Los Angeles Lakers: Tony Parker

Rapid Reaction: Spurs 91, Lakers 85

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
10:31
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- It wasn't the Los Angeles Lakers-San Antonio Spurs game everyone is accustomed to seeing, with Kobe Bryant (Achilles tendon) and Tim Duncan (chest contusion) both out of the lineup for the first time since November 1996, but the competition was familiar.

The two teams, meeting for the first time since San Antonio swept L.A. out of the playoffs en route to their oh-so-close championship run that ended in a Game 7 Finals loss to Miami, might have had different personnel carrying the load, but the result was typical from the league's two most dominant teams in the last 15 years.

For the Lakers, it was suddenly relying on a guy like Wesley Johnson to spark them in crunch time (he scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth) instead of putting the ball in Bryant's hands.

For the Spurs, it was passing the torch, for a night at least, to the young, talented Kawhi Leonard and having him provide the double-double (15 points, 11 rebounds) instead of Duncan.

But while Mike D'Antoni admitted at Friday's shootaround that he is still in the process of forming the Lakers' identity, the Spurs know exactly who they are and what they do, regardless of missing their future Hall of Famer in the middle.

The Spurs are still a very good team without Duncan -- there's no mistaking that -- but in a lot of ways, Friday's loss was worse for the Lakers than getting blown out in Golden State on Wednesday.

L.A. was rested this time. It was a home game. The Warriors had supposedly provided a wake-up call.

What stings is that the Lakers could have, or maybe even should have, won Friday. They held the Spurs to 91 points on 40.4 percent shooting. They only had 12 turnovers as a team (albeit leading to 18 points). They moved the ball, assisting on 22 of their 30 baskets.

But the execution wasn't there. The Lakers shot just 36.6 percent as a team. They squandered a double-digit advantage. They didn't close it out.

How it happened: L.A. jumped out to a 15-point lead in the second quarter before the Spurs, on the back of Tony Parker (24 points), stormed all the way back to take a two-point lead into the fourth. With the score tied 80-80, it all fell apart for the Lakers. Parker hit a jumper to go up two. Gasol missed one of two free throws when he could have tied it. Then Boris Diaw hit a 3-pointer on Gasol to push the lead to four, which was the closest L.A. would get the rest of the game.

What it means: This Lakers team still has a lot of learning to do. They're in a situation this season where a lot of things have to go right for them to make the playoffs, and the only way that has a chance of happening is if they aren't the ones making the mistakes that cause their own bad fortune.

Hits: Gasol got his numbers (20 points, 11 rebounds).

Jodie Meeks continued his hot start to the season with 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting.

Misses: D'Antoni sat Jordan Hill for the entire first through third quarters, and when the backup big man finally got a chance to play, he responded with five points, four rebounds and one assist in the fourth quarter.

Steve Blake (2-for-12) and Steve Nash (1-for-8) combined to shoot 3-for-20. However, they did dish out 14 assists between them.

Xavier Henry shot 0-for-6 after scoring 18 points per game in the first two games.

Stat of the game: Nine. That is the amount of stitches Henry received in his forehead after suffering a two-inch laceration in the second quarter from what appeared to be awkward contact with Johnson's knee. He was tested for a concussion and deemed asymptomatic, so he was allowed to return to the game with a wrap around his head.

Up next: The Lakers close out their fervent first week with their fourth game in six days when they host the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.

Should 2014-15 be the focus?

May, 10, 2013
5/10/13
10:25
AM PT
By Mark Willard
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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At a certain point, a Band Aid is not sufficient. Sometimes surgery is required in order to fix the bigger problem. The Lakers have applied a series of Band Aids since their title run in 2010.

In 2013-14, they can only do more of the same. But 2014-15 is different.

Most Lakers fans are thinking in terms of bouncing back from this season and its disappointments next year. But they should be thinking about the promise of the year-after-next.

The word patience doesn’t usually go over well in LA. and the Lakers will never ask for it publicly, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it from their fans right now.

