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Monday, May 09, 2011

Lakers Face Crossroads After Being Swept by Mavericks

The Dallas Mavericks swept the Lakers out of the second round of the playoffs with a 122-86 victory marked by great Dallas teamwork, a stunning lack of effort by nearly every Laker not named Kobe Bryant and two cheap shots by Laker players--the second of which ranks among the dirtiest plays seen in the NBA in quite some time. The stunning end to the Lakers' "three-peat" quest will no doubt inspire a lot of commentary devoid of logic and context; this article is a preemptive strike intended to provide some much needed perspective about the era that just ended and about what the future holds for the Lakers. I am not in any way slighting the Mavericks by focusing on the Lakers; the Mavericks have the opportunity to write their own championship ending in the next six weeks, so the story of their season (and the story of the Dirk Nowitzki era) cannot be completely told until after their playoff run is over.

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Evaluating the 2008-2010 Lakers

There will most likely be a lot of overheated rhetoric about how the Lakers' loss supposedly tarnishes Kobe Bryant's legacy (interestingly, that kind of argument has yet to be heard regarding Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in the wake of the San Antonio Spurs' first round loss to the eighth seeded Memphis Grizzlies). The Lakers' "failure" this season has to be put in the larger context of what they accomplished from 2008-2010 and the nearly unprecedented nature of what they were trying to do this season; during that period of time the Western Conference has arguably been as strong as either conference has ever been but the Lakers finished with the best record three years in a row, backed up that regular season success by advancing to the NBA Finals each time and won two championships after losing in the 2008 Finals to the Boston Celtics. The 2008 Celtics were anchored by three future Hall of Famers and were one of the greatest defensive teams ever. The Lakers avenged the 2008 loss by defeating the Celtics in an epic seven game NBA Finals in 2010.

The 2011 Lakers were trying to advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight season, a feat that has only been accomplished by three teams: the 1984-87 Celtics, the 1982-85 Lakers and the 1959-66 Celtics. If the Lakers had won the 2011 championship then they would have been the only team other than Bill Russell's Celtics to advance to at least four straight Finals and win at least three championships (the Jordan-Pippen Bulls "three-peated" twice, the O'Neal-Bryant Lakers "three-peated" once and the Mikan Lakers "three-peated" once but none of those teams also made it to four straight Finals).

Think for just a moment about the facts in the preceding paragraph: the Lakers were trying to do something that has only been achieved by the greatest dynasties in the history of the sport! Then think about this for a moment: Russell's Celtics were loaded with other Hall of Famers (including Top 50 players Bob Cousy, John Havlicek, Sam Jones and Bill Sharman), the 1980's Celtics had three Top 50 players (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish) plus another Hall of Famer (Dennis Johnson) and the 1980's Lakers had three Top 50 players (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and James Worthy). Each of those dynasties brought current or former All-Stars off of the bench during at least some of those seasons.

Some people try to fool the public by saying that the current Lakers team is talented and/or deep but in 2009 I wrote a detailed refutation of both notions (the 2010 Lakers added some talent by essentially swapping Trevor Ariza for Ron Artest but that did not materially change the truth of what I asserted in 2009); the 2009 and 2010 Lakers were among the least talented and least deep champions of the past two decades and they were not even close to being as talented or deep as the Russell Celtics, Bird Celtics or Johnson Lakers: while the latter three teams had multiple Hall of Famers/Top 50 players, the current Lakers have one player of that caliber (Kobe Bryant), one All-Star who had not won a single playoff game prior to joining the Lakers (Pau Gasol), a solid sixth man who often had to start (Lamar Odom), a talented but raw young center with chronically bad knees (Andrew Bynum) and a collection of role players (Artest made his only All-Star appearance seven years and three teams ago and thus can hardly be compared to the perennial All-Stars who played alongside Russell, Bird and Johnson).

Much has been made of the Lakers' vaunted size but the reality is that Gasol, Bynum and Odom were hardly ever on the court together at the same time and Bynum was a hobbled 20 mpg role player during the playoffs in the Lakers' two championship seasons. Gasol, Bynum and Odom comprised a nice three man rotation of bigs but what really made them deadly was the fact that opposing teams had to send multiple defenders at Bryant, enabling those bigs to play one on one in the post and/or have free lanes to crash the offensive boards.

In order to really understand the evolution of the Lakers' roster and what made the Lakers tick from 2008-10 it is useful to think back to the 2006 and 2007 seasons; Kobe Bryant set various scoring records while twice carrying the Lakers to the playoffs with Kwame Brown as the starting center, Smush Parker as the starting point guard and Luke Walton as the starting small forward. Brown never started a playoff game before or since that time, Parker has been out of the league for several years and Walton has become a seldom-used reserve. Bryant arguably did more with less in those seasons than just about any other superstar in NBA history and it was clearly evident that if the Lakers could surround him with even a semi-adequate supporting cast then they would once again be championship contenders.

During those years, no one thought of Gasol as an elite player; Gasol made the All-Star team in 2006--his only All-Star selection in the first seven years of his career--but after his Memphis teams were repeatedly swept in the first round of the playoffs Memphis' management realized that it would not be possible to build a legit contender around Gasol so they decided to trade him and rebuild. Meanwhile, the 2008 Lakers reacquired Derek Fisher to take Parker's spot, inserted Bynum into the starting lineup and started out 25-11. When Bynum got hurt the Lakers realized that if they could replace him with a big man who could walk and chew gum at the same time (i.e., not Brown) they could make some noise in the playoffs; their short term need provided a perfect match with Memphis' long term need, so the Lakers sent Kwame Brown, Marc Gasol and other considerations to the Grizzlies in exchange for Pau Gasol. Many people reacted as if the Lakers had pulled off the heist of the century but, as I wrote right after the Lakers-Grizzlies trade, "All that can be said at the moment is that this is the right kind of move for Memphis to make, because there was no future for the team the way it was composed prior to this deal. In an odd way, there is a slight similarity between what Memphis is doing now and what the Lakers did with Shaq several years ago; the Grizzlies are getting rid of their best player and taking a short term step backwards with the hope of being better off long term, while the Lakers are shedding some youth in order to make a championship run now. Two obvious differences are that Gasol is not nearly as good now as Shaq was in 2004 and the talent that the Lakers acquired as a result of the Shaq trade (which, after several deals, has crystallized, essentially, as Bynum, Odom and Gasol) should give the Lakers a multiple year window in which to try to win titles, while the Heat narrowly escaped with one championship before the bottom fell out." My assessment proved to be quite prophetic as the Lakers enjoyed a nice three year run with Pau Gasol while the Grizzlies rebuilt their squad and may actually advance farther in the playoffs this season than the Lakers did.

Pau Gasol has never been a dominant player or an especially tough player but he is intelligent and he has a multi-faceted skill set; a screen-roll play featuring him and Bryant can be lethal because the opposing team must trap Bryant, thus enabling Gasol to roll to the hoop, spot up or catch a pass from Bryant and quickly swing the ball to a wide open player on the weak side. The Lakers did not need for Gasol to carry a huge load as a franchise player but merely to be a legit second option, thus relegating Odom to his proper role as the third option. Although some teams struggle after making significant moves, the 2008 Lakers bonded quickly as Bryant and Gasol instantly formed a very good on-court chemistry. The Lakers rolled all the way to the NBA Finals, where a bigger, tougher, more talented and deeper Celtics team took them out in six games.

Statistically, Gasol was essentially the same player in L.A. that he had been in Memphis except for two differences: his field goal percentage and his offensive rebounding both increased in L.A., a direct result of the openings created for him when opposing teams trapped Bryant.

