No Lakers-centric links post this week would be complete without a reference to the team’s most widely-covered news of the week surrounding it’s most celebrated player. So, let’s get that out of the way, first.
In an interview which has been well-documented, Kobe Bryant spoke with Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports and discussed a variety of topics including his eventual retirement (more on that in a minute) and his outlook on the upcoming season:
Q: What do you think about the state of the Lakers right now?
Kobe: “They have really set themselves up for a promising future going on years. I think they drafted very well. The free agents that we picked are extremely solid, [Roy] Hibbert, [Brandon] Bass, Lou [Williams]. We have a very good mix of young and veteran leadership. The challenge is going to be blending the two and cutting down the learning curve.
“How quickly can we get going? How quickly can we bring up [rookie D’Angelo] Russell, [Julius] Randle. [Jordan] Clarkson got valuable experience last year in playing that will benefit us tremendously. I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to running with these young guns.”
Q: Can this Lakers team make the playoffs?
Kobe: “Of course it can. Absolutely. We have talented players in their respective positions. We have some really young players. How exactly will the pieces of the puzzle fit? We really don’t know. We are going to [training] camp trying to piece this together just like every other team does. We have to figure out what our strengths are, figure out what our weaknesses are. And every time we step on the court we are going to try to hide our weaknesses and step up to our strengths.”
It is also worth reading a related piece by our own Darius Soriano where he dissects some of Bean’s most noteworthy comments from the interview.
Perhaps my subconscious is intentionally burying the “lead” here, but Kobe’s most highly-noted comments from the above interview revolved around his inevitable departure from basketball. Until Kobe officially hangs ’em up, there will continue to be questions in regards to his official farewell and quotes like “I don’t know if I’m going to retire or not.” will lead to attention-grabbing headlines such as, “Kobe and Mitch aren’t on the same page!”. Regardless of when his swan song will officially be composed, I am of the mindset that enjoying Kobe’s every moment is crucial at a time where we are more aware than ever that any step onto the court could be his last.
No, his waning moments will not always be pretty, but according to Silver Screen and Roll’s Harrison Faigen, to make the closing of his career a lot more effective and a bit more eye-pleasing, Kobe should take note of an old adage; “Like Mike”:
Bryant is getting set for what will in all likelihood be his last ride, and thus it is time to compare the two greats one more time. After a 2014-15 campaign by Bryant that can charitably be described as “sub-par”, what could Kobe potentially learn from the penultimate year of Jordan’s career, one in which the 38-year-old shooting guard came back to the game after a three-year hiatus?
While Jordan was older and had a higher career usage rate (the ball was in his hands more than Kobe while he was on the floor over their careers), Kobe had already played 9,680 more minutes by age 36 than Jordan had by age 38, all while taking 2,688 more total shots to that point. The comparison is not perfect, but the overall extra wear and tear on Bryant (especially coming off of two major injuries) is more than enough to make up for Jordan being two years older. The defenses of 2014 were also significantly more intricate than those of 2001-2002 (last years’ Lakers aside, but Kobe did not get to play against them).
With all that said, there are still a few things one can learn from the ways Jordan was able to be more effective in his final go-round. For all of the justified criticism Byron Scott took for both Bryant’s minutes per game and usage rate, both Bryant and Jordan played just over 34 minutes per game (34.5 and 34.9, respectively) and Jordan (36) actually had a higher usage rate than Bryant (34.9).
The difference was where that usage came from…
For better or worse, the main man responsible for Kobe’s health over the past two decades has been long-time Lakers head trainer Gary Vitti, whose time with the team also happens to be coming to a close. In what has become an annual occurrence, Vitti sat down with Lakers reporter Mike Trudell and discussed a wide-range of topics including his vision for the new Lakers practice facility, Kobe’s health and his relationship with Mitch Kupchack.
The entire piece deserves a read but I’ve put together a few of the quotes that I found most noteworthy.
MT: Minutes were a problem for Kobe last year, as Byron Scott admitted was his fault early in the season when Bryant was playing 35 per game. How many minutes should Kobe play this year?
Vitti: We don’t know. If he plays 25 minutes, there’s less chance he gets hurt than if he plays 35 minutes. But the 35 minutes, in terms of the shoulder injury had nothing to do with it. I think Byron is going above and beyond by taking the heat. If he played (Bryant) one minute more than he should have, or 10 minutes more, then OK. But the fact is that the injury was trauma-related. Somebody came down on his shoulder.