Consider what’s inside the free agent store in the summer of 2014. And begin with LeBron James. I don’t know if he would consider Los Angeles, but the Lakers certainly want to be ready in case he does. And all is not lost if the Lakers have that flexibility in 2014 and don’t land the King. Also likely to be available would be Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger, and Luol Deng. Possibly available would be Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Tony Parker and Zach Randolph.

If the organization were to cave to public pressure and press to make big changes during the current offseason, they would risk compromising next summer. It’s not worth it. Mitch Kupchak is certainly capable. Even with the current financial restrictions the Lakers face, Kupchak has pulled off some impressive deals. He did it last year with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Outside of Howard & Nash, the acquisitions the Lakers have given their fans since their last title include names like Theo Ratliff, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono. That excites no one, but maybe this year it should. If the Lakers pull off a deal for Francisco Garcia or Marquise Daniels this summer, that could mean that Kuphcak is protecting 2014.

And that’s exciting.

If the Lakers try to make real moves this offseason . . . and I mean REAL moves, geared toward trying to get back in title contention right away, they risk missing out on the potential of 2014.

And with Kobe Bryant coming off a major injury, there’s little reason to sell out this summer. Their best move might be to bring the same gang back and trim a little salary.

Bryant said in his exit interview that he wants the same group back: “If we can gain something positive from this season it's bringing most of the guys back. (We were) 5 games out of the playoffs and all of the sudden have this incredible run. It does something to the character of the group. To allow that to dissipate, it's a headache.”

He seems to think the same group, if healthy, can win it all. But here's the thing: it doesn’t matter if he’s right.

What matters is what comes after.

Mark Willard is the host of "ESPNLA Now" on ESPNLA 710 in Los Angeles.

Pressure will be a constant

November, 30, 2012
11/30/12
12:10
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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The group that the Los Angeles Lakers’ brass envisions lifting the Larry O’Brien trophy come June has only played five games for its head coach, has yet to play a meaningful game with its Hall of Fame point guard in the lineup and is hovering around .500 as December begins.

That’s the reality for the Lakers.

For the franchise that hangs 16 championship banners from its rafters and employs a payroll close to $100 million, nothing less than a title will be tolerated -- regardless of the reality.

“You can’t be one to make excuses,” Kobe Bryant told me this week.. “You have to figure out how we’re going to get there. Our destination is to win a championship and it’s to get there by any means necessary. So, whatever it is we have to solve, we just have to solve it."

The tight rope the Lakers are teetering on these days makes them have to master the delicate shift between taking care of today while still keeping in mind that the ultimate test is tomorrow.

It has created enormous pressure around every game the Lakers play. A solid win on the road against Dallas is forgotten after a letdown home loss to Indiana. The chart tracking L.A.’s championship stock this season already has more peaks and valleys than John Travolta’s career.

(Read full post)

Lakers vs. Spurs: What to watch

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
10:58
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Well, the Lakers have a new coach in place, but the Bernie Bickerstaff era will not yet go quietly into the night. Happily for those (like me) who enjoy pressers with a hilariously grumpy coach who doesn't hide any disdain for the comical situation he's been put in, Bickerstaff will remain the interim coach for this contest. And while life under Bickerstaff has been fruitful, his double-digit wins have come against the Warriors and Kings, mediocre teams missing several notable names (Andrew Bogut, Brandon Rush, DeMarcus Cousins). The Spurs are far more talented and their roster is fully loaded, which poses a threat to Staples Center's sudden party atmosphere.

For more insight on the Spurs, I conducted an IM conversation with Andrew McNeill from the True Hoop network's 48 Minutes of Hell blog. Below is the transcript.

Andy Kamenetzky: So far, the Spurs have remained, like the Terminator and cockroaches, impossible to kill. How are they making it happen this time around?

Andrew McNeill: A number of things. Good health (so far, fingers crossed). They've got a deep roster that has a number of players who can step up any night. Gary Neal had a career high in scoring against the Blazers on Saturday night, for example. Also, magic.

