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Nine interesting things about the upcoming Lakers season

Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers statistics, Opinion, Steve Nash | 12 comments

The calendar says September, still the NBA’s Season of Possibilities, where the Lakers are limited only by lack of imagination and inability to suspend disbelief. But eventually the games will begin, and like most I expect the Season of Realities will be unkind to the purple and gold. A playoff run isn’t impossible, but given the depth in the West, they’ll need a string of things to go right in specific ways, in the same way Powerball winners need a string of things to go right specific ways.

But hey, just because the end result isn’t likely to add substantively to the franchise’s illustrious history, that doesn’t mean we’re staring down the barrel at 82 games of boredom. The 2014-15 season offers plenty of legitimate intrigue, nine examples of which are listed below, in no particular order:

1. Kobe Bryant. 

As outlined here, the track record for elite scoring guards after 30 years old is borderline catastrophic. At 36, Kobe would already be defying history to play at, or even close to, career levels, even before factoring in his injuries. Mentally, how much patience will he have, whether with any new limitations placed on his ability to exert influence on games and seasons? If the Lakers fall out of the playoff race? Were he to drag this bunch into postseason contention, it would go down as one of his most impressive achievements.

Really, how much explanation does putting Kobe on this list require?

2. Julius Randle. 

Rare is the Lakers rookie counted on to develop into a franchise cornerstone (or the type of player potentially garnering one in a trade), but Randle obviously qualifies. There’s plenty to like. Randle has great athleticism for his size, and has a bunch of the requisite intangibles — excited to be a Laker, wants to be pushed, wants to learn, etc. The motor, to use the parlance, seems to be there. He’ll have to adapt to the length and size of NBA competition, which could take time, but the first big hurdle is fitness. Byron Scott has already spoken publicly about the need for Randle to get in shape, which is both a warning and a challenge, and not necessarily reflective of where he is today, physically. Could just be a helpful reminder that whatever a rookie thinks qualifies as being in shape is probably 30-40 percent away from where he actually needs to be. Watching his development, hopefully not hindered by excessive playing time for Carlos Boozer, will be a lot of fun.

3. What does Ed Davis do with a season’s worth of playing time?

When the Grizzlies managed to offload Rudy Gay to the Raptors, plenty of people believed Memphis won the deal not just because they shed Gay’s salary, but also snagged Davis in the process. To that point, particularly in the weeks leading into the trade, Davis had been a pretty efficient scorer with moments, albeit inconsistently, of solid offensive rebounding. For a variety of reasons, he never was given enough consistent playing time to grow with the Grizzlies. Still only 25 with legitimate production at the NBA level under his belt, if Davis can carve out a season’s worth of consistent playing time, he has the most breakout potential of anyone in L.A.’s Short Contract Gang.

4. The last stand of Steve Nash. 

I realize the guy has become a symbol of catastrophe and the whole “I want the money” thing didn’t endear himself to the fan base, but we’re talking about one of the greatest point guards of this or any other generation trying to exit the game on something even kind of resembling his own terms. Those rare moments last season where Nash was able to play effectively — this one, mostly – were great to watch. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of equity locally as Kobe, nor should he, but Nash’s story arc this season has the potential to be engrossing. Low risk, high reward.

5. The trade deadline. 

If the Lakers aren’t legitimate playoff contenders in mid-February, attempting to flip Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, and anything else not to the floor isn’t a problem. But what if they’re within imagination’s reach of the top eight? On the one hand, even if they beat the odds to make the postseason, as things stand now you’d have to be smoking, and probably eating, piles of northern California’s finest to believe a title is a genuine possibility. Is it worth preserving a quick first round loss to hold assets that might otherwise be traded? On the other, does the front office think they can sell the fan base (and Kobe) on short-circuiting a season in the name of a rebuild? Will they believe they’re obligated to?

