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Degree of Ifficulty and the 2014-15 Lakers

Posted by on Oct 2, 2014 in Jordan Hill, Kobe Bryant, Mike D'Antoni, Opinion, Steve Nash, Wesley Johnson, Xavier Henry |

Like most people in the hoops (or gambling) industry, I don’t think the 2014-15 Lakers will be a playoff team, for a variety of reasons. I can’t, for example, definitively answer the question, “Who is the second best player on the Lakers?”, but can say definitively that all of the potential answers point to trouble. The Western Conference is stacked too deep. Phoenix missed the postseason last year, despite winning 48 games. None of the teams ahead of them are obvious candidates to fall out, and meanwhile Denver, who won 57 games two seasons ago but was decimated by injuries last year, should be healthier and added Arron Afflalo. Anthony Davis leads a New Orleans team potentially capable of breaking out (though they have injury issues as well).

The Lakers on paper aren’t better than any of them, unless a line of things play out very favorably. String enough “ifs” together and anything is possible.

But all “if’s” are not created equally, whether in importance or likelihood of occurring. So below, I present a (not completely comprehensive) list of things that would lead to the Lakers winning more games than expected, perhaps many more, and the chances of them actually happening. A Degree of “Ifficulty,” so to speak.

1. If Kobe Bryant stays healthy and produces…

On a 1-10 scale of importance, where 10 signifies “most important,” this rates at eleventybillion. Nothing is more important to the fortunes of the Lakers than a healthy Kobe. Last year, he played six games, and we saw how that went. And that was on a team featuring Pau Gasol, who while no longer a star is still a player capable of opening space for others. If Kobe sustains some sort of long-term injury, their already long playoff odds almost surely grow insurmountable.

The good news? I’ve long maintained that if Kobe plays, he’ll play well. He’ll score, he’ll rebound, he’ll grease the wheels for others. He can’t be expected to be a defensive force anymore, but that’s not new. The difference in pre- and post-Achilles/knee Kobe won’t be drastic, but a continuation of the evolution his game has undergone for a few years. To his credit, Monday at Media Day Byron Scott said his job isn’t just to keep Kobe healthy for the season, but to make sure he’s able to play comfortably with his girls once Bryant hangs up his sneakers. Kobe says he understands the need to monitor his minutes, and I don’t think he’ll chafe until it looks like Plan Preservation might impact Plan Playoffs, which given the strength of the Western Conference could come sooner than people think.

The bad? No matter how Kobe feels now — excellent, he says — there’s no way to predict what the season will do to him. The time off hasn’t erased nearly two decades worth of wear and tear, and as soon as the season cranks up all the old infirmities will rear their heads. 70+ games feels like a realistic possibility, but as noted here, Kobe isn’t trying to cheat time this season, he’s trying to cheat time again. At some point, things break down, and when it happens, it can come quickly. Just ask Steve Nash. I’m optimistic. Like most people, my default is that Kobe can find a way. But that’s not exactly high end scientific insight.

Degree of Ifficulty (1-10): 5


2. If Steve Nash plays often, and well…

Nobody expects MVP-level Steve Nash to take the floor this year, but were he to play around 65 games at something in the general ZIP code of his final season in Phoenix on a per-minute basis, it could completely change the complexion of the roster. Suddenly, even if it’s only for 20 minutes a night, the Lakers have two great facilitators in their lineup, with Nash and Bryant. Their presence opens the floor for others (defensive problems notwithstanding). The easy bucket count rises. There is lineup flexibility, giving Scott more combinations to choose from. Some pressure comes off Jeremy Lin to play at Linsanity levels. Jordan Clarkson gets minutes out of merit, not necessity.

Nash will always be remembered in L.A. as a symbol of failure and disappointment. A good final season helping the Lakers push towards the playoffs won’t change that, but at least it would leave fans with more positive memories, and perhaps more importantly would let one of the greatest players of this generation leave the game on something resembling his terms. Can he do it? I really hope so, but it’s much easier to believe in Bryant’s chances to rebound, physically. Until Nash shows he can play regularly, absorbing contact without his nerves firing out of control, it’s hard for optimism to morph into confidence.

Degree of Ifficulty: 8.5

3. If Wesley Johnson* makes a leap…

Look at the dude’s game log for 2013-14 – he was all over the place. 24 points one night, one point the next. Blame Mike D’Antoni if you’d like, but much of that is on Wes. Some games, Johnson was a force on one end or the other, or occasionally both. Too often, though, he’d disappear like a wood-grain chameleon, on the floor but basically invisible. He’s not untalented, but Johnson has rarely managed to display his gifts effectively for any length of time. He’ll have another chance this year, because the Lakers don’t have another wing who can defend at his level, nor a bunch of pure 3′s trying to steal his minutes. Johnson has been working out with Kobe a lot over the summer, and combined with the opportunity to play real games with him, maybe it’s enough to help realize more of the potential making him the fourth pick in the 2010 Draft.

