Los Angeles Lakers: center
"It wasn't a sigh of relief for me," Brown said of the win. "It was a thing to help us continue to believe. Our guys were determined. I told them going into this that it wouldn't be easy and that it's a process. I told them we'll get bumped in the head a few times. I told them they had to handle the adversity they face the right way and it'll make us stronger later. It might make it tough what we go through now. But it will make us stronger in a seven-game series and we drop two in a row.
“Our resolve was great to see. More than anything else, it helps this group continue to believe that what we're doing is right for us."
Speaking of adversity, for the immediate future the Lakers will have to find ways to win without Steve Nash at the helm. Steve Blake and Darius Morris obviously can't hold a candle to the two-time MVP at peak efficiency, but the two have held down the fort reasonably well with Canada's favorite son sidelined. Brown expressed plenty of confidence in the duo, particularly since he wants to keep the goals simple.
"The guys we're playing now, in Blake and Morris, have some of the best feet in the league at that spot," Brown said. "They're going to have to get up and work the ball. Not to get steals but to take time off the clock and try to disjoint our opponent a little bit. Those guys did that perfectly last night. They brought the ball up the floor and didn't turn it over and did their job defensively.
"Offensively, the biggest thing is to keep us organized. If at all possible, we need low turnover numbers from those guys. We need them to be able to keep us organized. Both Blake and Morris did a fantastic job with that. Morris being a young guy and not playing much, he had a possession out there where he pushed the ball and the floor balance wasn't there. He brought the ball back out and put his hand out, like this, to calm everyone down. He got us into our offense and got a great look after moving the ball. Stuff like that has to be a big thing for the point guards."
Strangely, nobody beyond me and BK (who you can hear giggling in the video below), seemed to recognize the hilarious awkwardness unfolding. I mean, asking Pau if he could picture Sacre helping the team with the kid not even six inches away is essentially a Saturday Night Live skit. Upon Pau affirming Sacre's ability to help, Brian then asked if he would answer the question differently were the rookie not within earshot. Everyone laughed, the players shared a few yuks over the absurdity of the situation ... then Pau was immediately offered another question about Sacre.
Occasionally, an NBA locker room emerges a goldmine of unintentional comedy.
Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace each logged approximately 30 minutes, Jamison was on the court for just under 28 and Steve Nash played a little more than 25. To some degree, this was the byproduct of Kobe Bryant (who should play on Saturday against Utah), Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill all donning street clothes. But as he explained the next day, it was also part of coach Mike Brown's master plan to get his core players properly conditioned.
"I was just trying to increase some of the guys, let them get some work on their conditioning," Brown said. "Basically, it was a bump up in their minutes from the first game, and it'll probably stay like that for a couple of games."
After Tuesday's game, Brown noted that Gasol in particular was "working into game shape," so I asked if the forward's conditioning to this point was beneath expectations. As Brown explained, the issue wasn't Gasol being out of shape, but actually worn down a bit from too much exertion. Last season featured heavy minutes, Gasol played this summer with Spain's national team and training camp has already featured some tough practices. That wear and tear may be catching up to him, but the only way to get through it is ultimately by forcing Gasol to push through.
"You gotta understand that a guy like Pau, a guy like Kobe, those guys have played some heavy minutes this summer and they've practiced quite a bit," Brown said. "So it's gonna take them a little while to get back to form, even though they're in great shape. Not only that, I've been practicing these guys pretty long and pretty hard, so these guys have to continue to try to get minutes to slowly to build up to where they would be again.
"If I make it uncomfortable for them now, hopefully, later in the year, that uncomfortable feeling that they're getting from me right now won't ever come up again because they've been through stuff like that."
Whatever goals not reached during training camp can always be met as the season progresses. Eighty-two games and nearly six months is a loooooong time to work out the kinks before the playoffs. But injuries are the one element that can't be completely controlled, through even the most diligent human effort. When the body decides not to cooperate, that's a problem, and one that can potentially persist throughout an entire campaign.
Especially when you're talking back injuries.
Thus, news that Jordan Hill was diagnosed Monday with a herniated disc (L5, S1) is a bit unsettling. Presumably, the injury took place during Sunday's preseason loss, during which the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding tweeted that Hill spent time on the sideline with a pad on his back and in consultation with trainer Gary Vitti.
The forward will be re-evaluated in a week.