6. The Jeremy Lin Phenomenon. 

More than the player himself, who I don’t think lasts more than a year in L.A., I’m interested in the culture around him. The Lakers have a massive following in China. Or maybe more specifically, Kobe does. Still, the brand is powerful there, as is Lin. Moreover, Los Angeles itself has a thriving Chinese community. Linsanity was a phenomenon unlikely to be repeated, but could there be some sort of small scale revival, locally and abroad?

7. What can Byron fix? 

For about six thousand different reasons, ranging from coaching to personnel to psychology, the Lakers were a catastrophe on their end last year. Scott is expected to bring a much more developed sense of defensive commitment, but unless his thinner mustache has supernatural rock-bleeding powers not granted Mike D’Antoni’s somewhat thicker mustache, the results could still be spotty given their lack of perimeter defenders and rim protectors. Yes, teams can exceed the sum of their parts, but the parts do matter. Pushing the Lakers somewhere near league average in defensive efficiency would be a significant achievement. They’ll be all over it early, while everyone’s fresh and full of commitment. Except even last year’s team was 13th in efficiency through the first 16 games. How well do they sustain things through injuries, attrition, and the natural ebbs and flows of 82 games?

8. Swaggy P, Year 2: Electric Swaggaloo. 

Last season, he was solid gold. Imagine how he’ll be now, with a four year deal under his belt?

9. Phil is gone, so does everyone get along? 

He was the elephant in the family room for a long time, but now Phil Jackson is officially, positively, unequivocally not coming back. The Possibility of Phil was a great source of tension between Jim and Jeanie (and for that matter, the organization and fans), but now he’s in New York. So does that help everyone here stay on the same page for good?

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Podcast!!! Kobe v. Dwight, Swaggy’s P and T, Byron Scott, Steve Ballmer, and Robin Williams

Posted by on Aug 16, 2014 in Byron Scott, Carmelo Anthony, Donald Sterling, Dwight Howard, Greg Monroe, Jeanie Buss, Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, LeBron James, Opinion | 1 comment

A few weeks ago, it was silly season. Now, it’s slow season, but that doesn’t mean “no” season! (As in no-thing to talk about… I’ll show myself out.) As training camp creeps a little closer by the day, there is definitely some ground to cover.

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

  • A look at the latest headlines. DeMarcus Cousins had an injury scare practicing with Team USA. He should be fine, but does this add to the concerns about NBA players’ offseason commitments? Steph Curry says he’s a better offensive player than LeBron James. Believable? And speaking of LeBron, he and Carmelo Anthony are really, really skinny.
  • The Lakers have an official schedule, but given how the team isn’t realistically in contention, the specifics feel inherently less exciting. For example, are fans (much less the participants themselves) still geeked to see Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard finally square off more than one year after their separation? Generally speaking, the stakes aren’t pressing, and stakes are what make schedule intriguing.
  • Having said that, the Lakers play 28 nationally-televised games this season despite strong odds of missing the playoffs. Safe to say, Kobe remains one helluva draw.
  • What does it do for Byron Scott’s legacy with the Lakers if he ends up a rousing success as a coach?
  • How does the Lakers’ apparent non-pursuit of Eric Bledsoe and Greg Monroe feel with the players reportedly set to accept respective qualifying offers from Phoenix and Detroit?
  • We discuss Brian’s recent article for The Cauldron about Steve Ballmer taking over as owner of the Clippers, and how it changes the L.A. basketball landscape.
  • It’s time for AAK!!! What doubles tournament sport would the K Bros fare best at? Is it possible to barbeque a Hot Pocket? How long should one wait before dating again after the death of a treasured pet lizard?
  • We take a look at the life, legacy and career of Robin Williams.

 

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Podcast!!! Carlos Boozer, free agency, Byron Scott, Kevin Love or “Face/off?”

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in Byron Scott, Dwight Howard, Jeanie Buss, Jim Buss, Jordan Hill, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Pau Gasol, Podcast | 12 comments

The Carlos Boozer era has officially begun for the Lakers. There’s a sentence I never expected to type.

