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Tuesday, January 04, 2011

What is Wrong with the Lakers?

The two-time defending NBA champion L.A. Lakers have lost four of their last six games--including an embarrassing 104-85 setback at home on Sunday night versus the Memphis Grizzlies--and they are currently tied for fourth-fifth place in the very strong Western Conference, six and a half games behind the league-leading 29-4 San Antonio Spurs. "What is wrong with the Lakers?" is a question being asked by commentators and fans alike but in order to correctly answer that we must first objectively look at what was "right" with the Lakers when they made it to three straight NBA Finals and won two titles.

The two most important ingredients in the Lakers' dominance this past decade (five championships, plus two Finals losses) have been Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson; point guard Derek Fisher is the only other person who has been on the court for all of those championships/Finals appearances but he is the ultimate role player--a clutch shooter who was also a scrappy defender during his prime--while Bryant and Jackson are each the best at their respective jobs. Much was said a few years ago about Bryant not being able to "do without" Shaquille O'Neal but the Lakers completely rebuilt their team around Bryant while O'Neal has won just one championship after leaving L.A. despite latching on with MVP-level stars in Miami, Phoenix and Cleveland.

Jackson's coaching philosophy involves the Triangle Offense, stingy defense and control of the backboards but even though he is a better strategist than his critics admit the true measure of his brilliance is the way that he relates to the various personalities on his roster; Jackson tolerates a certain degree of individuality/eccentricity as long as a player is ultimately making an overall contribution to the team's success: Jackson is not a control freak yet he is most assuredly in control of how his team functions. He is wise enough to understand that games are won during practice by properly preparing; screaming and ranting on the sideline is just a smokescreen used by some coaches to act like they are doing something productive. You rarely see truly great coaches (Jackson, Wooden, Belichick) get involved in that kind of nonsense, but you do hear a lot of idiots mocking Jackson for sitting placidly on the sideline on those rare occasions when his team is not performing well. Jackson knows that putting on a sideshow for the TV cameras will not help his team.

Jackson's teams have won 11 of the last 20 NBA championships. Let that number sink in for a minute: Jackson has been monopolizing NBA titles since the end of the Bird/Magic era! Yes, Jackson has been blessed to coach all-time greats Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant but while talent is an essential ingredient to winning it is far from the only necessary ingredient; many great players never won a title and many coaches have had numerous Hall of Famers yet failed to deliver a championship.

Bryant's most obvious contribution to the Lakers' success is his prolific scoring but Bryant has also been the team's top playmaker during all of their Finals runs (and, indeed, throughout the vast majority of his career); Bryant annually leads the Lakers in assists but his playmaking is not merely measured by that flawed, subjective statistic: his value is signified by the way that he consistently draws double teams that break down opposing defenses and create shot opportunities for his teammates. Bryant is also an annual fixture on the All-Defensive team, an honor selected by NBA head coaches who realize that Bryant is just as disruptive defensively as he is offensively. Bryant sets the tone for the Lakers in terms of preparation, focus and intensity, though unfortunately he is a lot more self motivated about those things than his teammates are. Bryant's leadership style can be abrasive at times, though not as much as Michael Jordan's, yet Jordan is largely praised as a leader while Bryant is wrongly criticized for supposedly being aloof yet critical and selfish yet passive (when he allegedly "pouts" by not shooting the ball); the fact that the criticisms are contradictory is itself an indication that the charges are largely groundless: Bryant is not perfect but he is without question fanatically devoted to trying to win championships above all else; as he has pointed out, other players often protect their statistics by sitting out when they have minor injuries but Bryant tries to play no matter what because he knows that even in a diminished capacity he can still impact the outcome of a game.

The Lakers are often touted as the most talented and deepest team in the NBA, a notion that I first refuted in 2009 and then refuted again after the 2010 Finals when I noted, "A major theme throughout this series--and any series that involves Bryant--was how much Bryant's presence distorted the opposing team's defense and thus created both open shots and offensive rebounding opportunities for Bryant's teammates." Few players have greater individual and/or team success before or after playing with Bryant than they do while playing with Bryant--and that holds true from the sublime (O'Neal) to the ridiculous (Kwame Brown, Smush Parker). Ron Artest was more productive individually earlier in his career but he was also a wild card who sabotaged his teams and who has admitted that he did not pay attention to team leaders because he did not respect them the way that he respects Bryant. This is not to suggest that Bryant has won championships on his own without any help--no one wins championships on his own in a team sport--but the key point is that Bryant has proven that he can win championships with a variety of different teammates and that he plays in a way that brings out the best in those teammates; if you regularly watch NBA games then you know that former coaches Hubie Brown and Jeff Van Gundy constantly praise Bryant's passing ability and decision making even though many ill informed writers, bloggers and fans insist that Bryant is a selfish gunner.

