Joe-Pinions: Sports

17 Mar 2012 – Lakers Upgrade on Trade Deadline Day

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 17/03/2012

March 15 was the NBA’s trade deadline.

It was billed to be Dwight Howard’s day of days, when he would finally leave Orlando and move on to his next NBA destination.

Instead, Howard stayed put, nixing his opt-out clause and guaranteeing that he would see out the completion of his current contract with theMagic.

No, this season’s trade deadline was dominated by the moves that the Los Angeles Lakers made.

First, they moved forwards Jason Kapono and Luke Walton, an old fan favorite who unfortunately has not seen any significant playing time for the last two and half seasons, to the hapless Cleveland Cavaliers.  In return, the Lakers received point guard Ramon Sessions and little-known forward Christian Eyenga.

Trading Walton and Kapono away for a demonstrably effective point guard (whilst shedding a good amount of money from the payroll) was a master stroke for the Lakers front office, led by General Manger Mitch Kupchak and Lakers Executive Vice President of Player Personnel Jim Buss.  The Lakers immediately solved two big problems:  1)  They acquired an athletic and effective (and cheap) point guard, thereby shoring up the team’s longest-standing personnel weakness; and 2)  by moving Walton, they freed up a significant amount of money from their payroll going forward from this season.  Luke Walton’s contract was expensive, and since his athletic limitations meant that he was never going to see any significant playing time on a team as loaded at forward as the Lakers are, Walton’s contract was a gigantic impediment.

But the Lakers weren’t done making moves yet.

Just prior to the official close of the trading period at 3PM EST/12PM PST, the Lakers traded team leader Derek Fisher and a future first-round draft pick to the Houston Rockets.  The Rockets sent power forward/center Jordan Hill in exchange.

Losing the draft pick is no problem for the Lakers, who traditionally pick from the back end of each round of the draft anyway due to their end-of-season record.  But losing Fisher is a gigantic shock to the Lakers universe.  Smart fans have long recognized that “Fish” has long been a liability for most of the time he is on the floor; his lack of foot speed means that he is a match-up nightmare for the Lakers, with the opposing team’s point guard routinely beating Fisher anywhere and everywhere on the floor.  Not only that, but with the Lakers eschewing the so-called Triangle Offense, the Lakers now cannot “hide” Fisher’s lack of athleticism on offense:  He is too slow with and without the ball to get open on his own or to create his own shot.  Finally, his shooting percentage from long range has never been particularly stellar.  On both ends of the court, then, the Lakers with Fisher on the floor are akin to having just four men going up against the opposition’s five.

But Fisher’s value has always been his leadership ability and the fact that he is probably the only Laker player who has ever been able to balance Kobe Bryant’s temperament.  Fisher’s voice is one of the few that Bryant values and respects; he acts as a sort of check and balance to Kobe’s wilder and more selfish tendencies.  Fisher’s role in maintaining and sustaining and generating the Lakers’ positive chemistry is impossible to quantify, a fact readily acknowledged by GM Kupchak when he formally announced the team’s trade deadline activities.

More than the catalog of Fisher’s last-second heroics (and there is a list of them), the question now is how will the Lakers players move on from losing a friend, mentor, and leader?  Will the price of improving the team’s roster (if Jordan Hill is effective at spelling both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol) be worth the loss of such a valuable, impossible-to-quantify asset as Derek Fisher?

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29 Dec 2011 – Why I’m Boycotting the NBA

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 29/12/2011

I’ve been telling buddies and family members that I’ll be boycotting the NBA starting this 2011-2012 season.  That means I will not watch any of the broadcasts.  I may read reports and columns about the Los Angeles Lakers – I simply cannot do without the thoughts and opinions of people such as Adrian Wojnerowski of Yahoo! Sports (@WojYahooNBA on Twitter), Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register (@KevinDing), and Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports (@WhitlockJason) – since I don’t want to be ignorant of NBA- and Lakers-related issues, but as far as actually watching any of the games?

No way.

I don’t want to even be perceived as supporting, condoning, or accepting David Stern’s continuing reign of terror and destruction as the NBA’s malevolent dictator-for-life Commissioner any longer .

I don’t want to keep on contributing to the continuation of the status quo, where spoiled, bratty superstars are hailed as the greatest basketball players ever, when most of them can’t even dribble properly as the rules say they should and too few know how to sink their free throws even when it’s not yet crunch time.

I just feel that the NBA is no longer about basketball.

Well, truth be told it has been a long time since I thought and felt that way about the NBA.  Opinions on when the NBA transformed from a professional sporting league to a straight-up, cutthroat business enterprise will probably vary, but I think it started sometime during the 1980s.

Of course, NBA historians know that David Stern took over as league commissioner in 1980.

The 1980s, of course, was the decade of the resurgence of both the Los Angeles Lakers and their hated rivals, the Boston Celtics.  The renaissance of these two marquee NBA franchises was spurred by the arrival of both Earvin “Magic” Johnson (with the Lakers) and Larry Bird (with the Celtics).

Both are now considered to be two of the greatest NBA players ever.

(As an aside, I consider Larry Bird to be the greatest NBA player ever, just ahead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.)

Not coincidentally, with the arrival of both Magic and Bird came Stern’s opportunity to really put his stamp on the NBA.  Magic and Bird were the first beneficiaries of Stern’s policy to promote the stars of the league.

Whenever their teams met, whether it was during the regular season or during the Finals (where the Lakers and the Celtics met thrice in the decade, in 1984, 1985, and 1987), the games were almost inevitably billed as “Magic vs. Bird.”

The phenomenon wasn’t just all about Magic and Bird, though.  The 1980s saw the rise of several other superstars.  In Philadelphia you had Dr. J and Charles Barkley; Houston had its Twin Towers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson; the Utah Jazz ensemble was led by “the Mailman” Karl Malone and John Stockton; the Detroit Pistons were headlined by Isiah Thomas and his Bad Boys crew; and so on and so forth.

Stern’s policy of promoting his superstars undoubtedly worked (spectacularly so, in fact), and the league became more prosperous and popular than it had ever been.

But for every success there is a price to be paid.  In the case of Stern’s edict of “promote the superstars,” the price was steep.  Stern’s policy led to the gradual corruption of the game of basketball as played in the league and, perhaps inevitably, the dilution of the concept that basketball is a team game.

What do I mean when I say that the game of basketball became corrupted?

People who love the game, who have actually played or officiated or coached the game on a competitive basis (especially for a long time), or studied its nuances the way a hardcore player or coach would, would probably understand my point better than people who just play pick-up games or are casual fans at best.  Fundamental skills of basketball players at all levels have deteriorated.  The rules specify that there are correct ways to dribble the ball, to move your feet when you have the ball, to set screens, to do lots of things.  Watch basketball today in the USA, at any level, and if you know the rules of the game you’d just feel sick when you see people palming or carry the ball when they dribble.  You’ll see people take one or two extra steps when they take off on a dunk attempt on a fastbreak.  You’ll see people moving as they set screens.  You’ll see so many rules violations that aren’t called when they absolutely should.

You want more examples of the erosion of fundamental skills?  Let me ask you a question, then:  Who knows how to shoot the basketball properly these days?  Who can you rely on to shoot free throws?  These days, accurate shooters have become such valuable specialists because too few players actually learn this most fundamental of skills.

Instead, almost everyone who’s tall enough or athletic enough who plays basketball wants to develop their hops so they can do the highlight 360° one-handed slam dunk instead.

Dunking the basketball takes so much less skill than shooting it properly at any range does.

But in David Stern’s corrupt basketball universe, the slam dunk is glorified like nothing else because it is spectacular.  The slam dunk made a star out of Kenny “Sky” Walker and Dee Brown, who were marginal as professional-caliber basketball players but superb athletes.  The slam dunk made Shaquille O’Neal a more relevant center than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; you can substitute Dwight Howard for Shaq and Andrew Bynum for Kareem for the modern equivalent.

What am I saying here?

David Stern’s rule as Commissioner of the NBA has wrecked basketball.

*****

The NBA’s 2011-2012 season should have been aborted instead of being born.  Instead of a healthy child, what NBA fans will get instead is an ugly, misshapen thing with missing parts and more problems than ever.

The labor unrest in the NBA dominated the months since last season’s end.  The league’s team owners, the players’ union, and the players’ agents all had their agendas to push during the lockout.

The owners as a group wanted more money, and they wanted to install changes in the system such as an NFL-style “hard” salary cap, franchise tag, and non-guaranteed contracts in order to promote more parity within the league.

The players, of course, balked at everything that would take money away from their pockets.  Neither would they ever agree to the loss of their fully-guaranteed contracts.

And what of the agents?  You’ve got to figure they were firmly against any changes that would reduce their cut of the players’ salaries.  Many of these agents were accused of misinforming their clientele, a lot of whom are really too stupid to know for themselves what the lockout was about and all the issues being fought over.

For too many, the NBA lockout was all about making a greedy grab for larger slices of the money pie.

Consequently, none of the systems changes that were calculated to eventually result in an NBA with more parity, more competitive balance were approved.  The lockout was reduced to squabbling over who got more “Basketball-related income.”  The end result?  Things are essentially unchanged in the NBA.

*****

Don’t believe the horse “S” that the NBA lockout was all about helping the smaller market teams get themselves in a more competitive position.  That’s baloney.  If so, the owners in the smaller markets would have killed to earn real victories in getting the hard salary cap pushed through.