With Gasol on board Bryant no longer had to score at a record setting pace during the regular season but in order to advance in the playoffs the Lakers needed for Bryant to play at roughly the level that Michael Jordan performed at during the Bulls' second "three-peat"; I provided an indepth analysis of this subject in my June 24, 2010 article titled Placing Kobe Bryant's Career in Historical Context but the shorthand confirmation of that assessment is a simple comparison of Jordan's playoff numbers from 1996-98 with Bryant's playoff numbers from 2008-10:

Here are Jordan's playoff averages from 1996-98 when the Bulls won three championships:

1996: 30.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.1 apg, .459 FG%, .403 3FG%, .818 FT%
1997: 31.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, .456 FG%, .194 3FG%, .831 FT%
1998: 32.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.5 apg, .462 FG%, .302 3FG%, .812 FT%

Here are Bryant's playoff averages from 2008-10 when the Lakers made three straight trips to the Finals and won two championships:

2008: 30.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 5.6 apg, .479 FG%, .302 3FG%, .809 FT%
2009: 30.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 5.5 apg, .457 FG%, .349 3FG%, .883 FT%
2010: 29.2 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 5.5 apg, .458 FG%, .374 3FG%, .842 FT%

Here are some other important stats/facts about Bryant's 2008-10 playoff productivity:

1) Bryant averaged at least 40.1 mpg in each of those postseasons.
2) Bryant scored at least 30 points in 12 of the Lakers' 21 playoff games in 2008, 15 of their 23 playoff games in 2009 and 14 of their 23 playoff games in 2010.
3) Bryant set an NBA record by scoring at least 30 points in eight straight potential road closeout games (the previous record of six was held by Elgin Baylor).
4) In addition to carrying the aforementioned scoring load despite facing constant double and triple teams, Bryant also led the Lakers in assists and played a major role defensively, alternating between being a lockdown one on one defender in some matchups and being a roaming help defender in other matchups (Boston Coach Doc Rivers asserted that Bryant is the best help defender since Scottie Pippen).
5) Bryant accomplished these feats despite multiple finger injuries (including an avulsion fracture to the index finger on his shooting hand) and a 2010 right knee injury that ultimately required surgical correction after the playoffs.

Two things should be quite obvious:

1) Kobe Bryant carried a huge load during the 2008-10 playoffs.
2) Kobe Bryant's 2008-10 accomplishments plus his contributions to the 2000-02 championship teams, his 2008 regular season MVP, his two scoring titles and his numerous All-NBA and All-Defensive Team selections mean that his legacy is very secure regardless of what happens during the rest of his career; he can add to his legacy by winning more championships but his legacy will not be diminished if he fails to win another title.

When thinking about Bryant's legacy it is useful to consider that LeBron James is 26, has logged over 25,000 regular season minutes and has yet to win an NBA championship. Even if James' Heat win the 2011 championship they will have to capture four more titles in a row--something that has only been accomplished by Russell's Celtics--just for James to tie Bryant with five rings; otherwise, James will have to win some rings well past the age of 30 in order to match Bryant's total, a task that may not be so easy for a player who is very dependent on size, speed and strength but whose midrange game and footwork are not nearly as good as Bryant's. Bryant won two championships and made three straight Finals appearances with Pau Gasol, who was a one-time All-Star prior to joining the Lakers; James not only has his own Gasol (Chris Bosh) but he also is playing alongside Dwyane Wade, a perennial member of the All-NBA Team.

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The 2011 Lakers: Lack of Focus and Toughness Culminates in Missed Assignments, Flagrant Fouls and an Embarrassing Sweep

Bryant ranks 27th on the all-time regular season minutes played list (40,145). What does that mean? Here is what some other NBA legends were doing by the time they had logged that many career minutes: Michael Jordan was a 39 year old Wizard averaging 20 ppg in his final season, Julius Erving was a 34 year old All-Star averaging 20 ppg, Hakeem Olajuwon was an injury-prone role player averaging 10.3 ppg and Oscar Robertson was averaging 15.5 ppg in the second to last season of his career. Ageless wonder Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was still an All-NBA level performer well past the 40,000 minute mark but that just shows how remarkable (and underrated) he is; Larry Bird, Elgin Baylor and Magic Johnson each retired thousands of minutes shy of the 40,000 barrier.

Bryant also ranks second on the all-time playoff minutes played list (8165), trailing only Abdul-Jabbar (8851). It is remarkable--and nearly unprecedented--for any player, let alone a perimeter player, to still be an All-NBA First Team caliber performer after accumulating as much mileage as Bryant has. Bryant has transformed himself from a high flyer with a jump shot to a jump shooter who can still occasionally fly. Prior to the 2011 season, Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson agreed upon a minutes restriction plan to preserve Bryant's health and hopefully enable Bryant to peak at playoff time; Bryant had averaged between 36.1 and 41.5 mpg from 1999-2010 but in 2011 Bryant averaged just 33.9 mpg, nearly five mpg less than he averaged in 2010. Since Bryant played in all 82 games that amounted to saving more than 400 minutes of wear and tear--but it also meant sacrificing some regular season wins; Bryant used to say that he never worried about the Lakers' reserves playing poorly because if the situation got out of hand then he would just check himself back into the game but that was not the case in 2011: when the Lakers' reserves blew leads or allowed deficits to grow in the fourth quarter Bryant stayed on the bench. Bryant also rarely practiced with the team, another concession to age that had a domino effect on the team; Bryant is a notoriously intense practice player but it became evident that without him setting the tone the Lakers' practices lacked a certain edge and that soon spilled over into how they played during games.

Jackson and Bryant hoped/believed that during the playoffs they would be able to unleash a rested, healthy Bryant but that did not really turn out to be the case; Bryant severely sprained his left ankle in March and then he reaggravated that injury in game four of the Lakers' first round series versus New Orleans. Bryant averaged at least 10 FTA/g during each of his three peak seasons and he settled in at around 7 FTA/g from 2009-2011 but he averaged fewer than 5 FTA/g in the Lakers' final six playoff games this season after attempting at least seven free throws in each of the first four games. Bryant averaged at least 5.2 rpg in each of the past five postseasons but in 2011 he averaged just 3.4 rpg, including games with 2, 1 and 0 rebounds after reinjuring his ankle. I don't know how seriously Bryant's ankle is injured--Bryant only talks about injuries when he is directly asked about them and he refused to have an MRI done on his ankle during the playoffs--but it is obvious from both a visual and statistical standpoint that he was not the same player after game four versus New Orleans; during the 2008-10 Finals runs Bryant played like Jordan circa 1996-98 but in the 2011 playoffs Bryant was "merely" an All-Star caliber player (22.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.3 apg). Ironically, the reduction of Bryant from Superman to just a very good player proved the validity of everything that I have been saying about Bryant's importance to the Lakers and the Lakers' lack of talent/depth; during previous playoff runs when the Lakers got into trouble Bryant uncorked a 35-40 point game and/or locked down any perimeter player who was hurting the Lakers. Bryant nullified traps by either scoring over them or picking them apart with pinpoint passes. Bryant still attracted double teams during the 2011 playoffs but he could not power through them, he could not stay on the court for 40-plus minutes to buttress the team's weak bench (he played more than 40 minutes just once in 10 postseason games after doing so 15 times in 23 postseason games in 2010) and he could not consistently produce the scoring barrages that simultaneously boosted his team's confidence while demoralizing the opposing team.

Logically, the slack should have been picked up by the highly touted frontcourt of Gasol, Bynum and Odom but that did not happen. Bynum had some good moments but he completely disappeared in game one and game four versus Dallas. Odom was very inconsistent and shot poorly from the field (.459) and from three point range (.200). However, the biggest disappointment by far was Gasol, who some people were foolishly touting as a league MVP candidate just a few months ago; instead of stepping up to become a legit number one option, Gasol completely melted down, shooting just .420 from the field, becoming invisible defensively and committing numerous gaffes at both ends of the court. In 10 playoff games Gasol never exceeded 17 points and he only reached double figures in rebounds three times; Lakers' fans are now painfully aware of exactly why the Memphis Grizzlies decided that it is not possible to build a championship team around Gasol.

Everything came to a head in game four versus Dallas. Bryant scored 13 points on 6-8 field goal shooting in the first quarter, repeatedly nailing midrange jumpers, but the other Lakers combined to shoot 2-11 from the field. I don't know if anyone said "1,2,3, Cancun" on the Lakers' sideline but--other than Bryant--the Lakers' body language and production spoke very loudly and very clearly about their mindset. Despite Bryant's efficient scoring outburst the Lakers trailed 27-23 after the first 12 minutes and you could already see the writing on the wall: as soon as Bryant cooled off (or took a rest) the game would clearly get out of hand.

