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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.

The Los Angeles Lakers made a furious rally late in the fourth quarter, but Chris Bosh, LeBron James, and the back-to-back defending champion Miami Heat held off the Purple and Gold and won, 109-102.

Bosh scored 31 and James added 27 as the Heat opened up a 16-point lead in the third quarter. However, the Lakers slowly chipped away at the lead and cut it to 98-94 with 4:09 remaining. A late LeBron three pointer with just over two minutes to go increased the Miami lead to 106-99 and the Heat never looked back from there.

There was a long stretch in the fourth quarter where the Heat would promptly respond to every Laker basket. Both teams were on fire. In fact, from the 5:56 mark of the fourth until the 1:39 point, neither team missed a shot. It was a remarkable display of up and down basketball by both teams and it was Miami’s rapid response to the Lakers’ clutch shooting that sealed the deal for the Heat.

For the Lakers, Pau Gasol and Jodie Meeks (both big factors in the Lakers’ offensive burst in the fourth) each scored 22 points. Kendall Marshall added 11 assists but the Lakers as a whole did not do a great job moving the ball — only recording 21 assists on 40 field goals made. The team shot 36 percent from three point land – a figure that’s closer to their three point average when they lose (33 percent) than their three point average when they win (43 percent).

The most glaring stat of the game, though, was rebounds. The Lakers got murdered on the glass to an awful rebounding team, 48-35. While the Purple and Gold had more offensive rebounds than the Heat, the Heat were more efficient in getting offensive rebounds. Out of 34 rebound opportunities, the Heat had 12 offensive boards while the Lakers grabbed 13 on a whopping 49 opportunities.

As mentioned in the preview, the Heat may have the fewest rebounds per game, but it’s the Lakers that have the lowest rebounding percentage in the league. LeBron had 13 rebounds and absolutely dominated Wesley Johnson and anyone else that attempted to guard him throughout the game. Greg Oden, the oft-injured former No. 1 overall pick, also made his presence felt, getting four offensive rebounds. Meanwhile for the Lakers, Jordan Hill finally got some playing time and got seven rebounds in 22 minutes. Perhaps if he played more, the rebounding disparity may have shrunk because of Hill’s athleticism and rebounding skills.

At the end of the day, the Lakers actually played a solid game against an extremely superior opponent on the road. They fall to 2-3 on the road trip and have now lost eight of their last nine against Miami, but they hung in there and fought hard until the final whistle and that’s all Laker fans can ask from their team at this juncture. The Vegas spread was +11 and they covered it. They only had 11 turnovers, shot over 45 percent from the field, and even got on a little bit of a run at the end. Ultimately, it’s never easy beating the world’s greatest player and another All-Star especially when he’s on his game and the Lakers defense struggled badly against Bosh and James.

The Lakers now head to Orlando to take on the Magic before finishing off their Grammy road trip in the Big Apple.

Shawne Williams was given his walking papers on Tuesday. The Los Angeles Lakers roster now stands at 14. Ownership will save about a million bucks in combined salary and luxury tax.

The story was covered here, and by other Lakers beat writers, but didn’t exactly ripple out into national headlines. Williams arrived in Los Angeles this past September and appeared in 32 games.

The Lakers are in a tailspin at the moment, that’s pretty clear to see. They’re 1-9 in their last 10 games and face the Clippers on Friday. Five key players remain injured and unable to contribute. It’s not a stretch to say that the team’s collective battery is running low.

Williams wasn’t taking up room at the end of the bench. He was a significant part of Mike D’Antoni’s rotation, averaging 5.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.

From Ramona Shelburne for ESPN Los Angeles, D’Antoni spoke honestly about a guy that was more than a number.

“It’s hard for everybody. You do get attached to guys you enjoy walking down an alley with. He will fight for you in a heartbeat and he was a voice in the locker room for us. I could trust him basketball-wise, anything I told him. He did the best he could do. He was good. I’ll miss him.”

For management, the issue was a financial one. If Williams hadn’t been released by 5 pm on Tuesday, the remainder of his minimum salary contract would have been guaranteed, along with the resulting dollar-for-dollar penalty.

The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement is aimed at creating parity for owners across the league. For the NBA’s lowest-paid players, parity often means a trip to the unemployment line.

Per the Shelburne article, D’Antoni hopes the player with a checked past, will get another shot in the NBA:

“It would be a shame not to. In this business we put labels on people and you don’t get to really know them. I put a label on him before I got to know him. I know what happens. It’s the easy way out. But he’s earned [another opportunity]. I hope somebody bites on it. They’ll be surprised and be happy with it.”

Shawne Williams grew up in the badlands of South Memphis in a neighborhood described by the Community Redevelopment Agency as a “menace to public safety, health, morals and welfare”. He lost his older brother Ramone to gang violence and has not always made the best decisions, peppering truncated basketball jobs with arrests for weed and sizzurp. Taken as the 15th pick of the 2005 draft, he bounced around the league, being variously traded or waived. His biggest impact was with the Knicks during the 2010-11 season.

