Archives For Utah Jazz

Welcome to the Rumor Mill, a place to talk about all the rumors, innuendo, and speculation about potential Lakers moves as we approach the trade deadline. In this space we’ll offer up links to reports, opinions on the speculation of the day, and anything else trade related that crosses our minds. This may or may not be a daily feature at FB&G, but we hope it can serve as a place to capture the craziness. As an aside, this feature will only run through the trade deadline this season. So, get comfortable but don’t unpack all your bags yet. ‘Cause just like the circus the trade deadline represents, this post will be on its way to the next town in a couple of weeks.

That on any given night (or afternoon) the 2011-12 Lakers are capable of overcoming even the stiffest competition is simultaneously thrilling and disconcerting.

Despite the occasional foray into disarray and the occasionally terrifying deficiency of on-court firepower, the Lakers carry on, not only trudging forward, but excelling. Given its composition –top-heavy, veteran-laden and deliberate with possession – this squad is clearly one built for postseason ball, where the significance of front-line size is magnified, and that of roster depth diminished.

However, the Lakers, winners of 23 of 37 games this season, including an almost-league-best (along with Miami, OKC and Memphis; Chicago is 9-1) eight of their last ten, find themselves a half game ahead of their Staples Center roomies in the Pacific (and for third in the West), two games behind the second place Spurs. They have won 17 of 19 at home, 16 of 23 against some rock-solid Western Conference opposition and, at 5-3 (the Clippers are 3-3) boast the Pacific’s best division record. Not bad for a team with little more than a passing interest in this regular season.

As impressive as it has been, we (well, management) must resist the urge to allow the Lakers’ success thus far in 2011-12 to mask a rather urgent need for reinforcements. Whether or not you feel a franchise-altering blockbuster is necessary – and if so, whether said blockbuster would entail bidding adieu to Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol –there is one deal to be made that will bolster this Lakers team, either in the form of an upgrade at the point or quality depth elsewhere (anywhere) on the roster.

As you are no doubt aware by now, in parting ways with Lamar Odom just days before the season tipped off, and received precious little in exchange, the Lakers acquired a traded player exception (TPE). In short a TPE resembles a “deferred multi-team trade,” allowing a team that is over the salary cap (as the Lakers are) to acquire like-priced talent at a future date (TPE’s often expire after a year) for a player dealt today. In the Lakers’ case, this TPE allows for the absorption of up to $9 million (Odom’s $8.9 million salary, plus $100,000, per CBA rules) worth of salary, with minimal loss of on-court productivity. Perhaps even more than the aforementioned blockbuster that would put pen to paper on the next chapter of the Lakers’ superstar legacy, this exception will play a vital role in determining whether these Lakers are able to realize their championship aspirations.

A few ideas regarding possible directions in which the Purple and Gold could go:

Ramon Sessions ($4.2M this season, $4.5M player option for 2012-13) for a 1st round pick

Sessions has been, and continues to be, one of the most logical cost-effective fixes available for Lakers’ most glaring weakness. He is not Chris Paul or Deron Williams, but Sessions is a young (26 in April), productive (15.4 points, 7.5 assists and just 3 turnovers per 36 minutes) NBA-caliber point guard that will solidify the already-dangerous Lakers’ status as a contender in the West.

One potential concern is that he will cost the Lakers some assets, and has the ability to void his deal this summer and will cost more to re-sign. Given the win-now mode in which the Lakers are firmly entrenched, this is more than a worthwhile risk. Plus, is Sessions arrives and plays well enough to gain any serious leverage in contract negotiations, chances are it’s been a pretty solid spring in Lakerland.

Francisco Garcia in exchange for a pair of 2nd round picks, with Sacramento taking on Luke Walton

Maybe not the first name that comes to mind, but ‘Cisco Garcia is a quality NBA veteran that can fill multiple roles for this team. He is a combo guard, but with a point guard lean, does not dominate the ball (20+ USG just once in six years) and historically has shown a nice touch from the outside (just 31% on 3-points this season, but at least 35.6% each of the past five, including 39%+ three times). In addition to easing the Lakers’ pain at the point, however, Garcia (who is 6’7”) would provided depth on the wing, either two spelling Kobe at the two or playing alongside him in three-guard/wing (with Matt Barnes, MWP, Goudelock or Blake) units.

Most importantly, this is a deal that makes sense financially as well. Garcia’s contract pays him $5.6 million this year, $6.1 million next season and has a $6.4 million team option for 2013-14. For the rebuilding Kings the acquisition of Luke Walton (who is making $5.6M this year and $6.1M next) is a cap neutral way to nab a pair of second-rounders without breaking a sweat.

