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The Lakers own human high-fly act Shannon Brown is next in line as FB&G continues its player reviews from the past season. Be sure to check out Phillip’s post to watch Brown’s complete exit interview.

SEASON IN REVIEW:

“This time was the first time I went into training camp and really knew what was going on as far as my role a little bit,” said Brown after his exit interview. “Last year I wasn’t with the team the whole time, this year I was. It was great. You build friendships, you build family, you build bonds. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Whereas Shannon’s all-around contributions largely came as a surprise following his mid-season trade to the Lakers in 2009, this season was all about stability, improving his consistency, defining his role and most importantly, living up to increased expectations. With those goals in mind, it’s safe to say that Brown had a successful season by backup guard standards and proved that his 2009 play was no fluke.

ShanWow saw a dramatic increase in his minutes to 20.7, up from under eight minutes last season and 13 during the 2009 playoffs. He also posted the best offensive averages of his career, with 8.1 points per game and 2.2 rebounds. Moreover, Shannon showed that he was mostly a reliable backup for either guard position. From the Lakers perspective, that’s about all they can ask for of Brown considering he is primarily playing behind a superstar like Kobe.

Although Shannon proved why he is a valuable rotation player, his inconsistency mirrored that of the team’s entire bench last season. With the Lakers coaching staff shortening the Lakers rotation for the playoffs, Brown found himself on the bench more, with his minutes decreasing to 14.7. Part of that is due to the natural increase in playing time for Bryant and Derek Fisher, but it also speaks to Shannon’s still-evolving decision-making skills on the court. In spite of his sometimes erratic play during the 2010 Finals run, Brown provided a huge spark in closeout games against Oklahoma City and Utah, averaging 11 and 12 points respectively.

Shannon’s insatiable appetite for scintillating dunks and seemingly endless energy has been one of the most exciting facets of the Lakers’ past two title teams. In many ways, I think this is what ultimately hurt Shannon more than anything in his disappointing dunk contest appearance. Like Kobe, Brown is more a jaw-dropping in-game dunker, which in my opinion, is a much more valuable skill set to have than the creative costume faire we’ve see at the past few All-Star Weekends. After the viral “Let Shannon Dunk” campaign, his lackluster performance in the dunk contest was definitely a lowlight of last season, but I don’t think it’s indicative of much of anything as far as his play with the Lakers is concerned (a point he clearly drove home in his best performance of the season, below).

PERFORMANCE OF THE SEASON:

Feb. 16, 2010—Starting in place of the injured Kobe Bryant, Brown showed that he’s more than just flash and dunks, scoring a career-high 27 points and and pulling down 10 rebounds to help the Lakers defeat the Golden State Warriors 104-94.

NEXT SEASON:

Shannon said it best himself during his exit interview: “I made progress. My first two and a half years I really didn’t play that much. This year I did. I’m steady making progress. As long as you get the time on the floor, it’s going to work out for the best. Basketball is my life, I think about it all the time, sometimes to a fault, and I couldn’t be happier about being a champion for the second time in a row.”

In the same interview, the Lakers guard also said that his main offseason goal was to focus on becoming more of a basketball player and not just an athlete. I think that’s exactly the right mindset for Shannon to adopt looking ahead to the 2010-11 season. We know all about his aerial acrobatics by now and streaky three-point shooting, but I suspect that Brown has a lot more in his bag of tricks. For starters, he’s shown signs of becoming a very strong defender—particularly against larger guards. If he wants to continue to get regular playing time in what is shaping up to be a tremendous defensive squad, he’ll need to really hone in on this area. Shannon also needs to continue to work on his decision-making skills, especially with the Lakers adding another reliable hand at guard in Steve Blake to go along with two of the most intelligent players in the league in Kobe and Fisher.

All of these issues point to his ongoing battle with consistency—something Brown said he will look to improve upon next season. “That’s a major part of winning,” said Brown. “Our bench has to come out and be able to produce and continue to make the team better when the starters on our the bench.”

After agreeing to return to the Lakers for a chance at a three-peat, Shannon appears dedicated to improving his play this offseason. He also displayed a great deal of self-awareness in re-signing with the Lakers instead of opting to join a team offering more money. Shannon clearly recognizes the special opportunity this Lakers team has this season and where he fits into the master plan. At the end of the day, that is precisely the mentality you want from your eighth or ninth man.

As a special bonus, take a look at this awesome video featuring Shannon’s top 10 career dunks.