Instead, you have Dan Gilbert, LeBron James’ jilted lover, belly-aching about how the nixed Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers-trade would have reduced the Lakers’ salary tax figure and therefore shrunk his own bottom line (from smaller luxury tax penalties levied against big-spending teams like the Lakers).

There’s a reason why teams like Gilbert’s Cleveland Cavaliers are perpetually terrible, and teams like the Lakers are almost always fighting for championships:  The Lakers are simply run better.

Sure, having deep pockets helps a lot, but the Lakers, like the New York Yankees in Major League Baseball, believe that anything short of a championship victory at the end of the year is a failure.  Accordingly, they try to do everything they can within reason and within the rules to put themselves in a position to do just that.

As a fan of the team, that’s all I want.

But for fools like Dan Gilbert, well…  how about having people who know about basketball run your team so that it can build itself up to be more competitive?  I understand it’s a business, but success in business requires know-how and a strong work ethic.  Waiting for a hand-out just to keep your books balanced is a fool’s ploy, and to me, that’s the common denominator for the majority of the owners in the NBA.

*****

What would I have preferred to have seen result from the lockout?

If all that angst was truly about making the NBA a better league for the small markets, then these are what I would have wanted to see come out of it at the end:

  • A hard salary cap, just like what the NFL has.  A hard salary cap is the true equalizer in a sports league.  A fixed cap ensures that no team has the advantage of being able to out-spend its competitors.  This is why you see teams transform seemingly from irrelevance one year to competitive status the next.  A hard salary cap also puts the onus on the teams to invest in effective scouting, which leads to more effective drafts; moreover, you also have to be very good at assessing talent as far as signing and re-signing free agents.  The teams with the best management capabilities will naturally rise to the top; a hard salary cap prevents teams that simply have the capability of outspending its competition from being able to buy its way into competitiveness.  A hard salary cap, of course, is not designed to cap owners’ and players’ potential earnings, especially if you take the point of view that a hard salary cap means players now must compete amongst each other to get as high a salary as they can command in the free agent market.
  • An increased age limit for rookies.  One of the NBA’s biggest problems is that the new blood coming into the league is corrupt and immature to begin with.  Most players entering the NBA have absolutely no concept of what it is to be an adult; most players, no matter what age, seem to be entitled, arrogant young athletes who lack the maturity to handle everything that the NBA throws at them.  Too many players start their NBA careers with nary a year past high school.  For bigs (centers, some power forwards), some of them haven’t even finished their physical development yet at that age.  Subjecting their body to the incredible stresses of an NBA career can do untold damage.  In my considered opinion, everyone wins with increasing the rookie age limit, generally speaking.  Rookies with at least three years of college will be more mature in respects – physically, psychologically, and in terms of basketball seasoning – than rookies just one year out of high school.  Moreover, the NCAA should also naturally improve by having more upperclassmen playing basketball.  Just look at football, where teams with the most upperclassmen tend to play the best, especially during tournament time.
  • Having only partially-guaranteed contracts.  Partially-guaranteed contracts are not evil, no matter what the agents and the players might believe.  In the real world, this is how most salary contract structures are.  The only guaranteed portion of most salaries in the real world that I inhabit and am familiar with is the signing bonus.  You work for everything else.  Pro athletes, though, are sick with the disease that makes them believe they deserve everything they get (everything good, that is).  But partially-guaranteed contracts work as a positive force in at least two ways:  The players are required to live up to their end of the bargain by playing as well and as hard as they can (if they don’t, the teams have the option of terminating or buying out the contract at a value far smaller than the cost of the full contract), and teams have the power to get out from under onerous contracts if the player isn’t performing as well as they believed.  This is an entirely fair arrangement, and a mutually-beneficial one in my opinion.

These are just a few ideas to improve the NBA, given the stated (yet totally ignored) issues presented during the lockout.

Alas, none of these have come to pass.

It’s just more of the same NBA bullshit as before, as far as I can see.

If anything, the lockout only made things worse than ever before.

*****

I love basketball.  It is the game I played the most when I was growing up.  Ask my family.  I wasn’t even very good, but I love the game so much in my youth that in the summers I woke up at 4:30AM just to round up my teammates for 6:00AM practices.  I love the game so much that I studied it quite a bit, reading coaches’ manuals and talking with everybody I know whose basketball knowledge I respect.  I love the game so much that I volunteered my time in my senior year in high school to help my school’s girls’ basketball team — I served as a coach’s assistant, working with the big girls and helping out on drills.

I love the Lakers.  From the time I learned the name of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when I was five or six years old, I’ve been a diehard fan of the team.  I’ve never rooted for any other NBA team.  Sure, from time to time I’ve followed the careers of a few ex-Lakers once they left the team (Vlade Divac, Kurt Rambis, and A.C. Green are amongst these very chosen few), but for me it’s always been about the purple-and-gold uniform.  I still remember the utter devastating shock I felt when I heard Magic Johnson had contracted HIV, and I wept in grief when Chick Hearn died.  Off all the sports teams I’ve followed in my lifetime, no matter what the sport, the Lakers have been in my sports fan’s heart the longest.  The Lakers are my first love.

I used to love the NBA.  In my formative years as a basketball fan, I admired the spectacular athleticism of players like Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy, tiny Spud Webb, and “Dr. J” Julius Erving.  I admired Magic Johnson’s showmanship, Larry Bird’s unerring shooting touch, Kevin McHale’s footwork in the low post, Kareem’s awesome Skyhook.  I even grew to love Shaquille O’Neal’s rim-rocking thunderous slam dunks, even as I cringed every time he tried to shoot free throws.

The NBA’s biggest problem, the reason why I’ve fallen out of love with it, is the NBA’s penchant for creating superstars at the expense of everything else.  Teams (and the concept of teamwork) seem to have been de-emphasized, sacrificed at the altar of individual superstardom.  The idea of growing and nurturing the collective good has been destroyed, all for the glory of just the one man.

The NBA, sadly, has become all about the wrong individual.

David Stern must go.  At this point, I don’t even care how he goes.

And as far as I’m concerned, he can’t leave soon enough.

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9 May 2011 – Lakers’ Phil Jackson Era Swept Away in Dallas

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 09/05/2011

So here we are, a day after the Dallas Mavericks completed their four-game demolition of the erstwhile two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.  Humpty-Dumpty sat proudly on the wall for four years, right on top for the last two, then shattered into a billion pieces once the inevitable fall from grace happened.

Predictably, everybody and his uncle has got opinions on why the Lakers failed in this season’s quest to send outgoing coaching great Phil Jackson with his fourth completed championship three-peat.  His first two were with the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls in the mid-1990s, and his third was with the Shaq-Kobe Lakers of the early 2000s.  The final attempt to complete the title trifecta was led by Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, and supported on-court with what, on paper, should have been the team’s greatest asset:  The gigantic and talented front line of 7-foot Pau Gasol, 7-foot Andrew Bynum, and 6’10” Lamar Odom.  No other team in the NBA could boast such a trio of talented big men.  But despite this apparent advantage, this final attempt at three consecutive championship wins for Phil Jackson ended as a sad failure.

Consequently, he leaves coaching with the bitter taste of humiliation in defeat in his mouth.  It’s quite possible to lose without humiliation; after all, in almost every contest, someone wins, and someone else loses.  (The only exception is in a stalemate or a draw, of course).  You can lose with grace, with dignity.  I’d say you see the true measure of a competitor not in how he behaves in victory, but how he deals with defeat, particularly when the opponent dominates you.  Sadly, the Lakers exhibited a disturbing loss of heart and composure in the face of adversity, and what you get afterwards is rancor and chaos and damage done to the image of not just the Lakers as a team and organization, but also to the chief figure being villified in this mess:  Andrew Bynum.

*****

I’ll say it right now:  I am an Andrew Bynum fan.  I always have been, and I suspect I always will be.  From the time I first saw him play and flash the tantalizing talent that he undoubtedly has, I have nurtured a very strong affinity for his game and for his potential.  Even through the times when he suffered injuries and almost everyone in Lakerland wanted to trade him away for this player or that player, I have been steadfast in my defense of Bynum.  I have been resolute in my insistence that Bynum is an asset to the team, that all he needs is some time to grow and mature, as well as maybe some support from the fan base.  I suppose a lot of my thought processes when it comes to Andrew Bynum comes from a very deep fear of losing a weapon to an enemy, then suffering the damage done to you by that weapon.  

I’ll put it to you this way:  I don’t fear Dwight Howard as much as I do Andrew Bynum.

I feel this even more strongly ever since Bynum transformed himself into a more complete, more dominant basketball player immediately after the 2011 All-Star break.  He stopped focusing so much on offense and instead became obsessed with doing the hard work in basketball:  He became a ferocious rebounder and a tireless defender.  According to the OC Register’s Kevin Ding, Bynum has even assumed the role of defensive captain, taking on the role of directing his teammates on defensive rotations and assignments.  What’s interesting is, as undoubtedly awesome as the post-All Star break Bynum has been, I believe he’s still got a lot more potential left untapped.  Unless he suffers a career-ending injury (God-willing, I hope he never does), I think he can still get better.

Having given a brief summation of why I think so highly of Bynum, I must say that I did not enjoy seeing his dirty play on J.J. Barea in yesterday’s Game 4 against the Mavericks.  I have never admired dirty players in any sport, and to be honest I would personally have a tough time withdrawing my support and admiration for Bynum if he turns out to be a dirty player.

It’s far too early to think of him that way.

