When it comes to winning in the NBA, there are many ways to skin a cat. Talent will be the common denominator amongst all contending teams, but the styles in which they play can be radically different while still producing fantastic results.
You can look at teams like last year’s Grizzlies or this year’s Pacers and see teams built on a foundation that mirrors what you’d find in the early 2000’s or mid/late 1990’s. Frank Vogel coined the term “smash-mouth basketball” to describe his Pacers and when looking at the Grizz they have sought to play a similar style. Power post ups played through skilled big men with all purpose perimeter players was their ticket to success. Combine that offensive style with harassing, physical defense and you have a recipe for success.
Contrast that to the style that the Heat and the Spurs play. Both are more reliant on dynamic perimeter play and big men who can play out to 18 feet in isolation or thrive as both pop and dive men out of the pick and roll. They emphasize the three point shot via the spacing their schemes promote and want to give their best players the ball in space to create out of motion or P&R sets. Defensively, both teams attack opponents a bit differently (the Spurs prefer to pack the paint while the Heat blitz opponents on the perimeter and use their athleticism to recover), but that is largely a reflection of the talents of their individual players rather than a commitment to any one type of scheme.
The Thunder, meanwhile, offer a mix of both of these styles. They emphasize the three point shot because they have this generation’s premier shooting forward (Durant) and fantastic attack guards (Westbrook, Jackson) who thrive when the floor is opened. They also, however, employ several bruiser type of big men who excel doing the dirty work and enjoy hanging around the paint. Add a unique talent at PF — Serge Ibaka is the rare jumpshooting big who can defend the paint defensively — and they can blend styles well, though they are still mostly a perimeter oriented team offensively who attacks that paint via the drive rather than the post up.
When looking at the Lakers, it’s easy to see that, under Mike D’Antoni, they are trying to build more in the model of the Heat and the Spurs when forming their offensive attack. They want space on the perimeter to be able to run P&R’s. They want skill on the wing and bigs who can work in the paint, but also work away from the hoop to further promote spacing for shooting and driving purposes. This isn’t a bad model — both those teams were in the Finals last year — but we shouldn’t act as if it is the only model. After all, the Pacers look like a real contender this year and the Clippers join them as another team built around a power forward who does his best work in the paint and a point guard who would rather play at a slower tempo in a more traditional style.
The question moving forward, however, isn’t whether or not D’Antoni’s approach can work — as noted it obviously can — it’s a question of whether the Lakers are better suited to continue down that path and whether the talent they can acquire will be optimized trying to play that style.
Said another way, what is the easiest way to build a team and what form should that team take in order to get back to contention the fastest?
I don’t really know the answer to that question and a lot will depend on what talent becomes available and who the Lakers end up signing in free agency and drafting this June. But it is always worth remembering that while recent champions play a certain way, there is more than one way to skin a cat and the Lakers would be wise to keep an open mind about their talent acquisition and try to build the most flexible roster possible in order to compete long term rather than shoehorning their talent into a style that may not maximize all the pieces they have at their disposal. And they should keep this in mind whether it fits the mold of their current head coach or not; whether it fits the skills of their aging stars or not.
lil pau says
from last thread:
I’m sure there was some rule against it but can someone on this site tell me why the Lakers didn’t resign Manny Harris to another 10 day or just sign him for the rest of the season as soon as Meeks went down?
Yes, there’s a rule against it: two 10 day contracts only are permitted. So why didn’t they sign him for the rest of the season? Well, that depends upon your viewpoint: I personally think it’s to maintain roster flexibility in case they need to bring back another player on a trade (eg. Pau for two players), but others here would argue it’s just due to FO cheapness. I would disagree, but only Mitch and Buss know for sure.
— lil pau
Craig W. says
from last thread (continued):
If we hadn’t released Manny, we wouldn’t have been able to sign Williams to a 10-day contract to help while Pau is out. We would have been at our max team size of 15.
Craig W. says
Thanks for your outstanding comments on building teams. I always enjoy your more nuanced threads.