The one thing that even most of Bryant's critics begrudgingly give Bryant credit for--hitting game-winning shots--is a somewhat overrated aspect of the sport, because being a clutch player is more significant than just making clutch shots: Bryant averaged 28.7 ppg on .492 field goal shooting in the six games last season that culminated in his game-winning shots; he dominated those games before delivering the coup de grace and if the Lakers had not won those games then they would have finished with a 51-31 record that would have placed them sixth in the West instead of first, making it very difficult for them to return to the NBA Finals.

That provides a nice segue to what is wrong with the Lakers this season; Bryant is performing at a comparable level to the way he played the three previous seasons but his supporting cast is playing worse--so much worse, in fact, that Bryant has been unable to carry the Lakers to the finish line with the score close enough for him to attempt many game-winning shots, let alone nail half a dozen of them. Pau Gasol's productivity and efficiency have plunged after he initially started off the season playing as well as he ever had during his career. Gasol is a talented player but he seems to need to be incessantly pushed and prodded by Jackson and Bryant in order to play up to his full capabilities. Jackson wants Gasol to be a presence in the paint at both ends of the court but Gasol has a tendency to drift and play very passively. If Gasol wants more shot attempts then all he needs to do is to either post up aggressively or else set aggressive screens and then roll strongly to the hoop: in the first case he will often get one on one coverage because the defense is tilted to Bryant and in the second case he will often get a free run to the hoop because both defenders trap Bryant to make him give up the ball. It seems like Gasol goes through stretches when he wants to play without having to deal with a lot of physical contact but when Gasol does what he is supposed to do Bryant delivers him the ball on time and on target; I have seen many instances when Bryant encouraged Gasol to cut harder or take an open shot but I have never seen Bryant criticize Gasol for shooting too much. There is no reason to suggest that Bryant is intentionally hogging the ball or trying to diminish Gasol's role.

Lamar Odom started the season putting up the kind of numbers that he should post all the time, but the calls to put him on the Western Conference All-Star team were not only premature but also a bit delusional: as I always say when people suggest that Player X should be an All-Star, who would you leave off of the team? This year's Western Conference All-Star forwards should be Dirk Nowitzki, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Love; I am counting Gasol as a center because he spent most of the first half of the season there but Gasol should also clearly be on the All-Star team ahead of Odom, whether Gasol is categorized as a center, forward or one of the two Wild Cards. The "premature" aspect of the crowning of Odom is becoming increasingly clear, too: Odom has posted double figure rebounds in just one of the Lakers' last eight games--and rebounding, not his much vaunted versatility, is Odom's most important contribution to the team.

Ron Artest was reasonably well focused last season but this season his mind has wandered a bit. He likely will never completely learn the Triangle Offense but even his defense this season has not been quite as good as expected.

Andrew Bynum missed the early portion of the season due to a knee injury and is now trying to round into shape (and avoid yet another injury). Based on his career thus far, there is every reason to believe that at some point during this season he will string together some double doubles--and then get hurt again. I don't wish any ill on him but he just does not seem to be capable of being highly productive and injury free at the same time. The Lakers will likely once again have to make a title run while Bynum is essentially an afterthought in the rotation.

Derek Fisher is a gallant basketball warrior but his shooting percentage continues to decline and he struggles mightily to stay in front of quick point guards. I thought that Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff would boost the Lakers' bench but Ratliff got hurt and Blake has been inconsistent (Barnes has been solid but no more than that).

Shannon Brown started off the season on fire but two disturbing trends have converged: he has cooled off yet he insists on taking quick shots anyway.

Naturally, in this day and age of superficial media coverage, when the Lakers struggle the discussion turns not to the failures and shortcomings of the aforementioned players but rather how many shots Kobe Bryant attempts. Some people make a lot of noise about the Lakers' record when Bryant attempts more than a certain number of shots but that statistic is meaningless for many reasons: the sample sizes are not significant (they are too small and/or do not involve a representative sample of good and bad opposing teams), the number of shots that Bryant takes can be affected by last second half court heaves/other extraneous factors that have nothing to do with supposedly hogging the ball and these critics make no attempt to prove that Bryant's number of shot attempts has a cause/effect relationship with winning and losing--Bryant may start shooting more only when the Lakers are already in desperate straits and/or because his teammates are unwilling/unable to get off shots in these particular games. Coach Jackson has repeatedly spoken of Bryant's tendency to "fill the vacuum" created by his teammates' uncertainty and/or ineffectiveness. When Coach Jackson said after the Memphis loss that Bryant had to "screw up the game" in the third quarter to try to rescue the Lakers you could almost hear the gears in Mike Wilbon's and Bill Simmons' brains working overtime to produce more screeds about Bryant shooting too much but Coach Jackson soon clarified what he meant: "When the game starts getting out of hand, rightfully so, Kobe will crank it up, not screw it up. I use that term screw it up but not in terms of being an error or mistake, but crank it up and he'll go to another notch to try to get us back in a ball game. That's something we do in the fourth quarter. That's our fourth quarter action. That's how we win ball games. We have to crank it up and do it in the fourth quarter. We didn't have much in the gas tank after that." If you have followed Coach Jackson's career then you know that he sometimes makes eccentric word choices and you have to read between the lines or know his history to understand exactly what he means. He did not mean that Bryant "screwed up" the Memphis game; he meant that the Lakers were already out of whack and that when the Lakers get out of whack Bryant attempts to save the day. The way that many people just ran with the "screw it up" comment reminds me of something that happened early in my journalism career; then Cavs Coach Paul Silas told me that Bob Dandridge had been a "talker" during his playing days, which I interpreted to mean "trash talker"--but that does not fit in at all with what I know about Dandridge, so I immediately asked Coach Silas to clarify and Coach Silas explained that he meant that Dandridge communicated very well with his teammates on the court. A less principled and/or less informed writer would have produced a story saying that Dandridge was a big trash talker. It is so important for journalists to be very informed about their subject matter and very aware of what people are really saying so that their stories are accurate but I have seen and heard far too many examples of journalists deliberately taking quotes out of proper context in order to tell the story that they want to tell: in their minds, the "higher truth" (whether it be that Bryant is selfish or any other mission statement that they deem to be very important) outweighs the "minor truth" of what someone actually said or meant.

