Los Angeles Lakers: Ramon Sessions

PodKast: Paper champs, Cap's statue and theoretical turmoil

August, 31, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Everyone else keeps talking about the Lakers. Why shouldn't we?

The show can be heard by clicking on the module and a list of talking points is below:

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- (1:30): Basketball players are often reticent to shower the opposition with more than generic or obligatory praise. Thus, eyebrows raised when Chris Bosh of the reigning champion Miami Heat recently declared the Lakers the best team "on paper." Interestingly enough, Academy Award front-runner Kevin Durant, whose OKC Thunder squad took out the Lakers en route to reaching the Finals, seconded that statement.

Is this a case of gamesmanship or self-motivation from Bosh and Durant or just a begrudgingly honest assessment? In a world made of paper, are the Lakers really the best team?

- (10:50): Seven years ago, I conducted a wide-ranging interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but forgot to seek a critical bit of clarification about his role in 'Airplane.' This brain cramp has eaten away at my soul ever since. Kinda like the way not having a statue in front of Staples Center seemed to have eaten away at Cap's soul. That honor is finally (and deservedly) a scheduled event, but it's fair to wonder if Kareem's previous complaints will put a damper on the impending ceremony.

- (20:16): The Lakers loaded their roster this offseason, but with those stars comes the fear of clashing egos. Factor in the Lakers' well-documented history with this problem, and it stands to reason the media is licking its chops in anticipation of an implosion.

Or not.

As part of its "Summer Forecast" series, 100 ESPN.com "experts" (quotation marks added since Brian and I are part of that panel) voted on which team would be most likely to experience turmoil this season. Not surprisingly, the Knicks led the pack with 41 votes. But in what might be considered a minor shock, the Lakers only received two votes. Whether that's because smooth sailing is expected or the talent on hand is simply immune to tension, the results caught BK by surprise.

(And speaking of surprises... Ramon Sessions: Team killer? It feels like one voter considered this a very real danger.

Midsummer update: How many needs have the Lakers filled?

July, 23, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Early last month, I looked at some pressing needs for the Lakers heading into the summer's draft/free-agency period, noting similarities to the list from the summer of 2011. Now the collegians and internationals have all been selected. Players, including most of the significant ones, have flown around the NBA in a flurry of trades and signings. DwightWatch! is in full swing (though reviews indicate viewers believe the plot is moving too slowly for their tastes).

Andrew Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images
Steve Nash didn't solve every problem for the Lakers, but he sure helps in a lot of areas.

There is still business to do and some help remains on the market, but after agreeing to terms with Jordan Hill on a two-year deal on Friday, it's as good a time as any for a progress check for the Lakers. Below are five areas of need faced by the purple and gold entering the summer, as well as thoughts on how they've been addressed.

Fair to say I'm a lot more optimistic about the 2012-13 season than I was before.

1. Outside shooting.

The problem: "[In 2011-12] the Lakers again fell short from the perimeter in the playoffs, hitting only 28.2 percent of their 3-pointers against the Thunder. Disappointing, but unfortunately not far off their 32.6 regular-season mark, meaning nothing about the way L.A. shot against OKC was fluky. Throughout the year, the Lakers had little floor-stretching capability, limiting space inside for their high end post game or lanes for dribble penetration. Help defenders could collapse on the ball whenever it entered the paint, comfortable nobody on the perimeter would make them pay."

The address: The Lakers still could use a classic floor-spreading spot-up shooter -- a Steve Novak type could put up video-game numbers surrounded by L.A.'s Big Four -- but certainly addressed the need with the acquisition of Steve Nash. While his primary value will come in doing point guard stuff, Nash will also be a major weapon on the perimeter. Last year's 39 percent mark from downtown was his worst in more than a decade, but would have pushed for the lead among regularly used Lakers. And while it was Nash's second straight sub-40 percent season, the slippage was more likely because of the decline of the roster around him than his actual shooting skills. Joined now with great post players and an elite wing in Kobe Bryant, there is every reason to expect Nash's percentages to rise back into the 40's.

If so, it's a huge boost to the offense. Plus, Nash's skills at the point should help improve the flagging percentages of his teammates.

The addition of Antawn Jamison brings another potential perimeter weapon (he's averaged no fewer than 4.1 3-point attempts in any of the last three seasons), though not necessarily a deadeye. A career .346 3-point shooter, Jamison has averaged 34.1 to 35.1 percent from downtown in every season since 2008-09. Not bad, but not remarkably efficient either.