We did a review of all our injuries last year, and all of the time-loss injuries were trauma-related – people running into other people: stepping on their feet, running into them, etc. The two that weren’t trauma-related were Ryan Kelly straining his hamstring the second practice of training camp. Byron was a new coach with us. We didn’t know how much he was going to do, and he did a lot. You could make an argument that we could have looked at Ryan and (limited him). What may be our fault is that we should have took a better look at him. If we knew how tough training camp was going to be, and very quickly said, “Ryan we may have to hold you back.” But he got hurt early in the second practice. And then Jordan Hill missed five games with a hip flexor strain. He always had issues with that hip flexor. That can happen to anybody. Everything else was trauma-related and not minutes-related. We have an eye in the sky* and every game we know how many accelerations and decelerations that every player has, and the trajectory of those: left, right, front, back. From that, we can tell the average speed that that player played at and how much distance they travelled. That’s going to give us a number that’s important to us, and that number we’re going to call “load.” Every game we look at the load that we put on a player. Then we’re going to take that number and divide it by the minutes they played. And that number reveals us their intensity. If we see a direct linear relationship between load and intensity, we’re good. We’re in a green zone and can keep pushing that player. If we see load going up and intensity starting to plateau, that puts us in a yellow zone that gets our attention, and we have to do something like cutting back his minutes or training. If we really see a dip, then they’re in the red zone. Now we really feel they’re susceptible to injury. We’re looking at some other technologies that give us similar information, and we monitor our players in their way with the science and analytics that are out there right now.
MT: How do you go about convincing Randle to trust the process? I know he wasn’t pleased with the restrictions during Summer League, as he repeatedly expressed his “frustration.”
Vitti: He was really pissed and frustrated, so he called me. I texted, ‘Julius, just saw you called. If you want to chat, great. If you want to play tomorrow (in the back-to-back) or you want more minutes, have a nice day off. Use it to recover. Keep it in perspective. It’s your first game back, and it’s a Summer League game. The NBA is a marathon, not a sprint. I love you for wanting to do more. Some day you’ll love me for wanting you to do less.’ That’s what I sent to him, and he didn’t respond. So then he played in the third game, and he was pissed. Then I hit him again and said, ‘Look, I know you’re frustrated with the minute restriction and how hard it is to get in a rhythm. Don’t focus on it too much. Don’t force it. Slow down. Let the game come to you. Once it does, then you can turn up the speed under control. You’ll be fine, and one day this will be a distant memory. Trust me on this.’ Then he responded, “Got you, G. Thanks.’ Then he played another game and did pretty well. I said, ‘Much better. Proud of you.’ And then after the last game, you could see he was pissed. I said, ‘Every journey begins with the first step. Congratulations, you just took it. Next goal: training camp.’ So that’s how you tell him.
MT: How do you think things are shaping up under Dr. Buss’ children having seen them grow up as he ran the team?
Vitti: Dr. Buss has left his legacy in two ways. One, I’m living proof of the loyalty that the children have extended after Dr. Buss passed, and their commitment to the team. They not only didn’t sell the team, which they could and I’m sure make a lot of money, but they would rather work and re-create a championship atmosphere that’s been their father’s legacy. And part of that is building this new building. If you could see the design and what they’re putting into this and the commitment to excellence in this building, you can see they’re sinking their heart, soul and money into the future of this franchise.
While on the topic of all-time Lakers, Kelly Dwyer of Yahoo Sports offered his vision of the Lakers’ all-time starting five. The lineup is as follows: Magic Kobe Baylor Worthy Kareem and before a few of you debate, take note of the given explanation:
If you’re shocked that Jerry West failed to make the team, that’s just fine. West’s ungodly mix of scoring and dishing led the Lakers to nine different NBA Finals’ (winning but one), but at this point Bryant’s longevity (despite his dodgy last few seasons) and Magic’s brilliance out-rank him. However, if your flipped coin landed on The Logo’s side instead of Kobe’s, you’d have a borderline inarguable case for Mr. West.
The Lakers’ franchise depth at center is shocking. George Mikan dominated basketball for years, winning five titles with the Minneapolis Lakers, and Shaquille O’Neal was the go-to force (much to Dr. Bryant’s chagrin) in three title runs. Wilt Chamberlain played for this team, which is all you really need to say.
Fellow Minneapolis frontcourt contributors like Clyde Lovellette and Jim Pollard deserved consideration, as did Pau Gasol’s stoic and professional run with the team from 2008-through-2014. Scoring swingmen Gail Goodrich and Jamaal Wilkes have always been underappreciated by some fans, but never in these pages despite their exclusion from the starting lineup.