In the always entertaining--but rarely informative--post-first quarter interview, ABC's Heather Cox asked Coach Phil Jackson "What did you tell him (Kobe Bryant) you need from him today?" Jackson answered, "I don't have to tell him anything. He knows what he has to do." Then she asked Jackson what Jackson had just said to Lamar Odom on the sideline and Jackson replied, "Lamar's getting confused with their matchup zone. He just has to move the ball. He's trying to dribble with it at the top of the floor."

Odom and the rest of the Lakers remained confused on offense but their defensive effort and execution were even worse as the Mavericks outscored the Lakers 36-16 in the second quarter to effectively end the game by halftime. The Mavericks aggressively trapped Bryant and dared any other Laker to shoot. The notion that Bryant took the Lakers out of rhythm by shooting too much is absurd; no Laker other than Bryant displayed the willingness or ability to generate any kind of offense. Bryant did not have the necessary burst to explode past the double team to score but he made the correct passes that led to wide open shots for Gasol and other Lakers; Gasol and company either misfired or hesitated to shoot for so long that the Mavericks could easily recover. After his hot start, Bryant shot 1-10 from the field in the final three quarters but still finished as the Lakers' high scorer with 17 points.

The only thing uglier than the final score was the way that Odom and Bynum completely lost their composure in the fourth quarter; Odom received a flagrant two foul (and an automatic ejection) for hitting Dirk Nowitzki with a cheap shot elbow to the midsection and then Bynum got a flagrant two foul for smashing his forearm into an airborne J.J. Barea's ribcage, a reckless act that could have seriously injured Barea. TNT's Chris Webber made two excellent points about the cheap shots delivered by Odom and Bynum: (1) It is easy to seem tough/act tough (in previous seasons) when Kobe Bryant is bailing you out by making big plays and hitting tough shots; (2) if the NBA does not respond forcefully to Bynum's foul--a particularly vicious and dangerous blow--then the league runs the risk that game four of any series in which a team is losing 3-0 could devolve into a procession of head-hunting by the team that is about to get swept.

This is not the first time that Bynum has committed such a foul, either; in January 2009 Bynum delivered a cheap shot that fractured one of Gerald Wallace's ribs and collapsed Wallace's left lung and in March 2011 Bynum cracked Michael Beasley in the midsection. Bynum was ejected from the game and then suspended for two additional games after the foul against Beasley; the NBA indicated that it considered suspending Bynum for three games, so since Bynum is a multiple offender--and since the foul against Barea was the worst of Bynum's three cheap shots--the NBA should suspend Bynum for at least five games at the start of next season.

Phil Jackson clearly reached his wit's end with this team; Jackson has long been a vocal exponent of positive coaching--the very antithesis of someone like Bobby Knight, who used to rant and rave on the sidelines--but the softness and lack of focus exhibited by Gasol incited Jackson to literally strike out at Gasol twice during timeouts in game three of the Dallas series. Jackson--like John Wooden and most other members of the coaching pantheon--knows that most of a coach's job is done during practice and that is why Jackson's default demeanor on the sidelines usually was very calm no matter what was happening on the court; if a coach prepares his team properly then there is no reason for him to get overly excited during the game. Jackson's reaction to Gasol in the Dallas series is a powerful indictment of just how poorly Gasol played.

After the game, Jackson and Bryant shook hands with Dallas owner Mark Cuban, Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle and several Dallas players; Jackson's teams have always lost with dignity--I am thinking in particular of the 1994 Bulls who stayed on court to congratulate the Knicks after a very hard fought series--so it must have been very disturbing to Jackson that Bynum and Odom acted so disgracefully in Jackson's final game as a coach.

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The Future of the Lakers

If you understand how the Lakers achieved the success that they did from 2008-2010 and you understand what went wrong in 2011 then you can only draw one conclusion: the Lakers as presently constituted are not likely to qualify for the playoffs in 2011-12. If you think that statement sounds crazy then consider the reality that since 2008 the eighth seeded team in the West has won 50, 48, 50 and 46 games; four of the Lakers' five starters started all 82 games in 2010-11, with Odom filling in for Bynum when Bynum was hurt, and the Lakers ended up with 57 wins. If the Lakers keep the current roster intact it is highly likely that they will not enjoy similar health at the top of their rotation and it is also highly likely that Bryant's minutes will have to be further reduced as a concession to all of the mileage that he has accumulated; every minute that Bryant is not on the court is a minute that must be filled by one of the Lakers' ineffective bench players.

The Lakers clearly cannot expect Gasol to eventually become the team's number one option nor is it a good idea to hand that role to Bynum, a player who has yet to make it through an entire season while playing starter's minutes. Artest provides almost nothing on offense and his focus on defense wavers at times; without Jackson on the bench Artest may revert back to being completely uncoachable.

Derek Fisher has been a consummate professional throughout his long NBA career and at one time he was both a tenacious defender and a dangerous clutch shooter. Now, though, he is quite simply the worst starting point guard on any of the 16 playoff teams--and he would not even receive any minutes at all if he were on the Dallas roster competing for playing time against Jason Kidd, Jason Terry and J.J. Barea. The Lakers brought in Steve Blake to serve as Fisher's backup and to be the primary defender against quick point guards but Blake had a very disappointing season, as did free agent acquisition Matt Barnes; the Mavericks' reserves obliterated the Lakers' bench, a group that consists of Odom (who starts nearly half the time due to Bynum's chronic injury problems), Shannon Brown (who rarely saw any action when he was a member of a legitimately deep team, the 2007 and 2008 Cavs), Blake, Barnes and a bunch of players (including former starter Walton) who collected cobwebs sitting uselessly next to Jackson.

Magic Johnson has received some heat for publicly saying prior to game three of the Dallas series that the Lakers must blow up the roster and that no one should be safe except for Bryant. The Lakers must get younger, deeper and more athletic. Historically, the Lakers have always responded in times of crisis by acquiring the best available big man: they nabbed Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975, Shaquille O'Neal in 1996 and Pau Gasol (who really should not be mentioned with those other guys but was a serviceable second option for three-plus years) in 2008. The obvious, logical solution for the Lakers is to find a way to acquire Dwight Howard but that may turn out to be easier said than done; the Lakers are way over the salary cap and it is not clear what the new CBA will look like. If Howard decides to stay in Orlando or if the Lakers are not able to trade for Howard due to changes in the CBA then their fans may be in for a season that will make the game four meltdown against Dallas feel like a picnic: optimistically pencil Bryant in for 22-23 ppg in 30 mpg next season, factor in the team's obvious lack of chemistry, consider the number of rising teams in the West, do the math and without an infusion of talent on the roster it adds up to less than 50 wins--which does not equal a playoff berth in the West; the Kobe Bryant who worked miracles in 2006-07 and who carried a good team to great heights in 2008-10 will only be appearing at the Staples Center in highlights played on the video screen above the court.

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posted by David Friedman @ 7:09 AM

42 comments

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42 Comments:

At Monday, May 09, 2011 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous Paolo said...

What a sad end to a Hall of Fame Coaching Career. It may be chic to blame this on Kobe, but like you said, Gasol's poor performance (not performing to the standards of a 2nd option) and the lack of defensive effort from everyone not named Kobe Bryant was the cause of the sweep.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 12:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ouch! I completely forgot about Bynum's previous fouls. That's a pattern, which is problematic. Bynum is a smart enough to know how injuries affect your career. He's still got some growing up to do. And how could this team could destroy the mavericks a little more than a month ago and go out like this?