D’Antoni was his coach at the time in New York and not enthused about a training camp pickup with a bad reputation. Williams began that season with a slew of DNPs but 18 games in, got a chance to play. He impressed his coach and ultimately earned a regular slot as a stretch-four, averaging a career-best 40.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Williams appeared in 25 games the following season for the New Jersey Nets and didn’t play at all in 2011-12. That winter, he was popped once again in Memphis. According to the affidavit, the 26 year-old said, “Officer, I ain’t going to lie to you, there’s a blunt in the car and some syrup.”

This past summer, D’Antoni lobbied management. He had recognized a player’s willingness to do the right thing that one season in New York. He also might have wanted a little extra toughness on a team that’s not always known for it. From all accounts, Williams was a model citizen with the Purple and Gold.

In a recent TWC Backstage Lakers segment, Williams spoke about the opportunity to come to Los Angeles:

“The Lakers is one of those franchises, that when you get a call from them, nothing else don’t matter at the time. Coming from what I come from, going through what I had been through, I was ecstatic. Y’know, it was a blessing. It was something I prayed for, probably one of the happiest calls of my life, saying the Lakers was going to give me a chance.”

Days after the segment taped, Williams was waived while on the road with the team. The Lakers lost to the Dallas Mavericks that night, followed by a loss to the Houston Rockets.

Williams has never come close to averaging double figures in the NBA but he makes his presence felt. He doesn’t mind the blue collar work under the basket, will alter shots and snag loose balls. He’s a streaky shooter but can hit from long range at opportune moments.

He was also a favorite among his teammates. Earlier in the season, Williams took exception when Kings center DeMarcus Cousins gave Jordan Farmar a little extra momentum, heading for the hardwood. Williams confronted Cousins and they both picked up technicals.

Per Mark Medina of the LA Daily News, this is how the Lakers forward explained it:

“Everybody in this locker room is part of a team. We’re a family. Anybody who tries to mess with our family or do a dirty play, I’m going to stand up for them on the court”

Los Angeles won that night, 100-86.

The team just doesn’t seem to have the same feeling of togetherness lately. Whether it’s a cumulative effect of injuries and fatigue, or simply the disillusionment of a downhill skid, things aren’t right. The loss of Williams won’t make it any easier.

The Lakers are still a family business but it somehow doesn’t feel like family anymore. The slide rules have come out and perhaps there’s no turning back—the team assembled a roster of short term contracts this season in an attempt to restructure the future. Williams is now gone and there’s nine other Lakers who don’t have contracts next season.

The freewheeling days of Jerry Buss are over, sadly. There’s a new world order. Basketball is changing, business is changing and the way we cover the news is changing.

Somewhere a car turns a corner and taillights fade. The Lakers’ world just got a little bit smaller.

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  December 28, 2013

Let’s not make any excuses for the Lakers.

We can. After all, they are missing three future Hall of Famers from their lineup. That said, they could have won two games this week and they blew it against Miami and Utah in the late stages of both games.

It’s easy to blame the fact that the Lakers are playing with numerous injuries. However, there are some coaching decisions that need to be brought to the forefront.

It shouldn’t take a Pau Gasol upper respiratory infection for Mike D’Antoni to finally give Chris Kaman some playing time. In a starter’s role against Utah, Kaman was phenomenal and arguably the best player on the floor for the Lakers.

In 30 minutes, Kaman scored 19 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and blocked three shots. It’s also important to note that with Kaman on the floor, the Lakers are a far better defensive team than without him.

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Knowing this and the fact that Kaman was playing the best game of his season, it was stunning to see D’Antoni take out Kaman with just over a minute left in the loss against the Jazz in favor of Ryan Kelly and then later, Robert Sacre. Neither player had played much in the game, but for whatever reason, D’Antoni thought it would be wiser to have Sacre on the floor for the last possession.

Gordon Hayward of the Jazz easily drove past Sacre and set up a put back dunk for Derrick Favors in the dying seconds which gave Utah the win. It’s impossible to say whether anything would have been different with Kaman on the floor, but letting the man finish the game, especially when he’s been playing well, wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

At least we even saw Kaman in the Utah game. D’Antoni didn’t play him at all against an undersized Miami team. Game management toward the end of that game was questionable, too. With the Lakers down by five midway through the fourth, D’Antoni benched his two best players – statistically, at least – Jordan Hill and Jordan Farmar and the game slipped away from there.

Finally, in the Phoenix game on Monday, the Lakers were outrebounded 62-39. Of course, Hill only played 14 minutes that game. Another head scratching decision by the Lakers bench boss.

Speaking of Hill, he’s still only averaging just over 20 minutes per game. Why is this? Is he not conditioned? Does he get tired? Hogwash.

