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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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Hunting for coaches, experience required

Posted by on Jun 12, 2014 in free agency, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, NBA Draft, Opinion | 8 comments

Late last week, I put down a few thoughts following the big day of workouts in El Segundo, talking about what the Lakers might want to do with the pick then tacking a few lingering questions about the coaching search on at the end. I held off on publishing just to make sure it was put together in semi-competent English (the business of self-editing is perilous, and benefits from time between drafts), but got caught up in other stuff, and here we are almost a week later, and the important stuff is totally different.

The Lakers have made it clear, barring a change of heart, they won’t be hiring anyone lacking NBA coaching experience. There are a few potential reasons, some better than others. A first-time coach:

  • … wouldn’t be able to handle the pressures of the market.
  • … wouldn’t hold the respect of Kobe Bryant, the most conspicuous pressure of the market.
  • … wouldn’t be a good lure for potential high-end free agents.
  • … isn’t worth the price, at least if Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher even marginally reflect the market for well-sought sideline rooks.
  • … isn’t appropriate for the Lakers, because the Lakers aren’t a “starter” gig. Consider it a corollary to the “We don’t rebuild, we reload” ethos. First year coaches are for smaller markets with smaller ambitions.

(There’s also the question of whether L.A.’s preferred newbies have been as amenable to L.A.’s overtures as the team might like. I don’t think the Lakers want to be spurned by a rookie. That’s not inside information, just thinking aloud.)

Throughout the season, long before Mike D’Antoni was fired but assuming he would be, I wondered if the Lakers would have the intestinal fortitude — the balls, if you will — to make a bold hire. Would Jim Buss stick his neck out one more time after Mike Brown’s slightly-more-than-one-and-done, and D’Antoni’s disastrous run? Would the Lakers risk a pouty Kobe and a questioning fan base in the name of identifying and cultivating someone they believe to be the NBA’s next big sideline talent? Will they at least try to think creatively?

Or would they hire Byron Scott, whether conceptually or literally?

The point isn’t that Scott is a bad coach (he’s not), or that experience is worthless (of course it has value). But Brown and D’Antoni both had experience, and look how that went. So many other factors play a role in a coach’s success. Neither “Byron Scott” (the type) nor Byron Scott (the person) are hires with vision. Particularly when removing guys like George Karl and Alvin Gentry, both impractical choices after pushing D’Antoni out, everyone else on the current, and likely future, list is relatively uninspired and safe. Scott’s Laker-ness is a nice bullet point on the press release and satisfy the nostalgia centers in the brains of many fans, but won’t make him more invested or successful than other candidates.

It would be one thing if the Lakers were excluding first-timers while courting truly elite coaches. They’re not. The guys on the list are perfectly respectable, but not titans. The Lakers have talked about being deliberate and casting a wide net, but a willingness to shut out an entire category of candidates shows otherwise.¬†Cutting off a line to potential talent because they don’t tick one box on the long list of important qualities is, frankly, stupid. Particularly for a franchise that has seen two first-timers (Pat Riley and Mike Dunleavy) lead them to the Finals.

And especially when you consider their current context. I’ve mentioned this before, but the most important quality the next coach needs isn’t Kobe’s respect or gravitas with the media – it’s ideological flexibility. Very likely, next year’s roster will be comprised of Kobe, the seventh pick in the Draft, and a bunch of guys on short-term deals. The year following, hopefully they have a second star to join Kobe on his farewell tour. Three years from now, Kobe is probably gone, and maybe they have a couple new elites anchoring the roster. Who knows who the stars will be, or what kind of talent will round those groups out? Point being, over the next three seasons the Lakers could have vastly different rosters requiring very different styles of play, offensively and defensively. Will the next coach have the ability to adjust accordingly, scrapping what might have been effective one season to match what’s available the next? Does he have the capacity for reinvention?

This, as much as anything, is the great gift of Gregg Popovich.

Experience can be a great thing and all things being equal is a quality worth having, but the way it influences a coach isn’t automatically positive. D’Antoni, for example, was rightly criticized for a dogmatic approach to his offense based in part on a strongly felt belief system, but also informed by the success he had doing things in a particular way. Brown’s experience somehow told him staging 17 hour practices with a veteran roster was a good idea. “This is how you put in the work,” it said from under its hard hat, clutching its lunch pail.¬†Sometimes experience narrows perspective, rather than expanding it.