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 12:32:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
This is why i found it comical that people were saying that Gasol was the Lakers best player. As a matter of fact the Lakers should have lost in the playoffs the past three years against San Antonio(08), Denver(09) and Phoenix(10). These are the most obvious series so i pointed that out. Everybody on the team seemed frustrated with Gasol, even Bynum repeatedly got into arguments with Gasol because Gasol consistently missed assignments. Perkins was right when he said that Pau Gasol is soft and that Kobe tried to bring out his(Pau's) toughness but he is still soft. My guess is one of those players(gasol or Bynum) will get traded this offoseason for Dwight Howard. It most likely will be Bynum since Howard is also a center. Gasol probably will get traded too since the Lakers now know he can't be counted on. It was eye opening to see KObe call out Gasol after game 1. Kobe had never done so in their previous three years. As a matter of fact kobe never calls out a teammate publicly. The fact that he did so with Pau means that nothing else was working.
I just hope Kobe gets surgeries on his fingers and come back strong next year.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 12:37:00 PM, Anonymous Aqzi said...

"After the game, Jackson and Bryant shook hands with Dallas owner Mark Cuban, Dallas Coach Rick Carlisle and several Dallas players; Jackson's teams have always lost with dignity--I am thinking in particular of the 1994 Bulls who stayed on court to congratulate the Knicks after a very hard fought series--so it must have been very disturbing to Jackson that Bynum and Odom acted so disgracefully in Jackson's final game as a coach."

Good point, and evidenced by a tweet from Art Garcia, an NBA.com reporter:
"JJ Barea said Kobe & other Lakers checked how was doing after game & apologized for Bynum cheap shot."

http://twitter.com/#!/ArtGarcia_NBA/status/67360016822317056

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 1:35:00 PM, Anonymous yogi said...

Great post to put everything in perspective but still. I was really hoping that the Triangle would work its magic once more.

Sad that PJ had to go out this way; he deserved much better. I'm waiting for someone to tell us what the hell went on in that locker room this season.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 2:38:00 PM, Blogger Hydraulic said...

You are a very good writer and have a depth of knowledge and insight most current internet basketball journalists could only hope to have.

And while it's a real challenge to do at the moment, I think I'll call you out on your analysis of Pau Gasol.

I feel that in many of your writings, you go out of your way to denigrate his achievements and impact. It seems like you do it to drive home your point about Kobe Bryant's greatness. And I'll not dispute any statement you want to make about Kobe's achievements and place in basketball history.

But I think that statements like "During [2006-2007], no one thought of Gasol as an elite player" and "a serviceable second option for three-plus years" are really unnecessary because (a) they are false and (b) they don't really augment your point.

Factoring in both individual success, and impact on team success, Pau is probably the 5th best big man in the NBA over the past 5 years (behind Howard and Duncan, just a tick behind Nowitzki and Garnett, and ahead of Ming, Bosh, and Stoudamire). Being in the top 5 would certainly classify Pau as "elite." His impact on the Lakers was far greater than "serviceable." His relationship with Kobe Bryant has been much more synergistic than you choose to express. The team success (and lack of it without Pau) bears that out.

One way to pose this question: If he was just a serviceful, non-elite big, why did it take 4 years for the NBA to catch up to the Lakers? Remember, as you state, the Lakers have never been a very deep team. And yet, deeper teams, or teams with elite backcourt players (Miami, Cleveland, New Orleans, Utah) have failed where the Lakers have not. I think you will argue that it was Kobe's supremacy. I disagree.

Celebrating Pau's greatness in no way diminishes Kobe's greatness. This was unequivocally Kobe's team. But the way in which the Lakers have succeeded proves one point -- that basketball is a team sport, and that, over the long term, one great player alone cannot raise his team to greatness. Over the past 3 1/2 seasons, Pau Gasol has been the "other" great player that Kobe needed to achieve his goals. I will choose to celebrate rather than denigrate.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 4:38:00 PM, Anonymous boyer said...

Wow, you have such a different perspective on things than pretty much the entire rest of the media.

I definitely fully agree with Gasol. At times, very few times this year especially, he plays awesome, but most of the time, he plays like a nice 2nd option, which you can find on pretty much every single team in the nba. Not saying he's a dime a dozen as far as 2nd options, but definitely not some amazing elite player, or even close to the player that Kobe is.

I think it boils down to fans and media alike mostly dislike Kobe and want to continue to diminish his accolades.

I also agree with Kareem is highly underrated. He wasn't as outgoing in the media like Magic was.

Kobe is a no-excuse player, but his injuries must've just added up, at the wrong time of the season. He was still demanding of his opponents to be double teamed, allowing his teammates opportunities to succeed, which they didn't at all, but he was unable to additionally score 30+ppg consistently like in years past. It's just unfortunate that his teammates refused give good effort, except for maybe fisher, but he's a liability on both sides of the ball.

As far as bynum/odom's flagrant fouls, I don't really think Odom should've been ejected. Bynum for sure should've been ejected. I think the league is getting a little soft. The 80s was too rough, though. There's got to be some middle ground.

But, in the end, the mavs played out of their minds, and the series should, not could, but should be tied 2-2. Up 16 in the 3rd quarter, even with inconsistent officiating down the stretch of game 1, then up 8 with 5 min. left in game 3, these are meltdowns, but that's how it goes sometimes. Dirk played great, but how nice is it to be wide open time and time again.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 5:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear author,

Interesting analysis. I agree with many of your key points, such as that Gasol was never a dominant player. However, I am not sure if I agree that the current Lakers squad will not make the playoffs next year. After all, if Gasol mangages to play up to his capabilities (which he did during this regular season), they should still be fine. Of course that depends on how healthy is Kobe Bryant. By the way, I believe there is a little mistake with your stats for Kobe's minutes played. According to Basketball Reference, he ranked 27th rather than 24th on the all-time list (I think the stats also include playoffs, not just regular season, I may be wrong though).

http://www.basketball-reference.com/leaders/mp_career.html

Anyway, good stuff you got here. Hope to read more from you in the future.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Paolo:

Jackson deserved a much better effort than what Gasol and the rest of the team (other than Kobe) delivered.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

When the Lakers blew out the Mavs (March 31) the Lakers defended the three point line (the Mavs shot 6-21 from long distance) while also controlling the paint (52-47 rebound advantage). Kobe scored 28 points in just 30 minutes, making 15 trips to the free throw line to compensate for an off shooting night from the field. During the playoff series the Lakers did not defend the three point line, they were outplayed in the paint and Kobe was not able to draw fouls at his usual rate. If Pau were truly a legit first option player this was his golden opportunity to prove it but instead he completely disappeared.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:23:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

Kobe has challenged Gasol previously at various times on the court; I specifically remember several occasions in the 2008 Finals versus the Celtics when Gasol did not roll aggressively to the hoop and some Bryant passes that should have resulted in Gasol layups/dunks instead became turnovers: Kobe told Gasol in no uncertain terms that Gasol must cut to the hoop on such plays.

Coach Jackson had commented about Gasol to the media before but this is the first time I can ever recall seeing Jackson so angrily confront Gasol on the sidelines during games.

Kobe's age/injuries eliminated the Lakers' margin for error, a margin that was always much smaller and more tenuous than most people realized (something that I have been saying for three years).

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:25:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Aqzi:

Coach Jackson also condemned Ron Artest's flagrant foul earlier in the series and stated that Artest would be suspended (coaches often try to defend their players in such situations or suggest that they should not be suspended).

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:26:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Yogi:

The internal cause of the Lakers' meltdown is the second greatest mystery in the NBA (the greatest mystery is what caused LeBron James to quit during last year's playoffs).

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:41:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Hydraulic:

I do not "go out of my way to denigrate" Gasol or anyone else. I simply watch the games and analyze what happens.

Gasol is an excellent player but he was a borderline All-Star prior to joining the Lakers (one selection in seven seasons). This is what I wrote about Gasol right after the Lakers-Grizzlies trade:

"Gasol can score both on the block and as a faceup player and he is a long player who blocks shots. He has a somewhat deserved reputation for being a little soft but Jackson coached a similar player in Toni Kukoc and got the most out of him--and despite whatever softness Gasol may have he is bigger and stronger than Kukoc and has averaged 8.6 rpg during his career, so he is not afraid to go into the paint. David Robinson was called soft by some (I think that the charge was bogus but that is a story for another day) but he won two rings as the second star to Tim Duncan. Gasol's passing skills will fit in perfectly in the Triangle Offense. In Memphis he was forced to be the top guy but, perhaps like Odom, he may be more temperamentally suited to being the second guy (and Odom may be best suited to be the third or perhaps even the fourth guy, someone who is not expected to put up big numbers every single night)."

