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Steve Nash elaborates on “The Money Quote”

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in Lakers Analysis, Opinion, Steve Nash | 1 comment

“The reality is, I’m not going to retire because I want the money.”

Steve Nash’s words, in the third installment of “The Finish Line,” the docu-series running on Grantland chronicling Nash’s effort to regain his health and footing as his career winds down. That quote isn’t a full picture of what motivates him, and why, as he detailed again Thursday at his exit interview, he has every intention of finishing out the final year of his contract next season. Nash clearly loves the game, and (rightly) feels when physically able to play has proven he can still contribute at the NBA level. If it was just about the money, or even primarily about it, he wouldn’t bother with the rehab, because the rehab is a grueling, frustrating, theater of pain.

But it’s not not about the money, and saying it out loud brought an avalanche of criticism. From fans and media, including me, both on our podcast and live radio*. To recap, my position was that ethically Nash has an obligation to retire if it was clear he wouldn’t be capable of upholding his half of the contract. I’m not talking about being diminished. Everyone knew that was a possibility when the Lakers executed the sign-and-trade bringing him to Los Angeles. I mean truly unable to play, which at the time seemed the case. Whenever Nash dressed for a game, he’d miss the next three weeks.

And while a few games at the end of the season provided a fuzzy best-case blueprint of what he could bring next year – maybe 50-60 games at 20 minutes per – whether his body can get to that point is still a wide open question. So Thursday, in one of the most candid exit interviews you’ll ever see, I asked Nash about his now infamous (locally, at least) Grantland quote:

Q: Regarding the “money” comment to Grantland, if there a point where you feel like, physically, in the summer if things don’t go well, where you would feel like you just couldn’t uphold your end of the bargain? Would that change your perspective? 

 

Nash: Frankly, I don’t think so. We fight in the collective bargaining to keep guaranteed contracts. I broke my leg playing for this team, and my body’s never been the same. Frankly, I would be lying if I didn’t say I feel that’s my end of the deal. We sign these contracts before (we know what what happens). Maybe it would be a better business if we got paid for what you actually accomplish, but that’s not the business we’re in, and frankly I would have made a lot more money if I got paid afterwards instead of before throughout my career, so it’s just a part of it. It’s a business.

 

And it sounds crass to sit here and talk about money, knowing that I make more money than 99 percent of the people in the world, but it’s the new normal. That’s my life, that’s my reality, and if I’m honest it’s a part of what you expect when you play in this business. I think it would also be false modesty if I apologized for that, and dishonest. That’s a key part of this business and industry. It gets convoluted because I love to play the game, and if I didn’t have any options, and the Lakers said you can come and play for us but by the way  we can’t pay you, and nobody else was offering me a deal, I would still play. And I would play for free. But not when you have three teams offering you money. (Note: He’s referencing the period before eventually agreeing to terms with the Lakers.) So it gets complicated, and sometimes it looks really ugly to talk about money.

Nash’s response hasn’t changed my mind, but admittedly has me thinking and certainly far more sympathetic to his POV. Equally important, if the question of whether to retire under that set of circumstances is on one level or another a reflection of Nash’s character, so too is his willingness to answer uncomfortable question Thursday with a potentially unpopular, but truthful, reply. He explained his thought process in greater detail, but Nash didn’t back off the basic premise. He wants, and feels he deserves, the money and it’s a reason retirement isn’t on the table. It’s not something he’s going to lie about.

My hope is Nash becomes a semi-reliable presence next year and makes all this moot. Not so much for how it impacts the team’s prospects next year, but because for every 20 minute stretch Nash plays, I’m willing to bet he’ll do one or two things worth the price of admission. It would mean one of the greatest players the game has seen has a chance to leave it on his feet. I’m not optimistic he’s physically capable, but at least there’s a glimmer of possibility.

Either way, in an age where fans and media routinely beg for candor from athletes then skewer guys when they provide it, even if you disagree with Nash’s position on retirement, his conviction is worth respect.

