In the 71st game of your 17th season, in the midst of a “heated” playoff “race,” why are you still watching your own errant jump shot while your mark, Klay Thompson, beats you back in transition for an open 3-pointer? Thompson doesn’t exactly take off like Corey Brewer, either, and he still beats you down the floor by several steps.
Why is this still happening? It’s almost April, and Bryant and the Lakers still can’t figure out transition defense, or defense in general.
In an interview Wednesday with ESPN's Jackie MacMullan, Kobe Bryant made a few comments about his large-shouldered teammate, Dwight Howard.
"We don't have time for [Howard's shoulder] to heal."
"We need some urgency."
"[Dwight] has never been in a position where someone is driving him as hard as I am, as hard as this organization is."
"It's win a championship or everything is a complete failure. That's just how we do it. And that's foreign to him."
"Dwight worries too much about what people think."
"I told him, 'You can't worry about that. It's holding you back."
"He just wants people to like him. He doesn't want to let anyone down, and that gets him away from what he should be doing."
"Take his free throw shooting. It's all mental with him. Like in practice. He's shooting without a care and he hits 10 in a row. But then we get in a game and everyone is looking at him and there's all these expectations, and he starts worrying about what people are thinking, what people will say."
Let’s not mince words here — the Lakers are boring. Sure, they’re a flaming train wreck from which we can’t avert our eyes, but their actual on-court product (and even some of the drama off it) is far from enjoyable, in the traditional sense. If you stripped away the star power and franchise mystique, all you’d be left with is a basketball team that’s losing far more than it wins, and there’s not much fun about that. (Again, in the traditional sense.)
But given there isn’t any way to not talk about the Lakers, I went to the ESPN Trade Machine (at least in part) and tried to figure out a deal that, in an alternate reality, would make the team more palatable. The trade I came up with is both realistic (based on some real rumors I’ve heard/read and players’ fair market value in mind) and totally effing bananas (five-team, 15-player trades and unicorns tend have a lot in common). I’d still like to think at least some parts dabble in the vicinity of the plausible.
In the end, I came up with a Lakers team (as well as a Cleveland one) that I would actually enjoy watching on a nightly basis. Of course, it’s built along the lines of my own personal views — fit over star power and great offense over any type of defense — but I think it would make the struggling L.A. team, as well as a couple of the others involved, more interesting.
Either way, there’s enough in there to get people yelling at each other (or at me), which is easily the best part of fake trades anyway. So here ya go:
It’s a refrain we’re hearing now from Mike D’Antoni’s harshest critics: The Lakers are banged up, yes, but any team with Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant should be better than 9-13. Even worse, they're 4-8 since D’Antoni took over on the bench.
George Hill dropped his second game-winner of the season Tuesday in Los Angeles, sparing the viewing audience five additional minutes of ugly basketball and dropping the Lakers to 7-8. The sub-.500 record has predictably inspired panic around the Lakers, even though they are one of just four teams ranked in the top 10 in both points scored per possession (no. 9) and allowed per possession (no. 4). The other three members of this ever-changing crew — Memphis, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City, the last playing surprisingly good defense that will merit some in-depth attention if the Thunder maintain it as their schedule gets tougher. The Clippers, at no. 11 in defensive efficiency, are basically in the club, and the Knicks, still tied with Miami at no. 1 in offensive efficiency, were heading it up until their defense started slumping a week ago.
How many adjustments does a team need to make before you just throw up your hands and call it broken? If you read any of the papers in Los Angeles or listen to any sports talk radio or scan through the dozens of purple-and-gold blogs, you’d believe there must be some master solution that will make all the Lakers' disparate parts cohere into some unstoppable basketball force. Once Dwight learns to play with Pau, everything will be fine. Or once Nash learns to play alongside Kobe, the team will stop looking slow and confused on offense. Or once the bench players find their roles, the second unit will look like something more than five random dudes who happen to be standing on a basketball court together.
Up until last week, the dominant excuse/adjustment was something called the “Princeton offense,” which, due to its Ivy League origins and all the requisite unathletic associations, never sat well with the locals who had grown up with Showtime and Shaq. (As a side note, the Princeton offense was mostly a branding problem — if Mike Brown had just called it “the system” and not said a word about New Jersey’s capital of secret societies and lax bros, every sound bite about Princeton and the Lakers would never have existed. They still might have lost a ton of games under Brown, but he at least wouldn’t have been the guy who — gasp! — tried to get Kobe Bryant to play within something as uncool as the Princeton offense.)
Now that Mike Brown and Princeton have bowed out of the Lakers excuse show, the adjustment story has shifted over to Mike D’Antoni and his own system and what will happen when Steve Nash comes back from his injury. That particular story line won’t even get started until Nash comes back sometime next month, which will then set off its own little barrage of separate adjustment stories. And ad infinitum till the Lakers either win or, more likely, do not win the NBA championship.