Obviously, treating this as an unbeatable setback for the championship quest would be premature. We have no idea of the severity of Hill's condition. But, in theory, it could be problematic.
Back issues are often recurrent, and what sets them off can be hard to predict. Just ask Luke Walton, whose last few years in L.A. were beset with back problems. Say what you want about Luke or his contract -- and most Lakers fans have -- but the guy worked hard in his failed efforts to rediscover the form of a merely solid role player. Hill obviously possesses more athleticism on his worst day than Walton on his best, but his game also relies quite a bit on that athleticism. Were Hill's back unstable throughout the season, his effectiveness would likely suffer.
In the meantime, that's now two Lakers big men tackling back issues. But part of the reason Dwight Howard's potential absence to start the season didn't feel so daunting is in part Hill's ability to help hold down the fort. With both sidelined for games, the Lakers big men now consist of Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison (who may be slated to play more small forward in Mike Brown's perfect world), the very raw Earl Clark and a bunch of dudes with non-guaranteed contracts and no NBA track record. Depending on Hill's diagnosis, perhaps the Lakers will make a run at a Kenyon Martin-type (an unsigned veteran), if not the genuine article. But whoever they'd land on the open market wouldn't likely be as effective (nor as young) as a healthy Hill.
Fingers crossed, the injury won't prove serious and Jordan can return to the court in reasonably quick time.
Obviously, a grain of salt should be applied to what's barely a minute of workout footage. But to my eye, that Dwight Howard is currently recovering from back surgery doesn't stand out in flashing neon lights. That's not to say Howard is clearly ready to hit the court and destroy. Even hinting this would be speculative and irresponsible. I have no idea how directly these snippets translate to Howard competing against actual NBA competition during an actual NBA game, but there's no denying he looks fairly spry for someone who went under the knife in April. His movements are fluid. His step and jump hooks contain bounce. He's able to handle some degree of pressure to his back in the form of Lakers assistant coach Darvin Ham's forearms. All welcome sights for a Lakers fan's eyes.
Plus, his celebratory handshake with video coordinator J.J. Outlaw is totally on point. And isn't that what really matters most?
Again, I'm not treating this as a sign Howard will suit up come Oct. 30 or maybe even several games afterward. As Trudell notes, "The team continues to stress that no timetable has been determined for Howard's return, but allowed that there have been no set backs to this point in his rehabilitation." In other words, caution is being exercised, just as it should be. Howard has repeatedly insisted on returning when he's 100 percent, whenever that may be. For the short- and long-term interests of this franchise, it's the right call, and I hope he never changes course.
But just as important, the Lakers are reporting no setbacks, and based on this video, the center in fact appears to be chugging steadily forward.
Game 1 against Denver demonstrated how dominant Bynum can be.
I ended up with a C.
When I confronted my teacher, she reminded me that attendance counted toward our grade, and that crushed me. I insisted that shouldn't have mattered, since I still aced the work. As I further explained, I actually did her a favor by ditching classes, since she could focus her attention on kids who needed more help. She then told me to leave her office and never bother her again.
The lesson? In life, you're often held accountable not just for the final result, but for responsibilities accepted or shirked along the way.
Andrew Bynum's season reminded me of my beginner-level German experience. If you gauge Drew's year purely on the results, it was obviously a fine campaign. Between his stats, his ability to drastically impact games like few players can, and his inherent talent, 2012 was a coming-out party for the emerging star. He firmly established himself as the second-best center in the league behind Dwight Howard, and on some days, it felt reasonable to argue that he'd reached Superman's level. There are still problem areas, such as negotiating double-teams and improved pick-and-roll defense, but on the whole, Bynum's talent is the least of his problems. Along with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, a huge burden of production was placed on Drew's shoulders, and he held up his end of the bargain.
What does raise red flags, however, are the issues born between his ears. A sometimes sour, moody attitude that reeked of entitlement. The inability/unwillingness to consistently engage himself when he didn't get enough touches (or sometimes even when the touches came, but shots refused to fall). The lack of accountability toward the tremendous sway he held over games, and the consequences for not maximizing that effect. Drew often seemed to operate with an egocentric rather than team-centric agenda, and those instances sometimes hurt the Lakers.
Still, in more games than not, Bynum played well. Like the season itself, he's an enigma, which makes everything tricky to evaluate.
It's been a nice stretch of games for Bynum.