Los Angeles Lakers guard Shannon Brown (C) slam dunks over top of Phoenix Suns guard Jason Richardson as Amar'e Stoudemire (L) and Lakers' Kobe Bryant (R) watch during Game 1 of their NBA Western Conference final playoff series in Los Angeles May 17, 2010. REUTERS/Mark J. Terrill/Pool (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL IMAGES OF THE DAY)

*It’s being reported that Shannon Brown will return to the Lakers after exploring his other options in free agency.  The deal is reportedly a 2 year contract worth 4.6 million dollars that will pay him 2.2 million in year one with a player option at 2.4 million in year two.  And really, I’m quite happy about this.  Over the past few weeks, I’ve been someone that believed Shannon could really help the team next year and that his willingness to be coached, learn the nuances of the Lakers’ sets, and improve his game are traits that are welcomed on this particular team.  Not to mention, we all like seeing plays like these.  So really, it’s a can’t lose situation.  Brown knows the Lakers system, is respected by his teammates, and is comfortable with the role that he’s carved out.  And speaking of his role, some are wondering if Shannon will be used the same way next season (i.e as Kobe’s primary back up).  Honestly, I don’t see any other scenario that makes sense.  Many will point to Matt Barnes as being  the player that will take a lot of minutes at back up SG (and thus Shannon being more of an insurance combo guard), but I don’t really see it that way.  This isn’t to say that Barnes won’t play any SG next year, but as I’ve said in the past Barnes’ questionable handle and turnover rate (not to mention his unfamiliarity with the Lakers system) don’t really make him an ideal candidate to play SG in the Triangle.  Barnes, I think, is much more of a pure SF and is likely to play the “Ariza” role in the offense where ball handling and offensive initiation is limited, while slashing and spot up shooting is emphasized.  Meanwhile, Brown can continue to play as a secondary ball handler in both full and half court situations while also doing all the things he’s done up to this point with the Lakers. 

*We’ve touched on this topic some over the past couple of days, but Shaq will be a Celtic.  There are many different opinions on this from all anglesbut here’s my two cents in relation to Shaq as a player and his legacy as a Laker:  Shaq’s been a great player in his career.  And while many want to explore what he could have been had he only worked harder/committed himself to elite conditioning/not burned bridges with his other teams/fill in the blank, I celebrate the man for what he actually did do during his career.  Mind you, this doesn’t mean I ignore his faults or fail to recognize the legitimacy of “what could have been” when it comes to the Diesel.  But I am saying that Shaq was fantastic during his prime and his peak was higher than many other players (maybe every other player save Kobe) that we’ve seen in the past 10 to 15 years.  Despite Shaq’s shortcomings, he was the best Center of his era (by far) and I have him a hair above Duncan as the best big man of his generation (with Shaq’s peak dominance being valued a bit more than Duncan’s robotic - yet high level – consistency).  I will always remember Shaq’s tenure with the Lakers fondly as his exploits directly led to three consecutive championships.  Yes he was foolishly wrong at times.  Yes, his grass is always greener attitude bothered me.  And of course, as stated earlier, he could have worked harder and been even greater than he was.  But, in the end, Shaq was a monster that gave the Lakers and their fans some of the best years (and playoff performances) that we’ve ever seen.  That’s not opinion.  Look at some of his playoff performances and the impact he had on the court.  I understand many will not agree with me, but it’s where I am with Shaq.  All that said, ask me again after the first time the Lakers play the Celtics this year.

*Over at TrueHoop, Henry Abbott has a great post up where he’s looking at how thinking can get in the way of performing well.  There’s more to it than that, but go over and give it a read.  After I read what Henry wrote (and the article he references in the post) I had so many thoughts about the Lakers.  I thought about game 7 of this past season’s Finals against the Celtics and how everyone seemed to play tight.  It was as if the moment was so big and the players wanted to play so well that they were over thinking the game and it led to nearly every player having a sub par shooting game.  The article also made me think of an interview with Robert Horry and him talking about the art of making clutch shots (you know, like this one) and how the key was not thinking about the moment and just shooting the ball as he normally would.  Anyways, go check out Henry’s post and let me know if you can think of any other Lakers moments that fall into this category.

*And speaking of reading other sites, I’m still always impressed with the high quality work that so many writers put out there when it comes to basketball.  Just in the past couple days, a couple of pieces that I really liked were Eddy Rivera’s post on Tracy McGrady’s wasted prime years in Orlando (and how good T-Mac really was) and Rob Mahoney’s piece on positional revolution in basketball.  Just two excellent pieces of writing that I enjoyed.

