Posted by: Wilson | July 29, 2008

Western Conference Contenders: New Orleans Hornets

CP3 and his microfiber composite ball

The Lakers will look to reclaim their Western Conference supremacy when the new season starts. With the number one seed in the playoffs, the Lakers rolled through their side of the bracket. Home court advantage clearly counts for something. Some other young teams are rising to contention in the West, and leading the pack is the New Orleans Hornets.

Just a few years removed from Oklahoma City, the most dangerous team to the Lakers right now is the Hornets. Had it not been for a slip against the Kings in their antepenultimate game of the regular season, the Hornets would have been the number one seed. Who knows what might have happened, had the Lakers played Dallas, San Antonio and then the Hornets as the number 2 seed.

The Hornets were among the team leaders in offensive rating (5th) and defensive rating (7th). The Lakers split the four regular season games, each team winning one on the road and one at home. Usually, whichever team got into foul or injury trouble lost the game. Throughout the season, these teams were very evenly matched.

New Orleans is led by the transcendent play of Chris Paul, and anchored by the reliable shooting of Peja Stojakovic and David West. The Lakers struggled to defend the pick-and-roll last season, and it enabled CP3 to run all over them. Peja and David West create problems with their perimeter range, which allows Tyson Chandler to roam in the paint. Recently added forward, James Posey, looks to bolster their thin bench, and should provide some solid production for at least a few seasons.

But, surprisingly, they still lack significant frontcourt dept. Simply, if Tyson Chandler gets into foul trouble, the team struggles. Unless the team shores up this major weakness, the Lakers will look to come out on top. With Andrew Bynum handling Chandler, West is going to have to grapple with Pau Gasol. And Lamar is going to create match up problems at his position.

Look for the Hornets and the Lakers to finish 1-2 in the Western Conference for the foreseeable future.

Posted by: Wilson | July 10, 2008

Au Revoir to Ronny Turiaf?

I’ll see you up north!

Ronny Turiaf has reportedly been offered a contract of four years and $17 million by the Golden State Warriors. Not surprising, since Golden State is severely lacking in muscle down low. But, he is a restricted free agent, and the Lakers will have seven days to match the offer. What needs to be debated, is whether Ronny is worth the money and whether the Lakers really need him.

At $760,000 last season, Ronny was a bargain considering he was the first big off the bench. But he was also very productive with his minutes. I included a chart to compare Ronny with other bigs who are about the same age and roughly play the same amount of minutes. They are ranked by PER.

Age MPG PER PPG RPG Salary in 08-09
Craig Smith 24.0 20.1 16.7 9.4 4.6 Free agent
Brandon Bass 22.0 19.7 15.9 8.3 4.4 826 K
Ronny Turiaf 25.0 18.7 15.0 6.6 3.9 4.25 mill
Channing Frye 24.0 17.2 14.8 6.8 4.5 3.16 mill
DeSagana Diop 26.0 16.4 12.5 2.9 5.0 5.6 mill
Darius Songaila 29.0 19.4 11.8 6.2 3.4 4.24 mill
Josh Powell 25.0 19.2 10.7 5.5 5.2 854 K
Johan Petro 22.0 18.2 10.0 6.0 5.1 1.94 mill
Nenad Krstic 24.0 18.0 8.5 6.6 4.4 Free agent
Jared Jeffries 26.0 18.2 7.9 3.7 3.3 6.05 mill

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Ronny is in the upper echelon of back-up big men in the league, so he is definitely worth the money. Amazingly, DeSagana Diop got handed the entire mid-level exception this offseason, despite his poor stats. And clearly, Jared Jeffries is another overpaid, under performing Knick. The big surprises are Brandon Bass and Craig Smith. Both are going to be very promising players in the future and will be paid a lot more.

If the Lakers let Ronny walk, they will be hard pressed to find another player who can replicate his production. He was a key part of the Mob last season, and his enthusiasm and morale-boosting were a key part of team chemistry. Chris Mihm may break down again, and the Lakers’ frontcourt depth was seriously exposed after him and Bynum went down. However, next season the Lakers are expected to be at full strength and Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Chris Mihm can all play center. Also, the Lakers are mired in the luxury tax situation. Essentially, because of tax penalties, Ronny’s contract will end up costing the Lakers $35 Million dollars over its four years. Is Ronny worth $8.75 million a year to the Lakers?

