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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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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!!! Kobe’s minutes, the rotation, Dwight’s driving record, and President Mamba(?)

Posted by on Sep 19, 2014 in Byron Scott, Dwight Howard, Jim Buss, Jordan Hill, Kamenetzky Brothers Land O'Lakers Podcast, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, LeBron James, Opinion, Podcast, Steve Nash, Wesley Johnson | 3 comments

With every waking hour, we inch closer and closer to September 29th’s Media Day, and the official start to the Lakers’ new season. Granted, Brian has the day circled on his calender mostly because of the El Segundo facility’s high-end air conditioning system, but the ensuing basketball is a nice bonus, right?

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

  • We take a look at the latest headlines. The Atlanta Hawks have potential buyers. Why does Dwight Howard run so many red lights? Did LeBron James fix his depleted hairline?
  • We dig into some of the details of Mark Medina’s interview with Byron Scott for The Daily News. To begin, there is Scott’s desire to limit Kobe Bryant’s minutes this season. How realistic is this goal, considering Kobe’s legendary stubbornness when it comes to staying on the court? Moreover, could Byron actually convince the All-Star to sit out one end of a back-to-back? Is this even a necessary goal to begin with?
  • For the time being, Scott has penciled in a starting lineup of Steve Nash, Kobe, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer and Jordan Hill? Thumbs up? Thumbs down? Thumbs “who cares?”
  • Byron has promised a training camp so tough, dudes are gonna be puking. Kinda boss or kinda stupid?
  • It’s time for AAK!!! Disney cartoons or Looney Tunes: Who ya got? What is Dan Aykroyd’s best performance? And would you prefer Kobe Bryant as a player only, player/coach, player/owner or player/POTUS?

 

 

 

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Nine interesting things about the upcoming Lakers season

Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Lakers statistics, Opinion, Steve Nash | 12 comments

The calendar says September, still the NBA’s Season of Possibilities, where the Lakers are limited only by lack of imagination and inability to suspend disbelief. But eventually the games will begin, and like most I expect the Season of Realities will be unkind to the purple and gold. A playoff run isn’t impossible, but given the depth in the West, they’ll need a string of things to go right in specific ways, in the same way Powerball winners need a string of things to go right specific ways.

But hey, just because the end result isn’t likely to add substantively to the franchise’s illustrious history, that doesn’t mean we’re staring down the barrel at 82 games of boredom. The 2014-15 season offers plenty of legitimate intrigue, nine examples of which are listed below, in no particular order:

1. Kobe Bryant. 

As outlined here, the track record for elite scoring guards after 30 years old is borderline catastrophic. At 36, Kobe would already be defying history to play at, or even close to, career levels, even before factoring in his injuries. Mentally, how much patience will he have, whether with any new limitations placed on his ability to exert influence on games and seasons? If the Lakers fall out of the playoff race? Were he to drag this bunch into postseason contention, it would go down as one of his most impressive achievements.

Really, how much explanation does putting Kobe on this list require?

2. Julius Randle. 

Rare is the Lakers rookie counted on to develop into a franchise cornerstone (or the type of player potentially garnering one in a trade), but Randle obviously qualifies. There’s plenty to like. Randle has great athleticism for his size, and has a bunch of the requisite intangibles — excited to be a Laker, wants to be pushed, wants to learn, etc. The motor, to use the parlance, seems to be there. He’ll have to adapt to the length and size of NBA competition, which could take time, but the first big hurdle is fitness. Byron Scott has already spoken publicly about the need for Randle to get in shape, which is both a warning and a challenge, and not necessarily reflective of where he is today, physically. Could just be a helpful reminder that whatever a rookie thinks qualifies as being in shape is probably 30-40 percent away from where he actually needs to be. Watching his development, hopefully not hindered by excessive playing time for Carlos Boozer, will be a lot of fun.