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ESPN.com's Marc Stein and Chad Ford report the Lakers are (surprise!) shopping Pau Gasol around the league "in an effort to acquire a top-10 pick in Thursday's draft. The Lakers also are seeking an established player along with the pick if they're to part with Gasol," they write.

No deal is imminent, says the report.

As noted yesterday, while a great young chip might do great stuff for the franchise's future, acquiring a high lottery selection for Gasol while still improving the team for next season is a difficult proposition. In the scenario described above, the "established player" is monumentally important. (Or, if you prefer, the Lakers could try to flip that high pick to another team for a guy more likely to contribute at a high level immediately. One more theory to throw at the wall about 24 hours before the first pick.)

Metta World Peace, they note, is also being shopped aggressively. Good luck with that.

In other news, Stein reports the Clippers are kicking the tires on Lamar Odom, discussing trade options with the Mavericks for the former Sixth Man of Year in scenarios possibly containing a Lakers-related wrinkle. Writes Stein:
"Yet the deal, sources said, could hinge on the willingness of a third team to take on the contract of Clippers veteran guard Mo Williams, which would allow the Dallas Mavericks to send Odom to the Clippers with no significant money coming back to the Mavericks."

One team expressing interest in Williams is the Lakers, who could absorb Williams' $8.5 million salary into the trade exception created by shipping Odom to the Mavs last year. Unlike most trade rumors, this one actually makes sense on a few levels.

For example:

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Four "What ifs?" for the Lakers and the draft

June, 26, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Back in the olden days, when the Lakers were the West's dominant franchise and the CBA didn't exist to stunt the franchise's championship dreams, the NBA draft was fun, but ultimately a night belonging to the league's weaker sisters.

"Look at those teams trying to make themselves better with those little basketball ragamuffins. How adorable!"

The evening made for good copy and sports-radio conversation, but wasn't fundamental to the success of a team like the Lakers. Sure, draftees have value, no doubt, but L.A.'s picks were always lousy anyway, and resources (measured financially and in available roster spots) were better aimed at players more likely to help them win now, not years down the road.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
If these guys want the Lakers back in the first round Thursday, will they find a way?

The Lakers have often been spectators in the draft. In some seasons they've barely been involved at all.

Thursday's edition of the draft sets up as yet another slow night for the purple and gold. Their lone pick is the 60th, the NBA's version of Mr. Irrelevant. But more than any season in recent memory, this year the young talent flying off the board, from the higher-tier guys on down, will seem more a necessity than a luxury.

A first-rounder or two would look awfully nice right about now.

The Lakers are trying hard to keep their Kobe Title Window open as long as possible, but they have major problems with the salary cap and luxury tax, few options available to add quality players in the free-agent market, and limited trade options.

In that context, the draft becomes yet another reminder of the ways in which other teams are improving while the Lakers aren't.

So with that in mind, it's time to play a little draft night "What if."

As in, "What if...

1) "...the Lakers want to trade into the first round?"

Lakers executive VP Jim Buss said recently the Lakers would like to, and if motivated enough they can get it done. Here are three potential options:
  1. Trade. Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum could be part of a package returning a first-rounder. But for a team still in win-now mode, the question isn't how the Lakers get into the opening round, but how to do it and still get better next season. Doing both is tough if Gasol or Bynum heads out the door -- landing a pick likely means the package of seasoned players coming back isn't as strong -- and outside those two, there isn't another player on the Lakers' roster any sane executive would sacrifice a first-round pick to acquire. A trade pushing the Lakers back into Round 1 could certainly benefit the future, but that's a completely different conversation.
  2. Traded Player Exception. A wild card could be the trade exception gained last season in the Lamar Odom deal. They still have it, dusty as it might be getting. As a mechanism used to acquire a first-rounder, it would likely require the Lakers to take back a contract they wouldn't otherwise want. Think Cleveland absorbing Luke Walton as the price of a pick in the Ramon Sessions deal. Would the Lakers do it? Probably not. They're trying to shed payroll, particularly superfluous money paid to players they wouldn't otherwise want. L.A. might take a player on a short contract capable of filling a need next season (especially if it meant getting back into the first round), but that hypothetical player sounds useful. Why would another squad surrender that sort of asset and a pick for a TPE?
  3. Buying a pick. This is the most straightforward option. As ESPN LA's Dave McMenamin reminded me this week, teams can spend up to $3 million to buy a pick. The Lakers used a little of their allotment in the Sessions deal last year, but still have a substantial amount of that money left, and it might be enough to get something done. As a point of reference, the Lakers sold the 29th pick in the '09 draft to New York for $3 million on the nose, meaning a move like this probably nets nothing higher than the 25-30 range, which would mean contractual obligations at least in the neighborhood of $1.8 mil over two years. (Interestingly, many teams value high second-rounders more, because the same caliber player might be available, but wouldn't be locked into a guaranteed deal.)