That analysis proved to be exactly correct; Gasol was an excellent second option to Bryant from 2008-2010. However, Gasol is not capable of being the top player on a championship-contending team; the Grizzlies figured that out eventually and the world saw it during this year's playoffs when Kobe was not able to cover up the team's flaws.

Gasol is not a better player than a healthy Yao Ming; he is at best comparable to Stoudemire and Bosh but not superior to either one. Stoudemire and Bosh are perennial All-Stars. The only advantage Gasol has over either of them is that Gasol has more length--but Stoudemire is more explosively athletic and Bosh is more mobile.

You and I may have different definitions of "elite." I define "elite" as being All-NBA First Team caliber or, at worst, All-NBA Second Team caliber: there are rarely if ever more than 5-10 legit franchise players in the NBA, even though the media seemingly crowns a new guy as a franchise player every other week. Right now, LeBron, Kobe (when healthy), Howard, Dirk, Rose and Durant (probably) are franchise players (you can throw Wade in the mix if you insist). Duncan was a franchise player until recently. The next level consists of some very talented players who will not likely ever be the best player on a championship team (unless that team is an outlier like the 1979 Sonics or 2004 Pistons, squads that had several really good players but did not have one truly elite player).

It would be far more accurate to say that most of the media wrongly denigrates the supporting casts of players like LeBron and Rose than it would be to offer such a criticism of my objective analysis of the NBA; the media kept saying that LeBron had no help in Cleveland even though the Cavs were deep at every position and now the media acts as if Rose is playing alongside a bunch of stiffs.

Anyway, the truth about the Lakers is that Kobe carried a good but not great roster to historic heights (three straight Finals, two straight titles) that had previously only been reached by teams with multiple HoFers/Top 50 players.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:47:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Hydraulic:

Just to clarify, I never said that Gasol was merely "serviceable"; I said that the Lakers' success in the first half of the 2007-08 season with a young, not completely in shape Bynum as the starter made it clear that Kobe could lead the Lakers to contending status with even a "serviceable" center. Gasol is much more than merely serviceable and thus Kobe not only led the Lakers to contending status but he led them to three straight Finals and two straight titles. If the Lakers had replaced the injured Bynum with someone other than Gasol back in 2008 then I think that the Lakers would have still been contenders but they would not have necessarily won; Gasol proved to be a good second option.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:51:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Boyer:

The "stat gurus" and many media members each have their reasons for crafting a storyline in which Kobe's greatness is diminished in favor of LeBron, Wade, Chris Paul, Gasol and/or someone else.

I think that what Odom did could have been a flagrant one or a flagrant two but that the officials made a judgment call considering the context (blowout game with frustration building); they were trying to prevent something like what Bynum did next. Odom probably will not be suspended but I will be surprised (and disappointed in the NBA) if Bynum does not get suspended for at least five games.

Many series--including several that the Lakers won in the past few years--"could have" or "should have" gone differently; there is often a thin margin between winning and losing at the elite level in any sport.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 6:55:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

My reasoning regarding the Lakers' prospects next year is that Kobe's productivity will be further diminished, there is clearly an internal rift on the team and Jackson's leadership will be missed; those factors add up to at least 10 fewer wins, which would not be enough to make the playoffs in the West in a typical year. I expect that there will be a work stoppage and that after a new CBA is signed the Lakers will blow up the current roster.

Kobe ranks 27th all-time in ABA/NBA regular season minutes played (playoff minutes are counted separately) and he ranks 24th all-time in NBA regular season minutes played; I prefer using the combined stats but I made a clerical error that I have now corrected. Thank you for pointing it out.

 
At Monday, May 09, 2011 9:54:00 PM, Anonymous JackF said...

@David
Bynum did say there was some internal issues with the team. It probably has been happening all season because just after Phil Jackson brought a Psychologist to work with the team, they went on a 17-1 run. As good a team as the mavs are, they aren't a better team than the Lakers when everybody is doing their job. I knew that the chemistry between Kobe and Gasol has been fractured for some time. A lot of KObe and Gasol plays have turned into turnovers this year and more pronouncedly in game 3 against the Mavs during the final seconds. I think the problem can even be traced back at the beginning of the year where Pau's play took a sudden dip in production. kobe has always been a no-nonsense kind of player so i don't see how it could be a sign of lack of leadership when it got them to the finals in 3 three years. Best bet for the Lakers would be to trade either Bynum for Howard or Gasol for CPaul and other players.
I don't think the Lakers should go into next year with the same Roster. They have to find a way to unload Ron Artest too because I don't think he can be trusted anymore.
also on Kobe: people forget that both this year(against NO) and Last year(against OKC), if Kobe didn't guard Chris Paul and Westbrook the lakers could have most likely lost the series. My guess is Kobe's foot was limiting his mobility which is why he couldn't guard the quick guards nor attack the basket like he did against NO before the injury. That is why i thought Charles Barkley was irresponsible for saying kobe milked his foot injury for press.

 
At Tuesday, May 10, 2011 5:17:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jack F:

Jackson has brought in George Mumford on previous occasions, so I think that this was just part of Jackson's normal repertoire and not necessarily an indication of psychological problems within the team. That said, even before Bynum made his comment it was pretty clear that the Lakers were not very connected on the court; good defense is played "on a string" and it was vividly apparent that the Lakers' "string" was not just frayed but rather completely shredded as the Mavericks shot more open threes than they probably get during pregame warmups.

Artest is going to be a lot tougher to trade than any of the big guys; the Lakers will either have to keep him or else convince some team to accept Artest as the "price" for obtaining Gasol or Bynum.

I brought out the point about Kobe's defense in the article and I agree with you that if Kobe were fully healthy then he would have guarded Paul and he definitely would have switched onto Barea. Barkley has made some insightful predictions this season but his comments about Kobe's ankle were asinine; anyone who saw the play saw that Kobe's ankle twisted grotesquely, so it is ridiculous to say that Kobe was milking the injury. Kobe played the entire playoffs last season with a knee that needed surgical repair and he did so without complaining or making excuses. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Paul Pierce are three players who will act like they have just been shot and then "miraculously" be fully healed just minutes later but Kobe has never done that nonsense. NFL linebacker Chris Spielman once said that he cannot stand it when players are carried off of the field only to run back onto the field minutes later and he swore that if he ever had to be carried off of the field he would retire.

 
At Tuesday, May 10, 2011 9:12:00 PM, Blogger $9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Thanks for mentioning Kareem, my favorite player.

The Lakers have the same problem Memphis faced in trading Gasol: no one will trade talent plus an expiring 2011/2012 contract (as required) for Gasol because he's owed about $19m in each of the next three years and just showed himself as an inadequate or unreliable #2. I doubt they'd get OJ Mayo in trade, let alone Howard.

I recall that the only other offer Memphis got was 3 years of Ben Wallace's horrible contract, until Dr. Buss stepped up and offered an expiring contract (Kwame), M. Gasol's rights and Javaris Crittenden.

I feel bad for Dr. Buss, he lives off the lakers and paid a huge cost in luxury tax to keep this team and its coach together, only to see them swept in the 2nd round. Ouch.

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 4:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

9WO:

Kareem is extremely underrated.

I hesitate to comment too much about what teams might do/would do/could do because the league appears to be zooming toward a work stoppage that will likely result in a vastly different CBA; we don't know what the new rules will be so it is pure speculation to talk about what kinds of trades will be possible. It is obvious that if Dwight Howard makes it clear that he plans to leave Orlando as a free agent then the Magic will have little choice but to try to trade him, much like Denver and Utah did with Melo and DWill respectively. If the new CBA permits such a deal (i.e., if teams cannot put a franchise tag on their best player) then the Lakers will likely be able to offer the most attractive package (some combination of Bynum, Gasol and/or Odom in exchange for Howard plus other players to make the financial numbers work).

