Archives For NBA general

Growing up a Laker fan, I’m a fan of the big man. I was weaned on the graceful stylings of Kareem and spent my early adulthood reveling in the brute force of Shaq. In recent years, the fluidity and precision of Pau Gasol and the youthful power and growing polish of Andrew Bynum have given me much joy. I’ll always have a special place in my heart and root for the behemoths of this game.

So today, I’m saddened that the league has lost one of its giants to retirement. Yao Ming will no longer be a member of the league that we all love so much, calling it a career today. The lower leg injuries proved to be too much to overcome.

Though he never wore a Laker jersey, Yao was one of my favorite players. His determination and competitiveness were traits that I admired. I’ll never forget him dragging his leg up and down the floor in the 2009 playoffs against the Lakers. Not wanting to exit a game that meant so much to him and his mates, he persevered through what turned out to be a broken foot, trying to will and skill his team to a needed win. His Rockets ended up losing that series to our Lakers, but my ongoing respect for him was set in stone that night.

His skill level was off the charts. Men his size weren’t supposed to have such touch. Yao could make spot up twenty footers look like pop-a-shots. His jump hook from either block was nearly impossible to defend. He shot turn around jumpers over both shoulders, many dropping through the hoop from that high release point that defenders could only look up to. And his passing was simply superb. He delivered all variety of dimes to his teammates, dropping lead bounce passes to baseline cutters or hook passes to ‘mates diving down the middle of the paint.

Defensively he had his weaknesses in hedging and recovering on pick and rolls and he suffered guarding the quicker face up five men on the schedule that would isolate and try to drive by him. But he protected the rim well, contesting all comers even if it meant being on the wrong side of a poster. What I appreciated most about his defense was that he tried hard to be a great defender even though he was clearly limited by his foot speed and stamina.

But what Yao will always be remembered for was his sheer enormity. Nearly every coach I’ve ever had has said that “you can’t teach size.” Phil Jackson once said that “there are only so many dinosaurs”, and once claimed that if he could have his pick of any player to start a team with in the league, he’d choose Dwight Howard. The true big men that have skill and can play the pivot are a rarity, something that the greatest professional coach ever understood clearly.

Even though we’ve seen this coming for a couple of years, it doesn’t make this any less of a sad day for the true hoop heads around the world. Yao was one of a kind and blessed the league with skill, heart, and class both on and off the court. I’ll miss him and his game and wish him nothing but the best in his post basketball life.

Coming into this off-season, the Lakers are in an interesting place as a franchise. Without making a single move, they’re still contenders to win the title, possessing top shelf talent at multiple positions and all with championship experience. That said, their dismissal from the playoffs has led to questions about the viability of this roster and the critique that improvements need to be made for them to not only compete next year, but for years to come.

Improvement of this kind can normally happen three ways. The Lakers could either make a trade for (or sign in free agency) younger players that still possess a high enough talent level that the roster is still competitive or they can hope that some of the younger players on their roster take a step forward in their development to go from non-contributors to viable rotation players. With the lockout in full effect, option one is off the table. There will be no trades or free agent signing period without a collective bargaining agreement in place and, furthermore, once a deal is in place who knows how restrictive the rules will be for the Lakers to actually improve their roster through these avenues.

That leaves us with option two and the improvement of young players on the roster. Currently, the Lakers have 4 players – all of them 2nd round picks – that we’re all hopeful could become contributors down the line. Both Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter were on the roster last season and showed varying degrees of effectiveness in the limited minutes they earned. Both obviously have strides to make as players, but both also flashed enough skill to prove that they belong in the league. And then, of course, there are the two 2nd round picks from this past draft. While I’m not looking for them to earn many minutes next season, both Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock are intriguing prospects that bring specific skill sets that are needed additions on the current roster.

For these 4 players, the summer is normally the time that we get to see, first hand, how their development is coming. And with that, get our first hints at whether or not they are improving at a rate that equates to them potentially contributing next season.