But even during this stretch of greatness -- at times, utter brilliance and dominance -- there were still flaws exposed. Namely, the propensity for turnovers. Drew averaged four per contest, and in Sunday's loss against Utah, he turned that ball over that many times in the first quarter alone. Largely, the issue is dealing with double and sometimes even triple teams, which Bynum now commands on a regular basis. At times, there's a terrific reaction, whether passing the ball out or timing a move to the basket for a score or a foul drawn. Others, especially when he's along the baseline, trouble (or a travel) ensues. This issue remains a work in progress for the young center, and in cases like yesterday's debacle, can lend a hand in creating a loss. On a team vulnerable to excessive and detrimental turnovers as it is, Bynum's learning curve can feel even more steep.
I don't mention this to rain on Drew's parade or accomplishments, but rather to illustrate how much he can -- and continues to -- grow. He's already been a very good player, when healthy, over the last few seasons. But in his first season as an All-Star, Drew is looking to take that step towards being a player universally regarded as elite. Mastering double teams is a step in need of taking, and he's moving in the right direction. As Mike Brown often likes to remind us, even Tim Duncan, who he coached during his early seasons in San Antonio, experienced the same struggles mastering the art of evading multiple defenders.
Does Bynum carry the same potential for excellence as The Big Fundamental (his idol, no less), regarded by many as the greatest power forward of all time? Obviously, that's a long way from being settled one way or the other. But at the very least, opponents are forcing Drew to answer the question by sending waves of defenders in his direction. They wouldn't bother if he wasn't doing something right.
"The beasts are now gone, the Goliaths are now gone, so that leaves Dwight Howard out there by himself. So if he doesn't win two or three championships, I'll be very disappointed, because he has no competition out there now. None. Zero."
Well, if you buy the long-standing rumors about Andrew Bynum being "untouchable", that's news to Jim Buss.
Obviously, Shaq may have been erring on the side of hyperbole while making a specific point about Howard, undoubtedly the NBA's best center and a player with whom he's shared a testy relationship. Then again, he may just think there ain't much doing at the 5 these days in the NBA beyond the "other" Superman. In any event, whether or not you agree with Shaq's omission of Drew, those comments do underscore a certain reality: The competition behind Howard is in fact pretty thin.
Bynum may never pass Howard as the preeminent big in the league, but nobody is standing in his way from automatic mention as a close 1a.
Tyson Chandler is an outstanding complementary player, but a complementary player nonetheless. I think Nene is among the more underrated players in the NBA, but you wouldn't build around him. Ditto Andrew Bogut, who's struggled lately to stay healthy. Joakim Noah is a fantastic defender and a beast on the glass, but his offensive game is limited. Brook Lopez is the bizarro-Noah. Chris Kaman is perennially injured. Al Horford is terrific, but undersized as a center. Marc Gasol is rapidly improving and tough as nails, but still not even the best big man on his own team. Emeka Okafor is the dictionary definition of "solid but unspectacular." Marcin Gortat has yet to play an entire season as a starter. Andrea Bargnani will put up 20 while allowing 40. DeMarcus Cousins is talented, but raw and immature.
That's more or less everyone, right?
With Shaq and Yao gone, the stage is set for Bynum to come into a brand new form of credibility. This is about more than making his first All-Star team, which should be a given now that Yao's no longer around. By default, Drew should get the nod as the best remaining center on the highest profile team. It's also about more than his talent, which is obviously high.
What I'm talking about is Bynum's profile, which still remains as much as about being a Laker as his individual skills. As it stands, Drew is undoubtedly -- and rightfully -- viewed as one of the best big men in the league, but I don't quite feel he truly has a persona yet. An identity. And the time is certainly ripe for this particular sea change.
Of course, between the seemingly inevitable injuries, the need to reach yet another level and a potentially brewing push and pull between him and Kobe Bryant, the jump may not be so simple. Still, if next season did end without Shaq either revising his statement or looking painfully foolish for clinging to his original words, it would be nonetheless disappointing on some level.
Andrew Bynum definitely has the
talent to be an All-Star...
