A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers

How the Lakers can have a smart offseason

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Since Dr. Jerry Buss died, the Lakers have embodied the worst traits of the James Dolan era Knicks. They’ve gone after big names and big contracts and have dealt away picks instead of keeping them. They spend assets instead of collecting them.

If they continued down this route, their offseason will involve major spending or big name trading. Think signing Carmelo Anthony to a maximum contract when they don’t have the roster to win before he declines, or trading their draft pick for Rajon Rondo in hopes that’ll be enough to sign Kevin Love next summer. Dealing for aging stars or ones on short contracts, is a dangerous game that could set them back years.

Here’s the type of summer I’d recommend for the Lakers. It’s not as sexy, but it’s a smart move that fits the modern NBA landscape.

Say the Houston Rockets get their mitts on a major free agent like Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh. But to do it they need to clear capspace, by moving Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik’s contracts.

The Lakers are far under the cap and in a great position to take advantage of this. They also have the deepest pockets in the league, allowing them to barely blink at paying 30 million in real money for 16.8 million cap hit between Asik and Lin. The Rockets trade the Lakers Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and their 1st round pick next year, for a Lakers conditional 2nd round pick. This clears the Rockets enough capspace to sign Carmelo while keeping the rest of their starting lineup in Patrick Beverly, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard. Carmelo presumably have to take a discount on his first year salary compared to what the Knicks could offer, but would still be inked to a huge salary.

This puts the Lakers in a very nice position. Not only do they get talented young bigs in Terrence Jones who could break out on a new team, Donatas Motiejunas and a pick, but Lin and Asik are even good for their roster, filling a need at PG and C. If not extended, both Lin and Asik expire next summer, allowing the salary obligation to be as short lived as Utah taking Andris Biedrins and Richard Jefferson’s deals for a year.

Using their capspace to build their asset base like this, is the type of move the Lakers need to look at in the modern CBA model. The days of outspending everyone are gone and the other 29 teams are getting too smart. The Lakers can’t run from how small market teams succeed, they need to embrace it, then add their money advantages on top of this. They need to become basketball’s Boston Red Sox, who realized if they invested in prospects and analytics like small markets have no choice but to do, but then have more money and free agent allure than the rest of the league at the same time, they could be unstoppable. Likewise if the Lakers started hording young players and draft picks like the Thunder, when added to their historically massive star and free agent appeal, they combination could cream the league for decades to come again.

Written by jr.

May 28, 2014 at 11:07 pm

The year of coaching narratives and the right fit

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Mike D'Antoni coaching the New York Knicks in ...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve made a handful of posts regarding the value of coaches in the NBA. My general belief is coaches are more often than not overrated. There is usually no escaping a team’s talent level in the NBA. Furthermore something I’ve been fascinated by is the connection of offense and defense in the NBA. I do not favor isolating team ORTG and DRTGs, because I believe teams can have “identities” or push their energy and planning towards one side of the court, elevating either the ORTG or DRTG, but at the cost of the other end. As a good example this year’s Indiana Pacers are 1st defensively and 29th offensively. Why so futile offensively with talents on that end like Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert? They’re probably playing below their heads offensively for the same reason they’re playing above their heads defensively: Because they’re a defensively orientated team. On the other hand, the Houston Rockets are 9th offensively and 19th defensively despite having one of the best defensive centers in the league in Omer Asik and little offensive talent outside of James Harden. Chances are with a different style of play they could be better defensively but at the cost of offensively. The end result of the Pacers and Rockets is that they’re playing almost exactly as expected, the Pacers in the mix for the 2nd-4th seed and the Rockets in the mix for the 8th. While I respect Frank Vogel and Kevin McHale, I see little reason to believe they’re coaching has made their teams better. It makes more sense to say Pacers are great because they have 3 all-stars at SF, PF and C in George, West and Hibbert, the Rockets because they have one of the league’s best players in Harden along with a few decent supporting pieces like Asik, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin – and the coach and system did enough for these rosters to play up to their ability, no matter whether it was with offense or defense emphasized.