*I’m well aware of how easy it is for me to say what’s right and wrong when I’m not the one leaving $10 mil on the table. Were it my decision to face, I’d likely have a different opinion, and would probably take the cash. But recognizing I’d be making the same questionable choice doesn’t mean it’s not questionable. Also worth noting: Whatever your perspective, this issue isn’t a referendum on the totality of Steve Nash’s ethical and moral core, but rather an issue on which reasonable people can disagree. 

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Mitch Kupchak’s message to fans: “Pardon our dust”

Posted by on Apr 10, 2014 in Mike D'Antoni, Mitch Kupchak, Opinion, Uncategorized | 5 comments

It’s almost always better to under-promise and over-deliver.

That could be what Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, freshly extended contractually, was thinking when he sat down with USA Today’s outstanding Sam Amick this week. At the very least, Kupchak made it clear that while the goal is obviously to get back atop the mountain quickly, the rebuild in El Segundo will take as long as it takes:

Q: You can’t talk about free agents, but is it accurate that you’re not going to reach for band-aid type player, that if a LeBron (James) or a (Carmelo Anthony)-type player aren’t available, that you don’t just do something to do something and that’s where the patience comes into play.

 

A: Well, obviously we’re not going to share our plan with you, OK? Our goal is not to go 41-41. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to be considerably better than that. And maybe we can do it in a year, or maybe it takes two or three years, OK? Any of those scenarios would be wonderful scenarios. I mean there have been teams — seven or eight teams in the NBA who have never even been to the Finals of the NBA and they’ve been around 30 or 40 years.

Yes, he said putting this thing back together in three years – this one doesn’t count, by the way – would be categorized among the “wonderful scenarios,” noting how many franchises wander the desert for decades without sniffing the Promised Land. My words not his, but basically Kupchak is telling Lakers fans, undeniably spoiled by the team’s consistent success, to suck it up and enter the real world. This jibes with the general evolution of Kupchak’s public comments over the course of the year, designed to temper expectations.

It wasn’t always so. At the end of last season, while never stating it themselves the Lakers let the restorative “Summer of ’14!” narrative take hold. Stick with us, people, it’ll all be over in a few months! Smartly, the team has gradually unwound that line of thought with more tempered messaging. Multiple reports (and sound logic) say they may not make a big free agent splash this offseason, and there will be no rush to use cap space save the portion already carved out for Kobe Bryant. It’s a process, this rebuilding thing. The CBA mitigates some of their traditional advantages. The front office has to be patient. Now Kupchak states the (totally realistic) idea the whole thing could take a year or three, if the Lakers can land somewhere in wonderful. Less wonderful might take a little longer, still.

Granted, Mitch is famous for this sort of thing. As he tells Amick, his plans are none of our business, anyway. But sometimes minimizing expectations isn’t just a function of public relations, but strategic team building. Fans don’t have to like it, but they ought to be prepared for it. They certainly shouldn’t be fed false hope. Throughout the interview, Kupchak reinforced the deliberateness with which the Lakers will proceed. “As much as we’d like to be very competitive and competing for a championship next year,” he tells Amick, “it may or may not happen, ok?”

What about Kobe? Won’t he be pissed if the Lakers aren’t contenders next year?

“He’ll be fine,” Kupchak says. “He’s got no choice.”

SOL*. Which is the truth.

I wrote last week about the reasons the Lakers might not want to fire Mike D’Antoni this summer and ticked off quite a few people, some of whom disagreed with my premise while others completely missed the point.** Hearing Kupchak communicate in stark terms about the next couple seasons, something I’m sure he’ll do again once exit interviews roll around in 10 days or so, gives me more confidence the Lakers, historically not a panicky organization under Dr. Buss, won’t buckle to public pressure this summer or going forward, making moves outside their strategic plan just to appease Kobe or get fans and media to lower the flame under Jim Buss’ desk chair. Hopefully, if/when they fire D’Antoni, it’ll be with a clear plan in mind for matching Future Coach to Future Roster led by Future Star.