Ronny’s story in the league is amazing. After recovering from open heart surgery in ’05 he played in the NBA Finals in ’08. For his breakout season last year, Ronny is going to enjoy his financial success, but unfortunately it will likely be in a Warrior uniform. If Jerry Buss is willing to pay the tax and resign Turiaf, then great. But, he will also have to resign Sasha at a lot more money. The team chemistry will falter if Ronny leaves, but there are still guys like Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol and Luke Walton who will keep things peaceful. But, his presence on the bench will definitely be missed.

Always having fun

Posted by: Wilson | July 8, 2008

Frontcourt in the Forefront

Duo prepped for dominance?

After bowing out of the Finals without Andrew Bynum, the Lakers are prepared for frontcourt authority with a healthy Drew and a reinvigorated Pau Gasol. But, these two young players have yet to log any minutes alongside each other (on the same team). So, the main question is what would a Gasol-Bynum duo look like?

To begin with, we should establish some precedents. This tandem is comprised of two solid big men, of which either could start at the center position. Also, with Pau Gasol, the Lakers’ have a more traditional power forward in the mold of Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. Gasol possesses the talent to play center but he can still operate outside of the post. This Lakers duo will not be as bad as the Eddy Curry and Zach Randolph duo, currently stinking up NYC. But, it will not be as great as the David Robinson and Tim Duncan tandem that the Spurs sent out in the late 90′s and early 2000′s.

Bynum is a defensive-minded center, and his offensive capabilities are limited. He can finish well around the rim, but his post moves are not too refined. He has been working on his hook shot with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, so we should see some improvement next season. Pau Gasol has a terrific back to the basket game, and can finish with either hand. He also has a nice face-up game, and can hit from outside fairly well. On defense, Gasol’s length really helps him but he struggles with bigger players. With Bynum on the court, Gasol will have to adapt his own game in order for both of them to play well with each other.

Room enough for both to dunk?

On the offense, Gasol operates in the post the majority of the time. When he is outside the key, he facilitates passes and will occasionally shoot one or two outside shots a game. With Bynum down low, Gasol will be pushed to the outside. This is where the problem comes. Gasol’s NBA Hotzones show that he shoots about 43% from his jump shots, preferring to shoot from either wings. However, he usually takes fewer than three shots per game and he is going to need to improve this in order to adapt to Bynum. Just like David Robinson started operating in the high post, taking more jump shots, when Tim Duncan joined the Spurs, so must Gasol. However, I have noticed that Pau takes some time to get settled for a shot and he usually likes to set his feet and hands before he shoots. The opposing team’s more mobile power forward may not give him this time, which the centers guarding him last year did. Just something to think about. Another problem is that making Gasol into an outside player would devastate the Lakers inside game, unless Bynum works on his own post game. This is how the New Orleans Hornets thrived throughout the season and the playoffs. David West’s jump shot helped give Tyson Chandler the room he needed on the offense to get alley-oops and offensive rebounds. And, as Andrew Bynum’s Hotzones clearly show, he is not a jump shooter, and exclusively works down low, so it will be Gasol who makes the outside game work. Regardless, the frontcourt offense is going to be interesting next year.

We should see more of this next season

On defense, Bynum controls the middle. He blocks players driving to the basket and can bang the opposing center in the post. Gasol has showed that he can defend his player on the perimeter, but he has trouble when he needs to defend down low. Despite his ‘soft’ label, Gasol did an excellent job in the Finals by making KG a jump shooter(or did KG make himself a shooter?), and by defending him pretty well from outside. But, he lacks upper body strength, so he gets thrown around by bigger bodies, as we saw in the Utah series. But, paired with Bynum, Pau should flourish on the defense. He is very mobile and can contest the jump shots of players like David West and Dirk Nowitzki. Bynum, will anchor the defense and provide the powerful post presence that the Lakers dearly lacked. The defensive possibilities become staggering if we throw Lamar Odom into the mix.