The fact that three of these five can legitimately be considered among the top-10 players in NBA history is a testament to the Lakers legacy over the years — even greater is the fact that a few of the omissions are inarguably among the top-five ever at their positions. This abundance of generational talent is what triggers debate when having to narrow a lineup down to five and subsequently take positions into account. But for the sake of personal interest, who makes your all-time starting five?
On a bleaker note, let’s take a look towards the Lakers present. The drama of the NBA offseason has officially ceased and it is now safe to expect the team’s current roster to be the one we will see come opening day. With that, Shane Young of Hoops Habit projected the Lakers win total for the upcoming season and depending upon how much of an optimist you are, the result may surprise you:
Because of the extensive learning curves this team will have to fight through with three young starters — Clarkson, Russell, and Randle have an average age of just 20.7 years — the win expectancy for the Lakers shouldn’t be above 35 games.
Winning 33 games next season, the Lakers would be right in the middle of the bottom-half of the West. That’s not a great place to be, considering you either want to be a playoff team, or horrifically bad in order to solidify great draft position.
33 wins would be a 12-win improvement from last season, and that kind of jump usually signifies a great turnaround for the future […]
If the Lakers want to make an immediate stomp on the Western Conference’s core, 33 wins should be the realistic goal. It may not be what Byron Scott or the millions of crazed fans want to hear, but you can pretty much guarantee that a 29-win improvement isn’t happening with this team (that would be 50 wins, which is the amount I expect the West’s 8-seed to have).
Of course, as Young goes on to point out in his piece, projecting something so fickle as win totals in early August is not a foolproof plan as it relies on a countless number of unpredictable factors. However, early projections such as these do offer an idea of where the Lakers stand in the eyes of NBA circles. And perhaps 33-35 wins should be taken into consideration as a benchmark down the line — I mean, it would certainly be a disappointment if the team were to fall short of that total entirely.
Lastly, this Wednesday marked the 13th anniversary of the passing of the great Chick Hearn. Sports Illustrated took the time to commemorate the legendary broadcaster by reposting a story entitled “From High Above the Western Sideline” which was published in their April 1984 issue. Here is a brief excerpt from the piece:
The radio hissed and emitted strange chuffing noises as it warmed up, then made a high-pitched meowing sound. Except for the phosphorescent glow of the radio dial, the room was completely dark.
…sshhhhhwopwopwop…is now stop-and-go all the way to the 605 interchange where there’s a disabled…yeeeeoowooooo…but Mom Taylor’s radio ministry cannot help you find Je-e-e-ezus without your prayers and your donations. Pray to God. Send the money to Mom…yeeeeeeeeeaaaaayuh…backed up all the way to the Harbor Freeway…rrrrrffffffzzzzzzzz….
The radio fluttered and woofed and then stammered crazily as if it were possessed by a demon that was trying to clear its throat. Then came a clear and resonant voice: “From high above the western sideline of the Los Angeles Forum, the world’s most beautiful sports theater, hello again, everybody, this is Chick Hearn.”
The voice was steady and sure of itself, and it caught the ear. The voice was made for radio, painting pictures in the dark. “Wow, what a tempo! Magic back and forth like a windshield wiper with the dribble drive, he throws up a prayer…air ball. Rebound left side taken by McAdoo, he goes right back up—a frozen rope that time, no arch, but it melted right in the hole. Phoenix Suns down by one with a minute left in the half, and it’s so quiet in here that when this game’s over they may have to send the ushers around and shake some of the customers. Walter Davis gives to Lucas in the lane. Lucas fakes and puts James Worthy deep into the popcorn machine. He’s covered with salt. Lucas’ shot spins around like a motorcycle in a motordrome…oh, heartbreak.”
Speaking as a fan, nothing else soothingly returns me to the memories of Lakers glory quite like the voice of Chick Hearn (it is for this reason why I keep a talking “Chick” bobblehead atop my dresser). Within his many “Chickisms”, lied a reverent passion that couldn’t help but bellow out. Each time he spoke from the sideline, and I sat upon my couch, Hearn would somehow wrap me into the action with a level of excitement that I haven’t experienced, well, since Hector was a pup. So, to Chick, my bobblehead nods in agreement as I say that you and your era-defining talent and enthusiasm will never be forgotten.
And to all, this post is in the refrigerator.