I would rather cast Bynum’s dirty play as an exception, an act born out of a deep frustration and a complete loss of poise, instead of an indicator of Bynum’s true nature as a basketball player.  If he was truly a dirty player, I would think that J.J. Barea would not be just the second NBA guard to have been on the business end of Bynum’s elbow.  Kurt Rambis, currently the Minnesota Timberwolves’ head coach, defended Bynum’s foul somewhat, saying in an interview that he thought that Bynum’s hard foul was purely a “frustration foul,” not necessarily the action of a dirty player.  A dirty player would play dirty no matter the situation; it wouldn’t matter if his team was on the verge of losing in a humiliating fashion to an opponent, or if his team was beating another by thirty.  If Bynum was truly dirty, he would have hurt somebody by now.  The fact that yesterday’s play was so shocking is actually an indication of the general perception that Bynum is not a dirty player.  I will concede, however, that if Bynum makes such dirty plays a regular feature of his basketball repertoire, he will conform to that description.

Look at it this way:  How many times were you shocked when Bill Laimbeer executed similar maneuvers?  He did this quite a few times throughout his career.  How many times did Bruce Bowen shock you when he stuck his foot beneath the player he was guarding, in the hopes that his opponent would land on it and sprain/break an ankle?  You were only shocked at these players’ temerity to express their intentions to intimidate.  Sure, that kind of behavior shocks you, but only because these players did these kinds of things all the time, and you hated that they did that.

Bynum’s flagrant foul was shocking, but not in the same way.  People clearly (and correctly) condemned the play, but I think the shock was mostly due to the violence involved.  That, and the likelihood (I would hope, anyway) that this was aberrant behavior from someone whose true nature is actually very different from the unfortunate image of himself that has been created as a consequence of his one rash decision.

Let’s approach things from another angle.  I still very vividly remember the vicious clothesline that Boston Celtic forward Kevin McHale gave Kurt Rambis, back when Rambis was a Lakers power forward.  Rambis crashed into the Forum hardwood and sprang back up, eager for a fight.  Does anybody call McHale dirty?

Bynum doesn’t indulge in these kinds of actions with any real frequency.  When he uses his elbows on offense, it’s part of the proper technique to create some separation from his defender.  I used to help coach my old high school’s varsity girls basketball team, and the head coach assigned me her big girls to work with (I played center and power forward in my youth, and the head coach recognized I could teach her girls a few things).  I taught those girls that technique, amongst others.  On defense and in rebounding situations, Bynum doesn’t play dirty either; those are the “easiest” opportunities to do something really dirty if you really wanted to, since everyone’s attention is on the ball.  But other than flooring Barea (and an earlier flagrant foul against the Timberwolves’ Michael Beasley), you can’t correctly accuse Bynum of being dirty.

I see this as NBA basketball’s perfect equivalent to Alain Prost’s collision with the late Ayrton Senna at the Suzuka chicane during the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix.  Prost has never ever been seen as a dirty driver, before or after that incident with Senna.  (Senna, on the other hand, indulged in many more and worse behavior in his career.  Michael Schumacher, too, still continues to drive in a dangerous way, even to this very day.)  But the collision Prost caused in the Suzuka chicane was shocking since no one had ever seen him do that before.

Bynum’s flagrant foul on Barea was his second such hard play in his career, but I maintain his action was specifically motivated not by an intention to hurt Barea, but to prove a point.  (I’ll come to that later.)  It was his nasty side coming out, sure; but just as the Incredible Hulk only really appears when passionate, roiling emotions activate the gamma ray-mutated cells in Bruce Banner’s body, Bynum let the fire burn too long and too hot, lost control and composure, and decided to take out his frustrations on an unfortunate opponent.  The monster was born out of his frustration with the situation.

Andrew Bynum has never enjoyed the same kind of fanatical support as someone like, say, Kobe Bryant has amongst Lakers fans.  If he did, I guarantee that he wouldn’t be villified to the same degree as he is (people have forgotten that Magic Johnson once gave Isiah Thomas a very similar kind of foul in 1988).  After his mid-air elbow on Barea, I’m sad to admit (to myself, if to no one else) that there is now next to no chance for Bynum to endear himself to certain segments of Laker fandom.  While I don’t think such things don’t matter much to me – I care most for ability and performance, not popularity – there are fans who think that that’s the most important thing.  Unfortunately, these are also the fans with the capability and/or wherewithal to express their power through their wallets and credit cards.  Basketball smarts and knowledge don’t count for as much, if at all.

*****

I suggested earlier that Bynum’s mid-air elbow on Barea was to prove a point.  What point could that possibly have been?

Clearly, the Lakers’ opponents have a certain mode of attack in mind when they play against the Lakers:  The Lakers are long and tall and skilled at center and forward (they have Bynum, Gasol, and Odom), but one of the best ways to negate a size disadvantage is to dislodge the bigs from their positions in the paint.  How do you do this?  You force the bigs to move away from the paint, one way or another.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, one of the very best ways to move bigs from the lane is to use a high screen with one of your own bigs, which necessarily tends to draw one of the Laker bigs (frequently Pau Gasol) away from the basket.  The screen creates separation between one-on-one matchups, and so all the opponent then has to do is to pick whatever option suits him best.  He can shoot a long jumpshot if he’s got that in his arsenal; he can penetrate into the lane, which often creates more options (he can either attack the basket himself or, if he has another teammate open because of the defensive rotation to him, pass it to someone open); or he can reset and try another play (if the shot clock allows it).

The New Orleans Hornets, led by Chris Paul, used this very basic tactic as one of the foundations of their offensive strategy, and it earned them two wins in their six-game series with the Lakers.  Chris Paul either shot the lights out with his excellent mid-range jumper, or passed to an open teammate somewhere close to the basket.

The reason for the Lakers’ inability to contain this simple type of basketball play could be distilled down to four simple words:  Shockingly poor guard play.  ALL the Lakers guards – Derek Fisher, Steve Blake, Shannon Brown, even Kobe Bryant – are either too slow of foot to keep up with the best guards in the game, or are just not committed to playing sound defense.  Derek Fisher was never endowed with good foot speed, even when he was young; Steve Blake has enough foot speed and consistently gave a good effort but still got lost or turned around chasing his man through screens; Kobe simply has too many broken body parts and has a gigantic number of miles on his odometer; and the less said about Shannon Brown – the Lakers’ best athlete by far – and his approach to defensive basketball, the better for my blood pressure.  When the opponent sets a pick on any of these players’ guys, the Lakers’ defense gets scrambled, and it’s now simply a matter of choosing the best offensive option.

Dallas approached their offense no differently than the Hornets did, but the reason why the Mavericks beat the Lakers and New Orleans couldn’t had everything to do with having better shooters than New Orleans did.  Jason Terry and J.J. Barea, in particular, sliced and diced the Lakers guards with ridiculous impunity and a complete lack of fear since they knew that there wasn’t going to be anybody quick enough to stay with them and that the Laker bigs waiting in the middle simply could not commit to rolling to them because the Lakers also did not protect their bigs on adjustments (this is the crux of Bynum’s “trust issues” comments from earlier in the series).  Anybody with a modicum of basketball understanding knew that the Lakers were almost ridiculously exploitable because their guards simply could not stay with their men on defense; the guards were the first critical domino to fall that set the Lakers’ entire defensive structure to collapse.  All that’s left then is to make your open shots.

The Hornets would have beat the Lakers just as easily as the Mavericks did if they were just as talented and adept at shot-making.

But the Lakers’ guards’ defensive inadequacies were not the only sign of their weaknesses.  The other side of the coin is that as pathetic the guards were at defending, they were also completely undependable on offense as well.  Derek Fisher is no longer a reliable offensive weapon; Steve Blake had a small handful of good offensive showings, but on the whole was a walking misfire; Shannon Brown fell far too much in love with the 3-pointer despite not really being a good shooter; Kobe Bryant may have a champion’s hunger to win, but unfortunately no longer possesses a champion’s body.  Bryant’s broken body did what very few single defenders could barely manage when he was at his peak:  Kobe’s accumulation of injuries limited his offensive output.  But despite this, Kobe still took the lion’s share of the shots, probably because the sheer force of his will overpowered any other factors that should enter into the calculation.

I contend that the point Bynum was trying to underline was that the Lakers’ inadequacies were in their guards’ play.  A small guard entered the lane, and Bynum, the Lakers’ fiercest guard dog in the middle, had had enough.  The dog bit the interloper.

I’m not saying that what Bynum did was right, but I’m trying to get in his head.  (Yes, it’s quite presumptuous of me to try and do so, so I expect to get ripped for that.)  But I know what it’s like to be a center in basketball; I still remember my coaches telling me that that area close to the basket is yours.  You own it, and you guard it fiercely.  You foul somebody, if you have to.  No coach ever told me to hurt an opponent, but you have to have that kind of mindset if you’re a center.

*****

So what do the Lakers do as a result of the fiasco in Dallas?  I think that they have to take a very serious, honest, and self-critical look at themselves.  But before anything can be done, there are several obstacles to making a smooth transition to the next chapter in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers.

In my opinion, the first hurdle to clear is to find out precisely what the NBA’s financial structure will be once this season is over.  Many pundits have said that the NBA is gearing up for a protracted, bloody battle against its own players with the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement.  When lots of money is involved, you can expect plenty of bloodletting and conflict.

Some observers have commented that this year’s lineup ought to be parted out, suggesting that its four best (and most expensive players) can no longer co-exist and be expected to deliver peak NBA performance.  Unless I’m ignorant of specific personality conflicts (which is entirely possible; I’m just a fan on the sidelines, with no real access to the team or its players), why break the nucleus apart other than for strictly financial reasons (a move that would be dictated by the structure of whatever the outcome of the next NBA labor negotiations is going to be)?  If you can do it in a financially-responsible manner, you hang on to four aces.

Jerry West has said (repeatedly, actually) that the Lakers are un-athletic.  I would agree, especially when you look at the guards and most of the reserves.  Luke Walton may be one of the team’s brainiest players, but in the NBA, brains don’t take you far enough.  Joe Smith and Theo Ratliff are ordinary and stiff and didn’t contribute anything to this year’s campaign.  Ron Artest is a good basketball player, but as effective a defensive stalwart as he is, he is far from the picture of athleticism (witness his muffed breakaway layup attempt from Game 4 in the third quarter).  I haven’t seen enough of 2010-2011 rookies Derrick Caracter and Devon Ebanks, but neither one strikes me as a great athletic type.

Kobe (even at his much reduced level), Lamar Odom, and Andrew Bynum are the team’s best athletes, but they need more help, especially at the guard and small forward spots.

Another shocking Laker deficiency:  Outside shooting.  During the previous off-season, I prayed to the basketball gods for the Lakers to grab Kyle Korver.  He used to torch the Lakers during their previous playoff tussles; he was the kind of weapon I wanted to have by my side, rather than getting shot up by.  Alas, the Lakers’ money was tied up in other players (departed guard Sasha Vujacic, now with the New Jersey Nets – incidentally, I thought the Lakers lost a lot and gained nothing but salary relief when they dealt Vujacic tot he Nets for Joe Smith mid-season; Luke Walton, one of Phil Jackson’s personal favorites) who weren’t giving what the Lakers needed, so there was next to no possibility for the Lakers to augment their arsenal of outside shooters.  Instead, they got Steve Blake, and nasty defensive specialist Matt Barnes.

Without the threat of an outside shot, you basically make things easier for the defense.  Your offense gets predictable, and their defense becomes a matter of cramming as many bodies close to the basket as possible.  You try to throw it inside to your big, they get swallowed up by a double team, he throws it to an open teammate, who then misses the open shot.  It’s an easy blueprint for any Lakers opponent to follow.  Defense gets reduced to concentrating on grabbing the rebound.  With the Lakers’ trio of bigs smothered by multiple-man box-outs, you cut down on the Lakers’ ability to collect an offensive rebound and try again.  Dallas, with their size and renewed determination (I underestimated Dallas’ mental fortitude, I have to admit), thus found it easy to control the ball, gain possessions, and keep the Lakers from executing a good offensive attack.

*****

The key to the Lakers’ immediate future, though, lies in their choice of head coach.  Phil Jackson, GM Mitch Kupchak, and Lakers VP of Player Personnel Jim Buss constructed a roster tailor-made to Jackson’s preferences.  Jackson strongly prefers bigger, dual-role guards, for one thing.  That could be one reason why the Lakers so lacked in athleticism in that area. But no matter what other commentary is made of the Lakers’ current roster, its next season’s campaign will probably be shaped largely by whomever the Lakers choose to take over for Phil.

It’s a very volatile situation, and the Lakers’ short-term prospects will likely be determined by what the next financial structure of the NBA will be.  If we assume the league and the owners get their way, it’s very reasonable to expect that the Lakers will indeed have to make dramatic changes to their lineup, especially if a hard salary cap is introduced.

Here’s the problem:  The Lakers’ core players are all locked up in multi-year deals.  If the new financial structure stipulates a hard salary cap, the Lakers will very probably be forced to shed salary to make it under the cap.  Too much money tied up in too few players will kill an entire team’s ability to compete.

Whatever the solution will show itself to be, it will be firmly tied to the outcome of the labor war the NBA will soon find itself mired in.

*****

I want to close this entry with a few words about Phil Jackson.

I felt so sad to see Phil Jackson walking off the court, into the tunnel, in the aftermath of the Game 4 Dallas massacre.  He looked so sad and disappointed to me and my father.  It seemed the worst possible way for a great coach to bow out.

In the post-game press conference, he was witty, charming, logical, even funny in moments.  He was seemed honest and sincere in diagnosing some of his final team’s problems, but he did it with great diplomacy and tact.  I couldn’t help but get the impression that he felt a great affection for at least some of his players, as well as for all of his coaching and training staff.  But I also got the feeling that he was unhappy with many things in the NBA, specifically with its leader (David Stern) and how he chooses to rule his domain with ruthlessness.

I will always think of Coach Jackson with great affection.  After all, he led the Lakers to five more titles, leaving my favorite pro basketball team, the pro sports franchise that I have loved for most of my life, just one championship short of tying the hated Boston Celtics for the all-time lead in the NBA.  I had hoped the Phil Jackson’s last dance with the Lakers would leave the team one crown short of taking the lead in this, the NBA chase the I hold dearest (being the franchise with the most championships in the NBA).

Alas, it was not to be.

Farewell, Coach Jackson.  God bless, and thank you so much for giving us Lakers fans so much happiness.

18 Mar 2011 – NBA Officiating: A Stern Problem

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 18/03/2011

NBA referee Bill Spooner recently sued the Associated Press and one of its sportswriters, Jon Krawczynski, for defamation.  Spooner sued Krawczynski and the AP over the following Twitter message Krawczynski sent while watching the January 24, 2011 game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Houston Rockets:

“Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d ‘get it back’ after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.”

Here’s a little background information to put that tweet into the proper context:

  • Spooner called a foul on a Timberwolves player in the second quarter of the Jan 24 2011 game between the Timberwolves and the Rockets.
  • Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis engaged in an argumentative discussion with Spooner regarding the call.  Rambis obviously disputed the call.
  • Spooner told Rambis that he would review the call at halftime.
  • Rambis said he was fine with that, but then pointed out the fact that his team lost two points as a result of the disputed foul call.  He then asked Spooner how the Timberwolves were supposed to get the two points back.

Up until this point, there have been no disputes regarding what has been presented thus far.

Spooner’s claim that Krawczynski somehow defamed his character and damaged reputation depends greatly on whose version of what happened next you want to believe.

Spooner claimed that he didn’t respond to Rambis’ question regarding how the Timberwolves were supposed to get the two points back.

Krawczynski’s tweet clearly shows that Spooner did respond to Rambis in no uncertain terms:  According to Krawczynski’s tweet, not only did Spooner tell Rambis he’d “get it back” (what does “it” mean here?  The two points, or the foul call?), but he made a second bad – and apparently, an intentionally bad – call penalizing the Rockets to restore the balance and create some measure of justice for Rambis and Timberwolves.

As appropriate for people in his profession, Jon Krawczynski was seated at courtside.  He was thus well-positioned to see, and hear, any conversations Bill Spooner and Kurt Rambis had during the game.

Clearly, it’s a case of “he said-he said;” who you would be more inclined to believe then becomes a question of who has got more credibility behind him.  

A journalist’s livelihood is 100% dependent on his own personal credibility.  Not only that, but his employer’s credibility is also at stake.  A journalist with his credibility in question is useless, and any institution that hires or works with a journalist with his or her personal credibility damaged in any way will be discredited and ignored by a serious and critical audience.

(As an example, just look at Jim Gray and ESPN with critical and discerning eyes.)

In an ideal world, the same would be true of people whose job it is is officiating sporting contests.  This includes referees, umpires, line judges, stewards, clerks of the meeting, and other officials in all sports, whether amateur or professional.  Credibility is everything for people whose professions are all about deciding the legality of sporting events, whether these occur at a micro- or at a macroscopic level.  Mr. Spooner, then has a lot to lose if his personal credibility is sullied as a result of Mr. Krawczynski’s revelations as trasmitted through Twitter.

On the surface, it’s very difficult to tell whose version of the truth is correct.  Since they look to be mutually-contradictory, only one version is true (or, is much closer to what actually happened).  The task of sifting through the recorded facts, meager as they are, seems nearly impossible.

But let’s inject some other considerations.  First, the AP has moved to legally defend themselves and Mr. Krawczynski against Bill Spooner’s defamation lawsuit.  This clearly indicates that they stand by Krawczynski’s story and are prepared to defend themselves in a court of law.

A second consideration is purely my opinion:  While Mr. Spooner is not particularly known to be a bad NBA referee, most knowledgeable NBA fans would be very quick to admit that the league’s officiating as a whole is atrocious.  It is therefore not far beyond the realm of possibility that the call Spooner made against the Timberwolves which inspired Kurt Rambis to have that argument with Spooner was indeed a bad call.  In other words, Spooner could have made a mistake, and Rambis became irate over it because it adversely affected his team.

To his credit, Spooner promised to review the disputed call at halftime.  Most bad officials would undoubtedly just use their powers and punish anybody complaining over a debated call with a technical foul, or even an ejection from the game.  But Spooner apparently wanted the opportunity to review the call at halftime.

The problem with that, of course, is that while he might later see the disputed call as indeed incorrect, the consequences of the call may have affected the entire basketball game as a consequence.  What if that one disputed call gave Houston all the momentum at a critical point of the game and they built a big lead as a result?  

Mistakes happen all the time, but it is my opinion that Spooner made a big mistake by telling Rambis he would even review the call at halftime.  I think the better and smarter response was to walk away from Rambis and not continued the conversation, especially since it was obviously a very emotional moment in the game.

If Krawczynski’s report of the incident is true, Spooner made two bigger mistakes.  He apparently told Rambis he’d “get it back,” and he penalized Houston with a disputable call soon after.

