting out the Thunder or the Celtics, the Spurs and the Heat have the inside track to meet in the Finals as both have a 2-0 lead. Beating either of those teams 4 out of the next 5 games will be very difficult, even for teams as talented as OKC and Boston. So, if both series hold to form who would you have in the Finals? I’d lean towards Spurs right now as no one is playing better basketball than them. The ball is moving on offense, their defense is more locked in than during the regular season, and they have a fantastic core of leaders on the floor and the sideline to lean on. Miami may have the better top end talent in James and Wade, but as we saw last year the team that plays better together can beat the team with elite talent.
  • Speaking of the Spurs, they haven’t lost in almost two months. They’ve won their first 10 games of the playoffs and 20 consecutive games overall. On the season they’ve had winning streaks of 20 (and counting) and two of 11 games (which were only snapped with Popovich sat his key players to get them rest). When looking back at this season, the performances of the best players will likely be remembered most but the way that Greg Popovich has handled his roster has been masterful.
  • I understand it’s not what a lot of fans want to hear, but finances will play a major role in how the Lakers’ off-season unfolds. Ramon Sessions has a player option that he’ll need to make a decision on by June 20th. If he opts in, the Lakers know what their salary commitment will be and that’s that. But if he opts out, they’ll have to make a decision on how much they’ll offer him to stay on (something the front office has made clear they’d like to happen).

Jordan Hill is also a free agent but there’s a salary cap rule that can affect how much he can be paid due to the fact that the Rockets declined their team option on him before he was traded to the Lakers. I’ll let commenter Warren explain via the great Larry Coon:

If a player was a first round draft pick, just completed the third year of his rookie scale contract, and his team did not invoke its team option for the fourth season (see question number 48), then the team cannot use the Larry Bird exception to re-sign him to a salary greater than he would have received had the team exercised its option. In other words, teams can’t decline an option year in order to get around the rookie salary scale and give the player more money.

This means, if Hill is going to be a Laker, the most money he can make is $3.6 million (the same as his team option). I don’t know if the Lakers would be willing to invest that into Hill and he’s sure to explore his options but it’s good to know what the Lakers can pay vs. what the market may dictate.

  • While we’re on the topic of big men, there’s some talk about where Lamar Odom will end up next season. If you’re a Lakers’ fan and would like Odom back in the forum blue and gold, understand that in the most recent CBA loopholes that allowed players to return to their former team after being traded away have been closed. For the Lakers and LO it means that he would not be eligible to return to the Lakers until a year after he was traded away. That date is December 11, 2012 or roughly 6 weeks after the start of the season. This would have Odom missing all of training camp, countless practices, and games before he could even sign with the team. In my eyes this factor alone greatly reduces the likelihood we’ll see Odom playing for the Lakers next season. Though, nothing is impossible of course.
  • Want to know what happens in the secret room where the lottery happens? Here you go.
  • With the lottery and, thus, the draft on the mind let me say that I’m happy for the Hornets. They played hard for Monty Williams and now they have two lottery picks to add to their talent base. Anthony Davis is seen as a sure thing by most everyone (including me) and he’ll surely be their first selection. But they’ll also have a chance to get another good player at #10 and that can’t be ignored. Remember, Andrew Bynum was drafted 10th overall. So was Paul Pierce. In that same draft, Dirk went 9th overall. We all remember that Kobe was drafted 13th overall. My point here is that franchise cornerstones can come from anywhere in the lottery (or anywhere in the draft, really) and it will be interesting to see which players, if any, become the guys we all look back on and say “I can’t believe he went that low.”

Maybe we’ll be able to say that about whoever the Lakers select with the last pick in the draft this June. After all, fans in Sacramento are doing just that after Isaiah Thomas was taken in that slot then proceeded to make the all-rookie team.

  • I’m not the biggest hockey fan but here’s to the Kings brining the Cup to Los Angeles.
  • Finally, some housekeeping notes: we’ll be here all off-season talking about the playoffs, the draft, Summer League, free agency, the Olympics, and more. I’m also interested in starting back up the mailbag feature (let me know in the comments if that’s something you’re interested in). We’ve got several other ideas as well to keep getting you guys quality content. As always, I appreciate your continued support of the site and of the group of guys that contribute to it.