Our panel: Andy and Brian Kamenetzky (ESPNLA.com Land O'Lakers Blog), Elliott Teaford (L.A. Daily News), Kevin Ding (O.C. Register), Kevin Arnovitz (ESPN TrueHoop), Eric Pincus (Hoopsworld), Chris Clark (Silver Screen and Roll), J.A. Adande (ESPN.com), Darius Soriano (Forum Blue and Gold), Kurt Helin (ProBasketballTalk.com), Mark Medina (L.A. Times.com), Arash Markazi (ESPNLA.com), and Dave McMenamin (ESPNLA.com)
Will this be the year Andrew Bynum makes the All-Star team?
My take: Tough call. Amare Stoudemire migrated east, but Yao Ming, armed with a country of voters, should be healthy again. While Drew is definitely among the conference's best reserve candidates, Marc Gasol, Al Jefferson, Chris Kaman, and Nene could present viable challenges. (Pau, Timmy, Dirk, 'Melo, and Durant are all locks as forwards, so there probably isn't room for two backup fives.) Bynum also needs to stay healthy and look more consistently comfortable alongside El Spaniard. Gun to my head, he gets the nod, but it's not a given.
Look at Old Man Ratliff get up there!
Role For The Lakers In 2010-2011
It's not easy being a third string player on a championship team. You work very hard, but the payoff rarely arrives in tangible form. You're told to remain mentally ready, but the odds favor remaining physically stagnant. You don't have to like sparse playing time (nor should you, really), but you have to accept it.
From mid-2008 through 2010, D.J. Mbenga played this role at center for the Lakers. On the whole, he did an admirable job staying focused, working hard for little acclaim and performing well when called up upon. But over the course of last season, the job constraints began to wear on Mbenga, who felt he could be on the floor more often. During the Finals against Boston, Phil Jackson noted how Josh Powell (another third stringer) remained sharp during these long stints without PT, but Mbenga had allowed his mind to wander. Not so coincidentally, Adam Morrison was suddenly activated for a game in favor of D.J., despite Andrew Bynum's balky knee and Ammo's last bit of run coming in approximately 1997. A message was clearly sent. It may very well have been received, but during his exit interview, Mbenga reiterated his desire to get more run, making a split feel even more imminent.
It could be argued Mbenga has an inflated sense of skill. During the sporadic occasions of extended run, the returns were mixed and often increasingly diminished the longer he remained on the court. He also remains unsigned, and a landing spot is hard to predict. Nonetheless, D.J.'s desire to grow as a player is understandable and admirable. Unfortunately, it doesn't mesh with what is needed.
Enter Theo Ratliff, who strikes me as the best of both worlds in this setup.
Either way, he is a veteran presence with a defensive mindset and a terrific locker room rep. You can never have enough of those dudes around. Last Friday, Ratliff spoke with the media about the upcoming season and the years leading up to it: Among the talking points:
- Ratliff is excited to be in a position where "championship" can be added to a long, fruitful, yet jewelry-free NBA resume. He understands the value of his services, but it's nonetheless pretty flattering when the top dogs extend an invite. "To be wanted by a team that's won a championship two years in a row is a great feeling," smiled Ratliff. Beyond the "rush" the big man still gets from hitting the hardwood, the quest for a title is what has kept him going this long.
"All the things I've been through, as far as the injuries, all of the workouts and the rehab I've done, it's always been to get to the point where I can win a championship."
-Ratliff's next season will feature a new uni, but his responsibilities remain the same as always: Plugging the middle. Rebounding. Altering shots. Being "tenacious" and a "defensive stopper" while protecting the purple and gold cup.
Should Chris Kaman get an invite to Dallas?
In particular, as a center. And really in particular, over Pau Gasol.
On the heels of the announcement for the All-Star starters, Chris Kaman, omitted from the ballot altogether in what ultimately proved a glaring mistake, was asked if he'd be upset if El Spaniard, currently fourth among Western Conference forwards, was named a reserve via the "slide over to center" treatment. As NBA Fanhouse's Chris Tomasson reports, nary a bush was beaten around with Kaman's response:
- "I don't think Gasol should be in it at all,'' Kaman said when asked if he would be disappointed if Gasol, who starts at power forward for the Lakers, is slid over to be the backup center when West coaches vote for All-Star reserves. "He's only played like 20 games (he played Thursday in his 25th out of 42 Lakers games) this year. I think there should be a number of games you should play. I think you should have to play like 80 percent of the games.
"It shouldn't be 50 percent (of games a player has logged) over a guy who plays 90 percent and who has better numbers. Not just me. Zach Randolph, a power forward, he has better numbers (than Gasol). But he's not on the Lakers.''