Archives For Phil Jackson

Unless you live in a cave, you know that Phil Jackson has signed on to be the Knicks’ new Director of Basketball Everything (or something to that effect). The full details of the deal have yet to come out, but initial reports say that Phil will be paid around $12 million annually to be, among other things, the new face of the franchise and shepherd them into the future by, well, being Phil Jackson: owner of championship pedigree. How this plays out for Phil and Knicks isn’t yet known and popular opinion seems to be that he’ll either succeed because he’s Phil Jackson or fail because of James Dolan which, if you are asking me, sounds like a pretty good deal. I wish Phil nothing but the best in this endeavor — and it will be an endeavor, but that’s another discussion.

Of course, Phil’s trek back to his NY roots has brought to the forefront the major question of why is he taking this job with the Knicks and not the Lakers. This isn’t just a fan question either. Kobe Bryant is seemingly asking it. As is Magic Johnson. Phil should be a Laker, only he isn’t. For many, this is a development that induces anger.

I don’t really blame people for being mad. Phil is a charismatic guy who has had a lot of success with the Lakers. The fact that he left three years ago after his team played terribly against the Mavs doesn’t resonate as much with fans as the 5 championships he won with the franchise. This is understandable. Again, I like Phil Jackson and would have welcomed him back into the fold without the bat of an eye. He’s Phil Jackson.

But he is not coming back and that brings forth a reality that many aren’t seemingly ready to face. This is Jim Buss’ team; this is Jim Buss’ time to lead.

Tell the truth, you just got a lump in your throat didn’t you? You heard some ominous music playing in your head, right? Did you get the sudden urge to change the channel even if your TV isn’t on?

I get it. Jim Buss doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in fans these days. A wretched team this season and the sour taste of last season combined with the departure of Dwight and now Phil will do that to you, I know. The Lakers are down in the dumps and it’s All. Jim. Buss’. Fault.

Except, you know, it isn’t.

I am not here to defend Jim Buss. But I am also not here to rip him to shreds. Jim Buss has proven, as an executive, to be…actually I don’t know what he’s proven. His record is mixed. He has held his current title of Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations for the past 9 years. Before that his title was Assistant GM to Mitch Kupchak, a title he held for 7 years. Doing the math, that is 16 years in the Lakers’ front office “handling basketball related decisions that range from the scouting of players and the NBA Draft to trades and the signing of free agents” according to the Lakers’ media guide.

No one person deserves all the credit or blame for the team’s successes or failures over those years. As has been reported multiple times, the Lakers made most major decisions with input from Dr. Buss, Jim, and Mitch Kupchack with the good Doctor having the final say. Pinning any one decision on anyone besides Dr. Buss — while he was alive — is likely just spin, be it to praise or condemn someone. The fact is, the Lakers experienced a lot of success over the years and have fallen on hard times recently. Credit and blame can be doled out however one wants, but doing so without remembering that every major decision was made by all three of the aforementioned people with Jerry having the final say should probably be put out there first.

Now that Dr. Buss has passed, however, the Lakers are mostly in Jim’s hands. Even though he is not technically the owner — the Lakers were left to all the Buss children in a trust and they cannot sell without every child approving — he is the highest ranking executive on the basketball operations side. The buck, then, stops with him when it comes to player and coach matters.

As mentioned above, this likely gives you pause, but I prefer to see it as an opportunity for Buss to attack the perception that he is some sort of incompetent. For reasons that have nothing to do with ability, this will not be easy. The Lakers are a team of free-agents-to-be paired with players who have great name recognition but are injured and have question marks heading into next season. They have cap space to spend, but with the aforementioned roster issues aren’t necessarily the most desirable landing spot for free agents. They look as though they will have a high draft pick in a talented draft, but it is rare for a single draft pick to turn around the fortunes of a franchise right away.

And then, of course, there is that pesky perception of how good Jim is at his job. Whether it is true or not, the idea that Jim doesn’t have the ability to build a winner damages his, and by association the Lakers’, chances to turn things around quickly. And the only way to change that perception is to do the thing that is made even harder by how he is viewed. If this sounds like an inescapable spiral, it sort of is. The Lakers are in a position where they need several things to go right over the next summer or two — nailing their draft pick, Kobe returning to form, having some smaller FA signings work out very well, etc. These things aren’t impossible, but that’s a lot of things going right in a short amount of time.