(Patience, by the way, is more Buss’ burden than Kupchak’s. If things stay sour next year, Mitch will get criticized, but the heaviest artillery will be aimed at Jim. Fair or not, that’s just reality.)

This is how it has to be, because the Lakers can’t afford to let optics dictate the rebuild. Despite the general cleanliness of their books, they don’t have a full complement of draft choices, and no truly marketable young talent to dangle in front of teams in a trade.*** (Save, of course, the guy they’ll draft this summer.) They can’t do what Houston did to get James Harden. Without those things, the CBA makes it tougher to round out a roster, even when they eventually get their next franchise cornerstone.

There is always the chance opportunity will come earlier or packaged differently than expected. Pau Gasol did. So did Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. Not that the latter two worked out well, but at the time both looked like a startlingly good return on flawed assets. Stuff happens in the NBA. The Lakers will not only have cap space to sign players, but make trades without sending corresponding salary back. I trust Kupchak to exploit opportunities when they arise.

But sometimes you just have to wait. Which, as a wise man and his backup band once noted, is the hardest part. Given how sobering Kupchak generally sounds even when his amp is turned up to 11, he’s a perfect spokesperson for the message.

*Your reaction to this sentiment could goes a long way towards determining whether you’re among the warring fans AK wrote about last week

**To reiterate, I don’t care if D’Antoni is fired this summer. He will and should be replaced, whether this summer or next. Even if you believe he’s a great coach who hasn’t been given a fair shake (I’m not in that group), there’s just no way he can be rehabilitated in this town. Can’t happen. I just don’t want him fired because the organization feels pressure to throw red meat to the fans. When they can MDA, the Lakers need to have a solid plan ready to replace him and build the appropriate accompanying roster, as opposed to opening up the Rolodex and making calls until someone they hope fans like/have heard of says yes. 

***This is why I’m inclined not to trade the pick. Even if the Lakers can swing Kevin Love, they’ll still need more pieces around him going forward. Difficult to do through free agency alone. So let’s say the Lakers can’t get a star, but do get someone who can be a solid second or third best player on a championship team going forward. That guy, locked into a rookie salary scale, has tremendous value. So roll the dice. Keep the pick, and go sign Love (or make some other move) down the road. 

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PODCAST! LA’s front office rank, D’Antoni and/or Meeks returning (?) , Kobe and Trayvon Martin, facts about 1960

Posted by on Apr 5, 2014 in ESPN, Jeanie Buss, Jim Buss, Jodie Meeks, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers history, Mike D'Antoni, Opinion |

The good news? The Lakers entered Friday’s action with only seven games remaining before the season mercifully comes to an end. The bad news? It’s not six.

The show can be heard by clicking on the module and below is a list of talking points. Among the high points.

  • We take a look at the latest headlines. Phil Jackson says CAA ties won’t influence him as Knicks Prez. Dick Bavetta has set a seriously amaze-balls new record! Will Jabari stay in school? Are the Lakers really the NBA’s 16th best front office?
  • Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding says the Lakers might not show Mike D’Antoni the door this offseason. Don’t kill the messengers, by the way. We’re just the guys discussing the potential reasons why.
  • We play another episode of “Should The Lakers Bring Back This Guy,” with Jodie Meeks as the latest contestant.
  • As of this recording, the Lakers have exactly 50 losses, which ties the second-highest total in franchise history, set in 1960 when the team was still housed in Minneapolis! To illustrate just how long it’s been since the Lakers sat on 50 losses, I quiz Brian on his knowledge of 1960, and offer some fun facts about 1960! (FYI: The all-time mark for losses is 52 during the 1975 season, which means an “All About 1975!” segment is waiting in the wings.)
  • We discuss Kobe Bryant’s comments in the New Yorker regarding black causes and Trayvon Martin, along with the way stories like these are covered in the world of 24/7 news and social media.

Click above to play, or just download the show here. Hope you enjoy it. To subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, click here. You can also find us on TuneIn.com by heading here.

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So the Lakers may not fire Mike D’Antoni? Really?