*On a side note, still looking for more mailbag questions.  So, send them in as I’m looking to put together another post with answers to questions in the next week.

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.

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Welcome to the longest week of our lives, Lakers fans…

*Phil Jackson is set to make a decision on his coaching future at the end of this week and honestly the waiting is going to kill me.  In the same way that Cavs fans are wondering if Lebron is going to stay or go, I’m wondering what Phil is going to decide.  Last week he said he’s leaning towards retiring, but recently also said that his 13 total championships (11 as a coach, 2 as a player with the Knicks) may be an unlucky number to stop at.  So, as like everything else with Phil, who knows what his decision is going to be.  I’m hopeful that he returns for at least one more season as an unprecedented 4th three-peat as coach is an achievement that he has the inside track on.  But as a fan of the Lakers, I’m selfish like that.  I want the best chance possible for the Lakers to win and that means a team led by Phil.  However, all we can do now is wait on his decision.

*If Phil does indeed step down as head man, the two names out there as potential replacements are Byron Scott and Brian Shaw.  Both of these guys are qualified head coaches in this league, but I’d definitely lean towards Shaw.  As Wondahbap detailed over at Silver Screen and Roll (with some opinions from other folks including yours truly),  Scott is a coach that has had good results as a defensive minded coach but often faltered with a grating style and  suspect offensive schemes.  I don’t think Scott is a bad coach (the Lakers could do much worse), but I think the continuity that Shaw would provide is an invaluable ingredient towards continuing the Lakers current run of success (an idea that Kurt over at PBT also makes quite well).

*However, if the Lakers really do want Shaw they’ll (potentially) have some competition for his services as the current Lakers #2 has been granted permission to speak with the Cavs as a candidate to fill their vacant head coaching post.  Uh, I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer to keep Shaw in house.  Even if Phil does return, I’d like to keep Shaw on the Lakers bench as a potential replacement whenever Phil does call it quits and so here’s hoping that Shaw stays in LA regardless of what transpires with Phil.

*The other big deadline looming is the beginning of free agency on July 1st.  And while the Lakers don’t have the cap space to pursue the big names of Lebron, Wade, Bosh, or Dirk, there will be things for the Lakers to consider when the clock strikes midnight Eastern (or 9pm Pacific) on Wednesday.  It’s now being reported and confirmed by his agent that Shannon Brown will opt out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent.  My two cents on Shannon are good for him.  He’s now been a solid contributor on a team that won back to back titles and he’s looking to parlay that into a more secure financial future.  Remember, Shannon’s a player that was drafted late in the first round, never had his 3rd and 4th year options picked up and ended up playing for the bi-anual exception this past season.  He’s made about as much money in his career as Luke Walton did this past season.  So, I don’t blame him for trying to maximize his value, especially since after next season the collective bargaining agreement will likely affect the structure and pay scale of player contracts.  He really should try and get a good contract now.  The Lakers will also have to deal with the UFA status of Derek Fisher.  Not to mention making decisions on the restricted status of Ammo and Farmar (likely renouncing the rights to both players) and whether or not they want to offer contracts to Powell and Mbenga.  Lots of decisions around Laker land right now on what the composition of the roster will be next season.

*If the Lakers did have some money to spend on the big name free agents, it’s at least good to know that they’ve got the owner and the franchise that players would want to play for first.  This is where Dr. Buss really does deserve credit as he’s a smart business man that has truly capitalized on a great market (look at the Knicks and the Clippers as examples of how this can go wrong), has allowed other smart people to do their jobs, and has been loyal to current and former players while also not allowing himself to be walked on by any one.  Just a great, great owner.

*Lastly, I’m thinking of doing a mailbag every once and while but would like some feedback from you guys on whether or not this is something that you’d like to see.  I’d answer questions about the Lakers or the league in general and turn them into a post either once a month or every other week depending on the volume of questions.  Is this something you guys would be interested in?  Let me know in the comments.

Six straight comfortable wins. The Lakers have given away so many coupons for free greasy tacos lately that cardiac surgeons in the area are readying themselves for the extra business coming their way. We could talk about Jordan Farmar’s great play of late, or the real reason Kobe hasn’t resigned with the Lakers yet (a great read from Larry Coon) or the good defense or how much all these big wins will help us in the ever-important Hollinger Rankings.

But these are the times as fans we should savor and enjoy. Our good team is beating bad teams handily, as they should. We all know this has not always been the case. Sit back and soak it in.

And enjoy a little of the Lakers version of the Victory Cigar — a Shannon Brown dunk or 20 (courtesy the video master LD2K).