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

  • The Lakers “won” the Carlos Boozer auction and claimed the painted-haired Dukie off waivers. Seriously… WTF, Lakers? WTF? What does the Boozer grab say about the way in which the rebuilding Lakers see themselves? Do they completely lack self-awareness, or are they threading the needle between rebuilding and competing?
  • With Boozer now in the fold, save an unexpected trade, the Lakers aren’t likely making any more significant moves. So how did they do? Did they read the market well, or let too many noteworthy players get past?
  • Pau Gasol went to Chicago without the Lakers receiving any assets in return. At the risk of saying, “I told you so…”
  • When will the Lakers finally hire a coach? What does it say about the organization’s confidence in presumed frontrunner Byron Scott that he’s been interviewed three times without getting hired, despite the fact that nobody else seems to be in the running?
  • The Lakers offseason has received mixed reviews, but hey, they could be Daryl Morey!
  • Thoughts LeBron James heading back to Cleveland.
  • It’s time for #AAK!!! What songs are we most ashamed to admit liking? What discontinued Trader Joe’s item do we miss most? If the Lakers getting Kevin Love somehow meant the movie “Face/Off” never existed, would I choose the power forward or Castor Troy? What invention would we pitch on “Shark Tank?”
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Why we’ll miss Pau Gasol

Posted by on Jul 12, 2014 in free agency, Lakers Analysis, Opinion, Pau Gasol | 14 comments

Among the regulars covering the Lakers is a woman working from a wheelchair. One night, maybe two or three seasons ago, as Pau Gasol worked his way through the pack of humanity in front of his locker after a game, he noticed that reporter, in her chair, positioned directly to the right of his. 

Practically speaking, there aren’t many advantages to being over seven feet tall. Doorways are too small, Cars too tight, beds too short, and good luck buying anything stylish off the rack. There are exceptions, of course. You might be skilled enough to play in the NBA, and therefore speak virtually every day – unfailingly, after good games and bad, in both English and Spanish – to people with cameras and recorders pointed at your head. If so, all that height affords the opportunity literally to rise above, making the process a little less claustrophobic by standing tall.

Instead, Pau folded his comically long limbs into his seat and fielded questions.

Maybe it happened a few other times, but over the course of six-plus seasons and hundreds of games I have no other memory of Gasol doing group press sitting down.

It was a small, subtle act of kindness, completely intentional (I asked a few days later after practice) but done with the wherewithal and grace not to appear he was changing his routine or making himself uncomfortable just to accommodate her, something no reporter, disabled or otherwise, would ever want. Pau’s intelligence and civic-mindedness are hardly unknown. The guy could have been a surgeon and is an ambassador for UNICEF, just for starters. Pau was the rare player for whom the book Phil Jackson gave him every year was just one in a large stack consumed throughout a season. How many players learn (falsely, as it turns out) they’re about to be traded during intermission of a musical?

But the reason Gasol has so many staunch supporters in the media – this notable Pau honk included – wasn’t because he’s among the most interesting or nicest athletes we worked around. Gasol is someone for whom little moments of goodness, the small things that don’t have to be done but make the world better, were routine and genuine. He’s one of the best people.

I’ve held on to this little story for a while, figuring I’d use it once Pau finally left the Lakers. I’m amazed, but grateful, it took this long.

I’m certainly not blind to reality. Burdened by age and mileage domestic and international, Gasol’s performance had slipped over the last few seasons, even factoring in all the ways in which roster moves and coaching changes moved away from his strengths. Some of his wounds were self-inflicted. Pau was awful, for example, during the 2011 Playoffs, the team’s most visible symbol of a tremendously depressing end to the Threepeat quest, this after having rehabbed his image with two titles following the Finals loss to Boston in ’08. Still, while Pau’s bandwagon was never empty, it felt like so many Lakers fans jumped on and off with the wind.