Mike D’Antoni’s best teams were in Phoenix during the mid '00s. Those great Suns teams were led by Steve Nash and Amar'e Stoudemire, and their play was characterized by up-tempo pace, brilliant floor spacing, and great shooting. They were youthful, fast, and really fun to watch, leading the NBA in scoring for three consecutive seasons, peaking in 2006-07 when they scored 110.2 points per game.
Now D’Antoni finds himself under the purple-and-gold glare of Southern California. Yesterday at his introductory press conference, D’Antoni implied he was in favor of bringing that Phoenix pace to Los Angeles, and even went so far as to invoke the glorious Showtime-era Lakers team: “We would love to be able to play Showtime-type basketball." Who wouldn’t love to be able to do that? That team was also youthful, fast, fun, and dominant.
The problem is D’Antoni inherits a Lakers squad that averages only 96.5 points per game and is rarely described as either youthful or fast. The maestro of pace is inheriting a graying orchestra that is currently 28th in the league in fast break points, 29th in bench points, and 30th in turnovers. These are the Slowtime Lakers.
Shawn Marion, fiercely proud and a little defensive, was fond of telling reporters during the height of the Seven Seconds or Less Era in Phoenix that players made “genius” coaches like Mike D’Antoni look good.
Marion is obviously oversimplifying. Head coaches are hugely important, maybe third on the importance hierarchy in any franchise, behind only the owner and the franchise superstar (if one is present). There are a few reasons why Chicago will rank among the three or five best defensive teams this season and going forward, but Tom Thibodeau’s presence is probably the biggest factor.
But a coach can only work with the players on hand, and the Lakers’ roster brings some structural issues — largely outlined here — that were going to challenge whomever the team named as Mike Brown’s in-season replacement. In a shocking reversal, they’ve chosen D’Antoni’s spread pick-and-roll system over the triangle and Phil Jackson, whose salary demands and requests for broader organizational control were apparently too much for the Buss family, per the Los Angeles Times and others. Inking D’Antoni to a three-year deal, with an option for a fourth season, may also be a signal that the Lakers believe his style is a better fit for the only pieces — Steve Nash and Dwight Howard — on the books beyond 2013-14, assuming the Lakers convince Howard to re-sign this summer on a max deal.
It's baaaaaack. The NBA Shootaround crew is here to go over the best and brightest story lines coming out of media day and the opening days of NBA training camp. Basketball, basketball, basketball, basketball, basketball!!!
Kobe Clearly Still Mad About the Ellen Kid; Lying About Having the Ball in Hands; Wishes He Were a Transformer
Quick sidebar: Does Craig Sager make it through a day of his life on Earth without having a professional basketball player question his ability to dress himself or ... ask questions? It's the FIRST DAY and Kobe is already treating him like an emotional speed bag. This dude's life is Groundhog Day and the day he is reliving is the first day of high school, with 6-foot-6 guys stuffing him in a locker. The humanity!
Anyway, Kobe's back. Despite the new constellation of supernovas in Lakers purple, no star burns brighter than no. 24. And don't you ever forget it. Somehow Bryant was able to spend media day at once shirking responsibility (on handling the ball less this season: "Thank God") and reasserting his dominance over his surroundings ("I get to be Megatron"). (Yes, he was referring to being able to "run routes," à la Calvin Johnson, while new point guard Steve Nash takes care of the ball ... but let's just pretend he meant he gets to be the evil Transformer. It's much more on-brand.)
This made me giddy. Putting aside that I am willfully misinterpreting what he said, do you know how extra-Kobe Kobe Bryant is going to have to be this year to make sure we're all paying attention to him? In the face of the media-friendly Nash, the confounding Dwight Howard, and the downright weird Metta World Peace, Bryant is going to have to be in full Prince Joffrey mode. I can't wait to watch the throne this season.
— Chris Ryan
Disappointed, but classy. A great gesture to the better team. One would assume Metta would take a little time to get out of his funk, but that would be far from the truth. Lest we forget, the NBA season is Ron-Ron's offseason. The period of time not playing professional basketball is his true time to shine.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
The Miami Heat routed the Pacers 115-85, taking a 3-2 series edge and battering the self-proclaimed Pacer tough guys along the way. "It's always a tough moment when I remember that I'm a dork," said Tyler Hansbrough. "A huge, goggle-eyed, floppy-limbed dork who should, by all rights, be working in a cage at the circus."
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Los Angeles Clippers stunned the Memphis Grizzlies at home, winning Game 7 82-72 for the franchise's third playoff-series victory in 41 years. After the game, Chris Paul surveyed the catatonic Memphis crowd. "Are they actually stunned?" he asked. "Or do they just always look that way?"
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
There will be a new champion in the NHL! The Washington Capitals pulled off a stunning 2-1 overtime victory to beat the Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Wild Joel Ward slammed home a rebound at 2:57 in the extra period. I know I've been tough on hockey in this space before, so I've decided to compose a little ode in honor of this great day: