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The Lakers land Lou Williams… Good or bad?

Posted by on Jul 6, 2015 in free agency, Opinion | 10 comments

Sunday morning, I passed along thoughts on Roy Hibbert.

To summarize, in a vacuum the trade is solid. He’ll be a significant help defensively, and Hibbert is more valuable than the (presumed) second rounder they’ll eventually send Indiana. Unfortunately, the Lakers don’t exist in a vacuum, and this trade is another in a stretch of moves adding no clarity to the rebuild.

Later Sunday afternoon, the Lakers agreed to a deal with Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams, reportedly snatching him up from the Raptors for three years and $21 million. On its face, the Lakers have spent money on a guy duplicating much of what they get from Kobe Bryant and Nick Young. All three are high volume shooters/scorers, and in the case of Young particularly the Lakers have paid for a role they already have — a guy who comes off the bench and puts points. Williams is a better version, no question, but it’s still basically the same gig.

I was critical of the Hibbert trade because it feels aimed at 2015-16 when 2016-17 is more important. The Williams deal is the opposite. Given the need to remove as much weight from Kobe’s shoulders as possible and broader questions about Young’s play, Williams will surely come in handy, but he doesn’t address any glaring needs for this season. Except the Lakers need to answer the question every high end free agent is going to ask: If I join your squad, who am I playing with?

In two seasons, Kobe will likely be gone, and if the Lakers have their way, so will Young. At that point, Williams slides into the same sixth man role he’s played effectively throughout his career, still young enough to do it at a high level. If all goes well, the Lakers can tell free agents next summer they have a thriving core of young up-and-comers in D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, and Jordan Clarkson (made even stronger should guys like Larry Nance, Anthony Brown, or — assuming he makes the team — Robert Upshaw show promise). To that, add one of the best sixth men in the league.

It’s not a huge step, but it’s a step, and a positive one. One of many the Lakers will need to convince elite players on the quality of the roster going forward.

 

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Lakers land Roy Hibbert

Posted by on Jul 5, 2015 in free agency, Kevin Durant, Lakers Analysis, Opinion | 7 comments

As my youngest has grown fond of saying, “I have good news, and I have bad news.”

The good news? The Lakers have landed a viable starting center, acquiring Roy Hibbert from the Pacers in exchange for a future second round pick. It’s a straight salary dump for Indiana, and in a vacuum the price for L.A. is great. Hibbert slides into the vast expanse of their available cap space, and the Lakers (I suspect) give up little impacting them anytime soon. Hibbert has his flaws. Since making a second All-Star team in 2014, his play has been wildly inconsistent. He’s not as prolific a rebounder as a man his size should be. Broadly, Hibbert has been a wreck offensively for the last few seasons — his 44.8 percent mark from the floor in ’12-’13 is his best over the last three.

Were none of these things true, the Pacers would happily have paid him this year.

Importantly, though, Hibbert is still elite level rim protector who will be a big help to Julius Randle on the frontline and erase many of the mistakes made by the puppy/old dog backcourt of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Kobe Bryant. The Lakers completely lacked defensive structure last year, so plopping Hibbert in the middle is a significant improvement. His fit offensively is a different story, but truly is the least of Byron Scott’s problems.

The Lakers are better today than they were yesterday, and have enough space (about $5 million, according to the eggheads) to troll whatever’s left on the free agent rolls, or see if anyone else wants to offload another player.

The bad news?

In an offseason where, once again, it has been made abundantly clear free agents want to join products that are, if not finished, well on the way. Greg Monroe chose the Bucks because they’re playoff ready, and should improve over the next few years. Milwaukee doesn’t have the cachet of Los Angeles, but the guy wants to see the postseason for the first time in his career. That’ll happen far faster in Wisconsin than here. Hibbert, while a decent enough consolation prize for the Lakers after losing out on basically all of free agent humanity, does absolutely nothing to answer the same, critical question free agents are going to ask next summer:

Who am I going to play with?

Hopefully Russell, Randle, and Clarkson develop, and make the franchise more appealing. But it’s insane to believe Kevin Durant is going to sign in L.A. next summer based on the promise of those guys. They can be traded, but giving up too many in any one deal leaves the Lakers with gaping holes hurting their viability as a destination for stars. If Hibbert plays well, are the Lakers going to pay to keep him? Doing good work finding players on one year deals does little good if those players simply use the Lakers to get better money down the road. He could be trade bait, but the Lakers have done a horrible job over the last few seasons extracting value from future free agents. Hard to trust they’ll reverse the trend.

I’d rather have three years of Ed Davis at about $7 million and another $15 million or so to do I please than one year of Hibbert. At some point, the Lakers have to start building a squad going beyond the three rookies and a pristine payroll sheet. Say what you’d like about the quality of their analytics – the Lakers would need statistical Svengalis to convince someone like LaMarcus Aldridge he’d be better here than San Antonio. The reason L.A.’s basketball pitch was weak is simple: There is no answer to those questions. They’re a restaurant selling ambiance, beautiful waitresses, and a nice wine list. Nice features, except ultimately when people go out to eat they want good food. The Lakers barely have a kitchen, let alone a well-conceived menu. They’ve leaned on cap money — “payroll flexibility,” in their terminology — but over the next two offseasons those dollars become less valuable as the cap rises and nearly every other team has money to spend.

Instead, Lakers have spent another summer making long-odds casts for big fish while the smaller, more attainable ones — those potentially providing the infrastructure and assets needed to build a team — swim away. The ’15-’16 product is a little better now, but the ’16-’17 squad, the one the Lakers should be more concerned with, isn’t.

That’s the part they don’t seem to understand.

 

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PODCAST! Kobe’s done (what’s next?), Ghostbusters reboot, Super Bowl and the mature J.R. Smith

Posted by on Jan 29, 2015 in Byron Scott, free agency, Jeanie Buss, Jeremy Lin, Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers, Opinion, Podcast |

Kobe Bryant is on the shelf for the rest of the year and his availability and effectiveness for next season are in question… again.  After steadfastly projecting what I refer to as “faux competitiveness,” the Lakers front office is staring down another season without a postseason and and a summer of critical importance… again. And these crossroads feature a coach who’s yet to reveal himself as right choice moving forward… again.

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

  • Kobe Bryant underwent successful surgery for a torn rotator cuff, meaning he’s done for the season. This being his third consecutive season ending injury, it’s fair to wonder whether he’ll call it an early retirement. But if Kobe does return, what can be realistically expected from the superstar guard next season? And either way, how should the Lakers move forward as an organization?
  • We take a look at the latest headlines. With Brandon Jennings and Kemba Walker injured, is Jeremy Lin suddenly a more valuable trade commodity? J.R. Smith is partying less in Cleveland than in New York. The Warriors reveals Chinese New Years jerseys that are either very classy, totally insulting, or both. The lineups for the All-Star Game’s three-point shooting and dunk contest are pretty damn awesome.
  • We react to the casting news for the all-female Ghostbusters reboot.
  • If Lance Armstrong could do it all over again, he’d do it exactly the same. And by “it,” he means “take PED.” What should we make of this rather candid admission?
  • It’s time for a Super Bowl-themed AAK!!! Who is the ideal halftime performer? Would we rather watch the game at the 50 yard line in person or on a 60-inch screen at a party? Do the K Bros root “Bud” or “Bud Light” in the Bud Bowl?

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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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 opiate addiction
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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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