Posted by on Apr 3, 2014 in Jim Buss, Kobe Bryant, Mike D'Antoni, Mitch Kupchak | 17 comments

Maybe not, notes Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

If you haven’t already smashed your screen with the nearest rock, kudos. I suspect there are Lakers faithful out there in the market for new devices. And no question, the embattled Mike D’Antoni is at the center of city’s hurricane of discontent. The Lakers Wednesday clinched their first 50-loss season in nearly 40 years. They likely will become the franchise’s worst incarnation since moving from Minneapolis. There is talk Kobe Bryant, advocate of the accelerated rebuild, wants a new coach next season. Fans egg cars at random around Los Angeles, hoping they’ll one day hit his. Congress cringes at D’Antoni’s unpopularity.

But I’ve said it a few times, and I’ll say it again: There are a lot of legitimate reasons to delay a coaching change one more year. For example…

  • There’s a good chance the Lakers don’t make big waves in free agency this summer. Should that be the case, likely they’ll return a roster similar to this year’s mosh pit of young players and short contracts. Equally strong is the likelihood that group won’t be relevant in the 2015 playoff race, and that the roster will be reconstructed again next summer. All told, it makes the job less appealing. Future Coach won’t know what things will look like in 2015-16. I’ve watched enough HGTV to know even the nicest houses sell better when fixed up and staged properly. The Lakers would be putting themselves on the market while needing a new roof, foundation repairs, and new hardwood floors.
  • Moreover, it would be harder to match Future Coach to Future Franchise Player. The most important superstar the Lakers have to appease with their next coach isn’t Bryant, it’s some guy currently playing on another roster. Let’s say the Lakers name Stan Van Gundy or Lionel Hollins as D’Antoni’s replacement in the offseason. What if Kevin’s Love or Durant don’t like those guys? Talent drives everything in the NBA. Doing anything that might make acquiring it more difficult is a mistake. Match the coach to the next star/supporting cast, not the other way around.
  • If the Lakers are relatively short on high end talent next year, D’Antoni is actually a pretty good match, given his track record of squeezing decent performances out of more marginal players.

It’s not about believing D’Antoni is a brilliant coach. He unquestionably has some significant flaws. His communication skills are poor, and he’s not political enough to thrive in this market. There are times when D’Antoni seems constitutionally incapable of lying when asked a question, even if it’s the right thing to do. Other times, he tries and can’t pull it off. That his flexibility is sometimes ignored doesn’t mean he’s not prone to dogmatic decision making. Et cetera, et cetera. Nor is it about giving D’Antoni a fair shake. I don’t care if he’s treated fairly*. Mike Brown wasn’t treated “fairly” either, but the Lakers should have fired him faster than they did. The team’s obligation is to make sound strategic decisions. If that means canning a guy who may not have had a real chance to succeed, so be it. Except as things lay out today, they’d likely be canning D’Antoni for the wrong reasons.

I’ve heard it said by a few people the Lakers can’t go through another season like this one. Fans are too accustomed to success, won’t tolerate it, and will stop showing up. Kobe won’t put up with it. The heat will be too hot.

Horsepucky.

Fans will be pissed off if D’Antoni returns, and Staples might have some empty seats next year (though fewer assuming Kobe plays, which is why they gave him $48.5 million). Bryant will indeed be chippy, and likely they’ll have to install a panic room in Jim Buss’ office. But these are p.r., not basketball, considerations. (Except the panic room, which might require permitting from the city.) It’s about looking like they’re doing something! That dammit, someone must be held accountable!

But accountable for what? Going into the season, the generally accepted best case scenario said that if everything went well the Lakers might – might – contend for a playoff spot. And fair to say everything has not gone well. No reasonably sane observer of basketball could possibly claim this team should be significantly better than their 25-50 record. They could lose differently, but under any coach, these guys would lose. (It’s actually easier to argue that the Lakers have slightly overachieved.) Walking D’Antoni to the top of the volcano and pushing him in feels good as ritual sacrifice, but unless it advances the rebuilding plan would constitute a cosmetic fix, not anything substantial.