Bottom line: Dealing their way back into the first 30 picks isn't impossible. It's also not probable, and if it happens, it can't be counted on to yield a player who would step into next season's rotation.

2) "...the Lakers had drafted better in recent years?"

Aside from last year's second-rounders (Andrew Goudelock, Darius Morris), the Lakers had drafted a grand total of two players on the roster -- Devin Ebanks ('10) and Andrew Bynum ('05) -- and acquired a third (Kobe Bryant) in a draft day trade way back in '96. Had they done better work, would the pickle in which the Lakers currently find themselves be as briny?

Probably, because their draft record isn't bad.

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Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

June, 20, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Lakers scion/executive vice president of Player Personnel Jim Buss, continuing a concerted (and badly needed) effort to make himself more accessible to the Lakers-loving public, answered questions for T.J. Simers of the L.A. Times Tuesday.

They covered a fair amount of ground, from Mike Brown to Magic Johnson to Phil Jackson's interview with HBO. But this exchange on the scale of the team's plans in heading into the summer will certainly raise an eyebrow or two and merits a little parsing:
"What are the chances of the Lakers starting the season with [Kobe] Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol all in Lakers uniforms?

"Very good," says Buss.

So you don't agree with those who say the Lakers must turn Gasol into two or three players via a trade?

"No," he says. "I think changes are going to be made moving Pau lower to the basket. We can improve that way with a change in coaching strategy rather than a change in personnel."

No moves?

"We will try to sign [Ramon] Sessions when the rules allow beginning in July," he says. "And improve the bench."

No major free-agent signings, no blockbuster trades?

"No," he says."

Buss goes on to say "From what I'm hearing Kobe [Bryant] is pretty satisfied with this team ... I'm hearing he believes this team kept together can do something."

Following consecutive second round exits, the expectation this offseason is for change, potentially substantial. Buss undercuts that notion, promoting instead what a strategy of bolstering the margins and working with the Bryant/Bynum/Gasol core. If such talk makes you nervous, and judging by the questions queued up in today's chat it might, don't let it. The front office consistently said exactly this sort of thing last season up to the moment they tried to blow up the core in the failed Chris Paul deal.

Early summer in the NBA isn't exactly harvest season for candor.

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Lakers chat transcript

June, 20, 2012
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
Whew! It was an active room today, with plenty of conversation about next week's draft, Ramon Sessions, free agency, and fresh comments from Jim Buss indicating the Lakers might be cool with what they have. So are they?

Click here for the transcript and find out.

Ramon Sessions will become a free agent

June, 19, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
The list of players under contract with the Lakers is a little smaller. As ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin reports, point guard Ramon Sessions , has declined to exercise his player option for next season, worth $4.55 million, and will instead become an unrestricted free agent.

The decision isn't unexpected. Before the playoffs, reports (later denied by Sessions at his exit interview) indicated an inclination to hit the market, and given how he played in the first few weeks after arriving in L.A. it seemed like a good idea. A disappointing postseason in which he shot 37.7 percent from the floor and 16 percent from downtown injected a little uncertainty into the mix, but Sessions clearly believes his market value wasn't badly damaged and that opportunities for a good long term contract are still out there.

Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images
Ramon Sessions will become a free agent, but that doesn't mean his Lakers career is over.

Including one from the Lakers. While he no longer has any contractual ties to the purple and gold, today's news definitely doesn't close the book on Sessions in Los Angeles. Mitch Kupchak repeatedly, including at his exit interview, said the Lakers acquired Sessions with the idea of keeping him, knowing full well he might end up on the open market this summer. Sessions said he wants to come back, too, and because the Lakers have Bird rights on him, they can re-sign Sessions despite being well over the salary cap threshold.