AK: Just like Gob in "Arrested Development," which reminds me of a brilliant Photoshop sight gag involving Tim Duncan! Speaking of The Big Fundamental, he's putting up some of his best numbers in recent years, and without much of an uptick in minutes. Could this be shaping into a memorable season for Timmy?

AM: It could. I believe pretty strongly his numbers are going to drop off soon, closer to those of last season, mainly because his minutes should drop. But his per-36 minute numbers never change because of Duncan's consistency (and the aforementioned magic). Some have suggested that instead of playing Duncan fewer minutes per game, Gregg Popovich should instead play Duncan heavier minutes and sit him out of more games completely. It's definitely more extreme, but the biggest problem against the Thunder last season was that Duncan couldn't play 40-plus minutes on defense. Once Duncan was out of the game, the Spurs lost their best interior defender.

AK: How do you expect San Antonio's front line to deal with Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard?

AM: There's no question the Spurs have had trouble with Andrew Bynum in the past, and now Howard. Amazingly, though, I think they're a little better equipped with Boris Diaw alongside Duncan. Matt Bonner and DeJuan Blair really struggle with bigger players, but Diaw uses his -- ahem -- frame well. The more minutes Duncan, Diaw and Tiago Splitter occupy at the two big positions, the better the Spurs will be. Pop has played Duncan and Splitter together some in this early season, which isn't something he's done a lot of the past two seasons. He'll never admit it, but it could be with the idea of playing them together against bigger front lines like the Lakers.

So the Lakers now have Mike D'Antoni. Are they really equipped to be playing his style of ball, outside of Steve Nash?

(Read full post)

How the Lakers match up: San Antonio Spurs

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
11:23
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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For the past several seasons, the San Antonio Spurs have served as basketball's version of Jason Voorhees: They cannot be killed. Since about 2008, fans and media (I've been as guilty as anybody) have cited their long teeth, declining athleticism and rising competition as reasons to declare the end of an era. But the Spurs refused to fade into the sunset, having finished consecutive regular seasons with the West's best record. Yes, the ensuing postseasons were anti-climactic, but either way, the message was made clear: The Spurs are still formidable. The Lakers learned that lesson as well as any team last season, losing twice to San Antonio -- home and away, with and without Kobe Bryant -- by 20+ points.


D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
With Howard in L.A., the game just changed between the Lakers and Spurs.



But this off-season it appears the scales have been tilted towards Los Angeles. For some perspective on how the new-look Lakers appear from San Antonio, we talked via email with Tim Varner from the True Hoop network's 48 Minutes of Hell blog.

Land O' Lakers: What was the general reaction in the 48 Minutes of Hell-osphere when word broke that Howard was heading to the Lakers?

Timothy Varner: In general, we recognize that it puts the Spurs behind the Thunder and the Lakers in the West. Even worse, the Nuggets improved themselves as well. The Spurs could be fourth in the West.

LOL: But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln . . .

TV: The worst part about the Howard trade is the Spurs' weaknesses along the front line. The Lakers not only improved themselves, they did so in a way that exploits one of San Antonio's roster deficiencies.

LOL: How much can someone like a (theoretically) improved Tiago Splitter help? And I guess this might actually keep DeJuan Blair in town.

TV: I don't think either player helps, unfortunately. Splitter does not do well against Howard, and Blair will be traded as soon as the Spurs find a good partner. He's an especially awful matchup against Howard and Gasol. Splitter, I should also note, is an expiring contract with good value whom San Antonio may not be able to afford next season. So, somewhat counter-intuitively, Howard could force the Spurs to move Splitter for a roster upgrade at another position.

LOL: On the plus side, nobody will mind if Boris Diaw packs those pounds back on. It might be necessary.

TV: True, but within the Spurs' offense, Diaw is more of a passer for the p-and-r than a post player. So even his re-signing tilts away from bolstering the frontcourt in the sense of matching bodies with bodies.

LOL: That's too bad, because there's always a 50/50 chance Diaw will be wearing a "bro" to begin the season. The weight might as well provide some utility.

TV: I suspect the Spurs understand they can't match Howard and Gasol, so they will look to beat the Lakers in other ways.

LOL: Run them off the court, I assume? Or pick-and-roll them to death? Last season, Manu Ginobli and especially Tony Parker dizzied the Lakers with multiple pick-and-roll sets, often within the same possession.

TV: That's right. Pace and p-and-r are better options for San Antonio than adding more (seemingly useless) bodies to the front court. Look at what the Spurs have done this off-season. They added Nado De Colo, re-signed Patty Mills (high pace point with range) re-signed Danny Green, and concentrated on the development of Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph. Those are all moves with San Antonio's offensive attack in mind, especially as it originates from the back court.

(Read full post)

Lakers at Spurs: What to watch

April, 20, 2012
4/20/12
9:34
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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I had looked forward to these three April games between the Lakers and Spurs with great anticipation. I thought they'd be an instructive gauge of the prospects of a deep playoff run for the Lakers. But the results so far have been anticlimactic. Two games with blowout scores in either direction. And both played without Kobe Bryant.

Tonight, however, might buck this disappointing trend. Kobe's set to hit the hardwood after a seven-game absence, putting both teams at full strength. A win for the Lakers creates even more space between them and the Clippers for the Pacific Division title. And despite apparent indifference toward the one-seed, I imagine the Spurs would enjoy the psychological advantage of two wins over L.A. should these teams meet in the postseason. Stakes are in play, and I expect to see both teams working hard for a win.

To preview this game, I had an IM conversation with Timothy Varner from the True Hoop network's 48 Minutes of Hell blog. Below is the transcript.

Timothy Varner:
During our last chat, the subject was whether the Spurs could contain Andrew Bynum. I think we have to ask whether the Lakers can contain Tony Parker?


Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
No Laker was able to slow Parker when last these teams met.


Andy Kamenetzky: I think the Lakers can do a better job. Obviously, Parker is an elite point guard and a handful for every team. But he can't be allowed to become such a devastating scorer and facilitator. 29 points is okay. 13 assists is okay. Both stats aren't. The Lakers need to do a better job forcing the ball out of Parker's hands. Hard traps, hedges and doubles to make him give up the rock, then defend him so it's harder to get the ball back. Also, Ramon Sessions must attack Parker and hopefully draw more fouls. Parker can't do much damage from the bench.

TV: That sounds like a good strategy, but my worry if I'm Mike Brown is the Spurs' offense does such an excellent job of moving the ball -- hard traps, hedges, and doubles might lead to open three pointers.

AK:Sure. That's the problem facing an opponent as talented and versatile offensively as the Spurs. Everyone will need to help and communicate. In the meantime, the Lakers' offense gains a new wrinkle with the return of Kobe. How do you expect the Spurs to defend 24?

TV: By committee—Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and Stephen Jackson. I'm curious whether Popovich gears his defense more toward Kobe or Bynum?

AK: Were I Pop, Bynum. Not just because Drew's been an exceptionally efficient scorer all season alongside Kobe, but he's also still vulnerable to getting taken out of a game mentally when struggling offensively. When that happens, Bynum's defense can suffer in turn, which hurts the Lakers as a whole. Plus, when you throw the kitchen sink at Drew, he's vulnerable to turning the ball over. And as you may have noticed Tuesday, transition D isn't the Lakers' strong suit.

Kobe sometimes gets caught up in individual battles, and having missed seven games, could work too hard trying to "prove" he's back. But overall, the Lakers live or die with Drew.

TV: I'm also curious what frontcourt the Spurs start. One could make a case for returning to Tiago Splitter, but he and Tim Duncan are not a great pair. Splitter's inability to shoot makes him a better match with Bonner or Diaw. I wouldn't be surprised to see Boris Diaw or Matt Bonner get the start, with Splitter subbing for Duncan.

(Read full post)

Rapid Reaction: San Antonio 112, Lakers 91

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
10:19
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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So last week's blowout of San Antonio showed the Lakers would dominate the Spurs in a seven-game series, right? They've got too much size! Who guards Andrew Bynum?