I agree with you that Dr. Buss did not get much bang for his buck after doling out the largest payroll in the NBA this season; Buss is not as wealthy as most of the owners, so $90-plus million means a lot more to him than it does to a billionaire like Cuban. The problem with the Lakers--which I stated repeatedly for the past several years but few other people seemed to understand--is that this particular dynasty depended disproportionately on Kobe performing like Superman; Gasol is (usually) a very good player and the Lakers have some nice specialists (Bynum provides size/length when he is healthy, Odom rebounds, Fisher is savvy and can hit clutch shots, Artest is a physical defender) but the only teams to reach the Finals four straight times (which the Lakers were trying to do this season) had multiple HoFers in their primes (Russell's Celtics, Magic's Lakers, Bird's Celtics). Kobe has the same mileage now (in terms of regular season minutes played) as the 39 year old Jordan or the 35 year old Dr. J yet the Lakers depended on Kobe to be a dominant scorer, to lead the team in assists and to try to contain quick point guards in the fourth quarters of close games (Kobe guarding CP3 on one leg at the end of game four tells you all you need to know about the Lakers' talent/depth). Before Kobe's ankle went sideways against NO I thought that he could push, pull and drag this team to one more championship before wholesale changes would have to be made but perhaps even that was an overly optimistic assessment. I certainly did not expect Gasol to devolve from solid All-Star to just another guy and even when he struggled against NO I assumed that he would turn things around to some degree against Dallas.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes for another team to make three straight trips to the Finals--and it will be interesting to compare that team's roster to the Lakers' roster.

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 12:15:00 PM, Anonymous Luis said...

Gasol's performance in this year's playoffs has certainly been shabby (for his standards) and lacked the necessary playoff intensity.

To me this just goes to show how important Gasol has been to this team: it is enough for Gasol to turn from a "great big man" (cf the previous two champioships) to an "average big man" (13ppg, 8rpg, 4apg, 42%FG in 2011 playoffs) for this Lakers team to be turned into a mediocre team.

Nothing new here: Gasol was previously attracting a lot of defensive attention and creating openings for Bryant and the role players. This year he hasn't, and the rest of the team (including Bryant) has seen its production and efficiency go down. Last year he was a forceful and effective interior defender, this year he has been mediocre; the team's defensive performance has suffered as well and the limitations in its perimeter defense have become more apparent.

In a nutshell, the team has resembled the lowly pre-Gasol Lakers (with Kobe bearing too much of the offensive burden and a mediocre defensive performance); its results have also mirrored those of the pre-Gasol Lakers (early playoff exit). Not so surprising.

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 12:23:00 PM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

This series was a bigger upset than Spurs/Grizzlies (Grizz weren't even a real 8th seed, tanked for the 8th spot, while hardly anyone had the Spurs taking the trophy this year).

I would place this series just behind Dallas/GS from '07 as most shocking upset of the last 10 years in this league.

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 3:21:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis:

As you usually do when you discuss Gasol, you are confusing cause and effect while offering a distorted narrative. You are apparently oblivious to the fact that Gasol had a seven year NBA resume prior to joining the Lakers and that resume included one All-Star selection plus an 0-12 playoff record; Bryant's resume prior to Gasol joining the Lakers included three championships (as an All-NBA and All-Defensive Team member), two scoring titles and numerous other honors/accomplishments. Gasol's FG% and offensive rebounding increased as a Laker due to the fact that Bryant draws so many double teams. You are delusional if you think that the process worked the other way; even in his current semi-hobbled state (thanks to the ankle injury) Kobe drew double teams in the playoffs.

The difference for the Lakers this year was that Kobe's minutes (during games) and practice time were slashed. That is why the Lakers did not finish with the best record in the West for the first time in three years and that is why they were not as sharp overall. The double teams that Kobe attracted created opportunities for Gasol but Gasol did not aggressively take advantage of them. How many times did Gasol let smaller players just rip the ball out of his hands? How many times did Gasol allow himself to be pushed off of the block? How many times did Gasol receive the ball, hesitate and then pass it right back to Bryant?

The "lowly" pre-Gasol Lakers made it to the playoffs twice with Kwame, Smush and Luke in the starting lineup--and in 2007-08 the Lakers were a contending team without Gasol. Gasol is fortunate that Bynum got hurt that season and the Lakers realized that with Kobe in his prime they could be contenders with any competent big man in the post (Gasol is more than just a competent big man but my point is that a lot of players could have taken Bynum's spot that year with the same result but no one could have replaced what Kobe was doing at that time).

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 3:24:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jimbo:

Are you aware that the Lakers and Mavs each won 57 games this season? The Lakers were considered the favorite in this series because of Kobe's greatness (that is why I picked them) or their championship pedigree but the reality is that purely based on record these teams were dead even (and the Lakers were healthier than the Mavs during the regular season). It is surprising that the Lakers were swept--they haven't been swept since 1999--but technically the result is not even an upset since the teams had the same record.

You can spin the Grizzlies' record any way that you want--they are not the first team to tank for playoff positioning--but they are just the fourth eighth seed to win a first round series and two of those upsets were fluky (New York over Miami in the shortened 1999 season, a gimmicky Golden State team over Dallas in 2007).

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 5:53:00 PM, Anonymous Jimbo said...

Yes, but there was a whopping 25 win different between Dallas and GS that year and the Warriors didn't get into the playoffs till the last day of the season. The Spurs weren't even healthy for the duration of their series. Plus since the AS break, Memphis and SA had virtually identical records.

Keep up the good work on your blog. Always a pleasure to read.

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 6:28:00 PM, Anonymous Luis said...

David,

without replaying discussions of previous years: it is obvious that Gasol has received less defensive attention in this year's playoffs than in the previous two years, because of his mediocre and tentative play (again, for his standards). Many of us share your view that basketball is more than stats, and know that when an important offensive player receives less attention from the defense, his teammates' offensive performance suffers.

I haven´t seen any information to the effect that Kobe is more banged up this year than he was last year (though he is certainly one year older). Nor are the bench players significantly worse than last year, and Odom and Bynum are arguably better than the previous two years. The main difference in my view is that Gasol's appearance in the previous two years as a stellar second option made life much easier for his teammates, including Kobe; his mediocre performance this year has in a way turned back the clock to the Lakers' pre-Gasol era, and the results have been pretty much the same as then.

To state the obvious, this interpretation does not mean that Gasol is better than Kobe or that Lakers basketball should be seen solely through the prism of how well Gasol plays; a Gasol-centric narrative would be as silly as Kobe-centric narratives. And if Kobe had suffered a letdown in performance and intensity similar to the one that Gasol experienced, I´m sure the Lakers would have done even worse in the playoffs.

What this does mean is that Gasol was a crucial piece in the Lakers puzzle. That he gave the Lakers a reliable inside presence, extremely good passing ability from the post, rebounding, scoring and, perhaps most importantly, a sense of cohesion and team play. Something pretty uncontroversial out there in the "delusional world".

To put it another way, if a player X:
- comes to a team which has had early playoff exits in the recent past
- immediately improves the performance of the team, helping it reach the NBA finals after many years of playoff mediocrity
- consolidates that performance with crucial and consistent contributions in the playoffs of the next two years, leading to two rings for the team
- is injured ocasionally, those injuries generally coinciding with a deterioration in the team W-L record
- suffers a significant letdown in the playoffs the next year, while the team experiences a complete meltdown

This is all prima facie evidence that this guy is indeed an essential piece of the team, without which (at full strength) it loses its status as a contender. Your alternative explanation of the above is based on:
- a half season of play in 2007-2008
- the assumption that a team can add to its roster a very good big man like Gasol, consistenly attracting double teams, without it having any significant positive in the offensive performance of the rest of the team
- the additional assumption that Gasol's "true ability" could be seen in Memphis, with consistently mediocre players around him, whereas the Lakers´ post-Shaq pre-2008 playoff failures have nothing to do with Kobe´s "true ability" and everything to do with the rest of the Lakers' lineup (which included Lamar Odom among others)
- injuries to Bryant of whose evolution little is known, which seemingly improve or worsen as required to justify whatever needs to be justified in your narrative
- the argument that Gasol's injuries (unusual but not rare) have coincided with "easy spells" in the Lakers' calendar, so that a completely random sample of some 40 or 50 games (those in which Gasol may have been injured since 2008) since has included an abnormally high amount of "easy games"

...that explanation is frankly incredible to me. It's called "Occam's razor"

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 9:10:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forget the playoff seeding and look at the matchups and expectations.

