With two wins in their last six games, it’s fair to say the Lakers are somewhat improved of late. Much of that can be tied to the resurgent play of Kobe Bryant who has regained his status as the team’s best player. He’s not what he once was, of course, but what he is — at least lately — is a player boasting a PER north of 20 while anchoring the team’s offense with a combination of scoring ability and deft playmaking.
That level of player isn’t enough to carry a good team, but it’s good enough to keep the Lakers in more contests for longer stretches than early in the season. There are still long stretches of bad play — the OKC games and the first three quarters of the loss to the Clippers on Christmas are prime examples — but those stretches are being broken up by some classic Kobe and some good play from the assortment of kids and veterans who flank him.
Yes, the lead up to this was brutal. Sitting there watching the theatrics and built-in drama of the event was, well, not how I wanted to spend my time. I’d have honestly preferred to have been able to fast-forward this entire day with someone telling me the results just now.
Yet, there I was watching it all unfold. Like a kid reading one of those choose you own adventure novels, I was wondering if when I “turned to page X” it was going to be some unmitigated disaster or if some better, glorious fate awaited.
Turns out, the wait was well worth it. The Lakers not only keep their lottery pick, but they move up to the 2nd spot overall, sitting behind the Timberwolves and leapfrogging the Knicks and the 76ers in the process.
So, now we know. The Lakers will not only keep their pick, but be able to choose from all but one prospect come next month’s draft. Now, the question is, what will the Lakers do with that opportunity? Thrilled to say we get to find out.
Look, let’s skip the pleasantries and get down to business. The Lakers are not a good team. As many people have pointed out over the last couple of seasons, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing. The way the NBA is set up, it’s in the team’s best interests to lose games, get high draft picks and use them as core rebuilding pieces for the future. This season, it has been argued, that strategy is doubly important since their draft pick is only top five protected and will go to the Suns should it be six or lower. If the Lakers want to keep this pick they need to lose a lot of games. The more the better, some would say.
I can understand this logic. I really can. And while I detest the idea of “rooting” for losses, the benefits that come from those L’s stacking up can’t be ignored.
None of that applies tonight, though. No, when the Lakers play the Celtics, I don’t care about the future pick. I don’t care about accelerating a rebuild. I don’t care for your logic. Nope. Not at all. You see, these are the Celtics. I don’t want the Lakers to lose to them. Not today, tomorrow, or next week. Not ever. As I said above, if the only games the Lakers won all season were against the C’s, it would take some of the sting off. This is what a rivalry does.
Of course, when both teams are bad — and the C’s are pretty much equally bad right now — some would say the luster of this rivalry is removed. Yes, these organizations have 33 banners between them but right now they are cellar dwellers. Of all the games on tonight, this is one a lot of fans will actively avoid. Watching Kobe and Rondo is nice and all, but when it’s all said and done a Carlos Boozer/Jared Sullinger duel isn’t something people are using up their Friday night on. Again, I see this perspective. But, again, I do not care. This is appointment viewing for me. This matters.
In saying all that, I could get into X’s and O’s here. I could talk about slowing Rondo, keeping Sullinger off the offensive boards, and making sure that Kelly Olynyk is defended out the 3 point line. I’d discuss Jeff Green and how he must be kept out of the lane and turned into a jump shooter. And ditto for Avery Bradley. I could then get into Lin being aggressive in getting to the rim, how the C’s lack rim protection, and how this would be a good game for Ed Davis to get going. Oh, I’d also discuss how Kobe has a size advantage against most of the C’s wings and how this might be a good game for him to really work to get into the post to create double teams and easier scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. This stuff, in the micro, matters towards the end goal.
But, in reality, all I really care about is getting the W. How they do it, isn’t important to me. If it means going to Nick Young down the stretch, do it. If it means running plays for Jordan Hill, make it happen. If it means playing Kobe a few extra minutes, I’m saying go for it. Like I said, logic isn’t going to cut it with me today. The faces may change, but the goal remains the same. Just beat the Celtics.
With that, here’s a video to get you in the mood. Enjoy, folks.
