Archives For laker History

The Lakers got their 9th win of the season against the Hornets by the count 103-87, showing both the Jekyll and Hyde nature of their play so far this season.

In the first half they had trouble defending the Hornets’ pick and roll attack, surrendering open shots at the rim by not helping the helper and ceding open jumpers on the wing on late rotations. On offense they ran a clunky, isolation heavy attack that left them seeking out good shots that came few and far between. The result was a 2 point deficit after 24 minutes born of lackluster play that looked all too familiar.

In the 2nd half, that all changed. On defense, the rotations were more crisp. Back side wings dug down on the roll man and disrupted passes into the paint. The open jumpers that were so prevalent in the first half mostly dried up as well. Defenders were much more engaged all over the floor, talking and active. Dwight Howard took command in the third quarter, controlling the paint on both sides of the floor. The ball moved on offense, shots started to fall, and what was a deficit quickly became a lead that would not be relinquished (in fact, it was barely threatened).

And so, the Lakers won a game they sorely needed. It was a game they should have won, but in a season where nothing has been certain (save for uncertainty), every win is a good one.

But, in a departure from looking at all that went right and wrong in this game, I turn my focus to Kobe Bryant. So excuse me for the fawning that will proceed…

Tonight Kobe Bryant joined an elite club. The number of people who have scored 30,000 points in their NBA career(s), before tonight, totaled four. They are the names of players who only need be identified by a single moniker. Kareem, Jordan, Wilt, The Mailman. These are the faces that have sat on the Mt. Rushmore of scorers in league history. Against the Hornets — the team that drafted him — Kobe joined these men on that mountain.

The points came on a play we’ve seen Kobe make hundreds of times before. After catching the ball on the right wing, he drove past a closing out defender, slithered into the lane, elevated over the help defender, and flicked in a one handed runner while fading to his left. It showed off his body control, his touch around the rim, and the scoring instinct that got him to this point. It was, in many ways, the quintessential Kobe bucket. Not too flashy, but enough of a wow play that makes you want to watch it again.

In between that shot and the the first one he made so many years ago, we’ve seen countless others. So many, in fact, they blur together. The baseline fade away. The pull up at the elbow. The heat check three pointer. The reverse lay in. The thunderous dunk. Through all the makes we’ve marveled at the focus, the footwork, the innovation, the creativity, and the desire. Especially the desire.

Seventeen years ago the Lakers acquired Kobe, a high school guard who had as much talent as moxie. He talked of “taking his talents” to the NBA and the challenge of playing the game at the highest level. In the years since, he’s been humbled plenty and reached the mountain top as an individual and as part of a team. The MVP’s (league and Finals), the championships, the all-star games, the franchise records, and all-NBA nods speak to his greatness.

And, through it all, he’s done it his way. For better and, at times, for worse. Playing his game has left him with as many detractors as he has staunch supporters. It’s also left him with almost universal respect. He’s as hardworking as he is relentless. As unforgiving a competitor as he is driven to improve. For all intents and purposes, he’s a player that’s made himself great as much as he’s had greatness bestowed upon him through his 6 foot, 6 inch frame and the NBA pedigree.

He has been, and continues to be, one of a kind. And he’s still going. Congratulations, Kobe Bean. If they’d told me 17 years ago he’d be this great, I wouldn’t have believed them. Which is probably one of the reasons he’s this great to begin with.

On Friday night, before the Lakers beat the Suns, Kareem finally got his statue. And while the past couple of years produced many jokes and more than a few hard feelings in the lead up to this honor being bestowed, by the time the ceremony took place everything was put in its proper perspective. Kareem spoke about what an honor it was while former teammates talked about how great a player Kareem was and how deserving he was of being immortalized in this way.

Of course, the statue is of Kareem shooting his famed sky hook. The most devastating weapon the game has ever seen, Kareem demolished opponents night after night by swinging left and shooting right over the top of his man. For years this single shot anchored the Lakers’ half court offense and whenever they needed a bucket Magic could hold up the number 5 and signal The Captain to get into the post. And more times than not, he’d deliver.