Rusty Shackleford says
I think the one (hopefully two) first round draft picks the Lakers have this offseason will have a very significant impact on how the Lakers shape their roster and style of play moving forward. They are clearly in a position where they need to pick the best players available and hope they can be impact rotation players right away. I haven’t payed real close attention to this summer’s draft class but it sounds as though the top 10 is highlighted by point guards and perimeter players. If they choose a point guard I could see them staying the course with the D’Antoni brothers. If they choose the Embiid kid that could be an indicator they are looking to play at a slower pace and trot out a defense that isn’t at the bottom of the league in every statistic.
With the money and legacy stakes they have tied up in Kobe I just don’t see them landing an all-star free agent this summer or next. For this franchise to have a chance to contend they are going to have to get lucky this June in the draft and fill out the roster with solid free agents. Whatever the style of play this team chooses going forward is, it is important they have a clear vision of it in place with the right personnel signed up before next season begins if Kobe has any chance of winning #6.
Luck – I vaguely remember that concept. Lately it seems like, if the Lakers didn’t have bad luck they wouldn’t have any luck at all.
I agree our draft is going to decide which proper style to choose. My preference would be PAcers style approach, Grab a player like Embiid, Exum, or Gordon in the draft to help cover for Kobe’s defense and try and get Love in 2015. And then build the team defensively from there on out. I think its just an easier way to build a competitive team.
Rusty Shackleford says
How do you think it would affect Lebron’s performance in game 7 of a playoff series if someone from the opposing team got Lebron’s mom and Delonte West courtside seats? #kisscam
Darius: Nice write up – agree with most all of that.
“whether it fits the mold of their current head coach or not” So if we pick/obtain players who do not match MD’s style, this implies that either we change coach or the coach changes his philosophy to match the personnel. I think I have read a few opinions on whether MD would do the later.
“whether it fits the skills of their aging stars or not.” OK – so the world can’t completely revolve around Kobe. Well – ironically I agree. However there is that $23 million dollar figure that is unavoidable. So a large part of our world will revolve around him for the next 2 years in any case. No need for anyone to defend the FO here, because we are not talking about Marketing, Career Thank You rewards , or anything like that. We are talking about paying someone $23 million per season and then possibly drafting/obtaining people that send you in a direction that may not “fit the skills” of a $23 million dollar player. That would be odd to say the least.
Interesting questions – The style of play the FO and coaching staff want to play will dictate who they choose in the draft (you could imagine them trading up or down a few picks depending on what they decide and who’s available).
I have no problem with MDA and his style of play even though I prefer a more power based/old school system. I thought he was a perfect choice based on last year’s roster but always had concerns regarding how Kobe would fit. And, no, I don’t think it works when kobe plays “facilitator”; it’s not really the kind of guard play required for that system to function properly.
I think it’s incredibly important for Kobe to play this year to see what kind of hybrid offensive system they can work out, otherwise, I don’t see how we can retain MDA (as unfair as that might be to him).
(The FO made the initial mistake of hiring Mike Brown – I have no idea what they were thinking. Rick Adelman would have been a much better choice.)
I disagree slightly with the last paragraph of your post Darius as I think it’s very important that the star players do fit the style of the coach and the system. We have a very interesting off-season ahead of us; we might get a hint, depending on what happens at the trade deadline.
Darius Soriano says
Kobe isn’t the only aging start on the team — he’s not even the only aging star under contract for next season. Also, Kobe’s a pretty versatile player so I don’t really think he’ll have much trouble playing in any style of offense, though as we’ve seen over the last three seasons he has his comfort spots on the floor and any system he plays in will likely have to incorporate some of those spots into the flow of the sets.
All that said, if the best player on the board is a wing prospect who plays a similar style to Kobe or is best with the ball in his hands (Exum is a guy who comes to mind here), the Lakers should take him and not necessarily concern themselves with Kobe or his extension or anything else. Just like if there’s a player on the board who is a classic banger PF who isn’t really a “stretch” player and isn’t a great P&R player at this point, they shouldn’t not draft him just because of Mike D’Antoni. The Lakers should be in the talent acquisition business and worry about fit later.
Lakers have to make a very basic decision. Do they continue to try to “retool” a team around an aging legend for a “2 year run at a title” or build a team for the long run which incorporates the talent & wisdom of their aging legend temporarily.