The Spurs started very very strong but stumbled towards the finish line while the Lakers seemed to be peaking at the right time.

Entering the playoffs, everyone knew that the Grizzlies were better than the limping Hornets.
Everyone picked the Lakers, some predicted a sweep.
A lot of people did pick the Spurs, but there were some who picked the Grizzlies.
Former coaches, analysts, fans, and "stat-gurus" alike had the same opinions here.

Much like Orlando, the Spurs lived and of course, died by the 3.

After the Lakers dispatched the Hornets, again, everyone picked the Lakers to beat the Mavs. Everyone knew that the Lakers always had trouble with speedy point guards so some thought that they would have an easier time against the Mavs(who they also destroyed in their final regular season matchup).

I think what Jimbo meant was that on the "SHOCKING" scale, the Mavs' sweep and game 4 blowout ranks higher than the Grizzlies overpowering the more talented but undersized Spurs.

The Lakers were tired for sure, but they didn't suddenly age 10 years between the Hornets and the Mavs series. They looked really good when they closed them out in game 6.

 
At Wednesday, May 11, 2011 10:08:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should the Grizz advance past the Thunder, it would make the Spurs upset not nearly as bad.

At least not GS/Dallas bad.

 
At Thursday, May 12, 2011 6:21:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Jimbo:

I understand the point that you are trying to make but from my perspective it still is spin-doctoring; I just can't buy the idea that a 57 win team beating a 57 win team is more "shocking" than an eighth seed beating a number one seed. Perhaps "shocking" is in the eyes/mind of the beholder, so if you say that one thing shocked you more than another it is not my place to say that you were not shocked but if you are trying to construct some kind of objective ranking of anomalous playoff results then an eighth seed beating a one seed is going to rank well ahead of a three seed beating a two seed. Furthermore, if the Mavs go on to win the championship while the Grizzlies lose in the second round then the Lakers' defeat will not seem that "shocking" in retrospect.

 
At Thursday, May 12, 2011 6:49:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis:

I definitely do not want to get into a detailed rehashing of our previous discussions, particularly since events--both positive and negative--have completely vindicated my original take on Gasol: Gasol is a good, All-Star level player who is very fortunate to have teamed up with an MVP-level player. Gasol's lousy performance in this year's playoffs does not change my overall opinion of him; Gasol is a good player who played poorly recently but even at his best he was not close to being a franchise player.

I am not sure how you determined that Gasol is receiving less defensive attention than he did in the past; Lakers' opponents consistently double-team Kobe, rotate to Gasol and try to make Fisher or Artest hit jumpers. Gasol rarely faces hard double-teams when Kobe is in the game (a defender may "stunt" at Gasol and go back but Gasol is rarely trapped the way that Kobe is routinely trapped). The Hornets and the Mavs tried to force Kobe to give up the ball, daring anyone else to beat them. In the past, Gasol feasted on such one on one opportunities but in this year's playoffs he was tentative and ineffective. That does not invalidate Gasol's past contributions but it reaffirms the validity of my assertion that Gasol is not a legit number one option.

The Lakers' bench players were very ineffective this season (except for Odom and Odom started nearly half of the games due to Bynum's injuries).

The big difference for the Lakers this year (prior to Gasol's disappearing act in the playoffs) was the reduction in both Kobe's playing time and his practice time. In the recent exit interviews, Kobe has talked about this and so has Bynum; without Kobe cracking the whip in practice the Lakers got sloppy and lazy and this spilled over into the games. During the previous three playoff runs, Kobe performed at roughly the same level that MJ did from 1996-98 but Kobe was not able to do so this year; if Kobe had played at that level then the Lakers would have at least gotten by Dallas even with Gasol playing poorly: what was missing in that series was the five to 10 minute segment when Kobe would usually score 10-15 points to seal the win (the 2008-2010 version of Kobe would have carried the Lakers to wins in games one and three versus Dallas). Think back to how Kobe destroyed Phx in the 2010 WCF; we did not see that Kobe in this year's playoffs; Kobe was "merely" an All-Star level player in the postseason and that is not nearly enough to win a championship with this supporting cast. As Brian Shaw told Sports Illustrated recently, in the past Kobe could just carry the team but now he needs more help.

I never said that Gasol is not important. I said that he is a good second option. By suggesting that I said something else you are attempting to create a straw man; most of the things you are attributing to me I never said or you are taking out of the context in which I originally said them.

 
At Thursday, May 12, 2011 6:55:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Luis:

The facts are plain and simple:

1) Kobe was an All-NBA/All-Defensive Team performer for three championship teams prior to playing alongside Gasol.

2) Kobe proved that he could carry a very weak team (Smush, Kwame, Luke as starters) to back to back playoff appearances and four playoff game victories. Since Smush is out of the league, Kwame has never started a playoff game for another team and Phil Jackson won't even put Luke in a game now unless one team is ahead by about 25 I feel safe in saying that no one other than Kobe could have led that starting lineup to the playoffs twice; yes, the Lakers' "failure" to win a championship with that motley crew was not Kobe's fault and, yes, Kobe deserves a large amount of the credit for winning back to back titles with perhaps the weakest supporting cast to ever do so. Again, the 2011 Lakers were trying to do something that has only been accomplished by the Russell Celtics, the Bird Celtic and the Magic Lakers; those teams had multiple HoFers, while Kobe had Gasol--who suddenly became afraid of his own shadow--plus three guys who think that toughness consists of delivering cheap shots/flagrant fouls. Gasol is a good second option but he is not John Havlicek, James Worthy or Kevin McHale (and those teams each also had other HoFers who were better than Gasol).

3) Gasol went 0-12 in the playoffs with Memphis. It is publicly known that the Grizzlies traded him precisely because they had determined that he is not a franchise player; Memphis GM Chris Wallace just said as much in a recent SI article.

4) The coaches selected Gasol to one All-Star team in seven years in Memphis; the media never voted him to the All-NBA First, Second or Third Team.

5) Kobe was an established elite player years before Gasol arrived in L.A., while Gasol was a one-time All-Star.

6) The 2007-08 Lakers were on track for 50 wins without Gasol; Gasol took the place of the injured Bynum but the Lakers could have won 50 games with any competent big man. If Kobe could carry Smush, Kwame and Luke to the playoffs then he could have carried an even slightly improved cast very deep into the playoffs.

7) You are either fantasizing about all of the double teams Gasol supposedly draws when Kobe is in the game or you don't know the difference between "stunting" and double-teaming; guards will sometimes stunt or dig at the ball when Gasol is in the post but that is quite different from sending one or two extra defenders at Kobe to force Kobe to give up the ball. When the Lakers run screen/roll actions with Kobe and Gasol the opposing team invariably doubles Kobe hard, while rotating one defender to Gasol.

 
At Thursday, May 12, 2011 7:05:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The Lakers lost five in a row before winning their final two games; that hardly qualifies as "peaking at the right time."

Charles Barkley picked Dallas to beat L.A. (he also picked Memphis to beat the Spurs)--but it does not really matter who picked what; we have an 82 game sample size to consider and over that sample size the Spurs were the best team in the West. The number one seeded team lost to the eighth seeded team just three times prior to this season and one of those times happened in the bizarre 50 game 1999 season.