So, while we honor the man that did so much for the Lakers we should also sit back and enjoy watching him doing what he did best. Here is Kareem, destroying his man with the move he mastered. Congratulations again Captain, you certainly earned it.

The Other Guys: At #7…

J.M. Poulard —  October 12, 2012

Typically, when sports shows present montages of teams that were fortunate enough to win a championship, the underlying message that usually gets thrown out to the fans is that this group of people reached the mountaintop through blood, sweat and tears.

Obviously, the message is often lost on those that rather concentrate on the contributions of superstars; but there is nothing quite like seeing a unit go through some hardships to be the last team standing.

Although, we as the media like to look at the journey from the eyes of the superstars, sometimes the outlook of a player with far less talent can perfectly capture the scene, provided that he is one that plays with heart and hustle.

Today, the seventh best Lakers role player of all-time exemplifies this journey…

Kurt Rambis

To many, Kurt Rambis is the guy that used to play for the Lakers with the cool/goofy glasses. But to diehard basketball and Lakers fans alike, he was so much more.

The big man joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1981 and was immediately part of the rotation because he gave the team some interior defense as well as some much needed rebounding. With Rambis backing up at power forward, the Los Angeles Lakers won the world title in his rookie season.

By his second year with the Lakers, he was getting 23.2 minutes per game, and played the part of a reliable big man for the team.

Mind you, his minutes took a dip the following year (1983-84 regular season), as Norm Nixon was traded and Byron Scot joined the team. That combined with the emergence of James Worthy meant that the Lakers would occasionally use Big Game James at the power forward spot with Scott and Michael Cooper taking over duties at shooting guard and small forward on occasion.

The Lakers fell at the hands of the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals, and the Lakers redefined themselves ever so slightly. With Jamaal Wilkes’ rebounding numbers on the decline, Pat Riley once again started giving more minutes to the Santa Clara product in order to help shore up the defense and protect the backboards.

The Lakers faced the stigma of being a soft team with their loss at the hands of the Celtics in the ’84 Finals.

They were Showtime.

They outran teams, executed better and played sharper than most of their opponents, but were they tougher? Many felt they were not after being humbled by Boston.

The truth was that although they were a finesse team, they certainly knew how to impose their will on the game and even occasionally get scrappy.

Kurt Rambis was one of the players that exhibited the Lakers’ grit perfectly. During the purple and gold’s run through the 1980s, the man with the glasses appeared in 493 games, averaged 18.7 minutes per game, 5.3 points per game and 5.9 rebounds per game on 55.3 percent field goal shooting.

The numbers are rather miniscule in truth, but they do not tell the whole story.

The Santa Clara product was called upon to defend power forwards, set screens, rebound, get out of the way on offense — literally — and finish plays whenever defenders completely forgot about him. The tasks might not sound like much, but every now and then, Rambis had to play the role of enforcer, where he took a few hard fouls and refused to allow opponents to punk either him or his team.

On a team renowned for flash, glamour and glitz, Rambis was one of the few guys in the rotation that had to play ugly for the team to be successful.

Consequently, his contributions often get overlooked or even marginalized, but he was a big part of the championship puzzle in the early 80s; as he was called upon to defend the ever clever Kevin McHale, who is considered to have the most devastating array of post moves in NBA history.

With Rambis patrolling the paint next to Abdul-Jabbar, the Los Angeles Lakers rebounded in the 1985 playoffs and defeated the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.

In ensuing seasons, his playing time decreased as A.C. Green would become a more prominent player for the Lakers given his ability to help execute the zone trap, and Mychal Thompson was acquired to help defend the post, which in turn made Rambis the odd man out. He still got some regular minutes, but nothing quite like what he enjoyed in his first two seasons with the club.

Nonetheless, the 6’8’’ forward was a contributor to the greatest Los Angeles Lakers teams as voted by our own FB&G panel, and he also managed to be part of one the few NBA dynasties.