I personally (and perhaps incorrectly) believe that we should not give too much weight to MDA staying or going. Coaches, like role players on a any team, come and go – albeit with less frequency. The Lakers may chose to follow a style similar to MDAs without necessarily committing to having MDA stay with the team long term (as Darius pointed out, lots and lots of NBA teams are built on principles similar to “MDAs style.” If MDA cannot make things happen with a team built to run his own offense, then he will be gone and another coach will come in. I think where you run into trouble is when you customize a team’s roster only to suit a particular coach because when that coach is gone, you end up with an un-coachable mess.
Remember that this team is full of expiring deals. Only a few things are certain at the end of this season, and I think that gives the FO the flexibility to build the team in many different ways and then chose a coaching path that best fits that direction, whether by staying put with MDA or hiring another coach.
Darius: Agree. We are in the talent acquisition business. Of course this means we pick the best talents which may/may not make us the best team in the shorter run. If you wanted the best team in 15 or 16, the you would never select a player redundant with Kobe. However, if your horizon is longer – you might.
bigcity: As per what Darius and I are discussing, I think the “2 year run” ship has sailed. The Lakers may say publicly they are trying to get KB a ring in the next 2 years, and Kobe may say he is gong to get it, but the reality speaks differently. Of course I am hoping for yet another extension (at greatly reduced pay of course), but barring that, as sad as it is, KB’s best chance at a ring would have been with a different team. The current extension has now nixed that as well (unless he signs for year 21 with another team). The consolation prize is that KB most likely retires as a wire to wire Laker, and we get two more years (at least ) of record chasing. Of course as big of a Kobe fan as I am, there is no argument that this arrangement did not accelerate the arrival of our next banner. And if we do draft a shooting guard, or we do adopt a style that is not good for the current Kobe, then that will only accentuate that.
Rusty Shackleford says
I would think most NBA teams, not just the Lakers, draft the best player available the majority of the time. This isn’t the NFL where there are 53 man rosters and 22 different positions not including special teams. A deep draft like this one supposedly is has something like 10 players that will be able to make an impact immediately to the team that drafts them. I don’t see Mitch and Jim passing on Andrew Wiggins because Kobe Bryant is already slotted as the teams shooting guard. Plus, the Lakers are set for a possible 95% roster turnover this summer that isn’t exactly spilling over the brim with talent.
MannyP: “then chose a coaching path that best fits that direction” Serious question: Is that what we did when we hired Mike Brown? How about Mike D’Antoni? Think about the rosters at the respective times. By the way Manny: Please reference our last convo, when you were kidding about the “building of the second team and then putting the stars on top of it”. Now go back and read the end of the last thread from bout 10 PM last night forward : )
Chris J: I hear that we are contacting Gracie Gold’s agent. She can hit the “triple”, has speed, is exciting, and has no clue how to play defense. She’s ideal.
Darius, your article touches one of the many holes in the Los Angeles Lakers dam. Great read.
We can talk about the Lakers course in the ocean of the NBA, for the next five years and we will be no closer to navigating the rudderless direction they have taken these past two years:
1) Trading Bynum with no real idea that Howard would stay was the beginning of the end, to me. Throughout the league there was wide speculation that Kobe had soured Howard on playing in Los Angeles when he supposedly told Howard, “He ate first, Pau ate second and Howard could finish up the scraps.” I’m not sure of the exact quote but it was something close to that. Yet, the Lakers made the trade anyway, then it was clear to anyone with half a mind that Howard was going to bail, he even said as much when he met Kupchak in the tunnel going to the locker room on his last game with the Lakers. Los Angeles didn’t even bother to make Houston give us a draft pick, Lin, Beverly, Osik, Parsons, Smith, Brooks, Casspi, Jones or even Ronnie Brewer, we merely stood by and feebly posted gi-normous signs begging that coward to stay and allowed him to go without a sign and trade deal in place for two second round draft picks the next five years.
2) The bumbling, mumbling coach hires. (No elaboration needed)
3) This coach’s system was well known to the Lakers; still they pick up free agent Kaman and retain Hill. I don’t buy the notion that Kaman was picked up as insurance against a Pau trade. What?!!! If this coach didn’t like Pau last year because he didn’t fit in the flow of his offensive scheme, then why would you go and pick up a slower less polished center if Pau were indeed traded? Why not pick up players that at least approximated your offensive ideology?
4) Regardless of whom the Lakers have at the helm as coach next season or the season after, the organization needs to address the inordinate amount of injuries that have decimated the team the past two seasons.