3. What does Ed Davis do with a season’s worth of playing time?

When the Grizzlies managed to offload Rudy Gay to the Raptors, plenty of people believed Memphis won the deal not just because they shed Gay’s salary, but also snagged Davis in the process. To that point, particularly in the weeks leading into the trade, Davis had been a pretty efficient scorer with moments, albeit inconsistently, of solid offensive rebounding. For a variety of reasons, he never was given enough consistent playing time to grow with the Grizzlies. Still only 25 with legitimate production at the NBA level under his belt, if Davis can carve out a season’s worth of consistent playing time, he has the most breakout potential of anyone in L.A.’s Short Contract Gang.

4. The last stand of Steve Nash. 

I realize the guy has become a symbol of catastrophe and the whole “I want the money” thing didn’t endear himself to the fan base, but we’re talking about one of the greatest point guards of this or any other generation trying to exit the game on something even kind of resembling his own terms. Those rare moments last season where Nash was able to play effectively — this one, mostly – were great to watch. He doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of equity locally as Kobe, nor should he, but Nash’s story arc this season has the potential to be engrossing. Low risk, high reward.

5. The trade deadline. 

If the Lakers aren’t legitimate playoff contenders in mid-February, attempting to flip Jordan Hill, Jeremy Lin, and anything else not to the floor isn’t a problem. But what if they’re within imagination’s reach of the top eight? On the one hand, even if they beat the odds to make the postseason, as things stand now you’d have to be smoking, and probably eating, piles of northern California’s finest to believe a title is a genuine possibility. Is it worth preserving a quick first round loss to hold assets that might otherwise be traded? On the other, does the front office think they can sell the fan base (and Kobe) on short-circuiting a season in the name of a rebuild? Will they believe they’re obligated to?

6. The Jeremy Lin Phenomenon. 

More than the player himself, who I don’t think lasts more than a year in L.A., I’m interested in the culture around him. The Lakers have a massive following in China. Or maybe more specifically, Kobe does. Still, the brand is powerful there, as is Lin. Moreover, Los Angeles itself has a thriving Chinese community. Linsanity was a phenomenon unlikely to be repeated, but could there be some sort of small scale revival, locally and abroad?

7. What can Byron fix? 

For about six thousand different reasons, ranging from coaching to personnel to psychology, the Lakers were a catastrophe on their end last year. Scott is expected to bring a much more developed sense of defensive commitment, but unless his thinner mustache has supernatural rock-bleeding powers not granted Mike D’Antoni’s somewhat thicker mustache, the results could still be spotty given their lack of perimeter defenders and rim protectors. Yes, teams can exceed the sum of their parts, but the parts do matter. Pushing the Lakers somewhere near league average in defensive efficiency would be a significant achievement. They’ll be all over it early, while everyone’s fresh and full of commitment. Except even last year’s team was 13th in efficiency through the first 16 games. How well do they sustain things through injuries, attrition, and the natural ebbs and flows of 82 games?

8. Swaggy P, Year 2: Electric Swaggaloo. 

Last season, he was solid gold. Imagine how he’ll be now, with a four year deal under his belt?

9. Phil is gone, so does everyone get along? 

He was the elephant in the family room for a long time, but now Phil Jackson is officially, positively, unequivocally not coming back. The Possibility of Phil was a great source of tension between Jim and Jeanie (and for that matter, the organization and fans), but now he’s in New York. So does that help everyone here stay on the same page for good?

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Steve Nash elaborates on “The Money Quote”

Posted by on Apr 18, 2014 in Lakers Analysis, Opinion, Steve Nash | 2 comments

“The reality is, I’m not going to retire because I want the money.”

Steve Nash’s words, in the third installment of “The Finish Line,” the docu-series running on Grantland chronicling Nash’s effort to regain his health and footing as his career winds down. That quote isn’t a full picture of what motivates him, and why, as he detailed again Thursday at his exit interview, he has every intention of finishing out the final year of his contract next season. Nash clearly loves the game, and (rightly) feels when physically able to play has proven he can still contribute at the NBA level. If it was just about the money, or even primarily about it, he wouldn’t bother with the rehab, because the rehab is a grueling, frustrating, theater of pain.

But it’s not not about the money, and saying it out loud brought an avalanche of criticism. From fans and media, including me, both on our podcast and live radio*. To recap, my position was that ethically Nash has an obligation to retire if it was clear he wouldn’t be capable of upholding his half of the contract. I’m not talking about being diminished. Everyone knew that was a possibility when the Lakers executed the sign-and-trade bringing him to Los Angeles. I mean truly unable to play, which at the time seemed the case. Whenever Nash dressed for a game, he’d miss the next three weeks.

And while a few games at the end of the season provided a fuzzy best-case blueprint of what he could bring next year – maybe 50-60 games at 20 minutes per – whether his body can get to that point is still a wide open question. So Thursday, in one of the most candid exit interviews you’ll ever see, I asked Nash about his now infamous (locally, at least) Grantland quote:

Q: Regarding the “money” comment to Grantland, if there a point where you feel like, physically, in the summer if things don’t go well, where you would feel like you just couldn’t uphold your end of the bargain? Would that change your perspective? 

 

Nash: Frankly, I don’t think so. We fight in the collective bargaining to keep guaranteed contracts. I broke my leg playing for this team, and my body’s never been the same. Frankly, I would be lying if I didn’t say I feel that’s my end of the deal. We sign these contracts before (we know what what happens). Maybe it would be a better business if we got paid for what you actually accomplish, but that’s not the business we’re in, and frankly I would have made a lot more money if I got paid afterwards instead of before throughout my career, so it’s just a part of it. It’s a business.

 

And it sounds crass to sit here and talk about money, knowing that I make more money than 99 percent of the people in the world, but it’s the new normal. That’s my life, that’s my reality, and if I’m honest it’s a part of what you expect when you play in this business. I think it would also be false modesty if I apologized for that, and dishonest. That’s a key part of this business and industry. It gets convoluted because I love to play the game, and if I didn’t have any options, and the Lakers said you can come and play for us but by the way  we can’t pay you, and nobody else was offering me a deal, I would still play. And I would play for free. But not when you have three teams offering you money. (Note: knee pain
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He’s referencing the period before eventually agreeing to terms with the Lakers.)
So it gets complicated, and sometimes it looks really ugly to talk about money.

Nash’s response hasn’t changed my mind, but admittedly has me thinking and certainly far more sympathetic to his POV. Equally important, if the question of whether to retire under that set of circumstances is on one level or another a reflection of Nash’s character, so too is his willingness to answer uncomfortable question Thursday with a potentially unpopular, but truthful, reply. He explained his thought process in greater detail, but Nash didn’t back off the basic premise. He wants, and feels he deserves, the money and it’s a reason retirement isn’t on the table. It’s not something he’s going to lie about.

My hope is Nash becomes a semi-reliable presence next year and makes all this moot. Not so much for how it impacts the team’s prospects next year, but because for every 20 minute stretch Nash plays, I’m willing to bet he’ll do one or two things worth the price of admission. It would mean one of the greatest players the game has seen has a chance to leave it on his feet. I’m not optimistic he’s physically capable, but at least there’s a glimmer of possibility.

Either way, in an age where fans and media routinely beg for candor from athletes then skewer guys when they provide it, even if you disagree with Nash’s position on retirement, his conviction is worth respect.

*I’m well aware of how easy it is for me to say what’s right and wrong when I’m not the one leaving $10 mil on the table. Were it my decision to face, I’d likely have a different opinion, and would probably take the cash. But recognizing I’d be making the same questionable choice doesn’t mean it’s not questionable. Also worth noting: Whatever your perspective, this issue isn’t a referendum on the totality of Steve Nash’s ethical and moral core, but rather an issue on which reasonable people can disagree. 

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