Only, with the lockout, that chance is now gone. Over at Land O’ Lakers, the Kamentzky brothers spoke with Andrew Goudelock and he explained how the lockout affects him:

It’s tough for me because I don’t get to be in a summer league, and be able to show myself, and showcase my talents during the summer session. But it’s my job to stay in shape, keep playing, and get ready for when it’s over.

For Ebanks and Caracter this lack of summer showcasing could hurt them even more. They both already have a season under their belt and both have been tasked with coming into this next season with improved games. In exit interviews, Ebanks was asked to work on his ball handling and jump shot in order to potentially earn minutes at shooting guard. Meanwhile, Caracter must prove that the commitments he made to improving his body are sustained and that he can continue to grow as a defender and rebounder at this level. Neither player has a guaranteed contract for next season and now neither has the ability to show the Lakers that they’ve taken the steps forward that they’ve been asked to take.

The fact is, all of these players have holes in their games but don’t have an opportunity to show the Lakers that those weaknesses are getting smaller. And that means that the Lakers have no clue if the young players they have in their pipeline are potential contributors or even worth a roster spot. And or an aging team that could use an influx of youth, that’s a problem.

Granted, the Lakers can still win with their veteran laden roster doing most of the heavy lifting. But, a touch of youth and athleticism wouldn’t hurt. And with the lockout taking away these players’ chances to show that they could be a part of that solution, both the players and the organization suffers.

So, while we sit back and evaluate the lockout from the perspective of the union and the owners, the terms of the new CBA, and if there will be an agreement before the season starts, it’s also good to remember that the time we’re losing now is also important. This time of the year is when young players prove themselves, but this year, the question of whether or not they’re improving will remain unanswered.

Ken Berger of CBS Sports – who has been covering the CBA negotiations as well as anyone – broke the news with a simple tweet not too long ago:

BREAKING: Owners have informed players they are locking out.

So here we are. The players union and owners haven’t found a middle ground on a labor agreement and we all suffer for it (and not only us, but a laundry list of employees from every team and arena as well as those in other professions whose positions are influenced by the operation of a multi-billion dollar sports league). And while we all saw this coming, it doesn’t make it any less a frustrating and sad day for basketball fans.

If you’d like some good reading on the issues, as well as proposals, here you go:

We’ll have much more on the lockout and the league in general as we learn more. But for now, treat this as your official lock out thread.

Make no mistake, a lockout is coming. How long it lasts or if it will impact the start of next season is anyones guess, but unless there’s some sort of miracle breakthrough in negotiations before this Friday the current collective bargaining agreement will expire and the owners will do what is within their rights to do by locking out the players.

The issues at hand are plenty and I will not get into them all right now. But the major point that the owners feel needs to be addressed is the fact that many of them claim to be losing money on a yearly basis. And by losing money, they are not able to compete in the league or be a viable business. In order to rectify this issue, they’re looking to change the business model of the league through a new agreement with the players. Their notion is that the current system is broken and needs fixing. The players, obviously, don’t share this opinion and would like the current system to remain as close to intact as possible while still acknowledging that some change is needed.

Hence, the disagreement, and thus the lockout on the horizon. Until both sides can come to an agreement as to what a new system should look like, there will be no basketball, but rather negotiations to find a middle ground that both sides can walk away from feeling okay with.

But what should the new agreement look like? People with a better understanding of the issues than I have a lot of good ideas. One of them is Tim Donahue of the Indiana Pacers site 8 Points, 9 Seconds. He’s been covering the negotations between the owners and players as well as anyone out there and has made his own proposal, based off what he thinks will work for the NBA moving forward. It’s a must read and as a fan of this game, you should head over and learn something.

He touches on all the major issues, including a hard cap, how basketball related income (BRI) should be divided, contract length, and even delves into revenue sharing (which is currently not a part of the CBA negotiations). A key passage:

The hard cap level will be established by taking the Players’ projected share of BRI, reducing it by $100 million to account for benefits, and dividing it by 30.  For example, a BRI of $4.0 billion would generate a hard cap amount of $64.7 million.  At $5 billion, the cap would be $87 million.    (Note:  a hard cap established by the Players BRI split virtually guarantees that the negotiated salaries and benefits will not meet the Players’ guarantee.  This hole will be filled by the owners, but the mechanics need to be sorted out.  I have an idea, but I can’t decide whether it’s brilliant or insane, so we’ll leave that sit for today.)

After going into a lot more detail (again, go read the post), Donahue also states:

This arrangement will reduce the long-term commitments of the owners, but it will not leave the players entirely “disposable.”  Front offices will still need to plan years into the future, but they should be able to avoid being trapped for three, four, or five years at a time. The owners’ have been (not inaccurately) accused of trying to “guarantee” profits for at both the league and team level.  However, it should be noted that the Players’ insistence on holding onto their guaranteed contracts and over half of the BRI amounts more or less to the same thing. As I said earlier, the Players should maximize their BRI, while the owners should seek to maximize their control.

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As I briefly mentioned above, the other key to a viable business model for the league is revenue sharing amongst the owners. Over at Pro Basketball Talk, Kurt has an informative post up about this issue:

In the NFL — the gold standard for revenue sharing among professional sports — about 70 percent of what is considered football related income is shared (which is an issue because that used to be more than 80 percent just a few years back). In the NBA, that number is about 25 percent. That NFL number is driven largely by the massive national television contracts the league has.

Or look at it this way, The Lakers new local television contract that kicks in next seasons and will pay them upwards of $150 million a season, which is more than some teams will make in total revenue in a season. Yet, under the current system the Lakers have to share none of that money. It’s an issue the owners need to deal with. Big market owners have valid concerns that if they share more money that needs to be invested back into the business and not just pocketed by owners.

How this all turns out remains to be seen but understand that until this gets sorted out, there won’t be any basketball. No team will be able to sign free agents. Trades will not happen. The preparations by all teams for next season will be put on hold.  And as someone who suffered through the 1999 season that saw the cancellation of the all-star game in a 50 game campaign and a dip in the overall popularity of the league, I’m hoping against hope that a solution can be found. But the fact is that major issues remain and the two sides don’t seem to be very close on coming to an agreement.

In a move that was classicly Shaq, the Big Everything issued a statement via his twitter account that simply said, “I’m retiring” with a link to a video making it official.

There will be much more analysis to come and I’m sure many tributes (as well as those that would like to criticize) the big man’s career. I, however, have nothing but love for the big man that came to the Lakers as a free agent in 1996, joined forces with a rookie Kobe Bryant, and brought the Lakers three consecutive championships and four trips to the NBA Finals during his tenure. His time with the team wasn’t always smooth and things certainly didn’t end well, but the memories of those good times last forever.

And speaking of memories, enjoy this clip of highlights from Shaq’s career. His dominance was something that we may never see from a big man ever again. His combination of size, strength, quickness, and overall athleticism made him a monster that none could handle when at his peak. He was truly one of a kind. I’ll miss you, big fella.

While it’s not yet official, it’s being reported that Lamar Odom will be named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year later today. This is great news and I’m thrilled for Lamar being recognized for his fantastic season. His statistics speak for themselves, but even more impressive to these eyes has been his ability to shift between starter and reserve and fully embrace whatever role is thrown at him, all while playing top flight basketball for the entire season.

It’s been said many times over, but Odom really is the glue to this Laker team. He’s a leader, the bridge between the starters and the reserves, and probably the most beloved teammate in the Laker locker room. His ability to stay grounded and always do what’s best for the team shows a selflessness that is very much needed on a team where a precious few consistently get the accolades even though everyone contributes to the success of the group. His humble nature only reinforces the sacrifice that is a requirement on any team expected to contend for the championship. In a way, he’s been the most consistent Laker and could easily be described as indispensable. Not too shabby for a guy that some questioned would ever live up to his potential on this team.

And while I wish Odom could have also gotten that coveted all-star berth that’s eluded him his entire career, this award isn’t such a bad consolation. It only reaffirms his value to this team and shines a light on how consistently good he’s been this year as a key cog to the team’s success. So, again, a big congrats to my favorite lefty. He earned this award with a stellar campaign. Now, there’s only one more piece of hardware to win (and I’m sure he’d trade today’s trophy for that other one handed out in June).