5) No defense, no rebounds, no playoffs, no rings!
6) Kobe would have loved this offensive system when he was 17 years old and new to the NBA. Maybe not because ultimately Kobe wanted to win rings and become one of the greatest NBA players of all time. But, I digress. I shudder to think of the numbers Kobe could have put up in this system when he was young and had legs. So, why sign your aged veteran to two more years with an up-tempo inclined coaching staff?
7) The next NBA strike could occur in 2017, a measly three years from now, and the Lakers have yet to find a stride for the organization since the 2011 strike. Will the Lakers have a coaching staff in place that will be capable of directing the team through that quagmire?
These are a few of the most salient points that keep me a ticket buying fan, wondering if the Lakers are exercising a strategy to build a team, or are they exercising a plan in futility.
Another fine write-up D.
Craig W. says
If we were to draft a banger at center who could dominate the paint, then yes, we should adjust our direction accordingly. It is just that I don’t see that type of player in this draft – no matter our position. The type of players coming into the league does impact the type of team we construct going forward.
This year we are auditioning the support players we want on next year’s team – unless we need to use them to get a key player in a trade. In that environment and, with the type players generally available for cheap, MDA is probably the right coach for this team, this year.
What we are able to draft will impact our situation over the summer, but I doubt we will make a major off-season signing – not enough upside over the longer term. I really doubt, after losing Dwight Howard, the front office is even thinking we will compete for a championship within the next two years – however, we will not hear anything from them about this. What we may get is a fairly good supporting starter for next year, as a free agent.
This is a process and we are not likely to see a sudden jump in our fortunes.
Great write up Darius, this is the crux of the matter, how to rebuilt? Well its obvious that the Lakers want to do some sort of “Showtime 2.0” we just dont have the talent for it right now, in my opinion the model should be mixing it up like OKC. And redundancy is not a bad thing, who was redundant when he entered the league? Kobe since we had a very good sg in Eddie Jones, once Kobe started to mature and his skills started to refine Jones was the one that got shown the door, as we know Kobe’s career is winding down and it would be nice to have a replacement in place on a rookie contract and not break the bank replacin him. In my opinion as an expert on not knowing anything the Lakers are going to lay low next season max contract free agent wise and go all out in the summer of 2015 to try to send Kobe off with his 6th ring thats why they are triying to get under the cap this season so they add some pieces next season and go for broke on 2015-2016 without getting murdered by the cap.
Gr8 article as always Darius
I believe the front office also needs a scapegoat to take the blame for all that’s gone wrong during this rebuilding process and mike fits the bill…. A clueless looking coach who seems to Somehow make wrong in game decisions help stack up more losses…… Helping us get a good draft position ( even with a depleted roster we would have had 5 wins min without mike)—-
Front office is pleased
1. Safe from direct blame for needed losses
2. Draft position
As fans, we just have to wait a little longer this time around to see our team back on top… And of course blame mike even though the losses with a few motivational wins here and there is wats really needed!
Robert: The Mike Brown decision was terrible. The MDA decision not so much at the time. Absent the way the Phil Jackson notification was handled (which was bad), there’s a solid argument that Nash + Kobe and + DH and + MDA was a good decision at the time. We can Monday Morning Quarteback the heck out of how things turned out now, but even naysayers admit that there were some conceivable reasons to make the hire.
Also, we had a very different squad, built to contend under Phil and not quite built to specs that were approved by guys like Brown and MDA. Not trying to give you excuses, just trying to point out that we have a very different situation at such time, with a roster built for Phil’s style than we do now with an almost clean slate for the FO – which I think is a good place to be for the FO to forge their own path (as opposed to try and fix a path they took but later decided they did not like). If in the process we find out we have pieces worth keeping then good, but if not, then whatever, we move on.
You may criticize the FO for not having a young star on the roster now and then build around them, but I would worry more about them sitting on their butts and not doing anything until they have a star on the roster. Better to do something that moves you forward toward your goal, even if its in small steps, than to sit around and wait for that one giant leap forward that may take a longer time than you had hoped (or not at all).
I posted thisat the end of the last thread. It seems more appropriate here:
Busboys – I agree that we have identified a number of young players with upside. Indeed, if we kept them together they would form a nice bench. The challenge will be to find the starters needed to make the whole equation work.