Or not. Tuesday at Staples, the Spurs returned the favor, waxing the Lakers on their home floor in a game functionally over by halftime. The Lakers had no answers defensively, giving up a hefty 63 points to San Antonio over an opening 24 minutes in which San Antonio shot 63 percent. (This meant no repeat of the 30-rebound game for Bynum. Can't work the glass when the other team doesn't miss.) The lone quarter in which the Spurs were held under 25 was the fourth, likely only because Gregg Popovich dug fairly deep into his bench.

Moral of the story: San Antonio is good, and if these teams meet in the postseason will be a very, very tough out. Obviously things change for L.A. with Kobe Bryant in the lineup, but the Spurs are the real deal. I don't know which Lakers fans thought otherwise, but just in case, San Antonio certainly proved the point.

Here are three takeaways...

1. Do not turn the ball over.

This isn't exactly a new problem, to say the least. L.A. gave up the rock 23 times against Denver Friday and still managed to win. Tonight ... not so much. They were plenty sloppy in the first quarter, with six turnovers creating six points for San Antonio. Fortunately for the Lakers, San Antonio was equally generous, with five turnovers of their own. Both teams deserved more punishment than they got. In the second quarter, however, the Spurs tightened up the ship while the Lakers, whether in some misplaced homage to Southern hospitality or an effort to add just a few more charitable donations to their tax return, just kept giving things away, whether off the dribble or through poorly executed post entry passes.

With 5:25 to play in the half, the game was tied at 41.

From there:

5:00 - Ramon Sessions blocked inside.

4:44 - Turnover (Matt Barnes).

4:08 - Turnover (Steve Blake).

3:05 - Turnover (Blake).

2:37 - Turnover (Pau Gasol).

2:16 - Turnover (Gasol).

Friday night, Denver wasn't able to make them pay. To say San Antonio took advantage is a mild understatement. Tim Duncan's 20-footer at the 1:59 mark gave the Spurs a 16-point lead.

Sixteen points in three minutes. Ballgame.

(Read full post)

SALAIt's been nearly a week since the Lakers put a very unexpected beatdown on the San Antonio Spurs at the AT&T Center without Kobe Bryant. Since then, the Lakers have ripped Mamba-free wins against Denver and Dallas, and are steadily jelling as a well-rounded team in ways not witnessed all season. Of course, this was also a game in which Andrew Bynum grabbed 30 rebounds and the Spurs' Big Three (Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker) combined for 27 points. In other words, more extreme circumstances than reliable outliers in terms of gauging how these teams match up in a series. The Spurs haven't been one of the NBA's best all season by accident. Assuming they play at full strength (always a question mark with Gregg Popovich), I expect a tighter sequel.


D. Clarke Evans/Getty Images
Gobble them boards, Drew!


For some thoughts on Lakers-Spurs Part Deux, I had an IM conversation with Timothy Varner from the True Hoop network's 48 Minutes of Hell blog. Below is the transcript.

Andy Kamenetzky: What was the cause of the Spurs' collapse in the first meeting? From start to finish, they just laid an egg.

Timothy Varner: Those who think the Spurs are legitimate contenders always qualify their confidence by saying, "But they're not great against size." For the most part, I agree, although the Spurs did sweep Memphis this season. I suspect the first game was something of a tempest in a teapot. The Spurs should play better against the Lakers in the postseason. However, I will say this. DeJuan Blair is a major defensive liability. He might assume the unusual distinction of starting the majority of games this season, then find himself outside of the playoff rotation. The Spurs' best big-man rotations feature one of Tim Duncan, Tiago Splitter, or Boris Diaw with ... Matt Bonner. Odd, huh?

So is Bynum capable of playing that way for an entire series?

AK: "Thirty rebounds a night" capable? No. The kid's talented, but a joke's a joke. But dominating a series is absolutely realistic. And it's important Drew makes domination a goal. More than any player on the Lakers, Bynum dictates wins or losses. There was a three- to four-week stretch after the All-Star break when his effort and intensity fluctuated, particularly on defense, and the team suffered. Over the past few games, he's been focused, and the difference is as massive as his frame. Bynum's presence on the boards and in the lane makes or breaks the Lakers.