Whether Sessions is a Laker next year seems largely dependent on two big factors:
  • Price. The bottom line is, not surprisingly, the bottom line. They want him back, but the Lakers aren't going to open the vault for Sessions, overpaying by millions just to keep him around. If another franchise decides they badly want into the Ramon Sessions business and is willing to back it up with a big, big check, the Lakers won't stand in their way.
  • Trades. The need for Sessions lessens (rhyme!) if the Lakers trade either Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum for a superior point guard, whether at the elite level (think Deron Williams) or a tick below (a Kyle Lowry type). On the other hand, should the Lakers be unable/unwilling to swing such a deal or decide to address other needs in a swap, the need to retain Sessions increases substantially. Steve Blake is now the only point guard under contract. Darius Morris is a restricted free agent and the Lakers are expected to bring him back, but he's not someone they can count on for big minutes next season. While some fans are definitely down on Sessions, there's no way they can afford anyone as good with a mini mid-level exception. If he goes, the Lakers could once again have a massive hole at point guard, but with fewer assets available to fill it than a year ago.
Not good. The Lakers essentially gave up two first round draft picks plus Derek Fisher, no small consideration for a team short on trade chips, meaning unless they swing a trade making Sessions more an afterthought, there will be significant motivation to find common ground with Team Sessions in the weeks to come.

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The Forum: Ramon Sessions and the Lakers

June, 11, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Ramon Sessions has until June 20 to decide whether to exercise his player option for the final year of his contract or test free agency. Is it in the Lakers' best interests for the point guard to stick around for another campaign? Kevin Arnovitz, Dave McMenamin and I debate the question.video

Chat transcript

June, 6, 2012
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
So many questions about the trade value of "Laker X" or the free agents potentially pursued this offseason. So little time.

Here's the link to the room.

Chat transcript!

May, 30, 2012
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
With Mitch Kupchak having made clear change is on the horizon if humanly possible, there was a lot of chat chatter about possible trade scenarios. Predictably, there were sensible proposals put before us, plus a fair share of nonsense incredibly lopsided in the Lakers' favor.

For a look at the good and the bad, here's the link to the room.

2011-12 Report Card: Ramon Sessions

May, 29, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
Only in the anticipation his arrival would usher in a Technicolor world of fast break awe and pick and roll wonder were there big hopes and expectations for Ramon Sessions in Los Angeles.

Overstatement, sure, but lack of production at the point guard position was unquestionably a millstone hanging off the neck of L.A.'s offense earlier in the season. In previous ones, too, but then the diminished role of point guards in Phil Jackson's offense mitigated some of the issues. In Mike Brown's more traditional, pick-and-roll system the Lakers badly needed a quicker 1 capable of turning the corner, finishing at the rim, and creating shots for others. Improvement was mandatory if the Lakers were to have any chance of a deep playoff run.


What grade would you give Ramon Sessions?


Discuss (Total votes: 6,675)

It was in that context -- a solution to a crippling weakness -- Sessions was acquired, hence the high hopes. Nor was there much time for transition. Following the deadline day deal with Cleveland marking his arrival, the Lakers quickly needed Sessions to translate the production he'd shown in more limited roles on lesser teams into games with much more significance. At the same time, his new teammates would need to learn how to play with a ball dominant point guard (something on which only partial progress was ultimately made).

After kicking things off with a bang, arguably raising the bar to unrealistic levels, Sessions cooled off considerably in the playoffs. Like so much else in the 2011-12 season for the Lakers, Sessions provided good moments and bad, and raised a few questions going forward.


23 games, 30.5 minutes: 12.7 points, 6.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 47.9 FG%, 48.6 3-point %.


Sessions scored 13 seconds into his Lakers career, with a burst of speed that left a palpable buzz in the Staples Center crowd, and it was instantly clear his speed added a dimension the Lakers hadn't seen in a while. His second game with L.A. was significant, when Sessions managed to score 10 points despite missing six of seven shots from the floor because he attacked enough to earn 10 free throws. Before his arrival, it might take three or four games for Lakers PG's to rack up 10 FTA's. In consecutive mid-March games against Dallas and Portland, Sessions hit 13 of 18 shots for 37 points, racked up 20 assists, and eight rebounds. In six games between March 31st and April 7th, Sessions averaged nine dimes per.

Just as important, Sessions, who had posted the best 3-point shooting numbers of his career* in Cleveland this year before the trade, continued punishing teams for ducking under screens and daring him to pull the trigger. He drilled nearly half of his triple attempts with the Lakers.

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Ramon Sessions Exit Interview: Wants to remain with the Lakers

May, 22, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky

Speaking to the media less than 24 hours after what might gently be described as a disastrous performance in L.A.'s Game 5 loss Monday night in Oklahoma City, Ramon Sessions made it clear he wants to stay with the Lakers.

“[I] definitely hope to be here," he said. "Hopefully, everything works out. It's not secret I have a player option that I have coming up, so we’ll just see what happens. It’s nothing I’ve thought about yet. The season’s just [ended], so I’ll just take some time off, reflect and go from there."

