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More Mailbag!

Darius Soriano —  July 17, 2010

Los Angeles Laker Pau Gasol smiles during a team practice at the 2010 NBA Finals basketball series in Boston, Massachusetts June 12, 2010. The 2010 NBA Finals resumes June 13 when the Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers meet in Game 5 in Boston, Massachusetts June 12, 2010.  REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Since I had so much fun answering the last set of questions that came in, here are a few more that were collecting dust in my inbox that I’ll drop my two cents on.  Again, if you’d like to send in a question (or more) for a future installment of the mailbag, click here and fire away.  Here we go…

The Lakers have been blessed w/ some of the best centers (Kareem, Wilt, Shaq, Mikan) to ever play the game. 2 of the top 3 two guards (Kobe & West). The best point guard in history in Magic. And hall of famers (top 50 all-time mo less) at small forward in Baylor & Worthy. However when it comes to the 4 spot, the power forward, our all time best read like this: post prime Bob MacAdoo; super sub Robert Horry; solid role players Happy Hairston, A. C. Green, Kurt Rambis, Rudy LaRusso; early era Vern Mikkelson; Clyde Lovellette anyone?  Yes I know Pau also plays the 5 spot, however as Andrew Bynum (boy would I love to one day include him on the all-time Laker great centers) continues to blossom, Pau will spend more time at the 4 spot.  I’ve been a Laker fan most of my life, since 1965, as a young lad of 13. Given all of that the question remains: is Pau Gasol the BEST POWER FORWARD to ever play for the Lakers?

-Big City Sid

This is an interesting question because as you point out, the Lakers have been blessed to have some all time greats at every other position save PF.  When I’ve built the All-Time Lakers team in my mind, I’ve often cheated and slid Baylor up or moved Kareem down to PF to fit in guys like Shaq or Kobe (or West) and make sure they made the team.  That said, Gasol is quickly earning a place on this list as all-time Laker and could easily be seen as the best PF to ever play for the franchise considering his talent level and what he’s accomplished so far.  I mean, in his three seasons with the Lakers he’s been a major contributor to a team that’s been to 3 NBA Finals and won 2 championships.  In the past two playoffs, he’s stepped up his game in a major way and had some huge games in contests that were quite important.  In the most recent NBA Finals against the Celtics, many pundits touted him as the MVP of the series as he had some very strong games both scoring and rebounding and averaged 2 blocks a game (with a high of 6 in game two).  The man has clearly established himself as one of the top players in the league and I happen to think that he’s the most complete big man in the game when you consider all facets to his game.  So at this point, I’d have to say yes – Pau Gasol is the best PF to ever play for the Lakers.

Do you think that the higher than anticipated cap will make the Lakers more bold in pursuing free agents like Matt Barnes and Raja Bell or will it just be used to lessen the distance between the Lakers and Fisher in their quest to make a deal?

-Arta

I don’t think the higher cap will influence the Lakers spending this off-season.  Because even though the cap is higher by a a couple of million dollars, the Luxury Tax threshold only went up by $500K.  So really, the Lakers aren’t looking at any significant savings when looking to bolster their roster.  I mean, the Lakers paid the highest luxury tax bill out of every team this past season ($21.43 million) and because the tax threshold stayed relatively flat, I don’t think the higher cap means much.  However, Dr. Buss has shown that he’s very much willing to spend money when building a championship team and he’s allowed Mitch Kupchak to offer the types of contracts that lure players to LA in hopes of winning that elusive ring.  So, whether it’s Raja Bell or some other role player, I think the Lakers will still look to fill out its roster with quality players and that they’ll spend in line with what they did last season.  And to summarize the Lakers payroll/cap situation right now, there is (approximately) 81.7 million allocated to Kobe, Gasol, Bynum, Odom, Artest, Sasha, and Walton for next season.  Reports have been that Steve Blake signed a contract that will pay him 4 million a season for 4 years and that Fisher’s deal will pay him 3 million a year for 3 years.  That would put the Lakers payroll at nearly 89 million for 9 players.  When you add in rookie contracts (say, 1 million combined for both rookies next season) that pushes the total to 90 million.  Also note that the Lakers have 1.75 million remaining of their mid level exception and will likely look to sign at least one veteran big man at the mininum (an amount that will vary based off the service time of the player). If the team spends the rest of the MLE and does sign a veteran for, say 1.3 million, that would push the Lakers’ payroll up to approximately 92 million.  A number that compares to last season’s 91.4 million.

Do you feel signing Kyle Korver and Lou Amundson would be a great addition for the back to back defending champions?  I feel the Lakers need a solid 3 point shooter who can come off the bench when Kobe sits down and I feel Sasha hasn’t been as consistent as we had hoped.  Korver is a hard worker who has a great shot and plays good defense.  Secondly, I feel Amundson would be a perfect fit in purple and gold.  A shot blocker, high energy player coming off the bench has always been a huge hit in Los Angeles.  Turiaf and Madson are examples of that.  Do you feel there are two better players for the money the Lakers could acquire this off-season.

-Buck

Even though Kyle Korver has been signed by the Bulls, I posted this question because I think it speaks to the remaining Lakers needs quite nicely.  I still think another shooter and another big man that could defend and rebound – even if they’re only asked to play limited minutes – are a must.  If looking for an effort/energy big off the bench, I’m actually hopeful that second round pick Derick Caracter can provide that spark.  We’ve recently touched on his progress shown in Summer League, but he’s shown good rebounding instincts and has been very active in the games that I’ve seen.   Not to say that I don’t like Amundson, but he’s a bit undersized for the Lakers and lacks some of the polish that the Lakers like in their PF’s.  He’s got a questionable jump shot and is most effective as a screener in the P&R and a guy that fills the lane in the open court while crashing the class in the half court.  So in the end, I don’t like him as much for the Lakers system.  So if the Lakers are still looking to grab an additional big man for their roster – as I believe they are because they can’t just rely on Caracter – the usual names of  Kurt Thomas, Joe Smith, Craig Smith, Nesterovich, Brad Miller, etc are all still out there.  I see some of those guys as better fits than others, but as a 4th or 5th big that won’t see too many minutes you could do a lot worse than any of those guys.  As for the shooter, I was hopeful the Lakers could sign Raja Bell to fill that role.  Unfortunately (at least in my eyes) he signed a more lucrative contract to go back to the Jazz and the Lakers may now look to fill their open spot on the wing by bringing back Shannon Brown.  Brown may not fill the role as a long range threat, but he does have the athleticism that many fans crave for this team, has shown improvement in his jump shot, and now has nearly two years of system knowledge that goes a long way in determining playing time.  If looking for a shooter though, a name that is still out there is Rasual Butler.  While not necessarily a player in the Redick mold (career 3 point FG% is 36.3%), Butler shot 39% the season before last and is a guy that I’ve always thought of as a gamer – though that’s probably influenced by some of the big shots he hit while with the Hornets.  Other “shooters” that are still available as free agents are Eddie House and Roger Mason Jr., but House is really a PG (not a lot of minutes at that spot after Fish/Blake) and Mason is really a SG that had quite the down year last season.  So, I wonder if any of these options are really better than Brown.

I truly value Lamar’s role on the team, I want us to keep him for the length of his contract and if he’ll eat more broccoli instead of candy, the sky is the limit.  But I still have these concerns: why does he get so many frustrating, momentum-swinging charges, why does he throw the ball away on so many length of the court passes, and why does he miss so many key defensive rotations late in games to allow dagger open threes? And don’t the coaches work with him on this?

-Mike

Another relevant topic after Jeff’s recent player review on LO.  Many who follow this site know that I’ve been one of Odom’s biggest supporters over the last few years and while I understand the frustration with some aspects of his game, I think fans need to adjust and appreciate Odom for what he does well rather than nitpick the things he doesn’t or focus too much on his mistakes.  That said, while I think some of faults pointed out are exaggerated, I do recognize his flaws as a player.  Odom is the type of ball handler that doesn’t change direction well when he’s made up his mind – hence the charges.  And since penetrating to either create a shot for himself or a teammate is such a big part of his game, I think we see this more often with him than we do with other players.  I also think he’s a player that is consistently looking for the play that gives the Lakers a true advantage (it’s one of the traits that makes him a play maker in the Triangle) and it’s why he’s always looking up-court for the “homerun” pass that will get the Lakers a quick bucket – a play that works a fair amount too, by the way. As for the defensive lapses, I think Odom’s natural instinct is to protect against the drive and hence the leaving of shooters behind the arc.  However this same instinct to help is what made Odom such a natural fit for the strong side zone scheme the Lakers employed during their 2009 title run.  His ability to recognize the penetration (as well as his ability to recover back to the weak side after showing help on the strong side) by using his length and defensive range was vital to this scheme and it was all aided by his desire to be a helper in a way that maximizes his skills.

This isn’t to make excuses for Odom as I’m often frustrated by these same flaws in his game.  However, when looking at LO objectively and in the big picture, I can think of few big men that would fit on this particular Lakers team better.  Odom is a player that moves well off the ball and thus can take advantage of the attention that Pau, Kobe, and Bynum draw.  He’s a very good rebounder and is excellent at turning defensive rebounds into transition baskets going the other way.  He’s a “stretch PF” that has a play making mentality and it allows him to be an offensive initiator while also giving space to the Lakers main offensive threats to operate.  Not to mention he’s the consumate team player that consistently looks to make the play that helps his mates, doesn’t have an ego that demands that he get a ton of credit, and is always preaching that the team needs to play the right way in order to be successful.  He could easily be a starter on countless other teams but he accepts his role on this team and helps it win at the highest level.  I can understand that others want a more consistent player and that Odom’s game can be the personification of an up and down season where the highs are fantastic and the lows are frustrating.  However, I think we can all agree that he helps this team a great deal and that his presence has helped earn back to back championships.  And for that, I’m very grateful to my favorite candy eating southpaw.

Certainly Ron Artest’s effect on the Laker defense was substantial – the proof is in the product.  Would you say the improvement in our defense was more manifested in a) Artest’s individual defense vs. Ariza/Walton/VladRad (in descending order) or b) his ability to make his teammate’s defend better in terms of establishing a defense-oriented mindset and setting an example or others to follow?

-kehntangibles

I would say it’s more a product of Artest’s individual defense and, specifically, the type of defender that he was.  Obviously Walton and RadMan weren’t what we’d call good defenders so we’ll leave them out of the discussion.  However, Ariza was a good defender, but his expertise came more in the form of ball denials, anticipation in the passing lanes, and an on ball defender in the P&R (remember his performance against Turkoglu in the 2009 Finals).  But, Artest is a different type of defender and one that is better suited to consistently producing stops in the half court.  Ron’s strength allowed him to push offensive players further from the hoop when making the catch.  His quick hands meant that the Lakers got more deflections and on ball steals.  His bigger body meant that players could not as easily drive by him without getting knocked off their dribble while his long reach was able to produce a lot of steals with his poke away move when offensive players actually did get by him.  So, I would say that his more well rounded defensive game served the Lakers very well over the course of the season and that compared to his predecessors, the improvement that Artest offered correlated to better team success.

I should add, though, that a healthy and more-committed-to-defense Bynum also helped the Lakers defense a great deal.  After playing in only 50 games in the 2009 season (while returning for the playoffs), Bynum played in 65 contests this season and was definitely more focussed on protecting the paint than he’s been in the past.  So, when you combine the presence of Bynum paired with Gasol and add a defender of Artest’s quality, I think the results are the top 5 defensive outfit the Lakers were able to field this past season.

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Forum Blue & Gold reflects back on the season that was for Lamar Odom and what we can expect from him in 2010-2011. Check out Phillip’s exit interviews post to hear it from the forward in his own words.

SEASON REVIEW:

As the old adage says: as Lamar Odom goes, the Lakers go. If truer words have spoken during the Lakers’ most recent run of NBA finals berths, I haven’t heard them. The always entertaining 6’10” forward has represented something of an enigma during his six-year tenure with the forum blue and gold. When he first joined Kobe and Co., Lamar was immediately anointed as the second coming of Scottie Pippen. He now stands tall as a vital, yet still underrated sixth man and two-time NBA champion.

Odom has faced a lion’s share of criticism over the course of that transition process, some deserved, some not. His surprising willingness to agree to a bench role before the 2008-2009 season deserves unanimous praise, though. For Odom, the 2009-2010 season was about perfecting his new role after the addition of Ron Artest to an already formidable front line. Despite his now somewhat expected consistent inconsistency during the regular season, the results of his big-game performances in a must-win Game 5 against the Suns and Game 7 against the Celtics are hard to argue.

Over the course of an impressive 82 games, Lamar averaged almost 11 points and 10 rebounds, while playing a starter-like 32 minutes. Those numbers easily represent the lowest of his career, but with the offensive arsenal behind him, he provided the Lakers with exactly what they needed on most nights. However, Odom struggled mightily against the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round, bringing in a disappointing eight points and seven rebounds on only 41% shooting from the field. Luckily for Lamar, his untimely disappearing act was largely overlooked after Pau Gasol’s series-clinching put-back in Game 6.

Against a more familiar foe in the Phoenix Suns, Mr. Kardashian thrived, posting much-improved averages of 14 points to go along with 12 boards. In fact, with the series hanging in the balance in Game 5, it was the chameleonesque Odom who slithered his way to a difference-making 17 points and 13 rebounds. His up-and-down post-season continued against Boston’s significantly tougher front line in the Finals, though. However, give Lamar credit for being a leading instigator in L.A.’s second half comeback from 13 down in Game 7.

SINGLE PERFORMANCE:

Odom had better statistical games during the regular season, but none that had anywhere near the impact of his aforementioned 17-point, 13-rebound (including five offensive boards) performance against Phoenix in Game 5 of the Conference Finals. With the Lakers lollygagging around in the second half, allowing the Suns to eventually tie the game, it was often Odom who jolted the team back into the moment. Without his rugged play, there is no Ron Artest game-winner and we are looking at an entirely different series.

NEXT SEASON:

I think that both sports media and fans make a habit out of painting “pictures” for our favorite athletes early on in their careers. In many ways, we are watching it happen right now with LeBron James; through seven NBA seasons, he remains ringless and for fans of the former Cavaliers superstar, his legacy, which was once a foregone conclusion, is suddenly very much in doubt. To a lesser extent, Lamar also falls into this group thanks to an eye-opening college career at Rhode Island and a stellar first few seasons with the Clippers. At his height, his ball-handling skills and passing ability instantly drew comparisons to Lakers great Magic Johnson. That’s the problem with setting such lofty expectations early on in a player’s career, though; what happens when they are not always met? Do you render that player’s career an automatic failure because they did not live up to the potential that fans and media prognosticated?

In the case of Odom, I think that our ideal vision for his end destiny as an NBA player has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts over the past few seasons. It seems odd that consistency issues are even a topic of conversation for an 11-year veteran, but it remains—and probably always will—an issue for the forward. The difference now is that most of his fans—and teammates for that matter—are not looking for Lamar to produce a 20-10 night in every game over the course of a grueling nine-month season. Coach Jackson understands this better than anyone, which is why he was arguably the leading champion of Lamar’s understated value when Jerry Buss initially seemed reluctant to dive deeper into luxury tax territory to re-sign Odom last summer. Without the burden of playing up to a near-max level contract and as option B on offense, the Candy Man has excelled at filling in the gaps during the Lakers’ past three Finals runs, both as a super-sub and impromptu starter.

This will not change next season, as the team brings back virtually the same core of players that has already led them to consecutive NBA titles. If anything, I look for Lamar to improve on his 2009-2010 campaign with a bolstered bench that now includes steady point guard Steve Blake to replace the often-erratic Jordan Farmar. I fully expect Coach Jackson to continue to utilize Odom over Andrew Bynum in late-game situations too, depending on match-ups and which player(s) the team signs between now and training camp to fill out the front line. Regardless of his specific role, if we have learned anything over the years, it is that Lamar can adapt to any environment. His contributions as a key role player and valued teammate cannot be overlooked as the Lakers look forward to defending their crown.