He eventually left the team and joined a few other ball clubs before returning to the Lakers for his final two seasons before retiring.

Some might argue that both Bob McAdoo and Rick Fox should have been ahead of Rambis, and that is certainly debatable, but Rambis edged both out by spending the first seven seasons of his career playing for the Lakers during their most successful run since moving to Los Angeles. With Kurt Rambis alternating between starter and reserve big man, the Lakers made seven appearances in the Western Conference Finals, six trips to the NBA Finals and won four titles.

Rambis may not have been the most important player for the Lakers, but he most certainly illustrated in many ways what the Lakers were not. They were not soft, they weren’t just style over substance and they were not a gang of chumps.

Kurt Rambis not only gave the Lakers blood, sweat and tears, but he also represented it better than most.

The Other Guys: At #8…

J.M. Poulard —  October 4, 2012

One of the most obvious truths that you will ever read here at FB&G is that not all role players are created equal. How could they be right?

Some have unique skills that can elevate them over other players in a team’s pecking order while another batch might just play with more energy, grit and hustle, which also can help a team reach its goal.

Once again, these are somewhat evident facts, but then we have another batch of role players that come with decorated careers. Indeed, a player may have flourished individually in a previous situation but failed to achieve team success; and then joins a contender and takes that new team to another level given the things he brings to the table but also the sacrifices he chooses to make to help them win.

Not to pick on him, but this is how many thought Tracy McGrady’s career would eventually unfold. But if T-Mac is the version of how it went wrong, Bob McAdoo is the McGrady version of how things went right.

Our eighth best Lakers role player of all time…

Bob McAdoo

Before joining the Los Angeles Lakers in 1982, the former Tar Heel was viewed as one the league’s best players; one that had enjoyed considerable individual success with his immense basketball skills.

Early on in his career, he was a scoring and rebounding machine, putting up double doubles with much regularity. His knack for snatching balls around the basket and scoring made him a three-time scoring champion — he averaged over 30 points per game in those three seasons in succession — and league MVP.

Mind you, for all of his talent, his teams rarely accomplished much. In his first nine seasons in the league, McAdoo’s teams made the postseason four times and he played on five different teams.

He bounced around in the late 70’s and early 80’s, going from Buffalo, to New York, then Detroit and New Jersey.

He finally joined the Lakers in December 1981 in what became the perfect situation for him.

Instead of being asked to carry a franchise or take on a heavy burden all the while doing things outside of his comfort zone, the North Carolina product was simply asked to come off the bench, feed the post on occasion and score.

And just to make sure things didn’t get too complicated for him, he had Norm Nixon and Magic Johnson feeding him whenever he got into scoring position.

Mind you, given that he joined the Lakers about a month after the season started, the task of including him into the team’s scheme was not an easy one.

Bob McAdoo was a 6’9’’ forward with a great knack for scoring, but at that point in his career, he was no longer an elite rebounder nor was he a great defensive player. Given that the Lakers already had the likes of Magic Johnson, Norm Nixon, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes on the team, it was important that the team had a few bangers on the interior as well as defenders on the perimeter.

Cooper was the wing stopper while Kurt Rambis and Mitch Kupchak did the dirty work on the interior. This meant that the Lakers often used three-guard lineups consisting of Cooper, Nixon and Magic for defensive purposes but also to run opponents off the court.

Thus, McAdoo did not see many minutes during the regular season. In his first season with the Lakers, he averaged 18.2 minutes per game but an event during the course of the season changed the dynamic of the team: Kupchak was lost for the year due to injury.

Consequently, by the time the playoffs started, Riley had to rely more on his new forward. This meant that McAdoo’s minutes increased, and the same thing happened to his scoring.

The Lakers liked to have the North Carolina product play small forward catch the ball at the pinch post or on the low block where he could make just one move — Mac was an at best average ball handler — and get to the rim or just shoot it from there.

The McAdoo wrinkle in the Lakers’ offense instantly became problematic for opposing teams that were already worried about the myriad of other scoring options for the purple and gold.

Riley liked to have Mac come off pin down screens set by Abdul-Jabbar where he drifted to the perimeter, caught the ball and fed the post. If McAdoo’s man sagged a little, the former Buffalo player just cut straight to the basket where the league’s all time leading scorer dished the ball for an easy basket.

As problematic as things were when opponents defended the Lakers, they became infinitely more complex when McAdoo went to the pinch post and the team ran some action on his side of the court. One of the most famous plays in Lakers history resulted from McAdoo’s sheer presence on the court: the 6’9’’ forward would set up on the pinch post with Cooper standing at the wing on the same side of the court; Coop would act as if he were going to set a pick on McAdoo’s man only to sprint to the basket as the former Tar Heel would set a sweet back screen for the “Coop-A-Loop”.

Bob McAdoo understood his role and fit in quite well playing alongside his talented teammates and never really got in their way. He shot the ball when open and mostly attempted field goals that were within his range, thus resulting in his high shooting percentage as a member of the Lakers. He consistently scored in the teens and provided some scoring punch off the bench when his team needed it.

On the other side of the ball, McAdoo was hardly a stopper, but he did just enough to help out defensively. Indeed, players could get by him off the bounce but his long arms allowed him to recover and contest shots. Also, he could get himself into help position off drives and clog the paint or make it difficult for players driving down the lane to convert shots.

In essence, Bob McAdoo does not often get mentioned for his contributions to the Lakers, but his scoring and rebounding were undeniably a huge plus for the team and he made the jobs of his teammates easier because defenses had to account for his presence given his ability to score.

In his four seasons in Los Angeles, the Lakers made the NBA Finals every time, winning the world championship twice along the way. He had modest averages of 12 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game on 49.4 percent field goal shooting and stepped it up with a little increased playing time during the playoffs to 13.4 points per game and 5.5 rebounds per game on 50.7 percent field goal shooting.

By the end of the 1985 championship run, McAdoo was 33 years old and still had a little game left. But with thoroughbreds such as James Worthy and Byron Scott now on the team, keeping the former Tar Heel no longer part of the plan.

Mac joined the Philadelphia 76ers and then retired the following season.

Although he did not retire as a member of the Lakers, McAdoo contributed to the franchise’s dominance of the decade. Granted, the former league MVP was not part of the ’87 and ’88 championship units, but the Los Angeles Lakers were still an impressive 231-97 during the regular season from 1981 to 1985, and they also sported a 49-20 postseason record during the same span.

Needless to say, Bob McAdoo had something to do with winning time.

The Other Guys Countdown

J.M. Poulard —  September 25, 2012

In case you missed the opening post of this series, the FB&G panel recently sat down and voted on the best role players in Lakers history. The details can be found here on the collective thought process of the panel as well as the first player in our top 10 countdown.

Now we move on to our next man up.

When we recall meaningful role players, we usually have a multitude of memories of how they contributed to a successful team; they did the little things but also had times in which they came up big because their teammates needed it.

That’s usually how it goes, and yet our next player may very well challenge that notion.

The ninth best role player in Lakers’ history…

Rick Fox

Fox started his NBA career as a member of the Boston Celtics and spent six seasons on the east coast playing for a decent team that eventually became a perennial loser. Eventually, he packed his bags and headed out west to join the Los Angeles Lakers.

In retrospect, it’s coincidental and yet both weird that the former Tar Heel played for only two teams in his career; and they happened to be the most storied franchises in the NBA.

Fox left Boston and joined Los Angeles hoping to be part of the solution that helped an immensely talented Lakers team turn things around and compete for a title. Instead, he joined a squad that was seemingly dysfunctional given the egos on the team.

The Lakers had Elden Campbell, Shaquille O’Neal, Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and a young Kobe Bryant but just could not avoid getting swept in the postseason. Even worse, a team that many thought should reach the title round every single season just could not figure out how to get there.

One thing was for sure at the time though, Fox might not have been a huge part of the team, but he was definitely part of the solution.

Players were moved, coaches were brought in and out and eventually Phil Jackson came to town to bring a stabilizing influence over the team starting in the 1999-00 season.

Rick Fox’s role under Jackson was to come off the bench, play solid defense, take open shots, feed the post, get out in transition and essentially play to his capabilities.

The North Carolina product took his role a step further, even at times playing the role of enforcer for a Los Angeles Lakers team that featured Shaquille O’Neal.

Indeed, the former Tar Heel played physical defense, hit players after the whistle, slapped the ball out of the hands of opponents even after calls were made by officials, trash talked and found ways to get inside the heads of opposing players. Fox was an instigator, but he was also a solid role player.

With Fox backing up Glen Rice during the 1999-00 season, the Lakers won 67 games, struggled a little during the postseason but managed to win the group’s first title.

Glen Rice was shipped out of town after the 2000 playoffs, which meant that Rick Fox had become the starter for the Lakers.

The 2000-01 season was one of turmoil for the Lakers as Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal fought for control of the team but role players such as Fox still managed to play to their strengths throughout the Bryant-O’Neal rift. The Lakers’ starting small forward saw more minutes that season and thus increased his scoring and rebounding.

Also, with more playing time alongside the starters, Rick Fox had more opportunities to get repetition in the triangle offense and thus had a better understanding of where to get his shots from. Consequently, he improved his field goal percentage, going from a poor 41.4 percent to a 44.4 percent mark.

By the time the playoffs started, the 2001 Lakers morphed into the third best Los Angeles Lakers team of all time, going 15-1 in the playoffs and destroying all of their opponents on their way to the title.

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal enjoyed arguably their best collective postseason together that year, but they were also aided by their role players that rose to the occasion whenever the situation called for it.

And that’s what’s particularly tricky about Rick Fox: he played up to par, played to his strengths and made several contributions but none of them truly stood out; unless we count the amount of times he agitated opponents.

Seriously, by the time the Lakers hit their stride in the playoffs, Rick Fox complemented the superstars with timely shooting, a couple of unimpeded drives to the basket as a result of double teams and some solid perimeter defense.

If the 2001 playoffs failed to properly hammer this point home, the 2002 postseason highlighted this perfectly.

After helping the Lakers win back-to-back titles, Rick Fox was not only a starter on a championship team, but an integral piece to the championship puzzle. He played well off of his superstar teammates and even asserted himself offensively at times to help take pressure off the more heralded players on the team.

The box score often failed to accurately capture Fox’s contributions because so many of them came in the form of deflections, charges taken, box outs and the pass that led to the pass that set up an assist. Hence, it’s somewhat difficult to find one game that encompasses the type of player that Rick Fox was for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Difficult, but not impossible.

With Game 7 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals scheduled to be played in Sacramento, many thought that the Kings would dethrone the defending champions.

The Kings were deeper, younger, more athletic and thus better, as the story went.

The Lakers on the other hand had arguably the two best players in the league as well as championship experience and that essentially sealed the fate of the Sacramento Kings.

The home team bricked free throws, struggled to execute and get good looks at the basket late in the game, while the Lakers looked like the fresher team, unbothered by the pressure and weight of the moment.

Rick Fox was at his best in a Lakers uniform that day, scoring 13 points, snatching 14 rebounds and dishing out seven assists in 48 minutes of playing time. The North Carolina product was all over the court, and yet never looked as though he was playing above his customary level of basketball talent.

And in addition, although Peja Stojakovic had been hampered by an ankle injury during the playoffs, he had still averaged 21.2 points per game on 48.4 percent field goal shooting during the regular season and was the Kings second option on offense. In the series against the Lakers mind you, Rick Fox played physical and smothering defense on him, holding him to a mere 6.7 points per game on 20.7 percent field goal shooting. His ankle might have been problematic, but so too was the Lakers forward.

That victory over the Kings propelled the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals where they swept the New Jersey Nets and completed the ever rare — this is the most recent occurrence of this in the NBA — three-peat.

Fox played the role of occasional scorer, shooter, defender and rebounder at times, but his best role by far with the team was that of winner.