It’s going to be great to see Gasol play in the Olympics this summer. Maybe we will see another aspect of his game really shine. Bynum is still rehabilitating from his knee injury and hopefully be at full strength when training camp rolls around. Next season is going to be great to see them both play with each other.

Posted by: Wilson | July 3, 2008

Center of Attention

Same Bynum next year?

Andrew Bynum is still recovering this off season from knee surgery, and although he is slated to be ready for the start of the season, who knows how affected his play will be. He had to have surgery done twice and this set his rehabilitation back even further. Kupchak has maintained that his injury is not “career altering”, which gives hope that Bynum will make a full recovery. Knee injuries plague big men through out the league, and Bynum’s injury is not as bad as Greg Oden’s or Sean Mays’ which had them sidelined for more than a year. And Oden is expected to make a full recovery from having microfracture knee surgery, which is way more serious than Bynum’s dislocated knee cap. Bynum’s youth should enable him to reach the level of play that he was at before the injury. In any event, the Lakers can always slide Pau Gasol over to center in the event of another mishap, a capable back up would be a better to have just in case.

Don’t the Lakers have Chris Mihm? Yes, but his play has been hampered by injuries. If he can play at a high level next season, then all of the Lakers center problems will be solved. As is, nobody knows how well he is going to play, so an insurance signing would alleviate any pressure.

What about Ronny Turiaf? Well, he still has to be signed, but, for his size he would be more suitable playing the power forward position. Although he is a defensive minded player and can bang bodies down low, his size definitely limits how effective he can be against opposing center. His energy and enthusiasm are priceless, and he is still maturing as a player, so a veteran presence would help him develop along the way. Signing an extra center would also enable Ronny to muscle smaller power forwards more effectively.

The young centers on the market are out of the Lakers’ reach, but some quality veterans can still be signed.

Kurt Thomas

He is strong and has a nice offensive touch. He has played stellar defense throughout his career, and he helped shore up the Spurs frontcourt in the playoffs. The Lakers would definitely benefit from his veteran presence off the bench. He can probably be had for the veterans minimum, since the Lakers can offer him contention.

Chris Andersen

An energetic defender, the Birdman has good size and has nice athleticism. He hasn’t played much due to drug problems, but he had some good seasons in the past. With him and Ronny together, they would just lock down anywhere close to the basket. Boston is rumored to be interested in him, so the Lakers may need to act fast.

Kwame Brown

As ludicrous as this sounds, Kwame might be a suitable option for the Lakers. With the offense clicking, he wouldn’t have to touch the ball at all. We need him solely for his defensive capabilities. He can muscle up to the big centers in the league and that was lacking for the Lakers in the playoffs. But, if Bynum remains healthy next year, hopefully we won’t even have to think of a scenario where Kwame Brown plays for the Lakers. For his age (25), he’ll get the league minimum somewhere.

Hopefully, the Lakers sign a veteran center and Chris Mihm returns to full health.

Posted by: Wilson | July 2, 2008

Lakers small forward questions

This was a motif during the Finals

The general mood this offseason is that the Lakers need to acquire an outside shooting and above-average defending small forward. The main reason being that Paul Pierce blew by whoever was guarding him on his way to Finals MVP. Radman and Luke Walton weren’t quick enough to stay with, Trevor Ariza was coming back from injury and even Kobe couldn’t match Pierce’s strength. Save for Ariza, athleticism is on the light side at the small forward position. On the offensive side of the ball, Vlad showed he could hit the three, but at the same time it seemed that he missed the most ugly shots. It made me cringe when the ball ended up in Walton’s hands as the shot clock was winding down, trying to create his own shot. Ariza can slash and finish, but his perimeter touch is lacking. We played Kobe at the small during crunch time, but in the Finals, he took some bruising defense from Posey and Pierce. Thus, it has been determined that the final piece to our championship puzzle is a new small forward.

Small Forward?

