Archives For Fast Break Thoughts

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.

Yesterday’s game 4 win gave the Lakers the road win they sought and put them only a single win away from advancing to round two. The game was hard fought, but like the Lakers have done all season, they made several key plays down the stretch to helped seal a game that could have gone either way. Both star and role players had their hand in the win and as Steve Blake said in a rare trip to the podium post game, game 4 was a total team win.

And since today is a day off and we’ll be right back at it tomorrow for what could be the clinching game, here are some leftover thoughts from yesterday’s thriller:

*In order to win a game there are individual factors and team factors that must go a team’s way. A list of the former include things like Bynum’s intensity and effort on defense or Kobe’s ability to score efficiently. These things matter a great deal and I think it’s fair to say that should several of those variables go the Lakers’ way, they have an excellent chance of winning. However, it’s the team factors that often mean the most over the course of an entire series.

Against the Nuggets, the pace/tempo/flow of the game has been the #1 variable the Lakers need to mark on their side of the ledger. In game 4 there were only 85 possessions (averaged) for both teams and that’s about 11 possessions fewer than the Nuggets averaged during the regular season. That number is skewed somewhat by the Lakers grabbing so many offensive rebounds (more on that later) but the fact remains, the Nuggets didn’t get as many possessions as they’d like and that’s a big win for the Lakers.

However, what I also noticed is that one of the key ways the Lakers attempt to slow down the game is by dragging out their own offensive possessions. They walk the ball up. They make multiple passes into the post, back to the wing, and around the perimeter. They’re not stalling, but they are searching for good shots all while using up the shot clock. The problem is, by using the shot clock, the Lakers put themselves behind the proverbial 8 ball on countless possessions because they find themselves searching for a good look against the ticking time bomb of the 24 second clock staring at them. Kobe took 25 FG’s yesterday and 7 of them were with 5 seconds are less on the shot clock. He made only 2 of them.

My point in all this is that the Lakers must find a way to not only slow the game down, but also work their offense to produce quality looks at the same time. Striking this balance can be a difficult one and it’s why I don’t always put a lot of stock into pure shooting percentages. Sometimes executing the game plan means lower quality looks are the ones that will be available.

*Jordan Hill’s emergence as the 3rd big has been fantastic for the Lakers in a variety of ways. He has the ability to play good defense (especially in the P&R) and his work on the offensive glass has been stellar. I went back and watched all 7 of his offensive rebounds from yesterday’s game and a common them came up: he simply knows how to position himself in the paint and is not scared to go out of area to grab a loose ball. On one rebound in particular he positioned himself on the left side of the basket waiting for the ball to come off the rim to that side. However, when ball came off the rim it bounce to the right side. At that point Hill took his two steps towards the ball, batted it against the hands of the Nugget trying to secure it, then vacuumed the ball up into his own mitts to secure the ball.

It was a relatively minor play in the scheme of things but at the end of the night it counted as one of his team high 11 rebounds. And that’s the thing with Hill when you watch him on tape. He’s consistently doing the little things and at the end of the day they all add up to a strong contribution. For the playoffs his offensive  rebound percentage (the % of Oreb’s he’s grabbing while on the floor) is 20.7%. Said another way, one out of every five Laker misses ends up in his hands when he’s on the floor. The Lakers don’t win yesterday’s game without him.

*Fans (myself included) have bemoaned the Sessions/Blake back court duo for as long as Brown has gone to it. Advanced metrics tell us this pairing isn’t that effective – especially on the defensive end as one of the PG’s is often forced to guard a bigger, stronger player. However, yesterday this pairing held their own. In the 20 minutes they shared the court the Lakers had a plus/minus of +1 and their efficiency differential was a +3.9. These aren’t world beater numbers by any means but they’re the type of numbers the team needs to put up when Brown goes to this pairing.

Of note here is that the main reason Brown has (seemingly) gone to this lineup as often has he has is because the Lakers aren’t getting much production from wing players not named Kobe. Matt Barnes has had a bad shooting series and Devin Ebanks, while having some good moments, has had minimal impact adding little to the table while also taking little off it. Not having a clearly better option means that Blake will be in the mix for those spare minutes at shooting guard. Some nights it won’t pay off, but last night it did. Until Ron gets back, however, this is the roller coaster we ride.

*Speaking of Blake, there’s probably not a player I feel better for when he plays well. He’s probably the Laker that fans like to point to first as the guy that doesn’t play up to standard and is often labeled as the weak link on the team. And while on many nights that’s true, it’s never due to lack of effort. He works hard on D and consistently tries to make the right play on O. He’s scrappy and isn’t scared of the big moments. That doesn’t always translate to good play, but when it does I’m happy for him because he’s one player that can never be chided for lack of trying. For me, those types of players have always been easiest to root for.

*I’m not big on commenting about the refereeing but yesterday’s was…interesting, to say the least. I thought the refs called a fairly uneven game that made it difficult for players from both teams to adjust. In the first half contact in the paint was allowed to the point where shoves in the back went largely unpunished only for weaker contact on the perimeter to be whistled. In the 2nd half, the whistles got tighter on paint contact but almost served to overcompensate as several touch calls were made early in the 3rd period. I’m usually of the mind that it’s on the players to adjust to the way that a game is being called but yesterday was one example where I wasn’t (too) mad with either side complaining about the calls made/not made because it wasn’t nearly as consistent as you’d hope it would be in a playoff game.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  May 3, 2012

A few thoughts on the Lakers and the rest of the league before we talk about Kobe’s offense this afternoon…

  • I love the playoffs. I love how the coaches make adjustments, how players raise their games, and how every night there’s another match up between two good teams that can turn into a classic. But, what I may love most is how over the course of the series teams start to dislike each other more and more. Seeing the same players over and over again starts to wear on these guys. I mean, have you been watching the Grizzlies/Clippers series? Reggie Evans is already getting on Marc Gasol’s nerves. So is Kenyon Martin and Chris Paul. Last night I thought Marc was going to take a swing at one of those guys. The playoffs already have a great intensity level with raised stakes. But much like an NFL training camp where the same guys do battle every day, seeing the same face in the same jersey every other day can bring out the bad feelings in these guys. And I love it.
  • Another thing I’ve loved is Jordan Hill’s emergence as the Lakers’ 3rd big man. He’s turning out to be the perfect compliment to Bynum and Gasol simply because he knows how to carve out space in the paint on offense when Pau and Bynum draw extra defensive attention while his foot speed on defense makes him a good P&R defender that can also challenge shots at the rim. No, he doesn’t have a good jumper and his touch around the basket could use a bit of refinement, but he works hard and (mostly) plays to his strengths. Plus, anyone that can grab 43 rebounds in his last 4 games (including 17 on the offensive end) as a back up big man is doing something right.
  • It’s award time in the NBA and so far the league has named Greg Popovich the Coach of the Year and Tyson Chandler the Defensive Player of the Year. I’ve no beef with either selection as both certainly earned their honors. Especially Chandler who helped transform the Knicks’ defense all while playing with below average individual defenders. Where I do take some issue is with the fact that not nearly enough wing defenders got votes for the award. Guys like Tony Allen, Andre Iguodala, and Luol Deng cover the top wing players in the league nightly but yet don’t get the same recognition that someone like Serge Ibaka does. Yes, Serge blocks a lot of shots but part of the reason he does rack up the rejections is because he’s not matched up with the elite players in the league on a nightly basis. Yes, there are some fantastic PF’s in the game but a guy like Allen will guard LeBron and Wade in the same game one night, then Kobe the next, then Rose on another night, and then Durant on another with the list going on and on and on. Again, I’m not trying to take anything away from the big guys in the league but give the wings some votes! They deserve ‘em too.
  • It doesn’t mean much because of the small sample size and the fact that the games will only get more difficult but 6 of the 8 Lakers rotation players have PER’s of over 15 so far these playoffs (Kobe, Bynum, Pau, Sessions, Ebanks, and Hill). And Kobe and Bynum both have PER’s over 30. The only other key players in the playoffs with PER’s over 30 so far are LeBron and Tony Parker.
  • On the opposite end of celebrating the players doing well is the frustration and sadness of guys getting injured and missing out on the 2nd season. Derrick Rose, Iman Shumpert, and Caron Butler will all miss extended time (with Rose and Shumpert out until next season. Josh Smith is out with a sprained knee and Tiago Splitter will miss time with a sprained wrist. The playoffs are always a war of attrition, but having guys go down to injury is always a bummer.
  • Lastly, a very good read on Kobe from SI’s Lee Jenkins, plus Bean’s top 10 plays of the year. Enjoy: