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It’s Mailbag Time…

Darius Soriano —  June 17, 2011

Time for another installment of the FB&G mailbag.  As always, if you’d like to submit a question, you can click right here and submit one to me with “mailbag question” in the subject line.  On to the questions…

Considering that Mike Brown is already considered a defensive specialist, would (Mike) Malone really have been that helpful on his bench?  I am more interested to see how Messina and Kuester reconfigures the offense.  Also, where do you think Brian Shaw will end up?  He deserves a gig somewhere.
-Roger

While I agree that a defensive minded assistant coach doesn’t look to be the Lakers’ biggest need, I think it is also important to understand Mike Brown’s coaching style and how he constructs a staff. Brown has stated that he delegates to his assistants and preaches shared responsibility and accountability at all times (both on his staff and with the players). Malone was one of his key assistants in Cleveland and held a similar position with the Hornets this past season (where he’s directly credited with helping to improve that team’s D this past season). By all accounts he’s a very good coach and I’m of the mind that a head coach should try to surround himself with as many smart coaches that can teach the game as possible. So, yes, I think he’d have been a great hire and very helpful.

As for Shaw, I think it’s incredible that the man once tabbed as Phil Jackson’s successor could be out of work next season. He may not land on his feet as a head coach anywhere (as of now, only the Raptors, Pistons, and Pacers have vacancies), but I could certainly see him getting hired as an assistant somewhere. Maybe he goes to Minnesota and teams up with Rambis to help with the Triangle. That said, one of the obstacles that Shaw may be facing is the fact that he is so closely associated with the Triangle offense. I’m not an owner or a GM, but the Triangle is an offense that few have succeeded running at this level and can be seen as impractical to the way that many NBA rosters are currently constructed. Shaw may need to put in time on a staff that teaches other schemes to further prove that he’s a viable head coach in the league – especially with everyone’s fall from grace after the Lakers got swept out of the playoffs.

Do you expect Steve Blake to get better next year? Or do you expect him to stay the same/get worse?
-Don

I expect Blake to be better next season. To these eyes, Blake’s biggest issues were in aggression and in his comfort level finding shots within the Triangle. And while Blake played much more within the system than, say, Jordan Farmar, Blake never did find the right balance between getting his own and setting up his teammates. To be fair, playing with players the stature of Kobe, Pau, Odom, Bynum, and even Artest has the potential to neuter any players aggressiveness (i.e. passing to those guys always seems like the best option – especially if they’re calling for the ball). Plus, the Triangle is a system that’s nuanced and takes time to fully learn and get comfortable within.

But now that the Triangle is gone and a more “traditional” system is in its place, I expect Blake to better find his groove and thus produce better results. By no means am I saying he’ll be one of the better PG’s in the game, but I don’t think shooting better percentages across the board and increasing his assist totals are far fetched. I also think with better play he’ll receive more minutes and with that even more success will come.

Everyone quotes Michael Jordan’s Finals resume as being better than Kobe‘s. For my argument, let’s say Kobe gets his 6th in the next 3 years (highly possible, I’m hoping). People would point to MJ’s record of 6-0 being superior to Kobe‘s 6-2 (again, hypothetical). Wouldn’t Kobe‘s be better? Champion 6 times and runner up twice vs champion 6 times? (This ignores the finals mvp component, I see being a weak point in my argument.)
-Matthew

Normally I try to avoid such debates since they rarely get you anywhere. However, since we’re talking resume and not who was better, I’ll bite…

While I understand the argument of more Finals appearances, I think an unblemished record is a greater achievement. I also think scoring average matters, which Jordan has over Kobe as well. Plus, as you mentioned, MJ’s MVP’s in the Finals are the tipping point in this argument. So, I just don’t see an argument where Kobe’s Final’s resume is better than MJ’s even with another title to his name.

That said, by the time Kobe’s career is over, his overall resume could be very close to MJ’s. When you consider career points, All-Star game appearances and ASG MVP’s, All-NBA and All-Defense teams, games and minutes played, and the NBA championships, their careers will be closer than many would like to admit. I’d still take MJ’s league MVP’s and DPOY award as trump cards to Kobe’s accomplishments, but Kobe will have achieved so much that there would be debate from both sides, for sure.

That said, one of the reasons I try to avoid such conversations is because I try to appreciate the players for who they are/were rather than holding them up against the memories of other legends. When Kobe retires I’ll be lucky enough to say that I saw his entire career and cheered him on as he played for the team that I root for. Who cares if he compares favorably to another all time great? The fact that he’s in the conversation as one of the best that ever played is more than enough for me.

It’s Mailbag Time

Darius Soriano —  October 9, 2010

Los Angeles Lakers' Pau Gasol (R) of Spain and his coach Phil Jackson speak during a practice session attended by basketball fans in Barcelona October 5, 2010. The Lakers will play against Barcelona in an NBA Europe Live basketball game at Palau Sant Jordi on Thursday. REUTERS/Albert Gea (SPAIN - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

Time for another installment of the FB&G mailbag.  As always, if you’d like to submit a question, you can click right here and submit one to me with “mailbag question” in the subject line.  On to the questions…

What do you make of the NBA GMs picking the Lakers to win it all again?  I haven’t studied their predictive accuracy in depth, but this is the 3rd or (4th ?) straight year they’ve picked our heroes. And of course, they’ve been right the last two years.  Also, they like Kobe over Wade as a SG. Do you agree and if so, why?

-Rick

When I saw that the GM’s picked the Lakers to win their 3rd consecutive title, my first thought was “Of course they did”.  Not to come off as arrogant about the Lakers nor sarcastic about how GM’s evaluate talent/teams/the league as a whole, but often times when predicting the future you look to past success.  The Lakers are the two time defending champs and for many, they will have to be knocked off/lose before anyone says that they aren’t the favorite to win again.  Regardless of what Miami has done this past summer to build their team or what Boston has done to improve after coming so close last season, the fact is that the Lakers are still the title holders, they’ve improved the team through their own off-season acquisitions in free agency and the draft, and they have motivation to continue to win.  Call it safe, call it logical, call it whatever you want, but the fact that many GM’s think the Lakers are poised to win again just isn’t a surprise to me.

As for picking Kobe over Wade, I think that comes from winning the championship as team accomplishments often contribute to the rankings of individuals.  You see this in all of sports and especially basketball.  Whether it’s picking the MVP or in many of the “who is the best player” arguments, team success often shapes how individual players are perceived.  I don’t know if I agree that Kobe is better or not as what you’re really asking is what you prefer when building a player.  Kobe is more of a perimeter oriented jump shooter (that also takes a lot of three pointers) that also excels in the post while Wade is more of a penetrator/playmaker that likes to score right at the rim and off his mid-range jumpshot.  Both are terribly effective at what they do and are dominant players.  I’d give Wade the leg up in efficiency because the stats speak to that clearly, but I’d give Kobe the leg up in a lot of skill areas offensively (shooting, ball handling) and on defense.  Remember, these are the two guards that made up the backcourt of the last season’s All-NBA 1st Team.  They’re both excellent players.  In the end, I’d probably lean towards Kobe, but I’m sure that it’s because I watch every game that he plays (which I can’t say about Wade) and see all the little ways that he contributes to wins even when he’s not doing the highlight reel stuff that most others would classify as him being “Kobe Bryant”.

Do you think Phil Jackson’s recent comments about Andrew Bynum becoming a Yao type player were directed at AB himself?

-Mark

I actually took Phil’s quotes at face value.  Bynum is a fantastic talent that has a bright future ahead of him – if he can stay healthy.  I spoke about this some in the Daily Dime Chat that I participated in yesterday, but I think that Bynum’s been a bit unlucky with the injuries he’s sustained so far in his career.  However, injuries matter, games missed matter, and if Bynum can’t prove to hold up to the pounding that he’s going to take or if he continues to suffer some of these fluke injuries, it will force a re-evaluation of how to use the big man and what his role will be within the context of a 48 minute game.  I know that Bynum sees it differently and that’s exactly what I’d want from him.  He’s the player and he’s got to have extreme confidence that any set back will be overcome and that any injury is just a speed bump on the way to his greatness.  But there are two sides here and while it’s easy to think that this was just another classic Phil tweak to a player, I think he was being honest when he said what he said about ‘Drew.  Understand though, too, that Phil is the coach today so this is what he thinks.  Years down the road when it’s another coach leading the team and/or Bynum, that person may not feel the same way.

Let’s assume that 1) there is no lock-out next summer OR 2) the lock-out doesn’t completely destroy the NBA. In either case, there would be a 2014-15 season. And, in all likelihood, there would be no Kobe Bean Bryant. There could still be Pau and/or Bynum. But who else could there be? Kobe probably won’t play much after 35. If at all. He’s gotta retire at some point. I think my real question is this: what do you think will be the next chapter for the Lakers?  Will it be a re-loading effort where some presently young-ish player comes to fill Kobe’s void? If so, who might that be? Should Lakers fans begin monitoring John Wall’s career? Should we start thinking about Carmelo Anthony rocking forum blue and gold during the twilight of his career? Maybe Blake Griffin moves across the hall? More importantly, would that mode of thinking confirm that the Lakers are just the Yankees of the NBA?  Or…will there be a long drought following the Kobe era where the franchise fails a couple of years before finding another all-world talent via the draft? If so, who do you expect to be the architect(s) of that era?

-Tim Adkins (sometimes comments as: the_capital_t)

While I don’t necessarily agree that we won’t see much of Kobe past him being 35, let’s take the premise of your question and run with it.  Team building is a combination of smarts and luck.  For example if you look at the 5 championship teams that Kobe and Fisher have played on you see both factors weigh heavily in how those rings were won.  In 1996 the Lakers had to clear enough cap space in order to have the money to sign Shaq.  Then they needed to get the Diesel to agree to a contract.  At the same time, Jerry West worked his magic to make a draft day deal for Kobe Bryant.  And then, Kobe needed to become Kobe Bryant – which required a work ethic and commitment that is hoped for but never guaranteed.  That’s a lot of factors coming together just to put the core roster together to get to those first three titles.  Then after the trade of Shaq, there was the shuffling of players around, the Caron Butler/Kwame Brown trade (which was a curse and a blessing), the trip to the draft lottery that netted Andrew Bynum (when there were other players that could have been drafted instead), and then the confluence of events that led to the Pau Gasol trade.  And all this happened without the Lakers wavering in their position to rebuild correctly, hold on to Kobe after he wanted out, while dealing with some truly tough times as a franchise.  That’s a pretty windy road to get to the top.  And if someone were to say that after the Lakers title in 2002 and their trip to the finals in 2004 that those events would happen to get them to back to back titles in 2009 & 2010 I’d say that you were crazy.

So, if you want to look out 4-5 years, understand that it’s going to take some shrewd planning and a good portion of luck to rebuild this team after Kobe is gone.  And to answer your specific questions, yes pay attention to the young stars of the league.  Look at the up and coming college players.  But, I would hope that as fans of this great game, we’re doing those things anyway.  One last note – a lot is going to depend on what the team actually has in Andrew Bynum.  Is he the cornerstone player for the next generation Laker team?  If so, that rebuilding process is a lot easier and further a long because potential free agents are now even more attracted to LA.

Do you think the Lakers’ offense will look like as it did in 2008-2009? The offense that season was simply beautiful to watch. Is there a chance that we will see a 2010-2011 Lakers team that combines the offense of ’08-’09 and the defense of last season’s to become a historically great team?

-thisisweaksauce

I think the potential is there for the Lakers to be much improved on offense (in comparison to last season) while still keeping their defensive ranking high.  Realistically, it’s not far fetched for them to be a top 5 team on both sides of the ball.

As for the offense looking like the 2008-09 season, I’m not sure if that will be the case as the personnel is just different.  That team had Ariza, Farmar, and an in-tune Machine as the foundation of an athletic secondary group of players to get out and run and create easy baskets.  Ariza especially was a terror in the passing lanes and a guy that turned turnovers into easy baskets at least twice a game.  This current group of Lakers aren’t built that same way and thus we see more grind-it-out offensive possessions and much more half court play.  So, in order for the Lakers to improve on offense this season they’ll need to execute better throughout the course of the game and that’s exactly what I think we’ll see.  I think Artest will be improved and that Blake will be a great addition to the second unit by keeping them on task and organized.  I expect Kobe to be more efficient and for Odom to have a better season as well.  All of these factors should conspire to the Lakers being anywhere from 3-5 points better per 100 possessions than they were last season which would put them cleanly in the top 5 of the league.

Defensively, I’m less concerned as the same group of guys are back plus Matt Barnes was added.  That alone will mean better better defense on the wing over the course of the game.  And, while I don’t want to pick on the departed Jordan Farmar, I think Blake will be a better defensive PG for the 2nd unit just because he’ll be more in tune with the Lakers’ schemes, not gamble as much, and be better off the ball by not getting beat by back cuts.

It’s almost certain that we are going to trade away Sasha’s expiring contract before the season deadline right?  Are we going to trade it away for cap relief like some picks, since we tried to trade it away this summer for a cheap buy-out, or are we going to trade it for another important piece for the title?  What piece would we possible trade it for, since we can probably get someone decent for his $5 mill expiring salary?  We have the 1, 2 , and 3 spots backed up and a nice 3 man rotation at the 4 and 5 already.  Are we going another big or trading for cap relief?

-Matthew Tran

Ah, trade speculation.  We’re in the off-season so let’s give it a stab.  First of all, I don’t think the Lakers trade Sasha at all unless it’s for complete cap relief.  The cheap buy out scenario is one that works during the off-season, but once the year begins the only way that a deal for complete cap relief works is if a team that is under the cap and can absorb the entire contract decides they need Sasha.  How likely is that? I’m thinking not likely at all.

Secondly, a potential trade of Sasha is really a double edged sword.  What I mean is his value is in the fact that he’s an expiring contract.  However, that has value to the Lakers too.  It’s not like LA doesn’t need some payroll relief at the end of this season.  So, if the Lakers are going to trade him, they’d want something of value back AND they’d want payroll relief for this season (i.e they’d want at least a 2nd round draft pick and then they’d want to take back little to no guaranteed salary for this year AND next year).  The other part of his equation is that the only way that Sasha ups his value around the league is by playing well.  For that to happen he would need playing time and he’d need to perform well in that time for other teams to actually want him.  However, just as I mentioned when referencing Sasha’s expiring contract, a Machine that is in the line up and playing well has value to the Lakers too.  You have to figure that if Sasha is seeing minutes it’s because he’s earned them in some way shape or form or because an injury has forced him into action.  In either scenario, the Lakers would – at that time – need him.  So, why would they give him up at that point?  If the perfect deal came along I could envision it, but at this point I think it’s rare that that actually happens.  Long story short, I don’t think Sasha gets traded this season.  I think they would have preferred to get the salary relief before this season started by trading him last year or during the summer and now that camp has started the Lakers are looking at him as part of the team.

(My question) is spurred by reading the Bucks preview over at PBT, by (Rob) Mahoney. It struck me how amazing Skiles is at constructing a defensive system, and how consistently awful his offensive system is. Why don’t more coaches do what the Celtics did with Rivers and Thibodeau – why don’t they hire an almost football style offensive or defensive coordinator as the head assistant coach? Are there limits to how much a team can focus on? (By that, I mean does Skiles have to spend so much time hammering home defensive principles, that if he gave over even 20-30% of that time to offense, his defense would suffer?) Or does it affect the hierarchy and control in all but the most veteran of locker rooms? Is it that, too often, these assistants get too much media attention and end up getting head coaching jobs (Kuester last year, Thibodeau this year)? It just seems like a very intelligent way to design your coaching staff. Thibodeau, for example, instead of reaching for an offensive whiz, added the Thunder defensive guru Ron Adams to his staff. Wouldn’t he have been better off finding an offensive guru for his staff? It just confuses me that more teams aren’t using the method, when you consider that almost all coaches have very strong offensive or defensive leanings.

-Snoopy2006

Ultimately, I think most head coaches try to find assistants that are like minded in some way.  Whether that’s in terms of X’s and O’s, basketball philosophy, or another factor.  So, in a way it makes sense that defensive minded coaches gravitate towards other defensive minded coaches as they can really focus on one side of the ball and try to make their team really strong on at least that one end of the floor.

That said, to dig a bit deeper into what you’re asking about offensive/defensive coordinators, I think it likely happens more than what we think, just not in a high profile manner like with the Celtics (Thibodeau) or the Cavs (Kuester).  Many teams (including the Lakers with Rambis) delegate specific responsibilities to their coaches to have them focus on one aspect of improving the team as part of the standard act of delegating.  I mean, coaches only have so much time and while we may not hear about the specifics of each team’s assistants’ roles, I’m sure this happens more than what we think it does.  And in the end, I don’t think it disrupts chemistry or alters the hierarchy of the team – unless you’ve got a particularly weak head coach, and in that case the team likely has problems to begin with.

More Mailbag!

Darius Soriano —  August 17, 2010

Lamar Odom tries to shoot around a reporter's microphone while being interviewed at a U.S. national basketball team practice in Las Vegas, Nevada July 21, 2010. REUTERS/Laura Rauch (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It’s time for another installment of the FB&G mailbag.  If you’d like to submit a question, click here and fire away.  Thanks again to everyone that has sent in questions.  Here we go…

When Phil Jackson retires, does that mean the end of the Lakers’ championship window? After all, the all-powerful team has been struck down a notch and the HEAT has garnered a year of experience for themselves. As a Laker fan, it is the season after this that has me most worried.

-Anonymous

I think losing Phil Jackson will be a blow to the Lakers.  However, I would not say that the Lakers championship window would “close” based solely off the fact that Phil would no longer be the coach.  Because, while extremely important, there are many other factors that go into winning a championship besides coaching.

At the top of that list is talent and, even without Phil as the head man, the Lakers will still have one of the best rosters in the league when Phil departs.  Just when looking at the Lakers top 5 players – Kobe, Pau, Bynum, Odom, and Artest – you have the makings of a championship roster, even if we’re talking 3 years from now.  And this only references talent that is in house and on the court.  When you look at Mitch Kupchak’s recent ability to build a championship team by drafting well and winning trades, it’s easy to forecast the Lakers continuing to build a strong roster even as the team ages – especially when considering the market advantages the Lakers possess by being based in Los Angeles and the brand advantage they have of being one of the most storied organizations in all of sports.

And while I agree that there are fast rising teams around the league (Miami, OKC) and traditional powers from the past few seasons (Orlando, Boston, Spurs) it’s still unknown how those teams will develop and grow over the next few years.  Will the new collective bargaining agreement be an impediment to building upon their already impressive rosters?  Will the Heat and Thunder respond to heightened expectations and beat back the pressure in a manner that leads to them dominating the league?  I don’t pretend to know the answers to the these questions nor do I want to cast doubt on either of these teams.  But in the end, I believe the Lakers will be right there battling for the title for seasons to come.  And as a fan, that’s really all I can ask for.

Do you think that with the recent additions of Matt Barnes and Steve Blake that the Lakers get into the top 10 in 3 point shooting?  I know these past few years the Lakers have not been a great perimeter shooting team (for example, when facing the zone defense vs. Phoenix in WCF).

-Daniel

Considering the Lakers tied for 23rd in the NBA in 3 point FG% last season, if next year’s Lakers were to jump into the top 10 would seem like a miracle.  However, it’s actually not that far fetched.  Consider the following:  last season the Lakers shot 34.1% from behind the arc, making 532 of their 1,562 attempts.  As I mentioned, that ranked them 23rd in the NBA in 3 pt. FG% (tied with Minnesota).   Denver was the 10th ranked team in the NBA, shooting 35.9% on their long ball attempts.  Using this past year as a template, the Lakers would have only needed to hit 33 more three pointers on the same number of attempts to raise their percentage to 36.2% – a percentage which would have ranked them 9th in the NBA right above the Hawks.

Now also consider that this past season both Kobe and Derek Fisher shot below their career averages by shooting 32.9% and 34.8% respectively (compared to 34% and 37.3%) and were well below their averages from the season before (35.1% and 39.7% respectively).  So, if Kobe and Fisher revert anywhere close to their career averages, the Lakers should be a better three point shooting team next season overall considering that combined, Kobe and Fish took about one-third of the Lakers attempts from deep.  Then, when you replace Farmar with Steve Blake and consider the possibility that Ron Artest will be more consistent from three point land next season and you have the ingredients for a major jump in three point shooting accuracy.

This isn’t to say that I’d call this particular Lakers’ team a great shooting team.  Nor am I guaranteeing that all the things I mentioned earlier are sure to happen or are even likely (I could see Kobe struggling from deep again and/or Fisher continuing his regression as a shooter), but the potential for a big jump in three point accuracy is there for this team.  And in the end, I do believe that the Lakers will shoot better to the point that if they aren’t in the top 10, they’ll be right on the cusp.

I understand that Shannon and Sasha have different weaknesses and strengths.  But why did Sasha fall out of favor with Phil and the coaching staff and not get any burn last year while Shannon got a lot despite a regression in his game?  Is it a personality issue?  Is it because Sasha got almost the entire 09 regular season to show what he had and Phil finally lost patience? 

If that was the case, was last year’s regular season the same principle applied to Shannon?  He had a great 09 playoff run so coaches gave him the entire 10 season to work through his game like they did with Sasha in 09. 

Will Shannon be on a tighter rope this year and the coaches looking at him and Sasha equally?  Or does Sasha’s personality bother the staff so much that he’ll be glued to the bench unless there’s a huge separation between him and Shannon.

-Jason/Chownoir

Not being in the locker room or in the practices, I can’t speak to any potential personality issues that exist between Sasha and the coaches.  And while Sasha did have that spat with Brian Shaw that earned him an extended stay in Phil’s doghouse, Sasha’s minutes were sporadic at best to that point in the season.  So, I believe that Sasha’s shorter leash has been based off his experience in the league and specifically his tenure on the Lakers and in the Triangle offense.  Essentially, Sasha should been better tuned into how the coaches wanted him to play and acted accordingly.  The fact that he still made the same mistakes that he’s been making for several seasons all while not bringing the consistency as a shooter that earned him time in 2008 led to a diminished role and a lower tolerance of his mistakes.

Meanwhile, this past year was Shannon’s first full year with the team.  To be fair, he was still learning his role and was still feeling out the Lakers’ sets.  And while Shannon made plenty of mistakes too, those could easily be explained away by his relative inexperience in the Triangle at a time when the Lakers coaches were (seemingly) imploring him to explore more facets of his game.  Personally, I was frustrated at times with Shannon’s decision making, but along the same lines, players do not improve if you don’t give them room to fail and then learn from those mistakes.

All that said, I do believe this season will be the litmus test for Shannon and that there will be greater expectations on him to perform well and do so within the confines of his role.  I think the coaches will be less patient with him and that he may too find himself glued to the pine if he doesn’t “play the right way” by making the correct reads and moving the ball in the manner that every player is expected to do.  Remember too that Shannon saw his minutes greatly reduced in the Finals when he made several defensive mistakes against Ray Allen while struggling on offense himself.  Phil then turned to Sasha as a defensive presence against Allen and the Machine performed well in his limited minutes.  So next season, even though Shannon just got re-signed and Sasha is reportedly on the trading block, I believe this competition may be more open than a first glance suggests.  I think that Shannon definitely has the upper hand as he’s the more athletic player, seemingly takes coaching better, and has more upside as a contributor on both ends of the floor.  But, that doesn’t mean that Sasha can’t/won’t have a role if he’s on the roster and next season may prove to be the year that the Machine makes his way back into the rotation.

For the last 3 years the top of the West has been in a constant state of flux. We’ve faced 3 different teams in the WCF, and the first 2 (San Antonio and Denver) have both failed to win a playoff series the following year. That trend looks likely to continue with Phoenix losing Amar’e.  With all that said, who do you see emerging as the main threat to the Lakers’ conference supremacy in 2010/11? I think Portland and Houston will be very dangerous IF their big men are healthy. What’s your take?

-Joel

I think the easy choice in who will truly challenge the Lakers are the Thunder.  The argument is easily made that, besides the Celtics, OKC gave the Lakers the stiffest challenge of any competitor and that with the experience they’ve gained and the continued growth of Durant and Westbrook that they’ll make a major leap next season and be a team that makes the conference finals.

However, the team that I’m probably most high on is the Houston Rockets.  In a recent post at TrueHoop, I mentioned why I believe Houston has a chance to step up and challenge for the #2 spot behind the Lakers and I’m not wavering in that belief.  Yes, a lot will depend on the health of Yao and Kevin Martin.  And as I mention in TH piece, I’m skeptical about the individual defense of Aaron Brooks, Scola, and Brad Miller.  However, when it’s all said and done I think their combination of top notch talent (I truly respect Yao Ming and think he has a tremendous impact on both ends of the floor), role players, and coaching will take them a long way this season.  Plus, I really like the acquisition of Courtney Lee in the Ariza trade.  While I love Trevor and think he’s getting a bit of a raw deal in the analysis of how he played last year, I think Lee is a great combo guard that will bring some of the guard skills that Ariza lacked.  I also think he’s a versatile enough defender that he can play some PG against the CP3/Deron/Paker/Nash/Westbrook’s of the world that Houston doesn’t always need to close the game with Brooks or Lowry while also being able to play next to either of those guys if the line ups dictate it.  Mind you, I don’t think Lee is some sort of star, but he’s another very good role player that will compliment the games of Martin and Yao very well.

(With Lamar Odom joining Team USA for the World Championships this Summer) Do you think the wear and tear will affect Odom come the season? Will he get the training camp jitters out now or will he be bringing in a new sense of discipline this year?

-Travis

There’s always the concern that playing for Team USA will wear Odom down.  He’s not the most durable player to begin with (though he’s been much better in recent seasons) and there’s surely a chance that he could end up suffering during the season from tired legs or just feel the affects of playing summer ball at the World Championships.

All that said, I think this is a great thing for Odom and will serve him well in preparing for the upcoming season.  Based off his tenure in the league, Odom will be a leader on this team and that will require a focus and discipline that should help him when the Lakers pursue their third straight championship.  I also think playing some Center in the international game is a good prep for his role on the Lakers as it will require that LO rebound and defend the paint while also moving well off the ball when teamed with explosive guards and wings.  Plus, just as with the Lakers, Odom will come off the bench for Team USA so there will not be a big change in his current role in LA.  Really, outside of the injury/fatigue risk, this should really help Odom in getting ready for the upcoming season and I’m really happy that he’s getting the opportunity to play.  I’m a firm believer that nothing get’s you ready for a season quite like playing with other excellent players and Odom will get that chance with this group.  And while the most talented guys won’t be on this particular U.S. team, this should still be a beneficial experience for LO and one that helps the Lakers.

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.

It’s Mailbag Time

Darius Soriano —  July 7, 2010

May 04, 2010 - Los Angeles, California, U.S. - Los Angeles Lakers head coach PHIL JACKSON (center), assistant coaches BRIAN SHAW (L) and FRANK HAMBLEN in the Game 2 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series. The Lakers won 111-103.

Welcome to FB&G’s first attempt at a mailbag.  Thanks to all of you that submitted questions.  If you’d like to submit a question for future installments just send me an email and put “mailbag question” in the subject line.  Here we go…

Do you see a possibility of Phil sliding into a Tex Winter type role after next year?  Come in during training camp and a couple times during the season to help out and tweak things.  Or is the personality going to be so strong and Shaw still trying to establish himself that it would be a bad idea?  Or at least not the first year of Shaw being the head man.  But the second year.  Phil had no problem acknowledging that Tex mentored him right from the get go.  It’d be an interesting proposition.

-Chownoir

While I think Phil will have some sort of role with the Lakers after he’s finished coaching, I don’t think he’ll be a “Tex Winter” type of advisor to Brian Shaw.  Remember, Tex was very visible in practices and behind the bench and his voice was heard consistently while his health permitted him to be part of the team.  I hope that Phil would make himself available as a resource to Shaw (assuming Brian is the man chosen to replace Phil), but I think those communications would happen behind the scenes, not in practices or in training camp.  In the end, I think Phil taking too active a role after his retirement from coaching would be a bit of a conflict for the players and could potentially undermine Shaw’s role as the head man.  Remember too that by the end of next season, Shaw will have just completed his 6th season as an assistant to Jackson.  He’ll likely have learned as much as possible from Phil in terms of schemes and tactics and it will then be up to Shaw to take what he’s learned and incorporate that into his own coaching style.  From everything I’ve read, Shaw has the respect and ear of the players so his message should be well received.  It’s just a matter of his message and guidance then producing results.  And while I have confidence in Shaw as a head man, we’ll see how he does when that day comes.

If Ron Artest plays at more or less the same level as he did in Game 7, is any team going to be able to beat the Lakers if they stay healthy?

-Marv

If Ron plays at his game 7 level, no, the Lakers can’t be beaten with an otherwise healthy roster.  That said, I don’t think the Lakers are going to get that type of performance consistently from Ron.  In that game, Ron not only played excellent defense (which is a given) but his jumper was falling (for the most part) and he was making the type of instinctive basketball plays – at least on offense - that he hadn’t for most of the year.  Playing at that level consistently is difficult when the opportunities are packaged to fit a role player.  What I mean by that is, in game 7 Ron took 18 shots which was his high FGA for the season and in the future, I think he’ll still be slotted behind Kobe, Pau, and Bynum and will have to continue to try and do more with less.  However, I do believe that Ron will improve in future seasons and we’ll see better efficiency in his shooting numbers and a greater understanding of how to play within the Triangle.  That may not equate to a “game 7 level  performance” all the time, but I think we’ll see less extremes in performance where Artest gains consistency.  Which, in the end, will mean an even stronger Lakers team.

There has been a movement throughout the NBA to look past traditional statistics and look deeper into what the numbers mean. Many teams are adopting ABPRMetrics, such  as the Rockets, Mavs, Nuggetsand Trailblazers, even going as far as to employ a statistician on staff. Then there are teams that are “old school” and rely almost solely on the word of scouts. Which camp do the Lakers fall into, or is it somewhere in between?

-Phil

From everything I’ve read, the Lakers have yet to fully embrace the “Moneyball” movement in Basketball.  But, this shouldn’t be surprising considering the philosophy of Phil Jackson’s coaching style.  Phil teaches a specific system that isn’t about statistical value but rather how pieces fit to form a team.  From an outsiders perspective, Phil’s approach is one where the team is  a living, breathing organism that must find a way to function together in a way where stat driven lineups don’t matter as much as the decision making as a group being on the same page with the results produced being dependent on the team seeing the same picture while on the court together.  And while I think there is merit to looking at advanced stats or adjusted plus/minus to seek out trends and what helps or hurts a team, I also think there is value in things that can’t be measured by stats.  A great example of this would be the debate about whether Fisher or Farmar should have been the starting PG this season.  All the advanced stats showed Farmar to be the more effective player on both offense and defense and that the team performed just as well, if not better when Farmar played with the player combinations that Fisher played the majority of his minutes with.  However, what the stats didn’t measure was Fisher’s propensity to hit the big shots, organize the offense in a way where the best players got more touches, or how his leadership helped stabilize the team in moments where it was needed most.  I do think as advanced stats become more common place in the NBA, more teams will embrace them as a tool, but I think there will always be a place for making coaching decisions without the influence of numbers and by following a “gut feeling” or by judging a situation based off how the pieces “fit” from a chemistry standpoint rather than a pure production one.

How long will Bynum be out at the start of the season? How long does a full recovery take?  Since Kobe’s taking time off from playing for the first time in years, will all his various ailments be 100% come the start of the season?  I know it’s for developmental players, but the triangle is so hard to learn and fit into for most players, would it make sense for Blake to get some burn in the summer league?  Thanks, love the site.

-SS

We’ll take these in order.  First, I think Bynum will be fully recovered by the time that the season starts.  Estimates on recovery time are from anywhere from 2-4 weeks (Brandon Roy came back in less than two weeks these past playoffs), so I think if Bynum has his surgery by the end of this month, he’ll be ready to go by the time training camp in underway in late September/early October.  Second, I think Kobe’s ailments will be as good to go as possible by the time the season starts.  However, understand that Kobe’s ailments aren’t the type that will magically go away.  His finger is arthritic and it may never be the same again.  He also has tendinitis in his knee and that is something he’ll have to deal with for the rest of his career.  All that said, Kobe’s shown a dedication to his body and physical conditioning that few others have and he’s consistently finding ways to be effective as his athleticism/physical peak decreases.  So, I’m confident that Kobe will be good to go and that he’ll definitely benefit from the time off.  As for Blake and Summer League, I just don’t see it happening.  Blake is a smart player and I trust that he’ll pick up the schemes rather quickly.  He’s known to be a student of the game and as a traditional Point Guard, a player that prides himself on being an extension of the coach on the floor.  So, while the nuance of playing in the Triangle can be something that takes time to learn, I think Blake will adapt well and be able to contribute rather quickly without much hesitation in where he needs to be within the confines of the Lakers’ sets.

Would you please provide a primer on seeing Summer League games in person?  I think I – and perhaps many others – are ready to take this next step to basketball geekdom.

-Rick

When looking at a team like the Lakers, I think the best way is to focus on the players that the Lakers have an investment in first (Ebanks, Carracter) and then see if anyone else stands out in any meaningful way.  I know that I’ll be focusing on the two Lakers rookies, but then I’ll also be paying special attention to Green and Kurz, just because of their past NBA experience and the fact that they have skill sets that the Lakers could use on their team.  All that said, when you have a championship roster (like the Lakers do) there’s little chance that any player from Summer League team is going to make any sort of meaningful impact during the regular season.  And while some of these guys may get a camp invite, most are likely using their time on the Lakers’ roster as an audition for other teams.  Remember, there are scouts and talent evaluators from every team at the Summer League’s and they’re all looking for that potential player that can come in and compete for a roster spot.  And while the Lakers may not be the team that takes a flyer on a player, another team may.

Did the lakers not try to sell the Bynum for Bosh deal?  Bynum is not going to last and we would be smart trying to deal him while he is young and has value. The lakers are in their last 3 year run starting now so a Bosh or top talent would make sense. You go for the gold now.

-Eric

With Bosh seemingly about to sign with the Heat, I thought this would be a good chance to put this Bosh/Bynum thing to rest for a while.  I’m unsure of how “real” these Bosh for Bynum rumors ever were.  From a media and fan standpoint, this was a deal that made sense and I know there was speculation about both sides being “open” to the deal.  However, from the standpoint of what we know about the Lakers I’m not sure this information being out there actually makes sense.  Just consider this one point – How often, in the past several seasons, have we heard about a Lakers trade from the media before it actually happened?  There weren’t any indications of the Gasol trade or the Shannon/Ammo trade.  So, I have a hard time believing that the Lakers were actually the ones making waves about acquiring Bosh as they’ve proven that these types of leaks don’t happen when they’re serious about making a deal. 

As for the assumption that Bynum is not built to last, as cliche as this sounds – only time will tell.  The early results don’t look extremely promising as Bynum has endured several injuries that have limited him over the last three seasons.  However, the flip side of that coin is that most of these injuries have been fluke-ish and I’m not convinced there’s a trend of injuries as much as there’s been a trend of bad luck.  I’d feel different is this were a Sam Bowie situation where the same foot problem cropped up year after year, but that’s not been the case with ‘Drew.  His knee injuries haven’t been of the same variety and both happened in ways where you could easily say he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Granted, this doesn’t erase the fact that he’s been injured and his future is cloudy in this regard.  But, I do think he’s a player worth holding onto based off his (still promising) upside and the role that he fills on this team as a defender/rebounder and a guy that also allows Gasol to play PF for the majority of his minutes.  Within the context of this team, I think the Lakers mix of big men is the perfect blend and Bynum is – figuratively and literally - a big part of that.

James and Wade seem to be players that operate best when they have the ball, and are clearly double-alpha guys.  Does it really make sense to have them on the same team, or does that dilute their individual value?  Will they be at odds over control of the team?

-Marv

Another question that is relevant with the Lebron about make his decision tomorrow.  I’m honestly a bit on the fence with this one.  I think there will be times that one of either Lebron or Wade would be frozen out of the offense as the other player tries to create in a way that’s most comfortable to him.  However, I’m a firm believer in great players finding ways to figure things out and there aren’t too many players better than James and Wade.  Also, I think both players understand the game and play with a level of unselfishness that would aid in any potential partnership.  Remember too, these guys have played together on All-Star teams and on Team USA for the past several years.  They understand each other’s games and would find ways to compliment each other.  I also think that both players would be able to add on to and improve their respective games so that they’d find an even better way to mesh as their careers advanced.  In the end, there could possibly be issues of “control” or “who takes the last shot”, but I think a lot of those issues could be worked out if the team is winning and if there are people in coaching/management strong enough to corral their egos and have them focus on the ultimate prize.  And again, I think with great players that’s easier than with ones who “think” they’re great but really aren’t that caliber of player.  Wade and Lebron are the goods.  I think they’d work it out.