Despite this being my general philosophy with coaching, there hasn’t been a year recently where coaching has seemed more relevant than 2012-2013. Coaching has been a crucial part of the story of the Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Brooklyn Nets, 3 high profile markets and situations. Let’s start with the New York Knicks. A year ago they fired Mike D’Antoni with the middling results under him and have been playing like a top 3 seed ever since. Woodson’s approach has been to simplify the team. The Knicks understand that to win, they play defense first and then move the ball on the offensive end, from Melo to the array of 3pt shooters to Tyson Chandler finishing inside. A similar simplifying has happened in Brooklyn. Avery Johnson micromanaged his point guard Deron Williams and wanted to run a system heavy team. With Carlisemo the Nets seem freer to make their own decisions on the fly. What’s important about the Knicks and Nets improvement to me is that both teams seem happier. On the surface, to me much their improvement has been emotional. The Knicks have a perfect culture in the style they play. They seem to have great chemistry, share the ball and all commit on defense. The Knicks are now a bonded team in a way that should be emulated by other franchises. Likewise the Nets are playing together on both ends since P.J. took over. Importantly, Deron Williams is a player who’s numbers have greatly improved under their new coach. The freedom in style of play seems to have rubbed off well on him.

Another good example of a “free play” coach is Scott Brooks. Brooks has been criticized at times for being hands off on his players and letting them play. He doesn’t pull in Russell Westbrook’s boundless energy by making him walk up the court and run pick and rolls. He lets the players figure it out and makes sure they play hard and move the ball and this seems to fit their team the most.

But compare this to Tom Thibodeau’s Chicago Bulls, who are the posterboy for elite coaching in the NBA. What’s interesting is that Thibodeau has the mentality of a coach, that the Knicks and Nets arguably succeeded by abandoning. He’s the uber-intense, micro-managing system coach. Yet his style works perfectly for the Bulls. Perhaps it’s because they have the roster to pull it off, mainly thanks to the psychotic competitiveness of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah leading the way. Tom Thibodeau on another team may not have found any more success than Doug Collins in Philadelphia or Scott Skiles on the Bucks, but for the Bulls he is perfect.

Now let’s talk about the mess that is the Los Angeles Lakers. Mike D’Antoni has undoubtedly failed his second franchise in a row. If recent reports are to be true, they are a chemistry disaster. Pau Gasol is a headcase who’s gone off the deep end and the Kobe Bryant-Dwight Howard relationship sounds like it’s going as well as the one between Daniel Day-Lewis and Paul Dano’s characters in “There Will Be Blood”. I believe D’Antoni is the wrong fit for this system that reasons that have little to do with his strategically system. He’s a bad fit because of how he’s clearly not the type who could keep Kobe’s ego, Dwight’s lack of assertiveness and Gasol’s sensitivity from sprawling the team into mental chaos.

One thing this situation made me appreciate is Phil Jackson’s greatness. Look at that Lakers core from a few years ago with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Metta World Peace. Based on what we know about those players, that’s a ticking time bomb mix of alienating ego (Kobe), mental fragility (Odom and Pau), distracted immaturity (Bynum) and an actual crazy person (World Peace). Kobe, Odom, Pau and Bynum have befallen to the absolute worst of their character flaws without Jackson, while MWP funnily enough has been the most sane. Phil managing to keep a team with THOSE 5 players afloat from a chemistry and emotional perspective, has to be one of the most underrated coaching achievements of all time. And this is not the first time Phil has done a great job keeping locker-rooms with big heads together, turning the uneasy Shaq-Kobe relationship into 3 titles, as well as keeping Scottie Pippen on board with playing #2 for 6 titles with Michael Jordan (and later, getting Dennis Rodman on track after he had gone off the rails in San Antoni). This is ultimately why Phil Jackson is the greatest coach of all time. Although he had more talent than any coach in history, he did an amazing job playing caretaker to some situations that may have blown up without him.

What this all tells me is that coaching is important, but perhaps coaches shouldn’t be judged in a vacuum. Instead it’s about fitting the players to the coach. Both in style of play and in the way those players approach the game. Sometimes you need a Scott Brooks to leave his hands off and sometimes a Tom Thibodeau to put his hands on.

But with that said. While he’s not in the right spot, let’s face it. Mike D’Antoni is still doing a really, really bad job.

Written by jr.