The flip side of this, however, is that none of those things happen overnight. It takes time for a draft pick — especially an 18 to 19 year old kid (whose name isn’t LeBron, Shaq, Duncan, Alcindor, Wilt, etc) to prove he’s ready to play at a high level night in and night out and shift a team’s trajectory upward almost instanteously. We won’t know about Kobe’s progress and how he’ll hold up over the course of a rigorous NBA campaign until several months into next season. Free agent signings can always be spun positively on July 1st, but the act of them living up to (or surpassing) the value of their contract comes over the long haul.

This is how winners are built. I understand fans have little patience for stuff like this, but in many ways there’s no choice this time. This isn’t like when Phil Jackson took over the team that Del Harris couldn’t get over the hump. And it definitely isn’t like the team Pat Riley took over that won a championship just a couple of years earlier. There is no ready made roster here that is one piece away. The Lakers are rebuilding and need the time it takes to forge a foundation that a contending team can rest on for years to come.

Doing this any other way would be disservice to everyone involved. And while I have no way of knowing this, I have a feeling the people who know this best just so happen to be Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. Whether people are willing to give them this time is another story entirely, however.

After The Gold Rush

Dave Murphy —  April 18, 2013

There’s an oft-used saying, ‘it’s a tough act to follow.’ You don’t want to be the band that takes the stage after the last band just totally shredded. Or the comedian that follows the guy who had them rolling in the aisles. Phil Jackson was a tough act to follow. Just ask Rudy T, ask Tim Floyd, ask Mike Brown.

Mike D’Antoni could have been the guy that simply followed Brown, they might have given him the keys to the city. But Jackson was back in the picture and for the most obvious of reasons – he was probably the best man for the job, having delivered great riches in the past. D’Antoni’s preferred system of basketball wasn’t suited for for the All-Star roster he inherited and it certainly wasn’t suited for a revolving door of injuries. A pretty rough season followed.

The Lakers lost another giant recently, someone whose greatness defined the team’s identity and direction. Kobe Bryant rounded the corner on Harrison Barnes and headed for Achilles surgery and a new found hobby of tweeting. Who knew?

Things can turn on a trifle as someone used to say. The loss of Bryant was both stunning and surreal and a couple hundred epic articles dropped over the next 24 hours and observers burped and patted each others backs and headed to the sink with the dishes, ready to rinse and wash and move on to the playoffs. In this particular narrative, non-Laker fans could afford to be magnanimous with their sympathy – you guys always have next year. Or not.

A funny thing happened at the tail end of the regular season. In the absence of certain giants and expectations, a team began to form their own ad hoc destiny. You can’t really label them bad news bears, not when fronted by Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol. You also can’t pin the month of April on the loss of Kobe and some new found freedom. The Lakers went seven and one and five of those games saw Kobe playing insane minutes and carrying much of the load.

Sometimes, you just have to watch. One of Mike D’Antoni’s pet phrases is ‘letting the ball find the open man’. He has no ownership of the concept, it’s as old as the game itself, a guiding principal in the sport, sometimes honored and often ignored. Over the last two games, the ball has found new movement out of necessity. Guys are getting touches they didn’t get before. And who would have guessed that Andrew Goudelock would get a call-up and join Darius Morris on the floor during pivotal minutes in a seed-defining win?

It’s not simply the loss of Kobe that has caused a change in the team’s philosophy. Steve Nash has been out of action and may suit up on Sunday against the Spurs, depending on the results from two recent epidurals. Will his return put a damper on Steve Blake’s resurgent play? There are no simple answers.

To say it has been a season of adjustment is saying just a little. There have been recent moments that show an interesting unity however. A time out and coaches interact with their players. Dwight’s chatting with Bernie Bickerstaff, Chuck Person makes a point with Metta World Peace. D’Antoni calls the guys to gather and they’re paying attention. A group that has seen little time together on the floor goes back out there and gets some stops. Games are won ugly but they’re won. And the Lakers are in the playoffs with the seventh seed and if nothing else they’ve earned the right to keep playing.

Spring is regarded as a time of renewal and hope. It’s not always pretty, it follows in the barren footsteps of winter after all. The NBA season is too long for the health of its players. It affects all teams and the San Antonio Spurs will be heading into the first round with issues of their own. For the Los Angeles Lakers, it’s a transitional era in ways that are sometimes willfully ignored. Their earth has been mined and harvested, it is in need of replenishment and the new CBA has thrown a few obstacles into the mix. It’s not to say you can’t use your remaining assets though or that you can’t use them well.

The past, present and future of the Lakers has coalesced for the moment – it may not be the most stable of circumstances but there is at least some acceptance – from a head coach willing to let his team play to its strengths to a team willing to share, no longer bound to a singular voice. The expectations game will be back in the summer, one way or another. For at least this moment however, it’s simply the game of basketball.