Well, the answer to our small forward problem appears to be Lamar Odom. First of all, playing Odom at the small doesn’t cost the Lakers any more money than they are already paying. Secondly, his size and quickness at the position are practically unparalleled, save for Andrei Kirilenko. We saw a bit of Lamar’s capability for guarding small forwards during the Finals, when Phil was searching for an answer to Pierce. But, it was a small sample size in regards to how he would guard the rest of the league’s small forwards. However, I noticed that he could stay in front of Pierce with his quick feet but left a lot of shooting room. Nonetheless, with Bynum back in the fold next year, Lamar will be able to play the shooter close, and if he drives past, Bynum will be there to alter. So much of the defense is based on the anchor at the back, and Bynum will be the defensive stopper that Pau Gasol could not be.

On the offense,  Odom would fit into his usual role of facilitating the offense. Playing the ball through to Gasol and Bynum. Odom’s handle is definitely unique for his size and so is his passing ability. He struggled at times with finishing around the rim, but he knows how to take it strong. The only concern would be his outside shooting. Vlad was able to spread the floor and give Kobe room to operate, usually without the problem of double teams. As Boston showed in the Finals, they are willing to leave Odom open around the perimeter and use the extra man to give Kobe more trouble. Lamar’s inability to consistently hit from deep will be a lingering problem that could plague the offense. But, Given Odom’s length and agility, how can the Lakers not try him out at small forward?

What about starting Trevor Ariza and having Odom come off the bench? Not a bad idea, which Phil may end up doing depending on the match-up. Ariza can defend well, and he shoots better than Lamar, but his passing and court vision are not as good as Odom’s. Ariza is also very athletic, so, him and Kobe could give defenders a hard time. As for Lamar off the bench, if you noticed during last season, Phil usually has Odom play with the mob, using him as a PF with Walton at the SF slot. It worked well during the season, and Odom is usually the main offensive option with the reserves.

The Future

Trade Odom to get a defensive small forward? I say the Lakers don’t pull the trigger to any major deal this off season. Mostly because it would just be a rental. Main trade targets Shawn Marion and Ron Artest are unrestricted after this year, and they both want long-term deals. Also, we could try to nab Artest with the mid-level next year after he expressed his regret for not opting out this off season. We also need to try Odom out, just to see how it works. If he does great, we sign him long-term and problem solved. Trevor Ariza is then groomed to be a Caron-Butler esque type player for the future (Remember, we used to have this guy).

In other small forward news:

It appears that the Bobcats are looking to trade Gerald Wallace. He is one of the more talented small forwards in the league, and is known for his aggressive defense. Since he is seemingly on the outs with Charlotte, the Lakers might seriously look into acquiring him.

James Posey also appears to be looking for a change of scenery, after Boston decided not to offer him the full mid-level exception. Not a bad idea, as you can see situations that arise with players locked in for multiple years (see Walton, Luke and Radman, Vlad). The Lakers could probably offer Posey a slice of the MLE and see if he takes. He is going to be the next Robert Horry, so hopefully he’ll accept a two year deal.

Posted by: Wilson | July 1, 2008

Baron Davis Opts out!!

Homecoming? Likely

In an interesting turn of events, right before free agency was set to begin, Baron Davis opted out of the final year of his contract and left 17.8 mill on the table. He probably left the most money he is ever going to get in one year again. There are several reasons he did this.

1) He wants long-term security, albeit at a price

2) He wants to play for a contender, for pennys

3) He is orchestrating a sign-and-trade, to a contender

While it is unlikely that Baron will join the Lakers, his opting out definitely changes the landscape of the Pacific Davision. Sacramento is looking for a point guard, and they will probably be racing to sign either Gilbert Arenas or Baron Davis. The Clippers also need a true point guard since they already have a Gilbert Arenas clone in Eric Gordon. They will also look to sign Baron and team him with Elton Brand. Also, the Warriors may now make a move to sign Gilbert Arenas away from the Wizards! The complexion and talent of the Pacific teams will drastically change in the next week or so.

As for the points above, Davis is probably looking at point number 1. He needs the long-term security, especially since the Warriors already have a future point guard in Monta Ellis. The Lakers prospects in acquiring Davis via sign-and-trade do not look very promising. Lamar could lock down their PF slot, but thats all the Lakers could offer. Also, they just drafted a Lamar Odom type guy in Anthony Randolph. Rather, an offer from the Pistons of Rasheed Wallace and Tayshaun Prince would be a more likely scenario.