Bryant's response to Jackson's comments is very interesting and revealing:

When you've been around Phil for as many years as I have, we all understand that he likes coaching publicly. I think it's important for the new guys to understand that--Ron, Pau, guys have issues with that. You see myself, you see Fish, we understand that's how he coaches. It's fine. Let him do his job and you go about your business. But he was right. I totally broke the offense. But I did it intentionally because we needed to get something started. We were doing it and it wasn't working. I tried to kick-start it. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't. But that's my responsibility. When it works out, great. When it doesn't, take the criticism for it but I have thick enough skin to be able to do that.

I was trying to win the game. We were playing like [crap]...We all were. I was trying to get something going and pump a little energy to us and get something going. It just didn't work out. Phil doesn't care how many shots I take. He just wants me to take it inside the offense. Yesterday was one of those things where it was [get away from] the triangle, I need to get something going and try to save this damn game.

Somehow, though, I doubt that Jackson's clarifications and Bryant's statement will put an end to those ESPN and TNT graphics charting Bryant's field goal attempts in Lakers' wins and losses. It is certainly clear to anyone who looks at Bryant's body of work that the Lakers are not negatively affected when Bryant exceeds his scoring average, which is a much more relevant statistic than field goal attempts: the Lakers are 72-33 (.686) during his career when he scores at least 40 points, which projects to a little more than 56 wins in an 82 game season. This did not just hold true when the Lakers were a talent-depleted team after Shaquille O'Neal's departure; the Lakers went 7-1 in 2009-10 when Bryant scored at least 40 points. As I previously documented, during last season's playoffs the Lakers went 10-4 when Bryant scored at least 30 points (including 1-0 when he scored at least 40) but just 6-3 when he scored fewer than 30 points.

Though you will never hear Bryant complain about it--or even mention it unless someone asks him a direct question--he is currently playing with wraps on both his right index finger (the one that suffered an avulsion fracture last season) and his left middle finger. Bryant is far from being a severely declining player--contrary to what Charles Barkley says--but he does not have quite the lower body explosiveness that he did a few years ago. So don't look for Bryant to run off a string of 40 point or 50 point games as he did earlier in his career; he is going to carry his portion of the load by continuing to average 25-27 ppg on circa .450 field goal shooting while drawing constant double teams and the onus is on his teammates to be productive enough to keep the score close enough so that Bryant can, in Coach Jackson's words, "crank it up in the fourth quarter."

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posted by David Friedman @ 2:26 AM

23 comments

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23 Comments:

At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 11:54:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

Hi, David.

#1. Great article, on your part.

#2. All too frequently, when I write what I write about how the game of basketball is actually played at the highest levels of competition, it appears as though some who read it choose to interpret my words in a similar way to how you've described those who mis-understand what a terrific coach like Phil Jackson tries to say/accomplish when he chooses to use specific words in a slightly "different way" - i.e. eccentric - compared with a regular person, or coach for that matter.

IMO, what you've written here, re: the way in which Phil Jackson speaks on a regular basis, is a highly accurate observation. :-)

#3. Do you think it possible that your interpretation of the events surrounding LeBron James' final games for Cleveland may have actually sufferred from "trying to tell a form of 'higher truth'?"

#4. Like you, I, too, see the major problems with this current edition of the Lakers being most attributable to the poor play of the teammates working around Kobe Bryant, so far.