Others were more a matter of perception and narrative. He was called soft, sent for his big boy pants, and had his coloration regularly measured in the always unflattering context of a swan. A swan from a movie about ballet. He was traded, then returned, then dangled to the league for most of three seasons. Always the perfect balance to Kobe in skill set, temperament, and basketball ethos, being the yin to Bryant’s yang led nonetheless to a near-constant push/pull of benefit and suffering. (With the good, I’m sure he’d say, overwhelmingly outweighing the bad.)

Now Gasol is gone to Chicago, a great result for him and the Bulls. Frankly, Pau would likely have benefitted from moving on – being moved on, more accurately – before now. I want him to perform well, to finish a brilliant career on high notes reminding everyone just how special a player he’s been. As it pertains to the legacy Pau leaves behind, my hope is any lingering animosity fades. Lakers fans, who want to win and like all fans find people to blame when they don’t, can focus on all the great moments Gasol helped provide and the dignity he displayed providing them.  

I suspect that’s the way it will be. I certainly hope so, because few are more deserving of an elevated place in this city’s basketball history than Pau Gasol.

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To Carmelo or not to Carmelo? That is the question…

Posted by on Jul 8, 2014 in Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Opinion | 34 comments

It’s not a matter of the star you’d choose, but the stars you can choose from.

LeBron James and Kevin Durant require no thought. Plunk down the max and roll. Carmelo Anthony doesn’t generate that type of consensus. A dynamic offensive force, without question one of the league’s best pure scorers, but 30 years old with a reputation as a ball-sticker and less-than-stellar defender. Elite, but imperfect. Is he the hero L.A. deserves or the one they need right now?

Generally speaking, I subscribe to the theory of getting the elite guy and figuring it out later. Some very smart people are reporting the Lakers believe landing Anthony will facilitate the return of Pau Gasol on what I’m assuming will be a two-year contract. That would leave them with a starting five of Point Guard TBD, Kobe Bryant, Anthony, Julius Randle, and Gasol. If Randle isn’t ready to start, Anthony could play the four, and the Lakers could find another wing with Kobe playing either the two or the three. Regardless, if Melo chooses L.A. and Gasol re-ups, the Lakers almost surely would have no space to add other players of (financial) significance.

But what comes next? If the guard spot was filled by Steve Nash, the Lakers would have the honor of starting four potential Hall of Famers, which is cool, and they’d score a bunch of points, which is fun. They’d also give them up by the bushel, and would be placing a long odds wager on the whole crew staying healthy. Maybe the Lakers have other dominoes to topple should Anthony choo-choo-choose them, but on the surface at least this looks, more or less, like the plan. Meanwhile, they’d show the Lakers brand still has weight.

While they’d make a splash helping them win July – or at least be runners up, because the team signing LeBron wins – they won’t win the fall, winter and spring, when actual basketball is played.

I’ve said before, I’ll say again: A Bryant/Anthony/Gasol core won’t compete for a title in a stacked Western Conference. If they stay healthy – if, if, if, if – it’s still likely a bottom four team on the playoff ladder, thanks to almost inevitable roster holes and defensive questions. Then, how do they improve significantly in Year 2 of Kobe/Melo? Conceptually, the Lakers would be repeating the strategy of July 2012, swapping out Anthony for Howard. The results would likely be better in some ways – the stars wouldn’t hate each other, for example – but worse in others. Kobe wasn’t coming off two major injuries, Pau wasn’t two years older, Nash wasn’t bro– ok, Nash was broken then, too.

So in two years, the Lakers leave themselves with an excellent chance of landing right back at this point, with an aging star*, though one not as old as the incumbent for sure, and massive amounts of cap space but without the rest of the roster infrastructure required to attract the next wave of great FA’s. More and more, it seems, elite players want to see a constructed roster and the available assets to get and stay competitive.