You mentioned Blair's defensive issues. On the season, the D has been merely acceptable for San Antonio. Given how the Lakers have evolved into a team with an increasingly prolific and varied scoring attack, do you picture S.A. able to slow them?

(Read full post)

The Forum: Lessons learned from the Spurs win

April, 13, 2012
4/13/12
3:59
PM PT
By The Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Few expected the Mamba-less Lakers to destroy a Spurs team at full strength in their house last Wednesday. Are there any instructive takeaways from this surprising turn of events? Along with 710 ESPN host and sideline reporter Dave Shore, we discuss what's real and what's a mirage.

The Forum: Lakers vs. Spurs

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
12:15
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
With today marking the first of three important games against San Antonio, it was only natural we'd get together with Dave McMenamin to break down the matchups. This episode was shot last Thursday, well before Kobe Bryant began missing games with his left shin issue, but the discussion still raised plenty of pertinent thoughts.

Lakers at Spurs: What to watch

April, 11, 2012
4/11/12
9:34
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive


On several occasions, I've described this game as the start of a quasi-playoff series housed inside the regular season. Between today and April 20, the Lakers and Spurs play three times, which creates familiarity and tension while allowing coaches to make adjustments. If not a true postseason vibe, the atmosphere could be similar. In the meantime, these games could be very instructive towards gauging how far the Lakers might travel in the playoffs. The Spurs have quietly (is there any other way for this franchise?) established themselves as one of the NBA's best this season, and recently had an 11-game winning streak snapped by Gregg Popovich's decision to prioritize his star trio's health and energy ahead of the team's record.

Even with Kobe Bryant suited up, this game would represent a mighty challenge. Without him, the task becomes even more difficult, and the takeaways grow potentially fuzzier in the event of a loss. But should the purple and gold pull the upset or even keep the game close, that could equal the Lakers perhaps on more solid footing than the last few weeks might indicate. At the very least, maybe a strong rally as the postseason nears is possible.


Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Ginobli is one of many dudes who can light it up for San Antonio.


For more insight into the Spurs, we sparked up an IM conversation with Andrew McNeill from the True Hoop network's 48 Minutes of Hell blog. Below is a transcript of the conversation.

Andy Kamenetzky: For Lakers fans who haven't seen much of San Antonio this season, why have they been so successful?

Andrew McNeill: The offense is elite. The Spurs are still a great 3-point shooting team, but they can score points in a variety of ways. Against the Jazz Sunday night, the Spurs shot 27% from 3, but still scored 114 points. And the defensive rebounding is bettee. They're still not a great defensive team, but limiting teams to just one shot makes them a little better.

AK: Why hasn't San Antonio been better defensively?

AM: The Spurs still struggle defending the pick-and-roll/pop. While the Spurs are a smart defensive team and rotate better than most, the lack of foot speed from the big man leaves them open to teams with bigs that can knock down 18-footers. However, the post defense has been improved for three reasons: (1) more minutes for Tiago Splitter, (2) the addition of Boris Diaw and (3) Matt Bonner... somehow.

I'm curious, with all the change both teams have undergone since last season, what matchup are you most interested in?

Brian Kamenetzky: With Ramon Sessions, the Lakers have the ability not just to run pick-and-roll effectively, but a guard that must be respected for his penetration and ability to finish at the rim. That means Tony Parker, who previously didn't have much of a role defensively against the Derek Fisher types the Lakers once relied on (namely Derek Fisher), now have real responsibility. The bigs not only have to help and recover, but try and force Sessions higher on the floor to slow his attack. With Gasol's ability to pass, the Lakers have lots of sets to expand P-and-R possibilities.

(Read full post)

Sam Presti used to make mix CDs for Mike Brown

February, 23, 2012
2/23/12
9:12
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti and Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown are both at the top of their profession these days -- Presti running the team with the best record in the Western Conference and Brown guiding one of the league's premiere franchises.