January 24, 2013 at 8:13 pm

The alternate timeline Lakers: If Bynum had been dealt for Iguodala

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Andre Iguodala on November 23, 2010

Andre Iguodala on November 23, 2010 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I listed my reasons for believing the Lakers’ immediate improvement after the Dwight Howard trade is overstated, here

What’s fascinating to me is that Andre Iguodala, of course a key component of the Howard trade being shipped to Denver, would have been an absolute perfect fit for the Lakers’ needs. If you haven’t read the previous article, my biggest problem with the Lakers roster is that their perimeter speed on defense is flawed and that they may not be able to rotate on help D sharply enough to guard either the Thunder’s athletes or Spurs’ ball movement and shooters. Iguodala of course is an elixir to that, as arguably one of the two best perimeter defenders in the league alongside Lebron James.

Was there a way for the Lakers to both get Howard and Iguodala, by say, shipping Pau Gasol to Denver? Possibly, but Gasol’s contract and age may give him less value than Iguodala to a young team like Denver. What is certain however is that a one to one deal with Philadelphia with Bynum and Iguodala, would have been on the table for the Lakers – since obviously, the Sixers DID trade Iguodala for Bynum.

Let’s say the Sixers would have agreed to a trade of Iguodala, Thaddeus Young and young Moe Harkless to the Lakers for Andrew Bynum, which by my math works under the salary cap. The Lakers would then be looking at approximately this lineup: Read the rest of this entry »

Written by jr.

August 30, 2012 at 7:38 pm

The Accidental Hater

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Image from Chapelle's Show

With Shaquille O’Neal‘s retirement I feel compelled share what unique place Shaq Diesel occupied in my mind.

This won’t be something everyone enjoys because it’s a quite negative place. However, I do think that it represents a side of Shaq’s career that needs to be told along with the good. Is it sour grapes? Call it what you will.

Call me Magic

I was born and raised a Laker fan in Los Angeles. Magic Johnson was the first player I ever knew of. He was the star of the city, and hey, with my last name and my penchant for basketball, how could I now want to call myself “Magic”.

Fast forward to Shaq’s feud with Kobe Bryant. I begin to get more and more irritated. While Kobe’s ball hogging tendencies made me a touch sympathetic to teammates complaining, Shaq’s behavior was so awful that he was the one I felt the frustration toward.

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8 thoughts on the Lakers’ demise

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1. I feel the Lakers’ loss quite a bit more than the Spurs’. Maybe it’s just me being an Angeleno, but then again, I never felt that sold on the Spurs. The team played so different from their Tim Duncan-peak game, it was hard to look at them as a scrappy champion. The Lakers, after last year’s emergences from late season mediocrity felt like they’d be tough to kill.

2. With that said, the funny thing about a dynasty-type team that has been shown to perform better in the biggest game is that eventually, it’s inexactly one of those situations where the team will sputter.

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Written by Matt Johnson

May 8, 2011 at 6:49 pm

NBA Playoff Preview – The Biggest Questions

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Twas the night before the playoffs and all through the house, not a soul was stirring, not even Eddie House…

Rajon Rondo, the 21st pick of the Boston Celtics

Is Rajon Rondo the playoffs biggest X-factor?

Matt won’t be back till next week, so you’re stuck with me for A Substitute for War’s lack of playoff preview wisdom:

First, here are my opening round predictions:

East: Chicago over Indiana in 5, Miami over Philadelphia in 6, Boston over New York in 6, Orlando over Atlanta in 5.

West: San Antonio over Memphis in 5, LA over New Orleans in 5, Portland over Dallas in 6, Oklahoma City over Denver in 5.

Since that’s over, instead of spending a couple thousand words telling you why Chicago is better than Indiana or LA is better than New Orleans, I’ll spend some time dissecting the favorites and what they need to prove to win the title:

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Letting the Lamppost Illuminate

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Image by motiqua via Flickr

He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp-posts…

For support rather than illumination

Andrew Lang (1844-1912)

I’ve been rather crucified lately for having Kobe Bryant so low on my MVP list, and I completely understand why. He’s the player many consider to be the best in the game, his team has an elite record, and as we approach the final stretch of the regular season, both he and his team appear to be entering back into their familiar, championship-winning groove. How can he be not anywhere near the top 5 in the MVP race?

And I answer, knowing that my response hurts my credibility among quite a few not simply because they disagree with me, but because a significant influence on where I place Kobe is his poor performance in adjusted +/- statistics (APM).

Remaining Sober

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Written by Matt Johnson

March 19, 2011 at 9:52 am