- Mitch Kupchak should not have traded Sasha Vujacic, w/o getting another perimeter shooter in return
- Micht Kupchak should have known that Steve Blake would not be an upgrade to Jordan Farmar
- Mitch Kupchak should have known that Matt Barnes is a disruptive influence on a team, rather than a talent upgrade
- Mitch Kupchak should have known that Josh Powell was an integral part of the Lakers for each of his seasons in LA, and would need to be replaced adequately, in terms of personality and ability, if "the trains were going to continue to run on time" for this year's squad
- PJ needs to give Gasol more rest to compensate for the heavy workload he was forced to bear early in the season when the team was w/o Bynum and Ratliff was injured
- PJ needs to use the youthful athleticism of both Ebanks and Caracter more than he has recently chosen to do
- PJ needs to play Luke Walton more minutes going forward

PJ recently made the right decision to return Bynum to the starting line-up.

If PJ now uses a rotation of:

STARTERS: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol & Bynum
KEY SUBS: Brown, Ebanks, Walton & Odom
--------------------------------
RESERVES: Blake, Barnes & Caracter
EXTRAS/OUTS: Ratliff & Smith

it would be very interesting to see just how quickly the Lakers can gel, as a cohesive unit.

Cheers ... and, keep up the good work!

 
At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 2:12:00 PM, Anonymous Lakerfan in Jamaica said...

Loving this new article. I'm a huge Laker fan and it's been so discouraging seeing them struggle and lose so monstrously in the last few weeks. And listening to/reading sports journalism is just as frustrating. From the typical "Bryant is a selfish ballhog" to the "Lakers are just bored" excuses, there is no real (ie, informed) background as to why they are losing. You article cleared up a lot of the things I've been wondering about.

I am interested in knowing though: (1)Do you think the Lakers still have a reasonable shot at winning a third championship? (I know they're still a good possibility, but are they a REAL threat, given how the West and teams like Miami and Boston have improved) and (2) Can they win with this current roster, or is it a case of the Laker FO needing to follow Orlando's example and retool the team. The Lakers still look good on paper, but on the court, is a whole 'nother issue.

 
At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 2:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

im a laker fan l;ove phil greatest coach ever. like kobe great player. thgey need to start playing with some heart, david and not let memphis and bucks beat u by 19 and 15 at home. they are way too good for that i expect them to be there when it counts.

andrew bynum, u hit on nose lol david he puts string of good games together than gets hurt comes back for pklayoffs just a staue or limited.

shannon brown played well early him barnes blake then he fell off after that and not playing as well as he was earlier.

ron artest the season has started my friend.

derek fish playing as well as expected for 35 and older vet player.

pau gasol

where u been the last 20 games first 14 he was mvp canidate 25 12 56 percent since then he been subpar for all nba standards or best big in league some claim.

lamar odom has played well this season he been very productive player kevin love is better he desrves dirk tim duncan carmelo and durant should be on all star team odom deserves real recopgn itionb but i agree he shoulkd of been doin this his whole career

dont agree with comments on shaq but thats off topic pretty much lakers got to beat pistons suns they be all right at end

 
At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 3:15:00 PM, Blogger adam said...

a perfect article. so well written, and cognizant of the in's-and-out's of basketball.

 
At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 6:20:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

1) Thank you.

2) The great Frank Herbert once wrote (in the novel Whipping Star), "If you say 'I understand'... you have made a value judgment." Listening with true understanding is a very important yet oft neglected aspect of being a good journalist. It is far too easy to assume that one correctly understands the meaning of what another person is saying--and it is even easier to twist what another person has said to suit one's own purpose.

3) Contrast my coverage of LeBron James from when he entered the league until now with the way others have covered him. For instance, the Cleveland media fawned over him for years and wrongly compared him to Magic Johnson (who was truly a pass first player, unlike the highly prolific scorer that LeBron is) only to completely turn on LeBron after he left, with Windhorst going so far as to say he regrets voting for LeBron as the MVP (a stance that I predict Windhorst will contradict yet again by the end of the year). It is clear that LeBron quit during the Boston series, particularly in the pivotal game five. All you have to do is watch the video of that game and compare how lethargic LeBron looked with how energetic and involved he was on Christmas Day versus the Lakers--THAT LeBron James could have led the Cavs to victory over Boston. I thought that LeBron should have stayed in Cleveland but I cannot and did not fault him for wanting to play with Wade and Bosh, nor did I ever promote the nonsense that LeBron will be Miami's second option (and I refuted the lunacy of attempting to insult LeBron by calling him "LePippen"); I simply said that he handled the "Decision" very poorly.

In other words, there are many examples of people twisting the LeBron narrative to suit their own purposes/tell a "higher truth" but I stuck to the facts: LeBron has been the best regular season player in the NBA for the past two-plus seasons, he inexplicably quit versus Boston in the playoffs and he made a reasonable decision to play alongside two other stars but handled the decision making process/announcement very poorly. Even though I think that LeBron has handled himself poorly in some regards I have not allowed that to cloud my judgment about his value as a player.

4) Vujacic was not even a rotation player any more. The Lakers got rid of him to save money but perhaps you are right that they could have obtained more value in return.

Farmar did not play well in the Triangle and was itching to prove that he could start somewhere else (which makes it ironic that he is now a bench player for a sub-.500 team).

Blake picked up the Triangle very quickly but has fallen into a shooting slump recently. Jackson is trying to rebuild Blake's confidence and I think that Blake will bounce back soon. He is better suited to defend quick pgs than Fisher is, so Blake should be valuable in the playoffs.

Powell was a very solid contributor, though I am not convinced that his role was quite as important as you suggest.

It does appear that Gasol needs more rest, though this contradicts the earlier praise that he received in some quarters for being an exceptionally durable, well conditioned big man; most such big men can play 35-40 mpg without falling apart.

As I am sure you know, Jackson does not tend to play rookies very much, so the young, energy guys are unlikely to become rotation regulars (unless someone gets hurt).

The rotation that you suggested is pretty solid but I think that Jackson will play Blake ahead of Ebanks and that Walton's balky back will likely prevent him from being a regular member of the rotation. If healthy, Walton could be a valuable reserve because of his passing skills and high basketball IQ but, like his father, he is very injury prone.

 
At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 6:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Lakerfan in Jamaica:

1) The Lakers are still a real threat to win a championship because Kobe Bryant is still an MVP level player and Phil Jackson is still the team's coach.

2) I am not convinced that Orlando's retooling will result in winning a championship. The Lakers would be ill advised to follow a similar path and I cannot conceive of a feasible deal that would help them at this point. Despite his flaws, Gasol is a very good second option when teamed with Bryant. If the Lakers could obtain another wing scorer who can create his own shot and/or a top notch defensive pg that would be great but they would have to blow up their roster to do so and that would create worse problems than they have now.

The Lakers' best option is to stay the course with a nucleus that has been to the Finals for three straight years and won two consecutive championships. Phil Jackson has already won three threepeats and on each occasion the third championship was by far the toughest; he refers to it as a difficult "odyssey" and we can see the Lakers going through similar struggles right now. A team that has won two titles must battle mental and physical fatigue plus complacency. An additional challenge is that the Celtics, Spurs and Mavericks have reloaded while the Heat have emerged as a potential threat.

 
At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 6:36:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

I never bought the idea that Gasol was an MVP candidate because an MVP candidate must sustain high level performance for an entire season. When I asked Coach Jackson about that, he said that an MVP level player must perform under duress when the outcome of the game is in doubt and that he and the coaching staff have been disappointed with Gasol in that regard after his quick start. Gasol is a solid All-Star who played above that level briefly but he is not an MVP level player the way that Kobe, LeBron and very few others are.

The Shaq situation worked out very much the way that I predicted it would; when he left L.A. I said that it could be a good short term deal for Miami but a good long term deal for the Lakers: the Heat won one title and then fell apart, while the Lakers rebuilt around Bryant to once again become the dominant team in the NBA. Although Shaq said that Kobe could not "do without" him Shaq has yet to partner up with a wing player as dominant and durable as Kobe; that is why Kobe is chasing another threepeat while Shaq is hoping to ride Boston's Big Three plus Rondo to one final championship run.

 
At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 6:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Adam:

Thank you.

 
At Tuesday, January 04, 2011 11:10:00 PM, Anonymous dsong said...

A quote from the classic film, "Airplane!":

"I think you're the greatest, but my dad says you don't work hard enough on defense. And he says that lots of times, you don't even run down court. And that you don't really try, except during the playoffs."

Yup, that's the Lakers team that we all know and love. They're they proverbial "Randy Moss" of the NBA - they play when they feel like it.

I remember hearing something like this in 2001, midst the whole Kobe-Shaq feud. I think they ended up going 15-1 in the playoffs.

Talent and experience generally wins out in the playoffs. Teams that "dog it" during the regular season will find a way to push that magic button once the playoffs begin. I've seen it happen way too often. Heck, we saw the Lakers and Celtics do exactly that just last season. I wouldn't make the Lakers an odds-on favorite to win the Championship, but it would hardly be a shock if they did.

 
At Wednesday, January 05, 2011 5:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dsong:

That was a great line and much credit to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for having a self-deprecating sense of humor to go along with having the little kid say that to him but I think that Kareem got a bit of a bad rap in that regard. He did win a record six regular season MVPs so he couldn't have been dogging it that much; he just made the game look so easy that casual fans assumed that he was not always trying hard. Dr. J has always said that Kareem was the best player he played against and I think that it is reasonable to say that Doc would probably have won at least two more rings if he had not had to face Kareem in the 1980 and 1982 NBA Finals.

Randy Moss has not had a 100 yard receiving game in the playoffs since 2000, so apparently he has not wanted to play in the playoffs for the past decade or so. He has been blessed with so much talent but as an impact player he is very overrated, as we are seeing now with the Patriots rolling right along after cutting him loose.

