The Lake Show is in DC tonight, and I’m afraid that Laker Nation posers will be dominating the Verizon Center. I’ve been called a Laker-Hater in the past, and yes, this fact forced me to root for another team I dislike, Boston, in last year’s Finals (just like the damn Super Bowl when I had to root for the Giants over the Patriots). Oh well, what’s a sports fan to do?
It is what it is. Thankfully, someone who is a real Lakers fan, Kurt from the Forum Blue & Gold, has been kind enough to take time to answer some questions I had about his team. Read on…..
1) In the olden days, when it came to Phil Jackson, I was like “meh…..he’s a convenient opportunist and I’m not buying his Zen B.S.,” but more and more, I’m beginning to like Phil because of his snarky sarcasm that screams, “Will you baby NBA millionaires just grow up and be men?” Plus, the realistic side of me knows that he’s always been a damn good coach.
That being said, what’s to make of the latest with Andrew Bynum? To me, what amounts to about a half an NBA season (last year and this year) does not make a boy a man. So, is he really a kid who doesn’t know better, or should he be in at the end of games for boards? And why do the Lakers do so much communicating in the press anyway?
Bynum is a 21-year-old kid who will quickly learned that while the players may have the leverage over the coach on a lot of NBA teams, that is not the case here. He’s a kid trying to fight for minutes on a deep roster with lots of veterans, but he needs to pick his battles. Saying you should have played more when you were part of a unit that shot 1 of 11 and turned the ball over 4 times to start a quarter (as happened in Indiana) is a hard fight to win.
That said, the Lakers are a better rebounding team when Bynum is on the floor (they grab 53% of the available rebounds when he’s playing, 51.6% when he sits, and that is a bigger gap than you think). And it’s good that he wants to prove he’s worth the healthy contract he signed at the start of the season.
To your second question, Phil Jackson has long chided players through the media. It’s part of his MO. Vets like Odom and Kobe get the message and move on without taking it personally. Radmanovic and others, not always so much.
But the other part of that equation is the Lakers have one of the largest media entourages in the league, all fighting for stories. Look at it this way, the LA Times is slashing its workforce left and right, but for this season it hired a second Lakers beat reporter to travel with the team. Plus they have two brothers who write a full-time Lakers blog online, and they go to practices and what have you. That’s three to four guys at every game and practice from just one paper. The point is, those guys need drama and right now this team isn’t giving them much. They are winning handily on the court, getting along off it and not shooting themselves in the leg in a nightclub. So, even the slightest little thing gets blown up bigger than it really is. Welcome to LA, baby!
2) This is the last year of Lamar Odom’s contract. Things are obviously going well for the Lake Show, despite Odom complaining about coming off the bench earlier this season. He seems to have wised up (duh, contract year) and shut his mouth. So, do you still try and trade him? Do you want the guy on the Lakers in the future?
No way the Lakers are going to trade him, unless somebody comes to the Lakers with another “Kwame Brown for Pau Gasol” like deal. Odom’s minutes and numbers are down slightly, but he is playing some of his best basketball now. He thrives with the running second unit, his scoring is just down because this is a deep Lakers team with a lot of guys who can score (and Odom likes to pass). Same with the minutes, everybody is playing less. Bottom line, you don’t make trades and mess with the chemistry of a 15-2 team.
As for next season, who knows? I think the Lakers would like to bring him back, but at no more than about $10 million a year, maybe less. They just paid out a lot to Bynum, Kobe will likely redo his max deal, plus Ariza and Farmar need to be resigned. If someone comes and offers Odom $2 million or more a year than the Lakers plus the chance to start, it’s hard to blame him for leaving. But the Lakers may be able to fill his space with a vet willing to play for less to get a ring. Ideally, though, that vet is Odom.
3) Who on the team deserves more minutes?
Trevor Ariza. He has really blossomed this year, developing a decent jumper and really thriving in the up-tempo, open court game. He has the second-best +/- numbers on the team (behind Odom) and the fourth-best PER. There are calls for him to move into the starting lineup, although right now he is playing three more minutes a game than the guy he subs in for (Radmanovic).
You’ll see tonight, he’ll dog someone hard on defense then make great hustle plays all over the court. Signing him to a deal this summer (he’s an unrestricted free agent) is becoming a higher and higher priority for the Lakers.
4) The Lakers seem to be set as contenders for the next couple-three years……but would you still say it’s championship or bust this season?
In my head, I know that anything could happen, the margin between the Lakers/Celtics and a few other top teams is razor thin. One key injury changes everything, and it is possible the Lakers could go to the Finals, play well and still lose. Intellectually, I understand all that and know this team is a contender for the next four years so that one year is not the end all/be all.
But in my heart, I want it this year and anything else will be crushing. And, if we can get that title by ripping it away from the Celtics, I can die a happy man.
5) What is the Lakers biggest weakness?
Right now, nightly focus. They are getting into a “flip the switch” mode that has killed many a good team in the playoffs. But you’d like to think Phil Jackson can shake that mindset.
On the court, there are a fe
w things you need to do to beat the Lakers. One, LA is going to score a lot, offense comes easy to this group, but you have to find a way to make them less efficent.
Second, bigs (fours and fives) who can hit from 15-feet out or farther presents the Lakers aggressive, trapping defense with a challenge. Look at the two Lakers losses this year, key players were Rasheed Wallace and Troy Murphy, fours who could step out and then crash the boards hard coming in from the perimeter. That, by the way, is one thing the Wizards have tonight in Jamison.
The other thing that can get them is quick, penetrating point guards. Fisher is a good veteran defender, but he can’t keep up with the speedsters anymore.
Many thanks again to Kurt of Forum Blue & Gold. Be sure and read one FBG’s recent posts, The Vaunted Lakers Defense, and check back in the future for thoughts on tonight’s game from the perspective of “the enemy.”
[photo source: flickr/xero79]