What the fans really ought to demand from ownership is the willingness not to act for the sake of public opinion. To have the strength do to nothing if nothing best serves larger goals, just as nothing did when Bryant clamored for the Lakers to trade Andrew Bynum for any name brand not nailed to another team’s floor. If Kobe is ticked this time around, so be it. I sympathize with his desire to contend for another title, or at the very least not play on a really shitty team next year. This is how the guy is wired, but the Lakers don’t owe him anything else. They can’t. Each side has paid his debt to the other. And if fans are mad, so what? They’ll come back if the franchise does. What will make them angrier is a team perpetually stuck in that space between real contention and genuine rebuilding, Sixtoeightseedville.

Maybe the summer plays out more positively than I’m anticipating. Surprises happen, and certainly Mitch Kupchak has shown an ability to produce rabbits from hats. If the Lakers can make sound moves to transform a three year rebuild into essentially one, great. I’m all for it. Nobody in LA (save Clipper Darrell) likes watching the Lakers suck. But they can’t screw this up. Despite the cap space upcoming, the Lakers are still in very fragile space. They have few assets to parlay into pieces of a championship team. Small mistakes will have disproportionately large impacts. Large mistakes will almost impossible to unwind.

It’s hard enough to build an elite roster without taking aesthetics into consideration. If the Lakers complicate matters by allowing public opinion (or the opinion of the incumbent star) to factor in, they’re likely screwed. So if firing D’Antoni this summer makes good basketball sense, allowing them to better construct a winning product down the road, go for it. He’ll be gone in a year, anyway. But if they do it because they feel they have to, because the masses won’t be satisfied without their share of red meat, Lakers fans should watch out because it’s a bad sign of things to come.

*I’ve long maintained D’Antoni was screwed from the start, after the front office dangled Phil not only to the fans, but the players. Meaning psychologically MDA didn’t replace the very unpopular Mike Brown, but Phil Jackson. Once that happened and the 2012-13 season became a struggle, that D’Antoni’s tenure in L.A. would end sooner rather than later became a foregone conclusion. The only question would be the timing. So overall, I don’t think “fair,” particularly when this year’s limited roster and catastrophic injury issues are factored in, is the best word to describe the context in which D’Antoni has worked. But fairness shouldn’t be a primary concern for a front office. If axing a guy is unfair but improves the team’s fortunes, so be it. That’s life. 

**NOTE: A few people in the comments and over Twitter have pointed out something that would change my perspective, here: If the Lakers were to hire a younger, less experienced coach with potential who could use a relatively consequence-free year to learn, I’d can D’Antoni without second thoughts. I love the idea of expanding the coaching search beyond the big FA names we all know – Van Gundy, Karl, Hollins, etc. – but as I’ve noted on the podcast, I don’t think the front office has the stones to go the direction of a bold-but-risky hire and groom talent. Not after Brown and D’Antoni. I wish they would, but don’t think it’ll happen. 

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The Impending Civil War Between Laker Fans and Kobe Fans

Posted by on Apr 1, 2014 in Jim Buss, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Mitch Kupchak, Opinion |

Just wanted to pass along a piece I wrote for ESPN’s TrueHoop section about the potential schism over the next several years between two very distinct sets of Laker fans: The ones who care first and foremost about the franchise and the ones who care first and foremost about Kobe Bryant. These divided priorities among many fans have never been a secret, but also never terribly problematic so long as the Lakers remained a powerhouse. But in its current state, with the franchise desperately in need of a smart, methodical rebuild and Kobe openly impatient towards anything short of “win now,” the stakes may be on the verge of rising for those taking a side.

You can read the article by clicking here, and below is an excerpt:

Kobe Bryant is anything but an ordinary superstar, and Kobe zealots are a breed different than I’ve seen in my entire life watching and covering sports.

The Mamba is regarded by this contingency as half basketball god, half political prisoner. An indestructible force of nature, yet encased in bubble wrap to protect him from the slings and arrows of jealous haters consumed with denying the Mamba’s greatness. True Kobe-ites will gladly step into traffic to protect him from an oncoming car, but feel disappointment it wasn’t actually a bus.

In fairness to Kobe’s vigilantes, getting his back has often felt like getting hit by a Greyhound. Bryant’s career has been shaped by persistent PR turbulence. Feuds with Shaquille O’Neal and Phil Jackson. (Too much) blame for the threepeat core’s dissolution. Colorado. The 2007 offseason, in which he demanded a trade to Pluto. His relentlessly demanding relationship with teammates. An-court persona that would raise Hannibal Lector’s eyebrows. Throw in the reductive — and idiotic — idea that Kobe’s first three titles on “Shaq’s teams” somehow counted less, and the guy has spent considerable time between the crosshairs. Bryant may be more popular than polarizing these days, but likability will never be his calling card.

Of course, Kobe Bryant is also an indisputable icon, an athlete destined to go down as one of basketball’s all-time greats, and a lifer for one of sports’ most storied franchises. The fervent didn’t choose him by accident. Even Lakers fans who don’t worship at the altar take considerable pride knowing Kobe is one of their own.

However, that sect pledges its loyalty to the franchise first, and these fans are hyper-aware of where life currently stands for the Lakers. The future has been mortgaged bone-dry after surrendering multiple picks to acquire Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, and to jettison the contracts of Derek Fisher and Luke Walton. The new CBA was designed to prevent teams like the Lakers from reloading through economic superiority.

Painful as these losses have been, another underwhelming season might be necessary to create a sustainable bright future. For the first time in eons, the Lakers are in position to build from the ground up, and whatever critical designs in place can’t be altered to placate a 36-year-old player with over 54,000 career minutes (playoffs included) coming off consecutive significant injuries. Even if that player happens to be Kobe Bryant.

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PODCAST! Kobe Bryant vs. rebuilding, Pau’s vertigo, Swaggy robbed, Kanye as the lesser of three evils

Posted by on Mar 26, 2014 in Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Mike D'Antoni, Mitch Kupchak, Nick Young, Opinion, Pau Gasol, Phil Jackson, Podcast | 2 comments

The Lakers are now undefeated in games played at Staples Center where Phil Jackson watches as Knicks President from a luxury suite. If Mike D’Antoni can figure out a way to replicate this formula, the team may be able to end this season on a surprisingly positive note.

The show can be heard by clicking on the module, and a list of talking points can be found below. Among the high points.

  • We stroll through the latest headlines. LeBron James and Adam Silver will meet this offseason to discuss the possible elimination of sherseys. Greveis Vasquez declares Kevin Durant “Jesus.” Mark Cuban calls out the NFL’s impending business model.  Is the Eastern Conference now a legitimate playoff race?
  • Kobe Bryant sat down with ESPN’s Darren Rovell to discuss basketball and business. As far as hoops goes, Kobe offered his faith in Jeanie and Jim Buss, but reiterated his impatience with a slow and steady rebuild. How big of a problem is this moving forward?
  • In the meantime, Kobe Inc. has opened up shop, with Bryant lending his presence and dollars to a sports drink called BodyArmour. How does this investment reflect the prospects of Kobe’s post-playing career?
  • Pau Gasol has vertigo. No. Seriously. Vertigo. At this points, are there any bizarre injuries and ailments left for the Lakers to endure?
  • Nick Young got robbed Sunday night, but the joke may actually be on the assholes who stole his clothes and jewelry.
  • It’s time for AAK!!! What movies have scared the K Bros most over the years? Rank the following in terms of quality company: Kanye West, Lindsay Lohan, Justin Bieber.
  • The New York Post reported Monday that former NBA player Quinton Ross was found murdered. As it turns out, the deceased was a different man named Quinton Ross. But hey, at least the Post was “first!”

Click above to play, or just download the show here. Hope you enjoy it. To subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, click here. You can also find us on TuneIn.com by heading here.

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