It’s easy to wonder if the Lakers have a coherent vision of their reconstruction. Mitch Kupchak noted during exit interviews how the Lakers would be happy for this thing to be put back together in three seasons. It could take longer, he said. On the other hand, there’s still a strong sense of Kobe Appeasement in the air. Maybe it reflects the way media and fans treat questions of Kobe’s contract, personality, the end of his career, and so on, more than anything the Lakers are doing. But it begs the question, do the Lakers think they can execute a rebuild that will satisfy Kobe’s desire to play on a championship caliber team before he’s done, while also setting themselves up properly for the post-Bryant future? If an opportunity arises potentially addressing one at the expense of the other, which side wins?

I wonder, too, how the Lakers see themselves. If they believe the Lakers are too big for a first-time candidate, or that they don’t have time for a guy to learn on the job (whether because they have to win quickly or because Kobe won’t tolerate it), they’re wrong on both counts. Particularly when next year, barring some Carmelo/LeBron/K-Love deus ex machine, shapes up to be another in which the Lakers struggle to make the playoffs. It’s actually a perfect¬†situation to let a guy get his feet wet. Are they fully embracing the idea of a rebuild and all it entails? Kupchak has sent some signals saying yes, but the vibe isn’t consistent.

Like when you hear they might interview Larry Brown, for example.

The Lakers come off like a rich family forced into belt tightening, but still refusing to lose the maid and the gardener because of what the neighbors might think. Their highest profile attempt to acknowledge new realities in team building and free agent wooing – the Stay Dwight billboards – were instantly ridiculed. Then Howard took off. (Then the Lakers over-reacted and unloaded the Brinks truck on Kobe’s front lawn.) Like the failed post-Phil coaching choices, it feels like the egg on the franchise’s metaphorical face left a mark.

In the end, their patience might pay off. In absolute terms, the Lakers don’t lose much by waiting to see what happens in the early days of free agency. And while this sort of attitude reinforces their lack a strong philosophical vision for their next coach, losing one of their preferred candidates to another team simply means moving down the list another spot. There aren’t enough vacancies around the league to lose them all.

Maybe the experienced candidate turns out to be the best one. Maybe the Lakers do well on Draft day and early in free agency, adding depth and assets in ways we don’t see coming. Maybe they pull one of those purple and gold rabbits out of those purple and gold hats. Maybe there’s a more fully formed roster ultimately benefitting by a more experienced hand, and they’ll hire the right guy for the right reasons. Right now, so much of this is speculation and Spidey Sense, but insofar as the coaching search is concerned, where the Lakers are trying to project calm and thoroughness, I’m just picking up fear and incoherence.

 

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Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and big free agency questions

Posted by on Sep 11, 2013 in Dwight Howard, ESPN, free agency, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Mike D'Antoni, Mitch Kupchak, Phil Jackson | 4 comments

The Miami Heat may be gearing up for a three-peat attempt as the Lakers embark on what”s regarded as a stopgap campaign by even the most optimistic fans, but they still have one thing in common: Summer of 2014. For the Lakers, it represents a chance to redirect the ship towards smoother waters via free agency. For the Heat, free agency carries the threat of losing LeBron James. Could these worlds collide to make Laker fans smile worldwide?

Well, according to a handful of ESPN.com writers asked to handicap the odds of LeBron bolting for the Lakers, not so much:

Adande: 5 percent. Take what I said about Pat Riley above and apply the opposite to Jim Buss. And LeBron has spent enough time around to know Kobe won”t hand over the keys to the Lakers as easily as Wade handed over the keys to the Heat.

Haberstroh: 5 percent. Let”s say Bryant suffers another career-threatening injury; the Lakers somehow trade for to put Gasol alongside his countryman, ; and the Heat”s season ends in turmoil. Then maybe it could happen. Maybe.

Stein: I”ll go with 1 percent … only because you never say never in this league. But I cannot fathom LeBron joining the Lakers. He was savaged for The Decision, hated all that negativity and would expose himself to getting hammered on a similar scale if he made that move. I firmly believe he”d be branded as one of sports” all-time heartless mercenaries if he decided that he needs a move to Lakerland after just four seasons on South Beach. All the informed whispers emanating out of L.A. suggest that the Lakers are going to chase him hard and think they have a legit shot. But I don”t.

Wallace: Far less than 24 percent. And I say that as a total play on Kobe”s jersey number. I don”t see LeBron wanting to play with Kobe, assuming Kobe stays. And I certainly don”t see the Lakers pushing Kobe aside or rushing him to make a decision to appease James. Besides, what can James do for the Lakers, from a legacy standpoint, that Kobe, Shaq, Magic, Kareem and haven”t? Now, the Clippers? Playing with CP3 and for Doc Rivers if other contracts are moved? Hmmm. That would be a completely different story.

Windhorst: Not great. First, I don”t think LeBron has much desire to play with Kobe. Their interactions with Team USA were often more utilitarian than anything. Second, the Lakers would have to attract at least one more young superstar to come play in L.A. to truly compete with what the Heat could offer. Getting someone to take the Chris Bosh role with Chris Bosh talent will not be easy, even for L.A. And don”t assume Kobe is a big hook at this point in his career.

Obviously, with nearly ten months before LeBron can terminate his contract (and he may not), a lot can happen. And these are just five guys” opinions… although Brian Windhorst has covered LeBron since his high school days and quite possibly knows the forward better than any basketball scribe. Tom Haberstroh and Michael Wallace have been around the team 24/7 since The Heat Index”s inception. J.A. Adande and Marc Stein are very credible. This is as legit a quintet as any. And four specifically cite Kobe as a deterrent for landing LeBron. This sentiment is nothing new, particularly in this neck of the woods, where Brian and I have said the exact same thing on several recent podcasts. Still, it”s telling to see others independently arrive at the same conclusion.

By the way, there are reasons independent of Kobe to question the Lakers” appeal for LeBron. Their immediate future is cloudy with Jim Buss controlling the conch. (For more on this, check out Ramona Shelburne”s profile of the man beneath the baseball hat.) construction careers
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Save one mother of a purple and gold stint, LBJ”s unlikely to be regarded as more than (at best) the fifth greatest Laker of all-time behind — in no particular order — Kobe, Magic, West and Kareem. He doesn”t need a bigger market. Quite frankly, the Lakers need LeBron a helluva lot more than LeBron needs the Lakers. My admittedly uneducated guess is he”ll stay in Miami and bet on Pat Riley, plus his own appeal, as rebuilding assets. Unless it”s to come full circle in Cleveland for professional and personal reasons, I don”t envision LeBron leaving because he doesn”t need to and seems happy.

However, you can substitute “Big Ticket Free Agent X In His Prime” for “LeBron,” and the points raised by these ESPN writers remain trenchant. Regardless of what Lakers fans think of Dwight Howard — and there are legitimate reasons for the dismissive opinions — Kobe was widely reported as a negative recruiting tool. Even if you think the Lakers dodged the bullet of an uncommitted franchise player (I”ve raised that point myself), I can”t imagine Kobe”s “take it or leave it” approach didn”t resonate around the league. Nor, for that matter, can I imagine that pitch inspiring the majority of players the Lakers will be trying to entice. With the possible exception of Carmelo Anthony (who raises his own myriad of questions), I don”t see many top flight players signing up for a Padawan internship under Kobe Wan Kenobi.

Maybe this attitude was a direct reflection of Bryant”s indifference towards Howard staying, but it fits the pattern established throughout his career. It”s not that he”s unwilling to adjust altogether, but even those instances are typically on his own terms. Ever since Shaq”s departure, Bryant”s gone out of his way to remind teammates and even coaches not named “Phil” or “Jackson” who calls the shots. The Lakers are “Kobe”s” team, and he appears decidedly uninterested in dialing back that influence. Nor will he ever have to, given how he”s a God among fans. Frankly, he”s earned this rare status. But flaunting it isn”t necessarily the smartest approach. Especially when he ain”t winning a sixth title without quality help. Teammates (prospective or otherwise) will be more accepting of an alpha dog in his prime continually flexing these muscles, especially when a title is a realistic goal. But when the alpha dog is 35, in the twilight of his career, coming off a serious injury, and there are holes in the roster? That may be another story.

Bryant is hardly the sole reason the Lakers could struggle in the immediate wake of Dr. Buss” death to remain the NBA”s premiere destination. But even more than Jim Buss, nobody potentially is more capable of offsetting the bumps. And without signs of flexibility, I”m quite concerned the Lakers” ability to land A-List free agents will directly coincide with Kobe”s retirement and not a second sooner.

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