This is why so many here have spoken of a multiple year rebuild to get back to the next level. Let’s say Kobe returns healthy next season – then we have one starter in place. A top 5 pick this summer should produce another starter (who will likely be overmatched for a few years) – there’s two starters. A FA signing, likely a RFA that we have to overpay, would produce a third starter. That’s an awful lot to ask based upon our budget and limited trade resources. The balance of the starters would be culled from our bench squad or from the less expensive FA’s available.
This is why it will take more than one year to fix this. It’s difficult to assemble the quality needed to compete in one offseason. The other two ‘quality starters’ would come during the 2015 draft and FA offseason. This of course assumes Kobe stays healthy and the ‘other starters’ identified this offseason can pull their weight.
The hope is to get 5 great starters but that is unlikely. Most teams run out of resources (cap room or trade assets) before they get to that point. That is why the next two years are so important. The Lakers have to make the right draft selection(s) and FA move(s) to get at least three stars in place before they lose their flexibility.
C. Hearn i still dont get how trading Bynum for Howard was a mistake, sure there was no guarantee he stayed, so what? Bynum did not played at all last season and this season is a shadow of his former self, imagine if the Lakers gave him an extension and we get stuck with a barely mobile player with a mammoth contract, just like Stat in NY. It was the right move a 1 season rental of Howard was better than having no center, bc Bynum knees were going to go regardless.
Re-post from this AM:
There are no centers anymore.
There are no Kareems or Shaqs right now, but once you get past James, Durant, and Paul, several of the league’s key and top players, many on the best teams, are bigs:
And, if you look at the teams in contention, all of them have some quality size at the 4 or the 5, or both.
It is true that the game has evolved, but people tend to think the game is changing based on who the best players are at a given moment. At some point, there will be another truly dominant big. The emphasis on the 3 and the fact that the league allow zone defense rules will of course affect things, but quality bigs will always be a scarce asset. A traditional back-to-the-basket 5 can still help a modern offense since low-post options help to spread the floor.
And, the fact that Embiid is now at the top of most draft boards is yet another data point for this argument.
Indiana is one of the best teams in the NBA, and they are using a traditional lineup, with a traditional center, are built on defense, and are 18th in the NBA in Pace Factor. Miami is one of the best teams in the league not because of how the game is changing, but because they have one of the greatest players of all time backed by two other All-Stars.
As always: it is a talent league.
I don’t buy the notion that Kaman was picked up as insurance against a Pau trade. What?!!!
I think the Lakers FO probably expected the team to be having the year that Dallas or perhaps Memphis or Denver is having. Having Kaman around would have been a way to cover the 5 if the team was on the periphery of the playoff picture but got a no-brainer offer for Pau.
In the event of a meltdown, then Kaman could be moved–you can always find a taker for a big.
And, yes, the Howard trade was absolutely worth making. Bynum also could have left, remember–his deal was up, too. I think that the FO thought that Nash could be the bridge between Howard and Kobe–no player combines fun with gravitas the way Nash did. The Lakers gambled–and obviously lost and lost big–but that doesn’t mean the gambles were bad.
Good piece by Darius. A couple of numbers:
Pace Factor, current rank:
3PA, current rank:
San Antonio is #1 in 3P%.
So what your suggesting Rr is ND is the Birney Madoff of basketball?
J C says
Great post and thread.
Let’s assume we get an impact player in the draft.
(Of course there’s no guarantee of that…we may end up with a ‘good’ player but not one of the top five depending on how we rank at season’s end and on the luck of the ping long balls.)
If we are lucky enough to land an impact starter in the draft, and if we add a big time FA this off-season, then cap-wise we probably won’t have the cap room to add a Kevin Love as a FA in 2016.
As Love seems to be or should be a priority, it seems unlikely we add a Melo-type this off-season and renders the coming season, regardless of how well or luckily we draft, another rebuild year.
The frustrating/exasperating thing that will continue to haunt us (me) is the dollar amount of Kobe’s extension.
Two years at 16 mil (isn’t that Lebron’s salary? Did we have to pay him more than that?) or even 3 x 15 would have given us so much more flexibility going forward.
That difference – 7/8 mil next year and 9/10 the next- could have spelled the difference between adding one or even two excellent players, even starters, via FA that would have made our rebuild quicker and even improved the chances of chasing another ring before Kobe retires.