Jason Thompson in exchange for a 2nd round pick (maybe a 1st rounder at gunpoint)

An interesting deadline sleeper. Depending on your perspective (I really like him) Thompson is potentially a fourth starter or excellent bench contributor going forward. Thompson has turned in a solid effort in relief of (and more recently starting alongside) DeMarcus Cousins, scoring in double figures 15 times, grabbing 8+ rebounds 14 times and posting six double-doubles despite seeing the floor for just 24 minutes per game.

Additionally, he is a restricted free agent this summer (qualifying offer is $4.1M, though he’ll likely command more), and with Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins in line to get PAID in the summers of 2013 and 2014, $12M+ per year committed to Marcus Thornton and Chuck Hayes for the next four years and another lottery pick on the way, it’s unlikely that Sacramento will be committed to signing him long term.

Amir Johnson in exchange for a 2nd round pick (maybe just simple salary absorption)

Is Amir Johnson the difference between the Lakers and the Larry O’Brien trophy? Probably not. What he is, however, is a young (25 on May 1), athletic big that is productive (10-10), will hit the offensive boards (11.9 ORB Rate) and has range to (generously) 15 feet – in other words, quality depth.

Plus, the fact that he is signed to a lengthy, iffy-but-manageable ($6M, $6.5M, $7M next years) contract with a lotto-bound team set to welcome a pair of top-ten picks (2011’s #5 overall Jonas Valanciunas, plus an addition from the 2012 class) to next year’s squad will suppress the cost of acquiring him.

Paul Millsap in exchange for a 1st round pick

This is the dream scenario.

With Utah quickly fading from playoff contention, the development of the last two #3 overall picks will become a priority, as will showcasing Al Jefferson (owed a prorated portion of $14 million this year and $15 million next season) for (hopefully, if you are a Jazz fan) a future cap clearing deal.

From the Lakers’ perspective, Millsap is an ideal fit – an efficient offensive threat (22.62 APER on just 22.9 USG, per Hoopdata) and solid rebounder (22.2/11.4 ORB/DRB Rates) that is still fairly young, having just turned 27, and has the capacity to play All-Star caliber ball for prolonged stretches. What’s more, Millsap (owed the remainder of $6.7M this season, and $7.2M in 2012-13) is an ideal complement to the Lakers’ current front line, able to step outside (43.2% from 10-23’) when Bynum is in the paint and capable of banging down low (72.4% FG on 4.5 FGA at the rim) when Pau is operating on the wing.

Ok, guys, let’s fire up the mill! Who knows what coming days will bring for the Lakers, but these are my thoughts on possible ways to strengthen the team going forward. Looking forward to your feedback on these ideas, as well as any that you’ve been kicking around.

Box score: Lakers 90, Jazz 87 (Overtime)
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 90.6, Jazz 86.1
True Shooting %: Lakers 49.8%, Jazz 43.5%

The Good:
Through three quarters not only was this not a contest, I was hard pressed to identify an honorable mention.

As he did last night against the Suns, Kobe Bryant set the tone early for the Lakers, hitting five of seven from the field in the first quarter, for 14 points.  While he was characteristically aggressive offensively, Kobe did an excellent job of operating within the offense, finding his own shot and creating a couple of easy buckets for Matt Barnes and Andrew Bynum. He continued his efficient assault in the second quarter, connecting on three of five to bring his halftime total to 21, on just 12 shots. By the halfway point of the third, sitting on 27 points on 16 field goal attempts (he had 31 on 11-19 FG after three quarters), it looked as though Kobe had not only picked up where he’d left off against Phoenix, but would actually manage to trump Tuesday’s brilliant showing.

That he finished the overtime tilt with 40 is somewhat disappointing (I know, right? We are spoiled), though not because he managed just nine points in the final two stanzas, but because of how he got there. The efficiency and team play of the first 36 minutes became a distant memory, as the offense stagnated while Kobe tried to singlehandedly put the Jazz away. He made just three of 12 shots after the third quarter, and took three less-than-stellar shots in the final 64 seconds (he was bailed out on two).

Make no mistake, the Lakers do not sniff this win without Kobe, but this game was sealed at the defensive end. After allowing the Jazz to rack up 30 points in the paint in the first half, the Lakers’ bigs staked their claim to the lane, allowing just 10 points inside in the second half, with Andrew Bynum racking up five blocked shots (more on this in a sec). The effort was not limited to the inside. The Jazz connected on less than 39% of their shot attempts (43.5% TS) for the game, and with the exception of the red-hot Paul Millsap, who scored 29 on 14-of-24 from the field, the Jazz hit just 22 of 69 shots  (32%). Additionally, while the Lakers continued to have difficulties protecting possession, turning the ball over 17 times, the stellar defensive effort prevented their carelessness from coming back to haunt them, as Utah managed just seven points off of those 17 takeaways.