It was very wrong to promise any competitor over which you are supposed to be an impartial judge (as referees are supposed to be) anything.  If Krawczynski was being truthful in his Tweet, Spooner was very stupid to have said anything to Rambis that could have been construed as a promise.

The bigger mistake, though, was penalizing with a questionable foul call later in the game.  In my opinion, two wrongs never make things right.  Spooner compounded his mistakes by willfully and intentionally trying to restore some semblance of balance.

Spooner is right to defend his reputation, but I think he really has no legs to stand on.  I strongly agree with Krawczynski’s derisive final sentence in his Tweet which ignited this controversy.  By saying that “That’s NBA officiating folks (sic),” Krawczynski not-so-subtly told his Twitter followers (and, as a consequence of Spooner’s defamation lawsuit, the world at large now) that the quality of NBA refereeing leaves much to be desired.  You can see the shrug of resignation in Krawczynski’s Tweet, an acknowledgement of the sad state of affairs in NBA officiating.

I used to play basketball at a competitive level, so I do have some experience playing the game.  Perhaps I was never ever good enough to be a college-level player, but it’s absolutely true that I used to play in organized leagues and tournaments.  My point is, I’ve been between the lines; to whatever limited degree, I do know what it’s like to compete in basketball, and I know what it’s like to be subject to the quality of the referees officiating the game.  

Missed calls are a huge deal in most, if not all, sports.  But even as a competitor, you do understand that the referees are only human.  They make mistakes.  You just hope and pray that you and your teammates don’t get victimized by a bad call at the worst possible time.  But even then, sometimes honest mistakes still do happen.

In the NBA, though, it seems that their officials are beyond criticism.  If a player or a coach or any team official would dare lob any kind of critical comment directed at the referees, even if backed up by video or photographic evidence, the NBA and commissioner David Stern would surely respond by levying fines or other penalties.  Allude to any questionable calls, you’ll probably get a call from an irate David Stern or one of his henchmen, bullying you to can it, or suck it up and forget about it.  

I can remember times when Phil Jackson would get fined because he pointed at two or three game-changing calls; Mark Cuban is another unforgettable critic of the quality of the NBA’s officials.  Shaquille O’Neal got punished with a huge fine for complaining on a local television post-game interview about the calls made during a game.  

My point is, it’s very easy to point to examples of the NBA’s officials’ ineptitude, which is the best possible description of some bad calls.  My less charitable side would just call the NBA’s referees malicious, unjust, and completely unfit and unworthy of their station and pay (easily into six figures).

David Stern’s policy of acting so defensively at an institutional level towards any criticism leveled at this particular class of his employees is inappropriate.  There is clearly a gigantic group of accusers, from players, coaches, the press, and fans, who can obviously see that the NBA’s officiating is sub-standard; why punish all those who point it out?  Why not look at the problems, study them, eliminate the worst officials from the payroll, and strive to improve on the quality of your employees’ performance?

But David Stern, in his arrogance, seems to believe that he is beyond reproach.  Any change to the status quo would be seen as a capitulation on his part, an admission of weakness.  It seems to me that he doesn’t care about the implications on the competitive aspect of his reluctance to censure his referees.  The ideals of sport and fair competition are far lower on David Stern’s priority totem pole than where I personally think they should be.

Bill Spooner’s lawyer was told by the NBA that to continue the suit against the AP and Krawczynski wasn’t likely to be “productive.”  At this point, I don’t know if Spooner has withdrawn his defamation lawsuit.  The league’s VP for Basketball Communications, Tim Frank, also said that they investigated the events described in Krawczynski’s Tweet and found it to be without any real merit.

It looks to me that the NBA would be content to just sweep this whole episode under the rug.  Maybe they think people will forget just how bad the league’s referees are if they can cover this incident with Spooner up with no real response.

Don’t let David Stern hoodwink you, as he always does. 

14 Mar 2011 – The Only Thing Kobe Has Left To Prove

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 14/03/2011

Kobe Bryant is certainly in the thick of things when people discuss who the greatest Laker of them all is.  He is on many people’s short lists of the greatest ever professional basketball player.  He has done it all:  He has won championships in the NBA, gold medals in the Olympics and in other international tournaments, scoring titles, and league and NBA Finals MVP awards.  He is rocketing up the all-time scoring lists, currently in sixth position all-time as I write this.  Through the course of his long career (through the 2010-2011 NBA season, he will have completed fifteen seasons as a pro), he has seen it all, and he has done it all.

You can correctly say that he has nothing left to prove.

In my opinion, though, this would be slightly (just ever so slightly) off the mark.  

I think Kobe has just one last thing to prove.

Kobe has to prove that he can trust his teammates.  Kobe has to show that he can use his teammates’ talents, even during crunch time, if doing so represents the Lakers’ best chance to win games.  Kobe has to demonstrate that his evolution into the ultimate player the game of basketball has ever seen is complete by being able to defer to his teammates judiciously, even when the game’s outcome is on the line.

For him, this is the ultimate test; for Kobe Bryant, to choose not to shoot when every cell in his body, when every single line of code in his DNA is screaming and demanding that he should keep the ball and take the key shots, this is the ultimate leap of faith.  

Logic says this is what Kobe ought to be doing.  As a consequence of his absolute devotion and commitment to the game of basketball, Kobe’s body has been ravaged by an accumulation of injuries and broken body parts.  The list of his injuries is frankly too long to recount.  Ultimately, all these injuries all add up to a reduction of Kobe’s capabilities as a basketball players.  It’s only logical.  You hurt your knees, your feet, your ankles, you simply don’t leap as well as you used to.  You slow down inevitably as a consequence of simply aging.  You break enough fingers on both of your hands, you just won’t be able to hold and control the basketball as well as you think you could.  You don’t shoot as well, either, simply because too many fingers are broken.  Through no fault of his own, his adventure living the life of one of the greatest of all basketball warriors has wrecked so many parts of Kobe Bryant’s body.  It is the price he pays for his greatness, and it is a price that I’m sure he is so willing to pay for his love of the game and for winning.  

Yet despite the litany of physical issues, Kobe’s will is so indomitable, his courage so extensive, he constantly amazes you by finding, or making, a way to overcome.  It is one of the best parts of his character and is the greatest reason why he has earned my admiration.

As usual, though, the sword cuts both ways.

The simple fact of the matter is an injured player is a limited player.  Kobe’s got so many injuries right now, and this is surely affecting his game adversely.  He is so far from his potential best, much more the absolute peak of his form (since he is older and is now on the downside of his career).  He has always been what people call a “volume shooter” (he takes a ton of shots to put up a ton of points), but with his efficiency much reduced due to both his age and his injuries, he is now starting to hurt the team with more and more shot attempts.  His injuries have also affected his ability to play defense one-on-one.  He simply has lost enough foot speed so that he can no longer afford to gamble on defense:  He simply cannot recover position if he and the man he’s guarding have enough separation.

As a Laker fan, I am (and forever will be) grateful to Kobe Bryant for his significant contributions to the team’s history.  He’s one of my guys.  But it is as a Laker fan who loves to see his team win as much as Kobe wants to lead his team win that I say that Kobe should start evolving into the most difficult role that he can ever assume.

Kobe must learn to now be the ultimate decoy.

Now is the right time for this stage of his evolution.  

He’s got a great team, punctuated by the NBA’s most unique offensive asset:  The Laker Twin Towers, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.  Together, these two seven-footers represent an almost unstoppable 1-2 punch.  Most NBA teams don’t even have a legitimate big man to anchor their low-post defense; Gasol and Bynum are an embarrassment of riches for the Lakers, and to me it’s an absolute and unforgivable sin for the Lakers to not exploit this most unique advantage much more often than they presently do.

Beyond Gasol and Bynum, Kobe’s also got people like Ron Artest and Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom to help him carry the scoring load.  All three can shoot from the perimeter, albeit with varying degrees of success, and Artest and Odom are skilled enough to operate close to the basket as well.

And from the bench, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake can be opportunistic on offense.  Barnes, in particular, is an asset since he knows how to slash and cut to the basket; he can move without the ball very effectively, and he has a decently reliable jumpshot.

The key here is that Kobe really ought to start believing that his teammates are able to come through for the team.  He should start believing that he doesn’t need to dominate possessions, especially at the end of games, for the team to win.  I’ve always believed that a team with multiple offensive options is harder to defend than a team with just one known option.  Related to this is the idea that a ball that’s being passed around and moving is harder to set a defense on than a ball being handled by just one person.

At his absolute peak, Kobe was the ultimate one-on-one basketball weapon.  Kobe at his absolute best was almost impossible to stop.  Sadly, time and the accumulation of injuries have done a great job at imposing limits on his ability to do what he wanted to do on the basketball court.  Time and injuries are now doing what single defenders have always had problems doing, and that is make Kobe ineffective as an offensive weapon.

If Kobe wants to keep on winning (and I’m sure he does; it’s a hunger he will never fully satisfy), he now has to make the ultimate change to his basketball modus operandi.  He has to become the best decoy threat we’ve ever seen.  

To do so is not a declaration of surrender; it is not a capitulation, nor a means of merely saving face.  

If Kobe is to become the greatest of all winners, he has to prove he can lean on his teammates and trust them and utilize their varied and considerable talents.  In my opinion, this will prove he is the greatest of them all.