To be honest, the Lakers aren’t giving fans a lot to be thankful for. They are in the midst of a second straight awful season. So far this campaign, they are suffering (roughly) four losses for every win and dealing with a myriad of injuries to players who would not only help their win total but provide entertainment during games. If what has transpired to this point holds for the rest of the season, this group of players will have provided what would clearly be the worst year in the history of the franchise.
In saying all that, though, I remain thankful. This sounds strange, I know.
The Lakers have, for better or worse (but mostly better), been an institution in my life for most of the years I have been alive. Some of my earliest memories are of watching games with my dad, listening to Chick Hearn describe the action of some of history’s greatest players. Over time I have seen way more winning than losing, seen every down period turn into a period of sustained excellence.
In a strange way, then, a truly low period like the one the team is going through now makes me thankful because it serves a reminder of all those good times. All of these losses and the commentary and shot taking by pundits they inspire only reinforce the fact that it all only matters because it is so damn rare. And maybe that is grasping at straws and maybe fans of other teams will scoff at the fact that losing could make you feel like anything but, well, a loser. The idea of Lakers’ exceptionalism will get thrown back as some sort of fake superiority complex that makes us the worst.
And maybe there’s some truth in all that.
But, on a day where we are supposed to give thanks, I really am thankful today. Not for the losses or the poor decision making by the players, front office, and coaches that lead to them. All of that sucks. But all of it does serve as a reminder to me that things weren’t always so bad and that, if history holds, they won’t always be either.
So, Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours from FB&G.
The injury bug still hasn’t left the Lakers organization. Following consecutive seasons that saw the Lakers battle myriad injuries to nearly every rotation player, this season has now seen it’s first major injury of the year. Nick Young has a torn ligament in his shooting thumb, according to ESPN’s Arash Markazi.
Lakers guard Nick Young suffered a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament in his right thumb during practice and could be sidelined for the start of the regular season.
Young’s agent, Mark Bartelstein, told ESPN.com he expects the injury to sideline the veteran for six to eight weeks.
According to the report, the injury came during Thursday’s practice when Young was defending Kobe Bryant and jammed it trying to swipe the ball from Bryant.
The news is troubling for the Lakers on several levels. Young is coming off the most productive season of his career and was expected to fill a similar role from last season as a scorer off the bench.
While Young’s primary role may not change for the upcoming season, the offensive philosophy will change dramatically. Moving from Mike D’Antoni’s more free wheeling, run-and-gun style, Byron Scott is bringing a version of Eddie Jordan’s Princeton Offense. While the principals of the Princeton aren’t terribly complex, you want guys to find a rhythm on the court at this time of year because of the read-and-react nature of the offense.
Young’s injury also has implications outside of his health to begin the season. Wayne Ellington was the most recent Laker to be signed, and his ability to shoot from three should allow him to see the floor to eat some of Young’s minutes. There’s also the case of rookie Jordan Clarkson, who could be in a prime position to earn some minutes early in the season playing as an off-guard, especially with the timetable for Xavier Henry to return still a bit up in the air.
There’s also the question of what the Lakers will do with their final roster spot. The team currently has 14 men signed on for the season, and can potentially add another before the start of the season. The team’s training camp invitees include a plethora of guards and wings, and the Lakers could make a need-based move instead of a talent-based move to make up for the absence of Young — and Henry — to start the season.
There have been a lot of good things said about Ronnie Price since camp has started, but the Lakers may need a bigger guard who can defend opposing wings.
Lastly, this hurts because Young was going to be the main guy who would help eat some of Kobe’s minutes. This team is a bit better off in this department than in seasons pre-dating the D’Antoni and Mike Brown eras, but losing a guy like young hurts Scott’s ability to be creative with lineups to cut back on Bryant’s.
The positive is that, should Young only miss the eight weeks of expected recovery time, the team will be without his services for only a month, and will have to watch him play into game shape for another couple of weeks.
Scott is going to see what the bench unit is made of without its primary scorer very early on, and should only help the rest of the unit once a guy who can create his own shot is brought back with to the group. While this isn’t the greatest news to receive this early in the season, it’s not necessarily something that will make or break this Lakers season. Let’s just hope Young has a speedy recovery.
My reaction? That’s a lot of money. Now I will never criticize players for getting as much paper as they can but this seems like a bunch of cash.
Maybe we can hope for increased production, considering the Lakers really don’t have any bigs beyond Robert Sacre and rookie Julius Randle. Hill averaged 9.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in under 21 minutes per game, all career-bests. While we love Hill’s motor, he tends to run out of gas pretty quickly since he doesn’t seem to pace himself very well.
Nevertheless, maybe he’ll learn to pace himself on an increased role. There were times where he looked absolutely brilliant, having a few 20-15 games under his belt last season. But he also got inconsistent playing time last season with Mike D’Antoni. Maybe he’ll get a lot of PT under the new coach, who we STILL don’t know as of this writing.
But, hey, we’re getting some semblance of a team now. Good for Jordan Hill on securing a job and getting that pay raise.
On Wednesday the two coaches most in demand to fill vacant jobs were snatched up as Stan Van Gundy signed on to be the Pistons’ Doc Rivers (SVG will get control of basketball operations along with his coaching title) while Steve Kerr spurned the Knicks to coach the Warriors. In the Lakers’ shotgun approach to searching for a coach to replace Mike D’Antoni, both Kerr and Van Gundy were rumored to be on the long list of interested targets. Now both are gone.
Meanwhile, in El Segundo, all is quiet on the western front.
Since an initial report of the intent to seek permission to speak to Tom Thibodeau and the aforementioned leaks of multiple candidates who would interest the Lakers, there has been no word of the team moving forward with scheduling interviews or even putting out feelers to gauge interest in their sideline vacancy. And, as far as what is public information, that request to Bulls has not yet been made.
The draft lottery is scheduled for Tuesday, May 20th. It will be that date that the Lakers will learn whether they luck out by jumping into the top 3, stand pat at 6, or fall to one of the 7 through 9 slots. And, I imagine, that will also be the date that the team starts to seriously consider how it will move forward with the hiring process of their new coach.
If this really is the plan, I am on board with it 100%. I see no reason to rush hiring a coach. The Lakers already did that when chasing Mike Brown and in choosing his successor. Doing so again would be a mistake. This hire will be the most important decision the organization makes since it took a chance on Andrew Bynum with the 10th pick in draft nine summers ago. They cannot afford to get this decision wrong and the person who signs on must understand that he will need to navigate what will be a minefield of expectations and impatience stemming from the closure of Kobe’s career. And while there will also be the sentiment that time will be needed to make the needed strides to become competitive again, frustration will quickly mount if (when?) the team loses.
Handling this situation will take a special type of coach who can project confidence, insulate himself from the inevitable criticism and doubt that comes from losing, while also instilling the core values and work ethic that winning programs are built upon. Finding this person will not be easy and it will take time and patience to sort out who can actually fill this void.
In a way, it is the gravity of this hire that actually has me finding comfort with there being little movement to this point. Because once the decision is made, there really is no turning back. So better to take the time now and leave no stone unturned than think you have the right guy only to, in a year or 18 months, know that you actually do not. In other words, take your time Lakers. Because whoever the next coach is the clock starts ticking and with his hire there will be news whether they want it or not.
Grantland’s documentary series on Steve Nash continues, this time with Nash responding to fan backlash calling for his retirement.
Whatever side you fall on when it comes to this issue, the thing that stands out most to me from this video is Nash’s honesty about still wanting to play. He cites his love of the game, his desire to prove people wrong, and, yes, the money. He even goes so far as to say that anyone in his shoes would make the same choice (something I pretty much agree with, by the way).
What this clip also highlights for me is the conflict that comes up at the end of the career of nearly every great player. When is it time to retire? How can that be managed in a manner that is best for both the player and the team? When a player makes a significant amount of money, the decision of what to do becomes more than just a decision that the player makes for himself as fan and popular opinion starts to creep into the equation.
Right now, this issue relates to Nash, but we are already starting to see some of the same idea, twisted slightly, in regards to Kobe. His salary over the next couple of seasons is quite large and he’s yet to show he’s physically able to perform to a level that matches what he will be paid. (As an aside, even if Kobe plays wonderfully, there will still be backlash related to how much he is making, but that’s another post for another day.)
Ultimately, though, what Nash says in the video above is both incredibly honest while also showing the conflict that exists in him as he continues to work towards a goal that he understands he may never reach.