Back in the early aughts when they were both working for the San Antonio Spurs, they weren't quite as established.

Brown was an assistant coach. Presti was an intern right out of college.

Before Presti was charged with putting together players who worked together on a roster for OKC, one of his responsibilities when he was with the Spurs was to put songs that would work together as mix CDs for Brown.

"He used to be into music. I don’t know if he is now, but he used to make me music CDs," Brown said before the Lakers' game against the Thunder on Thursday. "I listen to all types of music. I like the jazz, smooth, mellow type. He turned me on to that a little bit. He’s a good guy."

Presti is actually a pretty good drummer, but his most impressive solo to date didn't involve music. Rather, it was drumming it into the Spurs' organization's head that Tony Parker was the right person to draft with the No. 28 pick in the first round in 2001.

"[Presti] worked extremely hard. You could tell he was bright," Brown said. "He was the one that convinced us to basically draft Tony Parker."

Really?

"We worked him out and he was terrible," Brown remembered of a predraft workout in Chicago that he and current Phoenix Suns GM Lance Blanks ran Parker through. "We walked away as coaches like, ‘Man, we’re wasting our time.’ We told Tony that he needed to develop a medium game because he was quick. He couldn’t really shoot the ball and all he could really do was get to the rim, but against 7-footers that’s going to be hard to do all the time. We were done with him after that and Sam and R.C. [Buford] convinced us to bring him back for a second workout in San Antonio."

(Read full post)

Mike Brown, Gregg Popovich and managing minutes

February, 22, 2012
2/22/12
11:50
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Phil Jackson used to reference Red Holzman all the time, and Mike Brown does the same with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, whose staff he served on from 2000-2003 and who is clearly a major influence.

Still, if there's one place Brown hasn't been able to emulate his former boss, it's in managing minutes. In Portland on Tuesday night, Popovich essentially threw the game, and a streak of 11 wins with it, electing to sit Tim Duncan and Tony Parker (Manu Ginobili is already sidelined) to get his stars genuine rest and "put some money in the bank" for the second half of the season. The Spurs lost by 40, but with his team nearing the end of its long rodeo road trip, Pop, as he's done brilliantly over the last few seasons, took a big-picture approach.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images

Mike Brown has learned a lot from Gregg Popovich, but hasn't emulated him in every way.


Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant enters tonight's game against Dallas averaging 38.2 minutes a night, nearly 4.5 more than last season. And while attributing all of it to his workload isn't totally accurate (L.A.'s lack of coherent offense late in games doesn't help) there's probably some link between the heavy minutes and the fact Bryant shoots about 46 percent in the first three quarters, and 39.7 in the fourth.

Pau Gasol, it's worth noting, is playing a ton as well. Two guys, both over 30, both with real mileage on the tires, playing more than you'd like.

There are real differences between the Lakers and Spurs, no doubt. Most significantly, even after the loss Tuesday, San Antonio is 23-10, 2.5 games behind Oklahoma City for the Western Conference's top seed. As playoff positioning goes, the Spurs are in good shape. The Lakers are currently fifth, but only two games out of ninth. Not much space for wiggle in that room. Popovich also has more useful players at his disposal, allowing him not simply to leave guys in street clothes, but also keep his stars' minutes down game to game. Duncan averages under 30, Parker a hair over 34, Ginobili, working himself into post-injury shape for much of the year, only 21.8.

So it's definitely easier for Pop to rest his guys, but that doesn't mean Brown can't do better. He has talked a lot about reducing Bryant's workload, but thus far hasn't in any significant way. Lack of depth contributes, but so does a certain lack of willingness. The weakness of their bench and offensive punch makes garbage time hard to find, but Brown has options the other way, too. He absolutely could have pulled the plug on Sunday's game in Phoenix -- the first in a stretch of four games in five nights-- after the Lakers fell down by 27, and kept Kobe from playing 40 minutes in what turned out to be a 12-point loss.

Pop almost surely would have.