The Expectations Game

Darius Soriano —  November 18, 2010

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Expectations can be tricky.

Live up to or exceed them and the bar gets raised to a level where anything less than achieving or surpassing those same heights can taint future accomplishments (see: Thunder, Oklahoma City).  Or, don’t achieve what’s expected of you in the first place and it’s a disappointment that is tough to live down, regardless of what transpires in the future.  Yet still, if expectations are low and the achievements reached are far greater than what anyone originally thought possible, a hero’s celebration is sure to follow (Michael Beasley is inching in that direction right now).  Such is life – and sports – and walking a path where you don’t find yourself on one side of this line is often difficult or even impossible.

We see examples of the expectations game all the time in the NBA.  In 2008 the Lakers were an afterthought to start the year as trade rumors surrounded Kobe Bryant and engulfed the Lakers’ organization.  By the time the all-star break came the Lakers were one of the better teams in the league, had traded for Pau Gasol and went on to crash through their supposed ceiling by reaching the Finals.  That team eclipsed what many originally thought possible and were thus celebrated. (Initially, at least. Then expectations shifted, but that’s another story for another day.)  Today, we see what being on the wrong side of fulfilling expectations is like with the Miami Heat and Chris Bosh’s performance under a constant microscope with tags of underachievement being placed on a team (and that specific player) based off what was thought they would be and could achieve this season.

There’s really no way around playing the expectations game.  A player or a team can ignore them the best they can, but in the end others’ beliefs of what you can or should achieve, be, or do in any given situation often take the place of whatever the individual or team has in it’s own plans.

I bring all this up because of the case of two big men.  One of them we’re all quite familiar with – Andrew Bynum.  The other is also a familiar name  – Greg Oden.

Earlier this week, Bynum was asked what his return date would be as he continues to work his way back from off-season surgery of his own.  Rather than go into any details, Bynum said, “I don’t want to change expectations”.  You see, Bynum is quite familiar with how this works.  This is the 4th straight season that he’s missed substantial playing time due to an injury.  Each season a timeline was set for his return and each year that date came and went with Bynum still rehabbing his injury.  Fans (myself included) proceeded to call Andrew a “notoriously slow healer” and now our expectations have been reset and adjusted to the fact that there aren’t any real timelines when it comes to Bynum, only waiting.  We know that one day he will be back and when he is we can go back to placing other expectations on him – to be an all-star, a better passer, or more/less of some other quality that we’d like to see in him or his game.

Fans of the Portland Trailblazers could only hope for the same ability to say that their injured big man will be back.   Because with the latest announcement and the reprecussions of it, it’s not a lock that Oden will ever be a viable player in the NBA again, much less do it with the Blazers (check out this post for a great roundup of Oden articles).  Which, needless to say, is a shame.  Because we’ve all had our own expecations for the Blazers’ big man.  Some called him the best big man prospect since Duncan.  Others said he had the potential to be a defensive game changer in the Alonzo Mourning mold, only with a more refined offensive game.  His size, strength, and natural talent as a player was unquestioned and now with another knee surgery planned and another season missed, questions are all that there are.

However this all turns out, though, I hope nothing but the best  for Greg Oden.  Many are counting him out right now and there’s good reason for that.  While the success rate of players who go though micro-fracture surgery is much better than the days of Chris Webber and Penny Hardaway, it’s still a daunting surgery with a long and rigorous rehab.  That said, Oden seems like a player that loves the game and after working as hard as he has to come back from his other injuries maybe he has one more push to come back in him.  I sure hope so.

Just as a I hope for a healthy return of Andrew Bynum and for him to show us all again why all the fuss about his timelines exists in the first place.  While Bynum, like Oden, has endured more than his fair share of injuries, he’s also had enough court time to show us what’s possible with his game; for the expectations to be based off actual, sustained production and not just the potential of it.  So, I can’t wait to see him back on the court.  If only because the expectations for continued improvement are still there – even if it’s not always fair that it’s the case.