I just cannot buy the idea that a 57 win team beating a 57 win team is "shocking." Yes, I picked the Lakers to beat the Mavs but I wrongly assumed that Kobe's ankle would improve and that Gasol could not possibly continue to play that badly--but in my series preview I also listed what the Mavs would have to do to win and I specifically said that Barea could give the Lakers trouble: I am not "shocked" that the Mavs were able to win.

 
At Thursday, May 12, 2011 7:10:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anonymous:

The Grizzlies will likely be out of the playoffs soon, having won just two games after beating the number one seed--and I am still much more "shocked" that the Spurs lost to Memphis than I am that the Lakers lost to the Mavs. The Mavs have been a legit championship contender all season long; I thought that Kobe would hit the Mavs with several 30-plus point games and that he would take over in the fourth quarters of close games but Kobe was not able to do so. Kobe carried the Lakers in the 2010 playoffs despite having multiple injuries--including a knee that required surgical repair--so after he proved that he could play through the ankle injury I assumed that he would be able to resume being dominant but that did not prove to be the case.

 
At Thursday, May 12, 2011 9:13:00 AM, Anonymous st said...

i guess every one has different opinions, but i'm more surprised that the lakers got swept by the mavs than the spurs losing 4-2 to the grizzlies.

 
At Sunday, May 15, 2011 3:29:00 AM, Anonymous DanielSong39 said...

What a sad way to end the season.

I kept waiting for Gasol to step up and become the player that all the stat gurus insisted that he was. If he truly played like an elite player throughout the Dallas series, there is no doubt that the Lakers would have at least extended this series to 7 games.

The other huge disappointment was the subpar play from the bench. Odom, Barnes, Brown, and Blake is not a bad group and they should have been able to hold their own. Perhaps they will bounce back next season.

As for Kobe, he is the most accomplished player of his era. But like most superstars, he will get the lion's share of the criticism when the team falls short of the ultimate goal - just like Lebron James, Magic, Larry, Kareem, and Wilt did in their respective primes.

 
At Sunday, May 22, 2011 2:48:00 PM, Anonymous khandor said...

Hi, David.

As I mentioned before the 1st Round series began this year ...

Calling a winner, well in advance, for the NBA Finals this go-round was in all likelihood an act of folly, since there were way too many good-to-very-good teams with legitimate aspirations of winning 16 games in the post-season.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, Mitch did a poor job of adding and subtracting key personnel this year and ... when push came to shove ... PJ did a poor job of coaching a squad which was only marginally more talented than the Dallas Mavericks.

Hopefully the Buss family does a good job selecting the next head coach of the team, and the Lakers can remain a title contender during the next few years of Kobe's reign, as the most skilled player in the game today.

Cheers

 
At Monday, May 23, 2011 2:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

I think it is a "folly" for someone to selectively make predictions and then claim that his predictions are more accurate than anyone else's--but you don't know anyone who does that, do you?

Every season before the playoffs begin I pick a Finals matchup and winner and then I make round by round predictions (including a new Finals prediction if my original teams don't make the Finals). So far this year, I am 9-3 and one half of my original Finals prediction (Chicago) is still alive. If I could have "passed" I would have done so with the Orlando-Atlanta series, one of the three that I have been wrong about so far.

I think that the Lakers are actually less talented top to bottom than the Mavs; I picked the Lakers to win that series because I thought that Kobe would find some way to average 30 ppg against a team that he has historically torched and that Pau Gasol could not possibly continue to slump but Kobe clearly was not fully healthy while Gasol's disappearing act is the strangest thing that I have seen in the playoffs in years other than LeBron quitting versus Boston last season.

In order for Kobe to win one more ring he needs for the Lakers to add a legit All-Star (not a fringe All-Star like Gasol, whose status has been pumped up from playing alongside Kobe) big man and they need to deepen their bench; they also could use some speed/youth, particularly at pg.

 
At Monday, May 23, 2011 10:43:00 AM, Anonymous khandor said...

Hi, David.

1. Try your best to not be so defensive about you've written on your site; especially, when someone else does not really try to attack, in the first place.

2. Try your best to not lash out at them, in response.

3. re: "I think it is a "folly" for someone to selectively make predictions and then claim that his predictions are more accurate than anyone else's--but you don't know anyone who does that, do you?"

I do not someone who does that.

However, I do know someone who:

i. Is an authentic "basketball expert"; and,
ii. Earns his primary income by selecting the winners of various sporting events, in advance, and then investing his own money accordingly ... in situations that are separate and distinct from mere "guesswork," i.e. when two opponents are well-matched and there is little-to-no advantage for one side or the other, from a value standpoint, relative to the published wagering line; and,
iii. Whose published won-lost record in "series calls" for the NBA Playoffs over the last 3 years is factually superior to any other so-called "expert" who has published his own "series picks", in advance, over this same period of time.

4. It's important that reasonable people who, basically, agree with one another about more things than they happen to disagree with one another about, do their very best to not be disagreeable with each other. :-)

5. Please keep up your fine work. Of all the "basketball writers" whose work I've read on-line, thus far, you are by-far the best when it comes to providing an accurate historical context to his/her perspective.

In general, it's a treat to read your work!

Cheers

 
At Monday, May 23, 2011 2:29:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Khandor:

1) I have nothing to be defensive about; my work speaks for itself. On the other hand, I have never hesitated to call out anyone whose work evinces hypocrisy and/or is poorly crafted in some fashion.

2) I offer honest, objective critiques. It would not be accurate to say that I have "lashed out" at anyone.

3) Without knowing "someone's" real name and thus having no way to verify what "someone" does for a living there is no way that I can possibly comment on this. I do know of someone who selectively makes predictions and then claims to have the most accurate predictions available online; that seems like a "folly" to me, both in terms of the nature of the process (refusing to pick close series) and in terms of the lack of proof regarding the accuracy of other people's predictions. My accuracy rate for playoff series predictions since 2005 is 72/102 (including a 9-3 record so far this season); I am confident that a .706 winning percentage is fairly high relative to other prognosticators but I don't know if it is the best rate accumulated during that period of time nor have I claimed that it is.

4) I agree.

5) Thank you.

 
At Thursday, September 29, 2011 5:32:00 PM, Blogger weak sauce said...

David,

I understand that this an old post, so I understand if you don't see this. With this lockout going on, one way to satisfy my basketball fandom is to look at your past work. Anyway, what are the most pressing needs (in terms of personnel change) you feel the Lakers need to do in order to win another title? I've heard that the top 3 needs (in order of necessity) would be 3 point shooting (the Lakers were atrocious here, missing wide open shots), getting a new starting point guard, and youth and athleticism.

Also, what would you think of trading for Bynum and Odom for Dwight Howard (something that may be on the fridge of possibility)? A trio of Howard, Gasol, and Bryant (when healthy) would be nearly unstoppable in my opinion (and much more potent than the trio in South Beach). Considering how weak you consider Bryant's supporting cast is (relative to other contenders), I am inclined to think you would agree.

 
At Thursday, September 29, 2011 7:32:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Weak Sauce:

Without knowing what the final settlement will be and how that will affect the rosters of various teams--i.e., a very restrictive salary cap could prevent the Heat from adding depth in addition to having other ramifications for certain teams--it is not possible to definitively answer your question but in general I think that the Lakers' number one roster concern is a lack of youth/athleticism, a shortcoming that is particularly evident at the point guard position. I would trade Bynum and Odom for Dwight Howard but we will have to see if that is in fact a realistic option for the Lakers after the lockout is resolved. Improving their three point shooting would help the Lakers but is not nearly as important as getting younger and more athletic collectively. It is also valid to wonder if Gasol's horrible playoff performance was just an aberration or a disturbing indication of Gasol's inability to step up as a number one option when Bryant is limited, because age and injuries will inevitably reduce Bryant from a number one option to a lesser factor at some point; I have consistently predicted that the day that Gasol is truly the Lakers' best player (as opposed to merely being their best player in the fevered imaginations of a few "stat gurus") is the day that the Lakers cease being legit title contenders. Therefore, the Lakers' championship window is not open very wide because Bryant may only have one or two elite seasons left.

 

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