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Podcast! 2014-15 NBA and Lakers Season Preview!

Posted by on Oct 28, 2014 in Jeanie Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers Audio, LeBron James, Miami Heat, Mitch Kupchak, Nick Young, Opinion |

And so it begins!

All that was the preseason is gone, all that will be the regular season lay before us, kicking off Tuesday at Staples when the Lakers face Donatas Motiejunas (and Dwight Howard) and the Houston Rockets. What will the 2014-15 campaign bring, both in L.A. and across the Association? We break it down in our Big Season Preview, while also tackling a few important Lakers-related issues along the way.

Among the talking points:

  • Headlines! Slow going on contract negotiations for Klay Thompson and Kawhi Leonard. NBA owners reject lottery reform. Where do the Lakers land on SI.com’s entertainment index?
  • The end of Steve Nash.
  • Preseason wrap up. Where did the Lakers look encouraging, where were they discouraging, and can anyone around here play point guard for more than 20 minutes without hurting himself?
  • Jeanie Buss defends Kobe and the franchise.
  • 2014-15 NBA and Lakers Season Preview. Who wins the East? The West? The Larry O? All the major awards, plus over/under predictions on Lakers victories, MPG and games played for Kobe Bryant.
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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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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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Reinvention will be the key skill for Lakers next hire

Posted by on May 3, 2014 in Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak, Opinion | 8 comments

(NOTE: Below is my column on the Lakers and their just-beginning search for a new coach, written for SheridanHoops.com…)

A fairly inclusive list of potential replacements for Mike D’Antoni, following his resignation as head coach of the Lakers earlier this week: John Calipari, Kevin Ollie, Byron Scott, Jeff Van Gundy, Stan Van Gundy, Derek Fisher, George Karl, Mike Dunleavy, Kurt Rambis, Lionel Hollins, Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, Steve Kerr, Ettore Messina…

Plenty of impressive names, but hardly reflective of some grand organizational philosophy on playing style or priorities beyond, as has been reported, to “make a splash.” 

It’s an expression that ought to make Lakers fans nervous, because it implies one big mission is to cleanse the fanbase’s collective palate after two failed coaching hires since Phil Jackson’s departure, and the bitter taste of the previous two seasons. As opposed to, you know, finding the best candidate for doing the job. Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but the emphasis ought to be entirely on the latter, with the former as a byproduct.

Which gets to the big challenge facing Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak entering what will likely be a long process: It’s very difficult to match a coach to a team when there’s really no team to match him with. The Lakers have three guys under contract next season, one of whom may not actually be able to play (Steve Nash), another coming off two major injuries at age 36 and a six-game 2013-14 season (Kobe Bryant) and the third who is Robert Sacre (Robert Sacre).

While it would obviously be less surprising to see the Lakers reconstruct a high-end roster this summer than say, Milwaukee, odds favor next season’s team looking a lot like this year’s talent-thin polyglot of short term contracts designed to maintain maximum cap space going forward. So the squad Future Coach gets in his first year is likely to be vastly different than the one he has in 2015-16, and probably again in 2016-17.

And each of those teams will could have a vastly different mix of superstar ego and skill set. It’s perfectly reasonable to believe the first three seasons for L.A.’s next coach could play out something like this:

-Year 1, bad team orbiting around Kobe, cultivating a critically important #1 pick.

-Year 2, a better team orbiting around Kobe and The Team’s Next Star Acquisition, someone who may or may not mesh well with Bryant.

-Year 3, a still growing team, now without Bryant but folding in still more new players, and perhaps a second new superstar, who may or may not mesh perfectly with the one imported the year before.

I’ve long maintained the star L.A.’s next coach has to best mesh with isn’t currently on the roster. That doesn’t mean Kobe Bryant won’t present a massive challenge to D’Antoni’s successor. (After all, why should he get off easier?) There will be pressure, not just because of anything Kobe might say or do but the enormous capital he has among fans and his place in local basketball culture, to, if not conform to Kobe’s preferences on the floor, at the very least look like it. To some degree, you gotta kiss the ring.

(One line of thinking: You don’t give a player $48 million for two years and not tailor things to him. The other: You give a guy $48 million precisely so you don’t have to.)

Whoever coaches the Lakers next will obviously need the strength to work effectively with Kobe, handle the L.A. media and a very edgy legion of fans, and navigate what is likely to be a tough first season (this time without the lure of a guaranteed lottery pick at the end of the rainbow). From there, he’ll have to fold in new stars with new egos and skill sets, but with no way to effectively anticipate who those stars might be, because the NBA doesn’t work that way.

The team’s system could easily have to change three times in three years.

Everyone has an wish list for the next coach of the Lakers. Better defense, a system more tailored to Bryant’s skill set, savvier communication with the media and better communication in the locker room, cache potentially drawing free agents, and so on. But while all those things matter, the timing of D’Antoni’s resignation combined with the current state of the franchise mean the most important quality for the Lakers’ new sideline guru will be flexibility and a gift for reinvention.

There is no shortage of quality options, to be sure. But after botching their last two hires, even if they prioritize the right things, there’s no guarantee they’ll come up with the right fit, in part because anticipating what he’ll fit into is so difficult.

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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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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, hd projector
general contractor
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platelet rich plasma
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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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