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 28, 2010

Houston Rockets Yao Ming of China (L) goes up to shoot past Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol of Spain during the second half of their NBA game in Los Angeles, California, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

A couple of off days in a row for the Lakers allow me to look around the league and truly take in the entire association.   And with the NBA finally back, a few musings from one happy basketball fan…

*The first few days have provided some fantastic performances with some eye popping numbers from players around the league.  Monta Ellis scored 46 points on 24 shots in his 40 minutes of game action to help dispatch the Rockets, essentially carrying over his hot shooting from his last preseason game against the Lakers.  Meanwhile, the ageless Jason Kidd tallied 18 assists with only 1(!) turnover to go along with his 12 points to lead the Mavs in their opening night win.  Joakim Noah, a player I’ve been high on for some time, had a monster opening night outing – albeit in a losing effort – by scoring 18 points and grabbing 19 rebounds (7 offensive) to go along with 2 each of assists, steals, and blocks.  And then Chris Paul had 17 points and 16 assists (only 1 turnover) in his return to action after an injury plagued 2010 campaign.

*But it wasn’t just the veterans that have been playing well to start the season.  DeMarcus Cousins opened his NBA career with 14 and 8.  Wesley Johnson shot well in his debut.  Derek Favors played well last night too, and tonight we get to see John Wall try to fullfill his promise as an elite PG.  But, I can’t talk about rookies without mentioning the guy that resides in the other locker-room in Staples.  BLAKE GRIFFIN!!!  Sorry, got a little excited there, but even though it’s only one game, I don’t see how basketball fans couldn’t be excited about this kid.  His all-around skill set is stronger than many remembered from his college days and his athleticism is beyond anyone we’ve seen since a pre-injury Amar’e or a young Shawn Kemp.  As for the Laker rooks, Ebanks and Caracter haven’t had the types of starts that really deserve mention, but I think that will change soon enough.  With match ups against the Suns and Warriors in the next couple of games, both players should be in the mix for minutes as Ebanks can match up against the many wings that both Pacific Division foes will dispatch and Caracter’s post game can be one ingredient to pound undersized teams when one (or both) of Pau and Odom are on the bench. 

*The Heat are going to be a big story all year.  The stars they have and the media machine ensure that.  So far they’re 1-1 with a win over Philly last night and a loss to Boston in their season opener.  Many have jumped to conclusions about the loss to Boston, but I’m not one of them.  The Heat undoubtedly have enormous talent.  But talent takes time to mold and jell.  Wade’s injury during the preseason didn’t help matters, but to think that this team – a team with only a handful of players returning from last year – would have a strong chemistry or could put it together on the fly were ignoring what the past has taught us about team building.  I don’t care how talented players are, it takes time to come together.  It’s one thing if you’re adding one great player (like the Lakers did with Gasol three seasons ago), but the Heat have added James and Bosh to a team with Wade and working that out will take time.  This is why I thought reaching 70 wins was nearly impossible for this team. (That, and travel concerns.  As Phil has said many times before, teams traveling from the coasts have a rougher road when trying to win that many games.  And Phil would know such things.  Since, you know, he’s the last guy to actually accomplish the feat.)  Ultimately the Heat will find their way…they’ll have to find it amidst a shower of boos and every team’s best effort each night, but they’ll find it.

*We all saw the Lakers championship rings.  They are magnificent and gaudy all at the same time.  People like us could never dream of actually having one.  Except, you know, Ron Artest is raffling his off so now we all have a chance to own one.  If you want to participate in the raffle, you can go here or here for the info..  Also, I agree with commenter busterjonez (who is on his way to buy tickets as I write this) when he said, “If I win, I am going to give the ring back to RonRon. I don’t care if he raffles it off again, but he earned that thing.”  Hear, hear. 

*We’ll have more on the Lakers tomorrow, what with them facing off against the Suns, but I really can’t get enough of the action that’s going on all over the league.  Which reminds me, if you want to catch all the NBA games, NBA League Pass is free through next Tuesday.