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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: Kobe Bryant’s contract extension and what it means for the Lakers

Posted by on Nov 28, 2013 in Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Opinion, Podcast | 2 comments

Monday morning, news broke out of nowhere that the Lakers and Kobe Bryant came to terms on an extension keeping the future Hall of Famer in purple and gold through the 2016 season, presumably the end of his career. On its face, this was purely historic and celebratory day in franchise history, a proclamation that arguably the greatest Laker ever would never wear another uniform. But the devil is always in the details, and Kobe’s contract, which will keep him the NBA’s highest paid player, raised a plethora of questions.

  • Did Kobe prioritize money ahead of winning by refusing to take the larger pay cut many expected, or did he simply refuse on principle to dip any further below his market value? (Evaluated on the merits of his drawing power, there’s no question Bryant is underpaid, and by a long shot.)
  • Kobe’s salary will take up roughly one-third of the team’s cap space moving forward. How will this affect the front office’s ability to build a contending team around him?
  • Was it even necessary for the Lakers to offer Kobe an extension in November, considering they have a relationship nearly two decades long with the guard, who has consistently maintained he’ll retire a Laker, anyway? Plus, he hasn’t even taken the court yet since tearing his Achilles last April. Was potential free agency really such a big risk?
  • Did this extension reveal doubts on the part of Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak, and Kobe about the Lakers’ prospects of becoming a contender in the next two seasons?
  • Why didn’t Jim Buss remove his baseball hat for the commemorative pictures of this landmark event?

All this, and much, much more discussed during the show. Click on the module to hear the show.

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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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.) 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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Encouraging comments from Mitch Kupchak on future free agency

Posted by on Jul 30, 2013 in Dwight Howard, Lakers Analysis, Mitch Kupchak, Opinion | 2 comments

There was a lot of ground covered in Mike Bresnahan's conversation with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak for the LA Times, starting with confirmation of what the team's actions this summer already indicated: They're doing what they can to win games this year, as long as it doesn't ruin flexibility going forward. To Tank or Not to Tank? may be a fun hypothetical, but it's nothing more.

The most interesting stuff dealt with free agency, including Kupchak's admission he had more than an inkling Dwight Howard might bolt, and this about the path to rebuilding for the Lakers:

 ”We do feel Los Angeles is a destination spot. We have complete confidence in the organization, the city, our fan base, that we would be considered as a destination for players in the future. So we're hopeful going forward that the flexibility that we have will be beneficial.”

Kupchak is not allowed to talk publicly about specific players on other teams, but he also alluded to the potentially talented pool of players who could be available two years from now, when Kevin Love,LaMarcus Aldridge, Marc Gasol and Rajon Rondo could be free agents.

“You have to look beyond next year. You can't say we have all this flexibility and we're going to use it all next year,” Kupchak said. “You don't know if you're going to use it for a free agent or a trade or to sign back Pau or Kobe. We're in the position where we can sit down at the end of the year and look and see what's best for the organization. We're in control, so to speak.”

I've expressed concern on a few occasions, whether here or in the last podcast, that the Lakers might bend to the enormous pressure coming next summer to attempt an instant, one-offseason rebuild, signing whatever players they could get their hands on to at least have the appearance of being a major player again. Kupchak's comments are a recognition of how poor a strategy that would be, and that the team is taking a longer view. If the Lakers can get who they want next offseason (a strong possibility, since the group of potential FA's is extremely top heavy, and includes guys who won't make it to market), great. If not, on to the next.

This is spectacular news for Lakers fans, because while it might mean a rebuilding process taking a little longer, it raises the odds of one that actually works.

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Why Elias Harris makes much more sense than Lamar Odom

Posted by on Jul 27, 2013 in Lakers Analysis, Lakers News, Opinion, San Antonio Spurs | 15 comments

p>I didn”t watch him play at Gonzaga, saw virtually no Summer League ball and in those moments I did wasn”t paying particularly close attention to any single player. Still, it”s easy to support the Lakers” decision to sign Elias Harris to fill the league-mandated 13th spot on the roster. (I”m already counting 2nd rounder Ryan Kelly, currently unsigned, as the 12th guy.) For what it”s worth — and it may not be much given the loose relationship between SPL ball and NBA performance — those reviewing Harris in Vegas say he . Given the role he”d almost certainly play with the Lakers, i.e. asked to do virtually anything but score, that”s a big deal. But the key numbers for Harris: 24 years old, 6″8″, 240 lbs. Meaning he”s is a big body in the frontcourt, and most importantly a fairly young, potentially developing talent and reason enough to like him as a concept, even if (like me) you don”t know much about him as a player.

Cheap youth and upside are things the Lakers don”t have nearly enough access to, given all the draft picks they”ve traded away over the last few years. Until they can replenish their stocks on the trade market, the franchise starts to rebuild with one hand tied behind its back. That reality puts a premium on finding talent that may have fallen through the cracks, guys who cost a million but eventually play like they”re worth three or four. The type of player San Antonio churns out regularly.

Is Harris that guy? I have no idea. The odds say likely not, but if they believe Harris has potential to crack an NBA rotation the Lakers did the smart thing in signing him. If they”re right, they”ll have a quality asset at a low cost.

Certainly Harris makes more sense than Lamar Odom, a popular candidate for a roster spot among more sentimental fans, but someone who on most levels is a poor fit for the Lakers of 2013-14. While last season”s run with the Clippers was certainly an improvement on his apocalyptic turn in Dallas, Odom still didn”t crack 40 percent from the floor and . But more importantly, he”ll be 34 in November, and has virtually no chance to provide the Lakers with what they need long term.

This before he went supernova as a tabloid/TMZ star over the last couple weeks, a distraction worth tolerating for a Sixth Man of the Year candidate, less so for the space Odom currently occupies, particularly on a team without realistic title hopes.

I don”t know if they will given the financial considerations involved, but I”d love to see them sign another “Harris” or two, making more small investments in the future that could pay big dividends (and save them some cash) down the road. At the very least, the move is another in a positive summer-long trend for the Lakers, who continue using their limited assets on younger players potentially capable of growing with the team.

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