I feel like, as a unit, we didn’t do what it takes to keep Brian Shaw, and that’s real disappointing. You can’t forget where you’re from. You can’t forget what you’ve been through. You can’t forget who helped you win a ring, who was there for you when you were frustrated or stressed out, and I’ve got to give credit to Brian Shaw for all of that. This doesn’t mean I won’t love Mike Brown. But for the next couple of months, I’m going to be disappointed about Brian Shaw.
-Ron Artest

Hoops Hype’s Roland Lazenby mentioned some of the changes we can expect to see with the Lakers in a recent post:

The NBA lockout will end someday, and when it does Los Angeles Lakers fans may well find themselves wishing it hadn’t.

Fans will discover they’re witnessing the new Lakers, the ones run by Jim Buss and built to cater in every facet to seven-footer Andrew Bynum, a nice enough 23-year-old kid with a dubious medical past and an even more suspect future.

Yes, aging star Kobe Bryant will still be a part of the equation, but he was put on notice over the summer when Jim Buss hired new coach Mike Brown without so much as a brief discussion with Bryant.

The message is clear: Brown is Bynum’s coach, and the team belongs to the young center as well.

Lazenby makes an interesting point, however, the above quote sheds an interesting insight on one of the lesser talked about changes/losses in the Lakers organization; not just the loss in Brian Shaw, but the collective loss of the emotional ties between the players and the previous coaching regime. With Phil Jackson retiring, a new player/coach dynamic is being brought in along with a new coaching philosophy. We aren’t just going to see a new offense and defense, but we’re also going to witness how Lakers players and coaches interact with each other as well — and this might be Mike Brown’s toughest challenge during his inaugural season.

The give-and-take between Kobe and Phil Jackson has been well documented, as well as the team’s collective hope to be led by former Lakers Champion and assistant coach Brian Shaw. These were two figures who not only held the players respect as coaches, but were guys the players were able to sit down and talk to about all things life. There is a culture that’s built within club houses, and while I couldn’t tell you exactly what that culture was like during Phil Jackson’s second tenure as the Lakers head coach, I can tell you without a doubt that the culture will be dramatically different with Mike Brown as the head coach.

We’ve seen in the past, especially with international teams, that consistency within the locker room can prove to be just as meaningful toward a team’s success as having talent. This dynamic is usually brought up when you talk about teams, but is equally as significant when talking about coaching staffs. Phil was able to select the right guys on his staff to mesh with the diverse group of players on the team to maximize their ability to succeed. It’s impossible to tell right now, but one of the things we might want to watch when the next NBA season starts is how well the players and coaches work with each other. Phil was very good at allowing his coaching staff to handle specific players or specific situations and stepping in when necessary. He was also very good at allowing the players handle some situations by themselves. We’re all well versed in the “Phil doesn’t always call timeouts” narrative, but one of the things that went relatively unnoticed was how often when he actually did call timeouts, either Fish or Kobe was coaching the other guys up.

The players are going to miss having Phil Jackson, Brian Shaw, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen around for their basketball minds, but they’re also going to miss the mutual respect and camaraderie that came with the group. This is a veteran Lakers team that has been together for the most part, for the better part of three years with the same group of guys on the bench pointing them in the right direction both on and off the court. Mike Brown and his staff are very smart basketball guys, but I’m wondering if they’re going to be just as receptive to this team or if this team is going to be willing to open up to them. An NBA season is a long time to be around a small group of people, it’s going to take more than just being on the same page on the court for this team to really succeed in ways the roster suggests it can.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson (L) and guard Kobe Bryant watch the team practice for Game 1 of the NBA Finals basketball series against the Boston Celtics in Los Angeles June 2, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

It’s been a busy couple of days for the Lakers as training camp is about to begin and members of the organization have been talking to the press about the upcoming season.  Below are some of the recaps from various members of the press and/or blogosphere that were there for first hand accounts and few extra links for good measure.

*The man that everyone spoke to yesterday was Phil Jackson as he gave his annual pre training camp presser on all things Lakers.  He talked about this probably/maybe being his last stand (including a great line about Custer), about the “exhibition” games in Europe, about his decision to come back for this season, about Andrew Bynum, and much, much more.  For some excellent recaps for Phil’s discussion with the media, check out the summaries from Mike Trudell over at Lakers.com, the K-Bros at Land O’ Lakers, and Mike Bresnahan at the LA Times.