I don't think that the Celtics "dogged it" during the 2009-10 regular season; they started out on fire but then had to deal with a lot of injuries. As for the Lakers, Kobe plays hard every night but the little bit of explosiveness that he has lost makes it more difficult for him to just go off for 40 or 50 points on the nights when his teammates don't bring it; I think Kobe understands that better than anyone (even though he naturally would never admit it), so I don't think he is going to try to run off a series of 40 or 50 point games. The Lakers will finish with whatever record they finish with and if Kobe has to run off a string of 30-40 point games in the playoffs he will be able to do that because the end of the season will be in sight and because there are more rest days between playoff games than there are between regular season games.

 
At Wednesday, January 05, 2011 5:11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

marcel

yea trade worked out for lakers they got odom and byn um from it, but trade put them over top was gasol trade they was good before gasol 26-11 but with him was better obvisouly two titles.

ultimately kobe career was better than shaq was overall. and think ultimately kobe will win over most crtics but i will never like kobe like i do shaq jus cause who shaq is. kobe great player but boring person, o understand he is a basketball player not a entertainer but wat made jordan magic shaq bird big huge stars was there persona as well they were more than jus a player.

santonio holmes deion branch hines ward all marques closton, all been super bowl champion recievers not moss owens or johnson. all them have impact on qb numbers not on team sucess. its a running defense qb league.

 
At Wednesday, January 05, 2011 6:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Several things:

I was waiting for you to use your trademarked 'hand-grenade shots' referring to getting the ball with 4 or less seconds on the 24 second clock.

Amazing that stat of record when Kobe has 40 points or more. Over a complete season of individual games of him scoring 40 points!

And finally; when Rick Bucher or Chad Ford said last week 'when was the last time Kobe's blown past his defender and the help defender and finished?' then that night on one of the 1st possessions he did just that with a thunderous posterizing dunk. Reminded me of B-Roy in that all-star game a few years ago when he threw down that incredible dunk and showed people that he was much more athletic than people had seen.

 
At Thursday, January 06, 2011 5:14:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Marcel:

The sign and trade that the Lakers did with Shaq brought back Caron Butler, Lamar Odom, Brian Grant and a draft pick. The Lakers later packaged Butler for Kwame Brown and eventually shipped Brown to Memphis as part of the Gasol deal. So there is a direct link from the Shaq sign and trade to the Gasol deal.

However, my point was not so much that getting rid of Shaq directly led to acquiring Gasol in terms of the actual transactions made; my point is that Lakers owner Jerry Buss correctly decided that it did not make sense to re-sign Shaq for max dollars and max years when Shaq had already proven that he did not work as hard as Kobe does. Buss decided to rebuild the team around Kobe and the result so far has been three Finals appearances and two championships.

You are of course entitled to like whoever you prefer but, whatever Kobe is, I don't think it is very accurate to say that he is boring. He surely has to be considered one of the most exciting players in NBA history.

 
At Thursday, January 06, 2011 5:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

Yes, it is certainly true that Kobe has to shoot many "hand grenade" shots. If you watched Wednesday's Lakers-Suns game, Mark Jackson pointed out a play in which Pau Gasol hurt the team by not shooting an open shot (Barnes bailed out Gasol by nailing a jumper later in the possession). It is ridiculous to evaluate any player based on just one stat, whether that stat is FGA, FG% or anything else. The context in which numbers are compiled must be considered. Some of Kobe's FGAs are indeed "hand grenades" and he has a much bigger responsibility in terms of creating shots than Gasol does. Gasol mostly shoots point blank shots or else wide open jumpers created when Kobe is trapped, so naturally Gasol generally shoots a good percentage--but that does not mean that Gasol should be shooting 25 times a game or that he should be featured instead of Kobe. Mark Jackson correctly noted that when Coach Phil Jackson made his "screw it up/crank it up" comment he was really criticizing the other Lakers, not Kobe: Kobe takes the onus upon himself to save the game only after his teammates play passively.

Whether one uses the term "soft" or something else, Gasol simply has to be more aggressive and physical instead of whining about how many shot attempts he gets or saying that the Lakers are better off when the offense is balanced.

Kobe is not as explosive as he used to be--no wing player at his age with his amount of experience could possibly be--but it's not like he is washed up. Kobe still has enough explosiveness to get by defenders and to finish at the rim but, much like MJ did during his second threepeat, Kobe is probably trying to save some wear and tear by shooting more jumpers during the regular season. MJ gradually evolved from a slasher to a mid-post player and Kobe is clearly in the midst of that same evolution.

 
At Friday, January 07, 2011 2:28:00 PM, Blogger Sports Chump said...

Did you really need 3000 words to say what I could have said in six?

It's January, Lakers fans. Don't panic.

 
At Friday, January 07, 2011 2:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Sports Chump:

Actually, without the contractions you really used eight words.

I prefer to actually explain my reasoning as opposed to making declarations by fiat and expecting people to accept such declarations without proof/evidence.

Fans can decide for themselves whether or not to "worry"; I simply try to explain what is actually happening on the court and why it is happening. Contrary to popular belief, the Lakers were not struggling because Kobe was shooting too much; I could have just said that and called it a day but that would not have been particularly educational or convincing.

 
At Friday, January 07, 2011 9:49:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
Since you wrote your article on the 4th, what do you make of report that Kobe has little to no cartilage left in his surgically repaired knee? (Brandon Roy has no cartilage left which is why he is currently sidelined).

Roland Lazenby who knows a lot about the Lakers said that there seems to be some sort of resentment from the Lakers that Kobe is not practicing with them. My take on that is how mentally weak can a 2 time defending champion be that they want Kobe to wear out what little cartilage left he has in his knee. Wouldn't they prefer to have Kobe healthy(somewhat) for games during the season and the playoffs. Its not like Kobe is dogging practice because he's lazy. You'd think after 14 years people would still question Kobe's commitment.

On Kobe and Pau relationship: There were reports that Kobe berated Pau Gasol for going easy on Andrew Bynum during practice. I think Pau was defending Andrew and Drew scored on Pau. Pau patted Andrew on the back and told him good job. Kobe went off on him because of that.

On Phil Calling out Kobe: It almost seems like Phil Jackson criticized Kobe in the media to placate or massage some of his Laker teammates'egos. Phil almost didnt even want to criticize him given how he was stuttering to say it. Kobe's consequent response to that is telling too : both Pau and Ron have been irked by Phil criticizing them and both have been the two most inconsistent lakers this season.

 
At Saturday, January 08, 2011 3:19:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

JackF:

I am not surprised by the report about Kobe's knee. It is obvious that he has lost some lower body explosiveness, as I mentioned in this article before that report came out. Bryant's right knee has been operated on three times and since it has never been reported that he had ligament damage it is logical to assume that those procedures were done to "clean up" loose cartilage; each time a procedure like that is done one gets closer to having a bone on bone situation in that joint. Most players with even close to as much mileage as Bryant has are already out of the league or no longer consistently play at an elite level (Shaq, KG, T-Mac, Jermaine O'Neal, etc.).

The fact that Kobe can no longer go hard in practice on a day to day basis is also not surprising; the same thing happened to MJ when he was a Wizard (which is why those practices were closed to the public, according to writer Michael Leahy). In this article I noted that just about every Laker other than Kobe and Odom is playing worse this season; Kobe not being able to practice with the team probably has something to do with that, because Kobe pushes, prods and tests his teammates just like MJ did when MJ was a Bull.

It is obvious that Kobe and Phil Jackson constantly have to push Gasol to be tougher but many media members do not like to focus on this because it "ruins" their preferred storyline about Gasol being the Lakers' best player. Kobe is the Lakers' best player, it is not even really close and the Lakers' championship window is directly tied to Kobe's balky right knee--when that joint goes completely bone on bone and Kobe starts playing like the 40 year old MJ (i.e., All-Star level but not MVP level) then the Lakers' run will be over. Barring some acute injury to the knee (or something else), I still think that the Lakers can squeeze out one more title but it obviously is going to be a dogfight for the Lakers the rest of the way, much like Coach Jackson's three previous threepeats were. Keep in mind that the Lakers have already been to three straight Finals--each Bulls team got broken up after three straight Finals, while the 2003 Lakers failed to make it back to the Finals.

I don't think that Jackson "called out" Kobe at all. Forget media spin and just look at what Jackson actually said: he said that Kobe "cranks it up" when his teammates are passive, that he and Kobe agreed upon a reduced practice schedule to conserve Kobe's knee and that the Lakers feed off of Kobe's energy in practice. The players Jackson has actually been calling out--and deservedly so--are Gasol and Artest.

The reality is that many veterans do not practice as much as their younger teammates, going at least back to Bill Russell.

 
At Monday, January 10, 2011 4:13:00 PM, Anonymous Jeff said...

Khandor, I disagree with almost every point you made in regards to the Lakers.

-The Lakers don't need more perimiter shooters, they need bigs. Bynum is an injury factory, Ratliff is out, Caracter is a rookie (albiet a very solid one). Lamar and Gasol cannot play those positions 40+ minutes every night. Getting a veteran big and cutting salary was a good goal and was accomplished well.

- Farmar never fit into the triangle well. Blake already plays his position better than Farmar did.

- Barnes is playing well enough to close out games for the Lakers and is a perfect energy guy who can take Kobe's minutes at SF. I can't believe you're even saying this.

- Josh Powell?!?!? I liked him too, but *ahem* last year he didn't play at all in 21 games and in the other 61 games he only logged double digit minutes in a third of them and mostly those were garbage time minutes during blowouts. Besides, for a big guy, he played too far out on the perimiter to be really effective at rebounding. Caracter more than fills his absence. I'm sure he was a killer DJ at Lamar's parties, but these are professional basketball players. Losing a minor role player shouldn't disrupt anything.