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As seen in the table above, Hill is just as effective when he gets minutes. He doesn’t get tired. He still scores, he still rebounds, and he’s still effective. In fact, in a win against the Pistons earlier this year, Hill played 36 minutes and scored 24 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. Hill should be starting and getting big minutes. There is no excuse as to why he shouldn’t be.

There were several positives from this week aside from Hill’s strong play. Farmar got minutes and after a rusty performance in his first game back from injury on Christmas, he produced in a big way in the loss against Utah, scoring 16 points, dishing out seven assists and getting three steals. Farmar has been showing potency on both sides of the ball this season. The Lakers have a 97.9 defensive rating when Farmar’s on the court.

Finally, Nick Young showed spurts of solid offensive play this week. He hasn’t been overly consistent. One day he’ll shoot 28 percent, the next night he’ll shoot 59 percent. That said, the ON/OFF numbers for Young are incredible. With him on the court, the Lakers have an offensive rating of 103.6. Without him, they’re just producing at an offensive rating of 96.5. At least, he’s getting minutes.

In short, the Lakers need to give Young, Kaman, Hill, and Farmar the minutes they deserve. There is no such thing as an easy win for the Lakers anymore, but they have a favorable home schedule this week as they play the Sixers, Bucks, and Jazz. Gasol should return this week and if D’Antoni keeps playing Kaman, Hill, and Farmar, the Lakers should be able to turn their fortunes around and inch closer to .500.

 

Week At A Glance

Andre Khatchaturian —  December 22, 2013

Kobe Bryant is out again and the Lakers will be missing him for the next six weeks. With him in the lineup, the Lakers were just 2-4. Without him, they’re 11-10. Because of this, the following question has emerged: Are the Lakers better without Kobe?

The answer to this is no. Let’s not overreact. The Lakers struggled with Kobe mostly because there was no chemistry and he was rusty. In his last game, he played a pivotal role in the Lakers road win over Memphis. He took a season high 18 shots and scored 21 points. He also had a season low four turnovers. The rust was coming off and he was taking more control of the offense, but then he got injured once more.

The Lakers went on to dominate the Timberwolves on Friday night at home mostly because of Nick Young’s three-point barrage and a vintage performance by Pau Gasol who scored 21 and grabbed 13 rebounds. They played energized without Kobe and it had many feeling that the team just flowed better without the Mamba.

However, in less than 24 hours reality hit the Lakers as they got blown out of the water by the Warriors. They shot 14 percent in the 3rd quarter. Granted, they were missing Pau, who was out with an upper respiratory infection, but having Kobe could’ve helped.

The fact of the matter is, although the Lakers have gelled to a certain extent without Kobe, they’re nothing more than a .500 team without him in the lineup. They did a great job in the first 19 games of the season keeping their heads above water and they’ll need to do it again for the next six weeks – a stretch that includes a grueling seven-game road trip in the east coast.

It will be possible. The people who say that the Lakers are better off without Kobe have all the statistics in the world to back up their claim.

The Lakers had a better Offensive Rating without Kobe in their first 19 games of the season (101.9) than with him in the lineup (100.1). Their Defensive Rating was also remarkably better without Kobe (102.8 vs. 108.6 with him). Finally, his On/Off numbers were atrocious in his brief comeback, too.

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There’s no doubt about it that the Lakers can win without Kobe. It also helps that 12 of their next 20 games are against Eastern Conference opponents. The Lakers are 5-3 against the East this season and their paltry 13-14 record would give them the top spot in the Atlantic Division and the fourth seed in the weak conference.

The Lakers could win games if they continue to receive consistently efficient output from Pau and Nick Young.

In his three games this week, Gasol shot 72 percent from the field, and averaged 19.3 points and 10.7 rebounds. Those are vintage Pau numbers. He’s shown moments of productivity throughout the season but he needs to be more consistent. The same goes for Young. He has emerged as the team’s leading scorer and he’s shooting over 40 percent from three point land in December.

It would be nice to see Jordan Hill get more playing time, too. He’s averaging under 20 minutes per game in December but he’s shooting 69 percent from the field and averaging 6.6 rebounds. He could get more playing time in favor of Wesley Johnson, who is averaging over 30 minutes per game in December, but has the lowest field goal percentage among Laker regulars this month (38.2 percent). His three-point percentage is even more atrocious at 25 percent.

Finally, let’s give a warm welcome back to the rotation to Chris Kaman. With Gasol out last game, he grabbed 17 rebounds. He also had a defensive rating of 86.9 in the blowout loss. He didn’t shoot well (5-of-17) but nobody did last night. Kaman has been healthy for awhile now and there’s no reason why he should be getting a “DNP – Coach’s Decision” next to his name every game. He deserves a chance to show the coaching staff what he could do.

The Lakers have a tough week ahead of them on Christmas week. They play the surprising Suns on the road tomorrow before the much anticipated home tilt against LeBron and the Heat on Christmas Day. Then, on Friday they’ll play the Jazz in Salt Lake, a place where the Lakers are 19-34 since 1986-87.