*As mentioned, one of the main story lines going into training camp relates to Andrew Bynum and how he’s still not fully recovered from his off-season knee surgery.  Which means he will not play in any of the Lakers pre-season games and may not even be ready for the start of the regular season.  This has brought Bynum some heat from the local media where questions about the timing of his surgery have been debated and young ‘Drew has pretty much been portrayed in a negative light.  I’m on the same page as Phil on this in that the surgery ended up being a bit more complex than originally estimated and that pushed back his recovery time.  And since the team encouraged ‘Drew to get away from the game for a little while, there is no blame to be laid here.  Bynum will eventually recover and he’ll contribute to the success of the Lakers this upcoming season.  That may not be in October but the team wants a healthy ‘Drew in May and June.

*Speaking of ‘Drew, over at Pro Basketball Talk, Matt Moore is also questioning Bynum and bringing up the long debated topics of laziness and work ethic and how it’s still tough to know what the Lakers have in their young Center (Moore also lists plenty of positives about ‘Drew – so go give it a read).  Let me say that while Moore makes some good points, I think the questions about Bynum’s work ethic are a bit misguided.  As I’ve said multiple times in the past, Bynum has improved too much in his career for folks to question how hard he’s worked.  When ‘Drew came into the league he was doughy teenager that had limited offensive skills.  Since his rookie year he’s transformed his body, refined his post game to the point that he’s effective finishing with both hands from both sides of the paint, has developed a good face up game, and has even picked up counters to compliment his go-to, pet moves.  He’s also worked his way back from some pretty serious knee injuries in order to become a major contributor to the Lakers’ success.  And while some of this development operated on timelines slower than what fans would have liked, the fact that he’s come this far shows the amount of work that he’s put in.  I just don’t buy that this kid is lazy or that his focus isn’t where it should be.

*Speaking of hard work, no one ever questions the effort that Kobe puts in during the off-season and this year is no different.   Based off what Phil has seen and heard from both Kobe and the Lakers’ training staff, #24 will be ready to go this pre-season and should even see some minutes during the games played in Europe after dealing with his own off-season knee surgery.  This is excellent news for the Lakers (and the paying customers in England and Spain) as we all want to see how Kobe looks (hopefully, well rested) and if his game is ready to go for next season.  One body part that may not be healed, though, is Mr. Bean’s busted index finger.  As Kevin Ding reported, Kobe has arthritis in the knuckle on that finger and there’s really no repairing that through surgery.  The hope is that he’s done enough strengthening of the finger through exercises and rehab to have it be less of an issue this upcoming year, but that remains to be seen.

*As for other training camp news, the Lakers have added a few more bodies to the roster as camp invites.  Four players in total were added and they’re back court players Trey Johnson Anthony Roberson and centers Andrew Naymick and Russell Hicks.  This brings the Lakers roster to 18 players heading into training camp.  Before anyone asks, I think it’s highly doubtful any of these guys make the team and are in Lakers camp to hopefully get some exposure around the league to make another roster or potentially get an offer from a European club (and considering the Lakers will be in Europe for part of the pre-season, this may be even more likely).  For a bit more of a background on Russell Hicks, check out the interview Henry Abbott had with his agent when talking about Russell’s invite to Lakers camp.

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Tomorrow marks the 65th birthday for venerable Lakers Coach Phil Jackson. With 13 rings as a player and coach already under his belt, the Hall of Famer has spent 20 percent of his life winning NBA titles. By now, we’re all familiar with his staggering career success rate—1,098 wins and a .705 winning percentage—so let’s instead celebrate some of Phil’s most memorable musings over the years, both from his books and via interviews. What are your favorite Jacksonisms?

“In basketball—as in life—true joy comes from being fully present in each and every moment, not just when things are going your way.”

“Good teams become great ones when the members trust each other enough to surrender the Me for the We.”

“Once you’ve done the mental work, there comes a point you have to throw yourself into the action and put your heart on the line. That means not only being brave, but being compassionate towards yourself, your teammates and your opponents.”

“Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable. It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it. The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game–and life—will take care of itself.”

“I think the most important thing about coaching is that you have to have a sense of confidence about what you’re doing. You have to be a salesman and you have to get your players, particularly your leaders, to believe in what you’re trying to accomplish on the basketball floor.”

“Red and I, I think, have a mutual admiration. That’s all I can say.”

“If you meet the Buddha in the lane, feed him the ball”

“Despite their tremendous talent, (NBA players) are still, by and large, young adults, seeking validation from an authority figure, and there is no greater authority figure on a team than the coach. Needless to say, in today’s warped, self-indulgent climate, too many players couldn’t care less about appeasing the coach.”

“The best part of basketball, for those people on the inside, is the bus going to the airport after you’ve won a game on an opponent’s floor. It’s been a very tough battle. And preferably, in the playoffs. And that feeling that you have, together as a group, having gone to an opponent’s floor and won a very good victory, is as about as high as you can get.”