Playing for a contender? He will probably not take the mid-level exception to play for a contender, but if he does, the Lakers could be the first in line. Baron is from LA and played his college ball in Westwood. But, this could also make the Clippers one of his prime destinations, since he would get paid more. Baron has shown interest in winning a Larry O’brien but he probably will not strive to do so just yet in his career. If he does open himself up to the mid-level, every championship caliber team will be at his feet, except Utah and New Orleans.

Now, about his game. Even if the Lakers could inexplicably acquire Baron, do we really need him? Well, first and foremost, he is a scoring point guard. As we saw with the addition of Pau Gasol last season, the Lakers have no problem with scoring. Also, Baron needs more possessions than Gasol to accrue his offensive numbers. And that might be a good thing, since Ariza would likely be fifth banana. Baron is also a great passer. Adding him to an already great passing team would only increase this strength. His defensive tendencies are similar to Derek Fisher’s, so not too shabby in that department. One thing that would help the Lakers is his ability to create his own shot. Baron can take it strong to the hoop, or step back and hit. His addition would further prevent double teams on Kobe. As for his age, he turns 29 this year, any contract would have him for at least 4 or 5 seasons. John Hollinger notes that big guards who can shoot and pass well tend to age nicely. Baron definitely fits all three bills so he should be fine for the duration of his contract, bringing him well into his thirties. However, he does have some injury history.

In all likelihood, we will see Baron fairly often in his hometown red, white and blue.

Posted by: Wilson | June 30, 2008

Kupchak’s Targets

Is this lanky lefty in Kupchak’s crosshairs?

While the 08-09 roster is essentially set, Kupchak could wheel-and-deal this offseason. To start with, the main “weaknesses” in the Lakers roster are at the small forward and point guard positions. I have divided potential targets into how they can be acquired (ie. free agency and trade).

Free Agency

Point Guards (depth only)

Should Derek Fisher go under with an injury next season, Jordan Farmar cannot handle the point all by his lonesome. The Lakers will not be looking for a starting point guard or a point guard of the future; they will most likely sign a veteran guard.

Anthony Carter and Anthony Johnson

The elders are Anthonys Johnson and Carter. They will be 34 and 33, respectively. Farmar is miles ahead in skill, but then again, they will only be needed for depth. I say the Lakers sign Carter; better shooter and a tad younger than Johnson.

Carlos Arroyo

Carlos Arroyo will probably not sign for the minimum, but he would give some great play. He was a solid reserve for the Orlando Magic last season.

Shaun Livingston

Shaun Livingston has not played basketball in a long time, but he showed some promise earlier in his career. If the Clippers do let him go free, he would be a cheap flier.

Small Forward (starter)

If the Lakers do in fact delve into free agency for a small forward, it will be to secure a starter. The roster already boasts a number of small forwards (Ariza, Luke Walton, Radman, Lamar?), so no backups needed. However, I do not see any signings happening since there is such a glut on the roster. A trade will most likely be used to acquire a small forward.

Corey Maggette

Corey Maggette has opted out, but is looking for a big deal. I do not think he would fit in well with the Lakers, mostly because he needs a lot of possessions (Kobe’s possessions). He is also not too good defensively, which would be a must at this position.

James Posey

James Posey hasn’t been a starter since his first season in Miami, but I think he could start and give the same production he gives off the bench. Posey plays excellent defense, as we saw, and he is great at shooting the trey. If we can sign him for less than the mid-level it would be a steal.

Mickael Pietrus

Mickael Pietrus was buried on the depth chart in Oakland, but he has enough talent to be targeted by the Lakers. He shoots decently from three and can play solid defense. But, do we already have a player just like him in Ariza?

Trade

Point Guard

I can’t see any scenario where the Lakers would acquire a point guard in a trade, other than a throw-in as a part of a much bigger deal (see below).

Small Forward

Acquiring a small forward in a trade is the most likely scenario. Lamar Odom will be moved as part of any deal in the off season.