One last thing… DARIUS MORRIS PLAYED! And he looked pretty good too! Sure he overdribbled a couple of times and forced a drive attempt that resulted in a turnover, but if his first 13 NBA minutes are any indication, this guy has a place in the NBA. His first meaningful touch came in the final seconds of the first quarter, when he led a perfect 2-on-1 break and found Metta World Peace for a dunk. He also made both of his field goal attempts and later found Steve Blake for a late-third quarter 3 that put the Lakers ahead by a bucket. Not saying this guy is the next Chris Paul, but given the (let’s be kind) suspect play turned in by Blake and Derek Fisher at the point, a young lead guard that adjusts nicely to the pace of the game and avoids mental errors in his pro debut is probably worth a look.

The Bad:
I had initially planned to call out a pair of “B’s” here, but the Laker Bigs, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, while lackluster offensively – a combined 10 of 27 from the field and 5-of-8 on free throws, for 26 points – and lit up by Paul Millsap, played hard in the paint and made a series of vital plays down the stretch (more on this in a second) without which the Lakers would not have registered the victory.

The other “B,” however, the Lakers’ Bench, a night after contributing to a nice home win, was virtually nonexistent. The bench logged a total of 72 minutes Wednesday, combining to score 11 points on 5-of-13 from the field (no free throw attempts), grab nine rebounds (none on the offensive glass) and hand out two assists. Pretty ugly. Pull out the contribution of the aforementioned Darius Morris and this crew was downright brutal, scored seven points (on 3-of-11 FG) and grabbing eight rebounds in 59 minutes. By comparison, in 34 minutes, Utah’s sixth man, ex-All-Star-turned-veteran-castoff Josh Howard, managed 18 points and four rebounds, while the rest of the Jazz backups combined for 17 points, 17 rebounds (five offensive) and five assists, and made up for a putrid 5-of-20 FG by earning 12 free throws and making nine.

The 2011-12 Lakers are a top-heavy team – we know this. With Matt Barnes healthy and seemingly carving out a valuable role with the starting unit, it may not be long before we can call the Lakers a “four deep” squad. However, looking beyond that quartet I am hard pressed to identify a single player capable to consistently contributing in crunch time. Hell, at this point I think I trust Darius Morris more than anyone else on the bench.

The Ugly:
The Lakers entered Wednesday’s game as the NBA’s second-worst 3-point shooting team, connecting on an unbelievable (and not in the good way) 23% of their attempts from beyond the arc. The collective 4-for-9 effort does technically represent an improvement, but within that number is perhaps the most disheartening statistic of the young season: with their combined 0-for-3 effort on Wednesday, Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace – two guys expected to create space for the bigs and receives the kicks following Kobe’s drives – have now combined to hit on just 10% (4-of-40) of their 3-point attempts this season.

The less said here, the better.

Play(s) of the Game:
Not a whole lot to choose from in the first 51 minutes of this one. Early candidates included Darius Morris finding Metta World Peace with 44 seconds remaining in the first quarter (0:52 mark) for his first career assist, Kobe Bryant’s picture perfect pump fake/pivot/step-through jumper (0:55) – also in the final seconds of the first, and Andrew Bynum stopping his massive frame on a dime and finding Matt Barnes to finish off a third quarter fast break (2:10).

Ultimately, however, the nod goes to the Lakers’ big men in the clutch. On most nights, the first runner-up- Pau Gasol’s nothing-but-net 3-pointer from the corner (3:09) in OT to cut a four-point deficit to one- would win going away.

HOWEVAH…

On a night when his shot was simply not falling, rather than allowing himself to become discouraged, Andrew Bynum focused his energy on denying Al Jefferson (one night removed from a 30-point performance) the post position he so covets and protecting the rim (five blocks!).

It was this effort – roughly 50 seconds after Bynum hit the offensive glass to tip in a wild miss by Kobe (3:24) and return the Lakers to the lead – that ultimately wound up sealing the win. With the clock running down and the Jazz trailing by a point, Gordon Hayward drove the lane (3:30 mark), drawing two defenders to the rim, before dropping the ball off to Jefferson. One of the best inside scorers in the game, Jefferson gathered the ball and, at point blank range went to secure the win, but…

Full highlights – Lakers at Jazz, January 11, 2012