“Count me in. After a couple weeks of deliberation, it is time to get back to the challenge of putting together a team that can defend its title in the 2010-11 season. It’ll be the last stand for me, and I hope a grand one.”

As a bonus, check out the video below for an interview with Jackson, fresh after winning this year’s title.

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.

June 17, 2010 - Los Angeles, CALIFORNIA, UNITED STATES - epa02208512 Los Angeles Lakers' head coach Phil Jackson points during a play against the Boston Celtics during the second half of game seven of the NBA Finals at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, USA, 17 June 2010. The Lakers defeated the Celtics 83-79.

The calendar has turned to August and news surrounding the Lakers roster is starting to dry up.  However, there’s still some news to report and we’re here to give you the most updated information we can…

*For those concerned about the hold up in Phil actually signing his new contract to coach the Lakers, fret no more.  Mr. Eleven Championships has finally put pen to paper to return as head man of the defending champs.  And while there aren’t a lot of details about the deal (really, there aren’t any details in regards to years, dollar amounts, incentives), we can all breath a bit easier now that Phil is officially back pacingsitting on the sidelines and stoically not calling timeouts as the Lakers pursue another championship.  Not that I was ever concerned about his return.  I will, however, be waiting on any information about the actual terms of the deal whenever those are released.  Is it a one year deal as expected?  How much (if any) of a paycut did Phil take?  Do incentives still exist for winning the championship?  Curious minds want to know.

*Phil’s assistants – Brian Shaw, Frank Hamblen, and Jim Cleamons – have also all been brought back into the fold.  And special assistant Chuck Person has had the “special” lifted from his title and is now just a plain ol’ assistant coach.  I’m happy for the return of “The Rifleman” as he did a lot of good work behind the scenes(h/t to Land O’ Lakers) and got a lot of good ink during the playoffs for helping Kobe refine the release on his shot due to his busted index finger.  On a side note, Person was a player that I always liked during his playing days.  He may not have been much of a defender, but he was a fiery competitor that could fill it up from anywhere on the court. 

*With the coaching staff now settled and back in full, the last questions have to do with who (if anyone) will fill out the Lakers roster.  The Lakers are still in talks with Shannon Brown’s agent about a return of WOW and I’m hopeful that something can be worked out so that he does indeed return.  I’ve noted (and we can all agree) that Shannon has holes in his game and that he’ll likely never be a starter on a team the caliber of the Lakers (especially not with #24 in the mix).  However, his athleticism and want to play the right way are excellent traits to have on a team and I think he’ll continue to make strides in his development to the point that he can be a steadier contributor in future seasons.  Plus, as we’ve discussed, Sasha’s contract runs out after next season and Matt Barnes’ deal has a player option after next season.  It’s quite realistic that the Lakers could be looking for another back up on the wing after next season and Brown could easily be that guy if Sasha/Barnes do in fact leave.  If the Lakers really like Shannon (and it seems like they do), it seems like a good idea to make a commitment to him now so that in another year they’re not right back where they are now – looking for a back up for Kobe.

*Speaking of Sasha, there have been reports recently that the Lakers are looking to get rid of his contract.  One report had the Lakers looking to trade Sasha for Delonte West in a deal that would save a couple million dollars (including the luxury tax payment) as West makes less than the Machine.  This led to speculation that the Lakers would add another head casein the talented, yet troubled combo guard.  However, now that West has been waived by the T-Wolves that rumor can go away as West is a UFA and can’t be traded for any longer.  All that said, I think we should point out (as Kurt did) that any acquisition of West would likely have led to the Lakers waiving the guard who only had a partial guarantee on next year’s contract.  That would have saved the Lakers some real money and freed up both the cash and minutes that Shannon probably craves from any of his suitors.  Anyways, now that any deal for West is dead the Lakers are likely still trying make a move with Sasha though no one knows if they’ll actually make progress on that front.  It will be interesting to see, however, if the Sasha’s status with the Lakers influences any of the ongoing talks with Shannon’s agent.

*The Lakers still have not signed either of their rookies to contracts, but I have not heard of any snags in that department and anticipate that both Ebanks and Caracter will be signed to deals at some point before camp begins.  As I’ve expressed before, I’m high on both of these kids as talents and think that Mitch got two steals at points in the draft that don’t typically produce NBA caliber players.  And while I hesitate to take too much from their summer league performances, I believe that both of these players have enough ability to step in and play moderate minutes in a pinch as they both have a maturity to their physiques and games that could translate to the NBA right away.

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.