- Gasol needs a kick in the pants more than rest. The guy is taking his siesta after winning 2 titles in a row. He's not making decisive moves near the basket and clearly isn't playing with the energy or hustle he did the last 3 years.

- I wouldn't mind seeing the rooks play more, but since we're not blowing people out, I'd rather see our veterans in the game trying to win it. Wins matter and close games aren't a good spot to test rookies out.

- WALTON? The guy is a $5 million albatross. He knows the triangle, but he's a terrible shooter, a weak defender and undersized as a rebounder. The day his contract ends will be his last day in a Laker uniform and likely the NBA.

 
At Monday, January 17, 2011 6:01:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Good stuff, as always. And as a long time reader, I'll back you up on the consistency of your Lebron coverage, mostly praise but deserved criticism for last year and for his comments.

Jackson backs you up on Gasol; after the Lakers lost in Chicago and reporter asked something like: "Gasol seemed to be going well in the first half, why did you go away from him?" Jax, paraphrased, "Oh we wanted to, but Chicago made an adjustment, became very physical with him, and he didn't want to score anymore."

Kobe takes turnovers to make the same point. Kobe will drive to the rim, get his man and the help into the air and pass not to where Gasol is passively spectating but to where Gasol should have dove to the rim. Kobe will talk to Gasol coming up the floor to reinforce the point.

Too often Gasol recieves the ball in the post and just kicks it out before looking at the basket. For a top forward, he commands no double teams and should score. But teams that have personnel to play rugged, physical post D render him a generic jump shooter.

 
At Monday, January 17, 2011 6:07:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

9WO:

Those are good observations, but I am not sure that Kobe intentionally commits turnovers to make a point; in Spike Lee's film "Kobe Doin' Work," Kobe noted that he can't stand making turnovers. I think that Kobe passes to where Gasol should be because that is the right play; you are definitely right that Kobe has had a lot of on court discussions with Gasol about this, dating all the way back to the 2008 NBA Finals when Gasol acted like Perkins and Garnett had constructed an electric fence around the paint.

Coach Jackson has always been very honest publicly about Gasol's limitations but the media generally choose to ignore these comments while giving big play to any Jackson comment that seems to be critical of Kobe.

 
At Monday, January 17, 2011 6:29:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Khandor-

Kupchak is a mixed bag.


Taking Brian Grant's contract in the Shaq trade was unnecessary and set them back 2 years, until they got a one-off relief. Rumor has it that better players like Nowitzki were offered, although we'll never know.

Kupchak's run of midlevel spends have been terrible: Devaen George, Luke Walton, Sascha, Aaron McKie, and finally, mercifully Artest. Splitting this year's for Barnes and Blake was a great move, the 2 of them are better than Farmar.

He gets a neutral on the Gasol trade. As
Michael Heisley, the Grizz's owner, has said,
(and what he asked for before the trade) the whole NBA world knew that Gasol was on the block but everyone considered his contract a bad contract (max for 1 playoff appearance, 1 All Star appearance in 7 years?). Only Jerry Buss agreed to take the whole bad contract, send players & picks, and, most important, NOT send back a bad contract. That was a financial, Jerry Buss trade, not a Kupchak trade.

After a rough start with the Shaq trade, KUpchak had some nice minor pick-ups. When he dropped bad contracts (his fault), he got useful sweeteners in Ariza and Shannon Brown.

Bynum was a nice draft pick. David's pessimistic and cranky about the hype, but (1) Bynum is more useful than most #10 picks, (2) you can't predict the kind of collisions that Bynum suffered; and (3) he's only 23. He already shows more aggression and ability on D and O around the basket (about 5 feet and in) than Gasol. Kupchak gave Bynum a fat extension, which converted a cheap, useful piece into a overpaid injury risk.

I don't know if he has role in this, but getting Jackson back was awesome.

 
At Monday, January 17, 2011 6:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

9W0:

I would not say that I am "pessimistic" and "cranky" regarding Bynum. Years ago, I disagreed with Dave Berri's idiotic assertion that Bynum was a more valuable player than Bryant, something that never was true and never will be true until Bryant reaches the point that he just cannot play NBA caliber basketball anymore. Bynum has shown flashes suggesting that he is capable of performing at an All-Star level but there is no reason to believe at this point that he will ever do so for an entire season; how many guys repeatedly get injured at his age and then turn into durable All-Stars? Bynum's likely future is that he will either continue to be a brittle player who shows flashes of brilliance or else he will have to accept a lesser role (with less pounding) in order to hopefully be available for a larger portion of the season, because his body does not seem to be able to withstand even moderate minutes with moderate to decent level productivity. While Bynum is certainly more physical than Gasol there is no doubt that Gasol is a much more durable player.

 

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