So it remains a mystifying, shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot gesture.
That 7-10 mil could have been spent retaining Pau – unlikely at this point but IMO he could still be a vital piece to a contending team. He is in fact a two-time champion and perhaps deserves better than being publicly and constantly dangled as trade bait for scraps or mere cap relief.
Or retaining the likes of a Jordan Hill, who’ll surely be paid more elsewhere, and deservedly, than we’ll be able to pay him.
So The Extension is gonna bother me for awhile.
And if Dantoni is given another year at the helm it’s unlikely Kaman is retained, which is unfortunate since recently he’s showing exactly why Mitch got him in the first place. He’s good.
If I seem grumpy I apologize, but I think the combination of:
Kobe’s salary, and
a coach who thinks Sacre is better than Kaman
& Kelly is better than Hill
Is a recipe for mediocrity.
P. Ami says
Part of me wants to re-re-re-re-re-argue the same points that have cycled around, again and again, on this site the last few month. Part of me wants a clean slate to talk about team building, but frankly, the two are connected. So, I’ll mention the recycled thoughts quickly and then move on.
-I would like to see the list of available bigs that fit MDA’s system, have NBA level talent, and were willing to sign for 1-year. Without that, any point that the Lakers should have signed someone other than Kamen is both trying to speak while a Hoover is making too much noise to think, and assumes the non-context of a vacuum.
– @C. Hearn The last work-stoppage was not a strike. It was a lockout. Meanwhile, the league has maintained it’s leverage, while the players have been busy dealing with the corruption at the head of their union. One hopes the players have found themselves leadership that makes decisions for the good of the players, rather than wasting it’s time trying to justify itself. If so, there will be no work-stoppage. I think the owners got what they needed from the players, and before the next labor contract is up, the new TV deal will be in place. I don’t think we need to worry about another stoppage this decade.
– There is only 1 max FA available this offseason who can help get the Lakers were we’d like to see them. That player is not coming. The rest of the free-agents are useful players that we aught not commit half a decade to at max money. Meanwhile, the next offseason has a few interesting FA available. These FA can be signed, even with Kobe’s deal. If Kobe sticks around for another extension, then the Lakers need to think about paying him according to future expectations. For now, the team is not being handcuffed for paying Kobe for past performance. Especially since his past performance still affects TV viewership. The Lakers need Kobe for marketing and the TV deal. As for the extra money made available to pay Pau, you want to commit to Pau for 3-4 years at what he’ll be trying to get on the market? I would not keep the guy unless he is willing to stay for $9m, $11m at most. The Lakers can still do that even with Kobe’s contract. Quality players are not coming to the Lakers for less money, at this point. They won’t until the Lakers show the league they are on the cusp. Two years of Kobe at $23m a year does not affect flexibility. As with the Kamen issue above, one makes logical decisions based on the information available. The Kobe extension makes sense since there was a fraction of a chance that the Lakers could be contenders in the next 2-3 seasons anyway. The team needs a rebuild, and they can do it while paying Kobe to maintain interest in the team during that painful period.
So, now to the rebuild… Pick the best talent available. When you have talent, you can always parlay whatever doesn’t quite fit into a player that does. I don’t care who the coach is. Get the best player, always. Obviously, I’d like to be picking 1st, but anything in the top-4 seems a good place to be. I’d love to get another pick or two. If the FO is going to move Pau, I would like to get a few percentage points increase in the odds we pick in the top-3. In other words, a pick in the lottery. From where I’m looking, I don’t see anyone making that available. We’ll see.
J C says
I never suggested we shouldn’t have extended Kobe. I only said we overpaid.
There’s no way that Kobe’s 25 mil two seasons from now doesn’t affect our ability to pay other valuable players we’ll need if we expect to contend.
You have to see what Kobe can do before you can start. That’s the only conceivable reason to have him play at all this year. You have gauge Kobe’s will against his willingness to endure another rebuilding process.
I think it’s safe to say that Pau won’t be around and Nash is most likely going to be limited at best.
But the issues start at the top. There’s been a lot of bad luck this year, but the recent past is a preview of the present.
The best move the Lakers could make is ensure that Mitch Kupchak had complete control of over player and coaching decisions, and Junior would just sign the checks.