As for the organization, Sessions said their message to him was unambiguous. "It was definitely clear leaving the meeting they want me back. It was definitely 100 percent clear."

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8 questions facing the Lakers this offseason

May, 21, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
For the second straight season, the Los Angeles Lakers have been bounced in the second round of the NBA playoffs. Not cause for panic in many markets, but in Los Angeles, where expectations are always stratospheric and Kobe Bryant is far closer to the end than the beginning of his career, it's enough to sound the doomsday horn. The end of a season is (almost) always a disappointing time, but usually comes with a tinge of wait-'til-next-year optimism. To that end, while the goal is not to add insult to Thunder-induced injury, people deserve candor:

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Was Monday's loss the last time Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol take the floor as teammates?

I have no idea how the Lakers quickly return to a championship level.

Not to say I don't know what they need -- the needs are pretty apparent, and not a whole lot different than the ones from last offseason -- just that I don't know how they get it. Change, likely significant, must come, but unfortunately while the Lakers may be rich in the literal sense, as it relates to assets available to reconstruct a team, they're relative paupers:
  • The Lakers lack young prospects not already integral to the team's success, have no quality draft picks, or easily moved talent bringing comparable talent in return.
  • Well over the salary-cap and luxury-tax thresholds, the Lakers have limited tools -- a mini mid-level exemption worth a little more than $3 million, basically -- available in a market thin on quality unrestricted free agents. (Most restricted FA's won't be an option, because L.A. can't offer a contract large enough to dissuade a rights-holding team from matching.)
  • After next season, the CBA's new SuperTax! kicks in, which at current levels could cost the Lakers tens of millions of dollars.

Good players cost money. The Lakers need more of them at a time when the prevailing pressure is to bring payroll down not up, or at the very least have a rock-solid plan to do so in the very near future.

Enjoy the summer, Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss!

Having spent years kicking the can down the road in an effort to build a winner, for which management should be applauded, the box in which the Lakers placed themselves in the process has grown incredibly tight. They're still a good team, but one that just lost to a better team. No shame in that, except the standards in L.A. don't tolerate this sort of thing for very long. Moreover, the Lakers are on the way down, while the competition around them is rising. Oklahoma City is a juggernaut. Memphis, despite the early exit from the postseason, is a team with upside, as are the Clippers. A healthy Denver team is a threat. They're feeling good about the future in Utah, too, and is there any reason to believe San Antonio won't again be awesome next year?

This is the context of what could very well be a transformative, challenging and potentially fascinating offseason.

Here are eight questions facing the Lakers' front office as the summer rolls on ...

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Missing the Lennon and McCartney of basketball

May, 20, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky

Getty Images
Kobe and Pau haven't created the same basketball "music" this season.

"Pau's got to be more assertive. He's the guy out there that we need. When he's getting the ball he's looking to pass. He's got to be aggressive. He's got to shoot the ball. He's got to drive the ball to the basket and he will in the next game ... He's just looking to swing the ball too much, he's just got to shoot it. We played pretty much the same way the entire game. The second half what they did was front Andrew (Bynum), so when they front Andrew and in the fourth quarter they crowd me, the other guys have to be more aggressive, simple as that." - Kobe Bryant

"It's hard to say. Obviously we want the ball in Kobe's hands, but it doesn't necessarily need to be so early in the shot clock. I think it should get there later in the shot clock when the ball has moved and changed sides of the floor. Instead of being there from the beginning and then they kind of collapse and everybody's kind of sitting and it makes it hard for us, sometimes." - Pau Gasol

Above are two very different thoughts expressed by the Lakers' stars when asked about the stagnant fourth quarter offense that, along with simultaneously porous defense, eventually resulted in a blown lead and 3-1 deficit heading to Oklahoma City. Upon hearing these remarks, fans and media are typically inclined to debate "who's right" in an effort to determine which Laker was most "at fault" for the loss. But for me, what was most compelling about these comments was the stark reality exposed.

Kobe and Pau aren't on the same page. At all.

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Lakers vs. Thunder, Game 4 - What to watch

May, 19, 2012
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
The Lakers came up with a crucial win Friday night, and get to try and replicate the victory less than 24 hours later!

We preview Saturday's Game 4, video style.



Nick Young
17.9 1.5 0.7 28.3
ReboundsP. Gasol 9.7
AssistsK. Marshall 8.8
StealsJ. Meeks 1.4
BlocksP. Gasol 1.5