Shawn Marion

Marion and the Heat are on the outs with each other, especially after Michael Beasley was drafted. They could use Odom’s versatility and the Lakers could use Marion’s defense. Marion wouldn’t spread the court with his shot, but we have Vlad for that. Also, Marion’s speed and athleticism would be tremendous for the team. He can also play both forward positions well.

How: A trade straight up for Lamar Odom could do this deal.

Ron Artest

Ron Artest is one of the best wing defenders in the NBA, alongside Marion and Shane Battier. He can shoot the three decently enough for his defender to respect it. Artest is probably not opting out, and the Kings want to get some value from him before he inevitably leaves Sactown.

How: The Lakers would trade Lamar Odom and receive Artest and either Mikki Moore or Shareef Abdur-Rahim as well.

Tayshaun Prince

Tayshaun is another great wing defender, and is looking to be dealt in the Joe Dumars fire sale. Like the other small forwards here, he can spread the floor adequately with his three point shot. He also has some great post moves, for his position, as well as a great jump shot. Again, will Prince essentially be a slightly upgraded Ariza?

How: I doubt Joe Dumars would pull a Lamar Odom for Prince and Amir Johnson deal. It will probably have to involve some other teams.

Posted by: Wilson | June 20, 2008

Lakers in Free Agency

After a disappointing end to the marvelous season, the Lakers front office will look to retool the roster in order to make another run back to the Finals. The Lakers can make a run at a few players, but they also have their own free agent issues to address.

Lakers Free Agents:

B.J. Novak of The Office fame

Sasha Vujacic

Probably the highest priority Lakers free agent. This past season he excelled off the bench and easily posted his career highs in shooting percentage and points per game. He was the scoring presence that the Lakers relied on when the Mob was playing. Not only that, he logged a lot of time in the fourth quarters of close games, usually coming up with clutch triples. However, he was a little bit spotty on defense, which was exposed during the Finals. Surprising since he did a great defensive job on (hobbled?) Ginobili. Decent offers will be given to him by other teams, but the Lakers look to have the inside track after he proclaimed himself a “Laker for life”.

Bottom Line: Sasha was a great sub for the Lakers last year but with the Lakers have a history of giving mid-level exceptions to mediocre bench players like Radmanovic and Luke Walton. I would hate to see the Lakers continue the trend by giving Sasha the full mid-level. Giving him a portion of the mid-level would be the ideal situation, giving breathing room to both the player and the team. Enabling a few years of player evaluation before deciding to lock him up for good or let him walk.

Troy Polamalu of the Steelers

Ronny Turiaf

Another Mobber, Turiaf combined great defense and aggressive play with a nice outside jump shot. His aggressive play led to a lot of fouls, but this was counterbalanced with his blocks. He lacks any inside game, and will have to improve on his post moves during the off season. While being a bit undersized for a center, he regularly held his own against other backup centers, and even harassed Tim Duncan a bit in the playoffs. Also, he was the Lakers cheerleader on the sidelines; a morale booster.

Bottom Line: A few teams will come in and offer him a contract as their reserve big. But, like Vujacic, he has committed himself to playing in Los Angeles. Unless a team offers him an enormous contract, he will likely come back to the Lakers. Teams like Philadelphia and New Orleans could be in the running.

Trevor Ariza

After Mitch Kupchak’s great trade to bring Ariza to Los Angeles, he was injured after a month or so of action. He has been a player who combines athleticism and defense, with a slasher role on the offense. We saw a little bit of him in the Finals, but after getting burned by Paul Pierce, I suspect he wasn’t back to full health yet. He is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, but he does have a player option for the 08-09 season.

Bottom Line: He is expected to pick up his player option and will be an unrestricted free agent again next year. Great news for the Lakers, since he could be their James Posey answer to other teams’ best players. He could supplant Luke Walton as the first small forward off the bench, but he needs to improve his passing.

Others: Chris Mihm (unrestricted with player option), DJ Mbenga (restricted), Ira Newble (unrestricted)

Mihm was hampered by injuries last year, and with the resigning of Turiaf he could leave for another team. But, having a seven footer come off the bench is not bad (unless named Brown, Kwame).

Mbenga and Newble were hired guns for depth in the playoffs, they will likely take their games (and tacos) elsewhere. (not Jack in the Box tacos!)

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