Anyone listening to the podcast regularly or reading here likely knows the thing I find most fascinating about the Lakers right now isn’t simply the list of transactions potentially available to them, but how they attack the rebuilding process and what it reveals about the way the franchise views itself. All over TV and the web, we’ve seen handwringing over what might happen next year if the Lakers aren’t good, how nobody will tolerate an “encore” performance. I think it’s a gross over-reaction. Monday, I heard more on the same theme. Doom-and-gloom conclusions about what it would say about the Lakers if they weren’t able to land a big fish this summer. In the wake of Howard’s defection, it’s just more evidence of a once-great franchise in serious decline under new ownership.

In this scenario, the Lakers are the hot girl whose self-worth is tied to always having a boyfriend.

It’s one thing for the chattering mass of fans and media to think that way, assuming the franchise doesn’t. But if they do? If they buy into the premise the Lakers are diminished significantly by temporarily going without a star, or at the least a clear roadmap to one, consumed forever with the passing of torches? That the brand is lessened by a more patient rebuild? These are problems. The organization produces stars, it attracts stars, it cultivates stars, but the Lakers don’t have to be starfuckers.

We’ve learned more about the presentation made to Anthony, laying out a vision for Melo as the next franchise face and the business plan coming with it. Strong stuff, well presented, by all accounts. At a time where the natural advantages of Los Angeles, from endorsements to spending power are, whether by mass media or the current CBA, eroded relative to 15 or 20 years before, for the Lakers to convincingly sell the financial advantage of being a Laker is powerful. It’s also the only pitch they can make, because one centered on the roster and assets isn’t nearly as compelling.

Now imagine a world in which they can sell both. Here are our players, picks, and other assets that can make you a champion, not just a marketing monster, because you can’t be the latter without the former. We’ve got the young, quality talent capable of spectacular achievement with the injection of someone truly elite. Be a champion, be an icon. Going all out for Melo isn’t a disastrous idea. He’s an excellent player. There are many things worse than having him on your team. It’s also the safest play, showing less vision and self-confidence, and makes the Lakers’ chances of sustained, high level success going forward harder than a well-executed, ground-up rebuild, not easier.

Whether they feel it’s the right path or simply the mandatory one, in courting Melo the Lakers are cultivating only half of a winning pitch.

*Those believing you need a star to attract more stars must also believe a nearly 33 year old Anthony is an attractive draw. Not sure that’s the case. 

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PODCAST! NBA free agency, Jeanie’s mind games, Jason Kidd, sports Twitter Mt. Rushmore

Posted by on Jul 3, 2014 in free agency, Jeanie Buss, Jim Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lance Stephenson, LeBron James, Mitch Kupchak, Pau Gasol, Podcast | 4 comments

With the stroke of 12:01 am Eastern time on July 1, the calendar marked the official beginning of Silly Season! NBA free agency is upon us, a magical, glorious time filled with insane rumors, surprise signings, and head coaches flexing their muscles to join the Bucks. (I admittedly did not see the third item coming.) The Lakers are expected to be active participants in Silly Season, with several other high profile teams also looking to do damage. Let the madness begin!!!

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

  • With free agency now underway, folks like LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, Greg Monroe, Chandler Parsons, Eric Bledsoe and Lance Stephenson (among many others) are up for grabs. Who can the Lakers target? Who should the Lakers target? What constitutes “too long” or “too much money?”
  • Will Jeanie Buss engage in dirty pool to lure Melo away from her boo Phil Jackson?
  • How disastrous is the outcome if no A-List (Or even B+ List) name is added to the roster?
  • Reportedly, the Lakers are pitching heavy input on the new coach as a carrot to elite free agents. If a free agent were so inclined, he could really exercise his leverage by taking this to ridiculous extremes.
  • Seriously, Jason Kidd and the Milwaukee Bucks… What the hell?
  • AAK!!! What current NBA player would we most want on our side in a bar fight? Who would we etch into the “Sports Twitter” Mount Rushmore? Were BK and I to follow the Miami Heat template and form a Big 3 of sportswriters, who makes the cut?
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