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PODCAST!!! Lakers coaching search, the NBA Finals, Donald’s quiz, action heroes

Posted by on Jun 14, 2014 in Byron Scott, Jim Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Mike D'Antoni, Mitch Kupchak, Opinion, Podcast | 3 comments

It’s been over a month since our last show. Then again, it’s been even longer since Mike D’Antoni resigned, and the Lakers still haven’t settled their coaching search, so really, who’s the turtle here?

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

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PODCAST! Who replaces Mike D’Antoni? K.D., Kobe Bryant, and hoops psychology, plus Sterlings!

Posted by on May 10, 2014 in Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers Audio, Mike D'Antoni, Opinion, Podcast | 2 comments

The NBA has been a busy place since we last recorded, and not just because of the playoffs. Donald Sterling has been banished by the NBA, and Mike D’Antoni banished himself, perhaps before the Lakers could do it for him. Meanwhile, Kevin Durant not only set the Mother’s Day bar at an impossibly high level for the rest of us with his Instant Classic MVP speech, he seemed to reveal a changing dynamic in the nature of NBA “alpha dogs.”

So plenty to talk about, for sure. Click on the module to listen, and use these handy talking points as a guide:

  • We kick off our headlines with all things Sterling. First, in another recording, this time picked up by Radar Online, Donald Sterling says he’s not a racist. He also says he said that stuff in the TMZ tape because he wanted to “play” with V. Stiviano.  And we don’t mean checkers. (Ewww….) Not to be outdone, Shelly Sterling made it clear she’s not letting go of the team without a fight. Is this a money grab or a problem that will fester for the NBA going forward?
  • Andrew Bynum is officially done for the year. Is he also done for good?
  • D’Antoni is gone. Why picking a replacement isn’t simply a matter of finding a coach with an attractive style of play. Can the Lakers really identify the best candidate when the roster is nearly guaranteed to turn over substantially in each of the next three seasons?
  • Has the nature of the NBA alpha dog changed? Is The Kobe Way the only way? What does the Kobification of L.A. over the last (almost) two decades mean for the superstar who follows Bryant with the Lakers?
  • AAK! We share our ultimate podcast guests, living and dead.

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above to play, or just download the show hereHope 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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PODCAST!!! The Donald Sterling fiasco, and Mike D’Antoni’s future

Posted by on Apr 29, 2014 in Donald Sterling, Jim Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Mike D'Antoni, Pau Gasol, Podcast |

It’s no exaggeration that since audio of Clippers owner Donald Sterling making racist comments to his mistress was leaked to first to TMZ and then Deadspin, all hell has broken loose. Sterling was hardly a stranger to racial controversies, but being able to connect his (alleged) voice to his (not alleged) world view has raised awareness and dander to a brand new level. Safe to say, this is a mess, and everyone is waiting on pins and needles for the league to take decisive action.

Oh, in the meantime, reports surfaced Friday the Lakers apparently might keep Mike D’Antoni around next season. And said reports have barely made a ripple. As the old saying goes, timing is everything.

The show can be heard by clicking on the module above, and a list of talking points can be found below…

  • Many believe Sterling’s comments don’t just come across as racist, but “plantation” racist. We don’t disagree, although it’s worth adding “paranoid,” “disturbing” and “just plain weird” to the list of adjectives. Then again, racist attitudes often are.
  • I wrote about the shared blame that comes with Donald Sterling flourishing this long. The NBA deserves the biggest share of responsibility, but frankly, many parties have dropped the ball.
  • As Brian noted, the time for players and fans to boycott isn’t necessarily now.
  • Never let it be said the K Bros aren’t fair in their coverage. We do offer Sterling some respect on one count.
  • This incident is the latest example of how, generally speaking, a mistress is just a bad idea. And are you among the many, many, many listeners who’ve gotten down — if you know what I mean – to a K Bros podcast?
  • What will the punishment for Sterling be, and when/how will it be doled out?
  • Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Mark Heisler reports the Lakers have decided to keep Mike D’Antoni next season? If true, what would be the rationale?
  • Speaking of boycotts, Laker fans will threaten one if D’Antoni remains the coach? If that really happened, would it matter?
  • Pau Gasol said on his website that a return to the Lakers could be possible, but some changes would be needed for that to be the case. We have no idea what he’s referring to.

Click above to play, or just download the show hereHope 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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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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