9 Mar 2011 – Why Not Enjoy the Here and Now (or, why be afraid of what MIGHT happen)?

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 09/03/2011

Yes, yes, yes, the Lakers are dominating the NBA right now.  They’ve won all eight of their games since the All Star break, and they’ve done so with the emergence of the player who I not-so-facetiously have called the Lakers’ MVP:  Andrew Bynum.

Now, I’m not daft.  I’m not saying he’s the Lakers’ best player.  Right now, that’s Kobe Bryant.  Pau Gasol is probably next on that hierarchy.  But the young Bynum is, to me, the linchpin, the fulcrum around which the Lakers’ championship hopes revolves.  Everything hinges on the play of an effective Andrew Bynum.

Astonishingly, though, despite the Lakers’ impressive run of success keyed by Bynum’s renewed dedication to doing the dirty work that gets things done – rebounding and defense – and less personal emphasis on getting touches on offense, I still keep hearing whispers of discontent.  There are still people who seemingly can’t enjoy how the team is winning these days, people who apparently only want to rehash old stories and look back on what may be historical facts, but are still not particularly relevant to the present time.

I’m speaking, of course, of that segment of Lakers fans who apparently are still waiting for Bynum to get injured sometime between now and the end of the season and therefore get removed from the lineup.  Believe it or not, there are people who, instead of congratulating the young center for figuring things out and playing his heart out and helping his team ascend from the mire of mediocrity and declare themselves as legitimate challengers for this year’s NBA championship, are waiting for what they seem to think is the inevitable.

Negativism of that sort is so stupid.

I guess I feel that citing history is fine and dandy, but to speculate and project the past into the future is a fool’s exercise.  I mean, what’s the point of anticipating that kind of scenario?  Until something catastrophic actually becomes a reality in the present, it’s nothing but a very negative kind of wishful thinking.

Now, one of the maxims I live by is “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”  But it seems to me that there are too many people who live by a corrupted version of this philosophy:  Such people “Prepare for the worst, because that’s what we think will happen.”

That’s asinine in the extreme.  And that kind of stupidity just pisses me off.

If I’ve learned one thing from Lakers head coach Phil Jackson, it’s this little nugget of Zen philosophy:  Live in the moment.  Concentrate on the here and now, do your best at whatever you’re doing at this present moment, and the rest takes care of itself.

Looking at anything else other than what’s directly in front of you only means you’ve taken your mind off what you’re doing, what’s happening right now.  And that’s when people usually get in trouble.

Do Lakers fans actually wish for Bynum to become hurt again and be unable to help the team go where we (the real fans, the ones who want nothing but the best for this team) want them to?  What’s the point in wanting that?  So you fools can be right because so many of you have been wishing for the team to get rid of Bynum?  That’s stupidity of an extreme sort, the kind for which I have absolutely no tolerance.

How would these so-called fans react if Andrew Bynum basically plays out his entire career the way he’s played these last few excellent games, stays healthy, and the Lakers win games and championships?  Will they continue to hold whatever grudge they do against the big man?  Will they still want to trade him away?

Why is Bynum so under-appreciated by so many people?

Why does it seem that only me, my dad, and people like Mark Heisler of the L.A. Times, Scott Howard-Cooper (he used to be an L.A. Times reporter; he now works for NBA.com), and other rational basketball people seem to see Bynum’s great value?

I’ve long been saying that there’s a reason why Bynum is always the player other teams want when they talk trade with the Lakers.  Why would you ever want to give up what the other teams, the opposition to your team’s goals and aspiration, the enemy, as it were, want so dearly?

Why not just enjoy the here and now?  Why be afraid of what may not happen and focus on the negative?

Why not just enjoy the Lakers winning?

Why not just keep on hoping for the best?

7 Mar 2011 – The Crying Shame that is the Miami Heat

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 07/03/2011

Some of my buddies who follow the NBA sometimes ask me, “Who do you think will end up in the NBA Finals this year?”  Now, it must be said that most of these friends are L.A. Lakers fans like me, so I think as far as they’re concerned the question they’re really asking is “Who do you think will the Lakers be playing in the finals?”

I think that’s a bit presumptive, but I play along.  I tell them, “Well, OK, I think the Lakers are my prohibitive favorites coming out of the Western Conference.  Their most dangerous rival, the team against which they look to match up against the worst, is neither of the two Texas teams (San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks) who currently are leading them in the standings; rather, I think the Oklahoma City Thunder is the team that looks to be the Lakers’ biggest challenge in the West.”  And I had been saying that even before the Thunder acquired erstwhile Celtics big man, Kendrick Perkins, in what was the most stunning draft deadline deal bar none this year.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” my friends pooh-pooh me.  “Never mind that.  Who’s coming out of the East?”

“Well, before they traded Kendrick Perkins away, no doubt the Celtics.  They were the scariest team to me by far; after the Perkins trade, I think they got appreciably weaker.  Chicago is very dangerous, even more so than prior to the Perkins trade; Orlando is also possible as an Eastern Conference champion since they have a good big man (Dwight Howard) and potentially a very explosive offense if enough of their shooters are having good days.”

“What about Miami?” they ask.

“What about Miami?” I ask back.

“You don’t think the Heat will get out of the East?  Over Boston or any of those other teams?”

“I don’t rate Miami at all; I certainly don’t think they’re better than those other Eastern Conference teams I named.”

“But what about the ‘Big Three’?” they ask me, incredulous.

“What about them?” I ask back.

“You don’t think Miami, with LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh, can win the East?”

“No.  For months I’ve been telling you, and anyone who’d listen, that three very good players – or even two great players and one good (yet overrated) additional sidekick, which is what James, Wade, and Bosh really are – will never beat a true team that plays good, strategic, and tactical basketball.  This will be especially true in a playoff best-of-seven matchup.”

I’ve been singing this song ever since the Heat assembled their trio of superstars, and despite this many people seem so surprised that Miami is now starting to wilt under the ever-increasing weight of pressure and expecations.  That’s what you get when you get your basketball knowledge from the noisemakers and know-nothing blowhard talking heads over at what Matt “Money” Smith and Petros Papadakis call so eloquently “the evil ‘four-letter’ on their eponymous radio show.”

If nothing else, the Heat have been a great drama.  I despise the exploitation of train wrecks (one of myriad reasons I so despise so-called “reality TV”).  But if I’m honest, I’ll tell you right now that this is the one exception I’ll make.  This is one spectacular derailment that I want to see unfold.  I’ll even admit to you right now that I’m a Heat Hater.  (You can blame LeBron James for that.  Oh, and “tough-as-wet-toilet-paper” Chris Bosh, too, who I have always thought to be a “fake tough guy,” too, like Kevin Durant said he is.)  I want to see these villains fall hard on their faces.  It’s the price I expect, and want, them to pay for their bald hubris.

But drama is useless in sports.  Too often it gets in the way of winning.  (Just ask any Lakers fan about Shaq vs. Kobe, or the whole Eagle, CO thing.)

The latest Heat-centric drama is their current losing streak, which reached four games.  Now it’s normal for most NBA teams to experience losing streaks.  But when you’re the self-proclaimed multiple champions in waiting, well…

And what makes it all laughable to me is the news that, apparently, some Heat players were said to have been crying after their latest last-second loss to a strong contender, this time to the Bulls.

Give me a break.

(This is a bit of shadenfraude on my part, for sure, but I make no apologies for it.)

Why the hell are the Heat players crying (whoever they were)?  It really doesn’t matter who was doing the crying – some have said Udonis Haslem may have been one of them; others have suggested LeBron James was another.  All this shows is that the Miami Heat players are simply clueless when it comes to the big picture:  The regular season really doesn’t prove much of anything.  Playoff time is money time.  Crying over just the latest regular season loss may have been a spontaneous response to an emotional situation, but it also seems to be a hugely inappropriate reaction.

To be perfectly honest, it strikes me as a childish tantrum that happens when a spoiled brat realizes that he isn’t getting his way.

Either that, or it’s a moment of clarity.  Maybe someone over there at South Beach has finally realized what I’ve been telling friends for months:

Jason Whitlock quite brilliantly phrased it in print today the way I’ve said it to some:  “You don’t win NBA titles 3 on 5 or 3 on 8.”

(Give his piece a read; as usual, it’s provocative, I promise.)

Never mind Mr. Whitlock’s commentary on how officials can screw Miami, perhaps alluding to the allegedly questionable judgment foul call against the Heat’s Mike Miller; the salient point is that for all the fanfare for James, Wade, and Bosh, the three of them simply cannot carry the weight of an entire team of inadequate and mismatched parts and be expected to win against a good team with a proven system, a clear modus operandi.  The challenge for them to do so only becomes more difficult when you talk about winning playoff series against teams with established systems, teams that understand and maximize their own strengths and disguise and minimize the impact of their own weaknesses.

I think this is where Miami’s problems start.  They may look like they have a great collection of parts, but it appears that they don’t fit together all that well.  Not only that, but that collection is woefully small; the rest is just junk.  And I say this with absolutely no disrespect intended towards the rest of the Miami Heat squad after the Big Three.  The talking heads have been trying to sell the idea that the three mega-superstars in Miami are all that’s required for the Heat to dominate the NBA not just this year, where they were anointed as champions even before the first game was played, but for years to come.

Basketball is a team game (despite David Stern’s “the NBA is a superstar’s league” philosophy, a philosophy I have decried for decades now), and its greatest winners are a roll-call of great collectives.  From Russell’s (and, two decades later, Bird’s) Celtics, to Magic’s 5-time champion Showtime (and, two decades later, Phil Jackson’s and Kobe Bryant’s 5-time, hopefully 6-time, champion) Lakers, even to Jordan’s twice-three-peating Bulls, NBA dynasties are all teams in every sense of the word.  Sure, each NBA dynasty named here had its fair share of greats and hall-of-famers, but what they also have was great role players and a systematic way of playing the game.  Russell’s teams were founded on defense; Bird and Magic’s teams were built on solid teamwork and clutch shot making, as were all of Phil Jackson’s championship winners.  And their benches were filled with unselfish role players who also weren’t afraid to confront the team’s leaders and exert their own influence in judicious moments, if only to lend a counter-balance and a healthy ego check to their superstars.

These NBA dynasties were built with parts that were compatible with each other.  These teams all understood that the chain was only as strong as its weakest link.

The Miami Heat of 2010-2011 vintage?  From where I’m sitting they have more than one head, three or four, and they each seem to want to go in a different direction from everyone else.  LeBron James is a big black hole; Dwayne Wade is also exerting the same kind of gravity; Erik Spoelstra is one, too, trying to rein all the egos on his roster in and have them going in the direction he wants to go; and Pat Riley probably has his own gravitational force ripping this team up at its seams.

As far as the actual Heat roster is concerned, it’s a hodge-podge of parts.  The Big Three as individual players might look awesome when isolated; but thus far the experiment of bringing James, Wade, and Bosh has been a spectacular illustration that it’s not so much the greatness of the individual parts that matters most.  Rather, it’s how the pieces all fit.

Basketball teams are like jigsaw puzzles:  Some pieces are big, some pieces are small, but to have the complete picture all the pieces have to fit.

The Miami Heat’s pieces look like they belong to three or four different puzzles all mashed up together.  It’s impossible for a jigsaw like this to fit.

If you read Jason Whitlock’s piece, I obviously agree with a lot of what he says.  He expresses my own misgivings on the Heat thus:

Spoelstra wanted us — media, fans and Heat critics — to know just how much the players he’s responsible for getting mentally and emotionally ready to play care about winning.

We’re not stupid. We know LeBron, Wade, Bosh and all the players care, particularly since their rough November start. The Heat play really hard. No one in the league plays harder than James and Wade. The Big Three gave maximum, marvelous efforts on both ends of the court against Chicago. They desperately wanted to prove they can beat the NBA’s elite teams.

There are no legitimate questions about in-game effort and caring as it relates to the Big Three.

The questions are about whether the Big Three know how to go about preparing to win, subjugating their egos and finding a smart, comfortable rhythm/chemistry that produces victories against elite competition, and whether they have the right supporting pieces…

Pat Riley did Spoelstra no favors. I’m not talking about the flawed roster Riley gave his young coach. I’m talking about the organizational arrogance that Riley fueled throughout the offseason. In its desire to be relevant in a city that finds it easy to ignore professional basketball, the Heat franchise embraced the illogical and anti-team notion that three players could beat full teams and create an instant dynasty.

Protected by a fawning, local media cocoon and the ESPN hype machine, James, Wade and Bosh are just now coming to realize the depth and the weight of the burden they undertook.

*****

To be perfectly honest, Miami’s current slide is no revelation to me; it’s merely confirmation of what I’ve been telling people for many months now.  Despite their arrogant declarations of “multiple championships” and record-breaking seasons even before the first tip of the 2010-2011 season, their most recent performances have exposed them to be as fraudulent as LeBron James himself.

As much as LeBron James is the King of Nothing as far as I’m concerned, the Miami Heat are just as false as NBA championship contenders.  Three superstars by themselves cannot beat cohesive teams with adequate talent and also play with great purpose.  Individual talents are useless if they don’t complement each other.  The wolf that is the Miami Heat and their “Big Three” is nothing of the sort; they are, in actuality, three little lambs in wolf’s clothing.

8 Feb 2011 – History Shows You NEVER Trade a Good Big Man Away

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 08/02/2011

Lakerland is afflicted with a high trade fever today, and the team’s fans are dizzy and delusional.

Almost annually, Lakers center Andrew Bynum’s name is tossed around as part of a hot trade rumor.  The last couple of years, it was Bynum for tough-as-wet-tissue-paper Chris Bosh.  This year, the hot rumor is for a Bynum for Carmelo Anthony trade, straight-up.

Like most Bynum-related trades, this one is, in my opinion, stupid at the core.

And I don’t say that just because Bynum is a favorite of mine (I say that in the interest of transparency).

As a sports fan, I have some deeply-ingrained beliefs about how to succeed in sports.  These beliefs help define certain philosophies that I have and depend on when it comes to understanding the things that happen in sports.

When it comes to basketball, one of my key philosophies is that you never ever trade or lose good big men who can really play the game, especially effective bona fide centers.  Why?  It’s very simple.  Big men with true ability are the hardest players to find.

You can even argue that a good big man is the most valuable commodity in basketball.

Now this last point might not sound logical or reasonable to people who admire transcendent players like Kobe Bryant or Dwayne Wade; some people might even say that pure scorers such as Carmelo Anthony or Kevin Durant are themselves more valuable than a good big man.

Consider this irrefutable fact:  You simply cannot teach or develop height.  You’re either a big man, or you aren’t.

You can improve your ball-handling skills; you can develop your shooting, improve your effective range, or learn new low post moves.  You can acquire better and more effective defensive techniques.  The point is, you can improve how you play the game.

But size and length?  You either have that, or you don’t.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again:  Bynum is often mentioned when other teams want a trading partner because he  is a valuable asset to a team.  He is long, he is tall, he is big yet mobile, he has good defensive instincts and a very good interior offensive game.  He can even shoot free throws reasonably well.  About the only complaint I will make about his game is that he could improve on his rebounding.

I won’t even comment about his history of being injured.  Unlike most people, I haven’t forgotten how he got hurt the first two times in his career.  Both of his first two major knee injuries happened as a result of accidents with teammates; in consecutive years, both Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant crashed into Bynum’s legs and directly caused his knee injuries.

If those weren’t clear-cut cases of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, I don’t know what else could be.  If you blame Bynum for being in the paint, being ready to rebound a teammate’s miss, then getting hurt in the process, then I have absolutely nothing to say to you.  I can’t reason with people who simply don’t want to acknowledge the hand of simple fate being the reason why Bynum got hurt those two first two times.

(And who’s to say definitively that the subsequent problems with the meniscus tear and the achilles tendon inflammation weren’t somehow caused or related to those first two injuries?)

While Bynum has indeed been afflicted with various injuries throughout his career, are those incidents of being injured more significant than his positive contribution whenever he is able to play?

The only argument that makes some sense when you look at things through these particular lenses is that Bynum is relatively poor value money-wise.  The return for investment is arguably not large enough (yet).

But consider the penalties for cutting Bynum out:

NBA history shows that whenever teams lose a good, effective big man, whether by trade or through free agency, most of the time it results in a disaster.  In the 1970s, the Milwaukee Bucks traded Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for six players from the Lakers, and the Bucks were definitely the big losers in that trade.  The San Francisco Warriors lost out when they dealt Wilt Chamberlain away to the Lakers in the 1960s, and in the 1990s the Orlando Magic were thrust into mediocrity when Shaquille O’Neal left through free agency and signed with the Lakers.  The Lakers themselves felt the sting of losing Shaq when they traded him to the Miami Heat in 2004.  The 1980s Houston Rockets once boasted the fabled “Twin Towers,” Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson, dominating the Magic Johnson-led Lakers in the 1986 Western Conference Championship; a couple of years later, when Sampson was traded away due to mounting injuries, Houston found itself lost in the wilderness.  Moses Malone, considered by some to be a great big man, was traded several times in his career, and each time the team he left was worse off afterwards.

The precedent is clear:  If your team has a good big man and you lose him, your team will suffer for it.

Carmelo Anthony may be one of the NBA’s premier scorers, but is he enough to compensate for the loss of interior power and size and Bynum’s sheer defensive presence?  Can the points he could potentially score offset the dramatic drop-off in defense?

I guarantee you his numbers will slip if he joins Kobe; there is only one basketball, and with three scorers who need to handle the ball – Kobe, Pau Gasol, and Carmelo – to score, imagine the potential for destruction to the Lakers’ chemistry.

‘Melo to the Lakers for Bynum will hurt the Lakers another way as well:  If Bynum goes to Denver, he will certainly become that team’s offensive focus in the low post.  With Nene and Chris Anderson as his low-post tag team partners and great shooters surrounding them, do you think the Lakers would look forward to facing the Nuggets with their former center leading the low post attack?  Do you think Pau Gasol has the muscle to stop a bigger, stronger, longer Bynum in the paint?

You strengthen the Nuggets whilst losing out on the most important element in your own game, namely, defense.

That makes for an intelligent trade, doesn’t it?

12 Jan 2011 – The Tragedy of Byron Scott

Posted in Basketball by txtmstrjoe on 13/01/2011

What must be on Byron Scott‘s mind these days?

If you asked him, chances are he’d tell you that all he’s focusing on is thinking of ways to improve his Cleveland Cavaliers.  He definitely would have a ton to think about, since the Cavs are unquestionably now the worst team in the NBA.

That opinion cannot have been more emphasized by the Cavaliers’ 55pt loss to the Los Angeles Lakers two nights ago.  In fact, if the Lakers scored two more points, they would have exactly doubled the Cavaliers’ entire output (Los Angeles won 112-57).

When was the last time you saw a professional basketball team lose by just two points shy of double its entire offensive output?

As the Cavs’ head coach, the buck stops at his desk.  It doesn’t matter that he’s got no superstars on his roster, a requirement for any sort of success in the NBA.  It’s a superstar-driven league.  All you’ve got now are no-name wannabes like Mo Williams and up-and-coming solid players like J.J. Hickson.  

It doesn’t matter if Anderson Varejão, one of the team’s most important players (he’s not the leading scorer, but he’s a power forward/center on a team desperately short of big men), is out for the year with a torn ankle tendon.  As the coach, Byron Scott has got to scheme around the deficiency.  Trouble is, you simply cannot teach size, as they say in basketball.

It doesn’t matter if your team’s owner, Dan Gilbert, seems to be someone who just has a ton of money and not any other real qualification for being an NBA team owner.  He signs the checks, but isn’t able to attract any people on the management and coaching side of the team who have a track record of success.  (Danny Ferry as your old GM?  Seriously?  Mike Brown, the most undeserving winner of the NBA’s Coach of the Year award?  These were his ex-GM and head coach, respectively.  No joke.)

It doesn’t matter if you thought, or hoped, LeBron James would be staying in Cleveland when you decided to sign on the dotted line as this hapless franchise’s head coach.  Why would you want to coach a player – unquestionably a superstar in talent, but an absolute muppet as a human being – who feels no compunction about destroying his coaches in public?  LeBron may be a great player if you just look at the stats, but he’s got a big fat goose egg on the stat that stands out most to people who truly understand this game:  Championships won = ZERO.

Pundits mooted Scott to have been a leading contender for the Lakers’ head coaching job when Phil Jackson finally decides enough is enough and walks away.  I don’t actually know how valid all that talk is, but what I do know for sure is that if you’re a head coaching candidate, especially if you’ve got some measure of success in your track record (a Finals appearance in 2002), you never EVER take a job for a historically-bad franchise.  This is especially true if you’re being considered, however unofficially, as a serious contender to coach one of the league’s best franchises.

When was the last time you thought of the Cleveland Cavaliers as a winning franchise?

I never have.

Now Byron Scott, who I think tragically made the wrong decision and went there to coach, will never be considered a winner ever again.

3 Jan 2011 – Not a good beginning to 2011

Posted in Basketball, Football (NFL) by txtmstrjoe on 03/01/2011

Mercifully, the San Francisco 49ers can now wave farewell to yet another season defined by “what might have been.”

2010 was supposed to have been the year the Niners were supposed to break out of the doldrums and earn a spot in the NFL playoffs; it was supposed to have been the year when the NFC West was ripe for the taking, when all the other teams were all beset with major changes, a problem that they themselves were all-too-familiar with.

They entered 2010 with the same head coach they finished 2009 with; they had the same offensive and defensive coordinators and systems in place; they had the same starting quarterback in a healthy Alex Smith; they had two first round draft picks who they deemed were good enough to start on the offensive line.  They had a lot of hopes, a lot of swagger and bluster, a lot of confidence, and, finally, apparently no more excuses for not ascending back up the top of their division for the first time since Jeff Garcia, Steve Mariucci, and Bill Walsh were still associated with the organization.

By the end, though, head coach Mike Singletary was fired, as was erstwhile offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye.  Alex Smith suffered through yet another inconsistent season, though I would probably be one of the few who would be willing to defend him amongst the 49ers fanbase.  The play on the field was marked by recurring mental mistakes that underlined the severe deficiencies that existed in the coaching on all facets of the game (offense, defense, and special teams).  And off the field, the team’s ownership and management continued to make moves and declarations to the media which only further undermined the team’s dedicated and loyal base of followers.  Team president Jed York, son of owners John and Denise DeBartolo York, declared rather brazenly that the team would still win the NFC West despite a horrendous 1-6 record after their first seven games in 2010; the team finished up 6-10.  Jed York also said that the path towards improving the team would begin with an exhaustive search for a new General Manager who would then select the team’s next head coach; instead, current top personnel man Trent Baalke looks to add the title, if not just the duties, of the team’s General Manager position despite the fact that it has only been a little more than one week since Jed announced his intention to conduct that exhaustive search for the right man.

All of the team’s moves have only served to continue to erode the team’s fanbase’s confidence in the current ownership of the once-proud and great team.  Baalke is an unknown quantity as far as his credentials and qualifications to be a team’s General Manager are concerned.  He may do a good job in the future if indeed he is hired as the GM, but the fans desperately don’t want to be disappointed any more than it has already been for the last decade; this is why there is a loud clamor for a truly more exhaustive search for the team’s GM.  The fans want the team to seek out candidates with more established track records, people who have proven experience and a tangible record of success.

The 49ers have a few problems, though.  They are no longer an attractive destination as far as football people are concerned.  General manager candidates and head coaching candidates surely don’t see the 49ers as a plum spot with their miserable record from the last decade.  The Yorks are, as the San Jose Mercury News columnist Tim Kawakami writes, “low-hanging fruit in NFL ownership circles.” The Yorks’ track record of decisions are perplexing and illogical if cast in the light of wanting to compete and win in the NFL; they have tended to do things as cheaply as possible.

They are proof of the wisdom of the maxim “You get what you pay for.”

Not only is the ownership of a questionable standard, but the team’s roster is also not attractive for candidates for the head coaching vacancy.  On defense, the team sorely lacks a playmaker or two in the secondary; at the very least, they need a true shutdown cornerback.  They also don’t have an effective-enough pass rush.

On offense, the problems are bigger.  The team’s roster is empty at quarterback – Alex Smith will surely not want to return even if he is asked back by the new GM and head coach; Troy Smith is long on guts but limited in terms of performance of routine quarterback tasks such as reading the secondary properly or going through a play’s progression of receivers (though this is because of his limited time with the team); David Carr is well past his sell-by date and should be jettisoned; and Nate Davis is a completely unknown quantity other than to say he’s got a strong arm and is a tremendous athlete.  No head coach in his right mind wants to take over a team with huge questions at quarterback.  Another problem for the 49ers stems from their deficiencies in the coaching of the offense over the last couple of years.  This team simply has no real identity or effective system in place on offense.  Therefore, it’s much more difficult to evaluate the talent level of the players on the roster since you don’t really know what the offense is supposed to look like.  Most effective football offenses are clearly defined by a real philosophy founded on strategic concepts and tactics that are known to work on the field.  With the 49ers, with such an anemic offense that tried its hardest to appear multiple and diversified but was actually predictable and one-dimensional (are they a smashmouth team, or are they a spread offense team?  It changed from series to series, but without any sustained success), you can’t tell what your players are actually good at doing together.

Finally, one of the team’s biggest problems is the stadium they play in.  Candlestick Park may be long on nostalgia as the home of a five-time Super Bowl Champion, but it’s also very old and outdated, with a shortage on the huge revenue generating corporate luxury boxes and other modern money-making perks most teams now have.  The 49ers’ stadium conundrum is at the crux of the team’s nightmare Catch 22:  What comes first, a good team that can generate funding for footing the bill for a new stadium, or a new stadium that can attract corporate backing and renewed support from the fanbase which can then fund the development of a stronger on-field product?

All this is, of course, a bit of a simplified version of the team’s myriad problems.  It offers no solutions, either.

2011 looks to be just the beginning of even more blood-letting as far as lovers of the San Francisco 49ers are concerned.

*****

2011 has been unkind to the Los Angeles Lakers so far, as well.  They got destroyed by the lowly Memphis Grizzlies, 104-85, at home at Staples Center in their first game of 2011.

The Lakers are struggling.

The defending champions have been hit in the mouth, and now they are reeling in the middle of the ring.

It’s a given that every team they play are going to give its best effort against them; the Lakers’ big problem is that they themselves seem unable or unwilling to summon the same kind of effort and commitment each and every night to defend their championship.

With each passing listless loss, they keep shrinking their margin for error; they probably now cannot contend for earning the best record in the western conference – never mind the entire NBA – and therefore enjoy homecourt advantage in the playoffs.  San Antonio and Dallas are playing great ball, and the other teams in the west are gaining confidence with each Lakers loss they see.

To me, the Lakers’ problems have everything to do with a distinct lack of effort from the entire team to defense as well as sloppy execution of their offense.  Defensively, the guards on both the starting unit and the bench crew allow far too many points.  They get beat into the lane on penetration plays (especially when Andrew Bynum is not on the floor – just watch how fearless the other teams always are when Bynum is on the bench, then compare how they play when he is on the floor); they get lost on picks and allow jumpshots; they leave their guys open for uncontested threes.  Offensively, they have been pathetic in their execution.  They throw way too many errant passes and lose the ball way too often, and Kobe Bryant in particular seems to indulge in really bad shot selection.

The Lakers have the league’s best 1-2-3 frontline in Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, and Lamar Odom.  The thing with forwards and centers is that they depend on the guards to feed them the ball for them to score, other than on put-backs of course.  The Lakers, though, and specifically Kobe Bryant, have shown an alarming tendency to forget about their big guys and not run the offense through them for significant stretches in most games.  When the guards freelance and launch long jumper after long jumper and miss, the other team’s transition game comes into play, and the Lakers get torched.  The team has shown that, so far this year, they have been massively impatient on offense and simply ignore their biggest matchup advantages.

The offense has to run through their bigs every single time down the floor.

To not do so is stupid, in my opinion.

*****

I hope the Lakers can recover sufficiently and learn how to play and win like the champions they are supposed to be.

Otherwise, this sports fan’s 2011 will be very miserable indeed.

 

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