Sitting his stars, as Popovich did Tuesday, isn't going to be an option for Brown, but he'll face some tough choices over the last 34 games relative to Bryant's minutes in particular. How he balances that is shaping up to be a significant storyline for the Lakers down the stretch and into the postseason.


The 2011 NBA Draft is Thursday afternoon (4 p.m. PT, ESPN). We've spent scads of time taking stock of where the Lakers stand heading into draft day, and now aim to catch up on the rest of the Western Conference.

Today, the Pacific Division...


Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Building around Blake Griffin, a shrewd move or two makes the Clips a challenge for the Lakers in the Pacific.


Los Angeles Lakers

2010-11: 57-25, lost in second round 4-0 (on the odd chance you forgot) to Dallas.

Picks: 41, 46, 56, 58 (Round 2).

Where They Stand: Uncharacteristically uncertain. The Lakers certainly have more questions this offseason than anything faced in the last two. With four second round picks, making significant additions through the draft to a roster still designed to win now is, to say the least, unrealistic. G.M. Mitch Kupchak has said he just hopes to find a player able to stick on the roster. An admirable goal.

As a team, though, the Lakers have plenty of needs, including outside shooting, point guard production, center depth, speed/athleticism, and another shot creator.

Projections (Round 2): Chad Ford, ESPN.com (Insider required)- Nolan Smith (SG, Duke), Malcolm Thomas (PF, San Diego State), DeAndre Liggins (SG, Kentucky), Julyan Stone (SG, UTEP). DraftExpress- Shelvin Mack (PG, Butler), Jordan Williams (C, Maryland), Jereme Richmond (SF, Illinois), Greg Smith (C, Fresno State).


Phoenix Suns

2011-12: 40-42, missed playoffs

Picks: 13 (Round 1).

PODCAST
Andy and Brian talk with David Thorpe (ESPN.com's Scout's Inc.) about what the Lakers can do in the second round of the draft. Plus, a look at the hot rumor (Pau for Kevin Love/#2 pick) and the vocal stylings of Dirk Nowitzki


Podcast Listen
Where They Stand: Limbo. A surprising run to the Western Conference Finals two seasons ago faded from memory this year, as the Suns finished below .500 and in the lottery. Steve Nash is entering the final year of his contract, while Grant Hill is a free agent. At 34 years old, Vince Carter, acquired in December's big deal with Orlando, is a shell of the shell of himself, and reportedly will be bought out.

The supporting cast has some quality in it. Marcin Gortat was a major score in the Orlando trade, quickly overtaking Robin Lopez in the starting lineup and becoming one of the most productive centers in the NBA. Channing Frye didn't quite meet his lofty shooting stats of 2009-10, but still hit nearly 40 percent of his triples. Plenty of teams would love to have a guy like Jared Dudley.

Role players, though, won't be enough to again lift the Suns to the elite. They need serious help on the glass, landing near the bottom of the league in rebounding on both sides of the floor. Where in previous seasons the Suns were bad more by reputation than actual output defensively, this season they were genuinely lacking, finishing 25th in efficiency. Contrary to their reputation, with a hole at shooting guard and a decision to make on Aaron Brooks, the Suns could find themselves in need of scoring, as well. Certainly an upgrade at the two is required.

Projections: Ford- Tristan Thompson (PF, Texas). DraftExpress- Thompson.


(Read full post)

Pre-Draft status updates: Southwest Division

June, 21, 2011
6/21/11
8:33
AM PT
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The 2011 NBA Draft is Thursday afternoon (4 p.m. PT, ESPN). We've spent scads of time taking stock of where the Lakers stand heading into draft day, and now aim to catch up on the rest of the Western Conference.

Today, the Southwest Division...

San Antonio Spurs

2010-2011: 61-21, lost in the first round to the Memphis Grizzlies 4-2

Picks: 29, Round 1. 59, Round 2.


Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Manu Ginobili will once again lead the Manu/Timmeh/(probably) Parker core, but to say the clock is ticking is an understatement.


Where They Stand: At the tail end of an era. It was a strange year for the Spurs, who remained remarkably healthy for most of the season, earned the best record in the Western Conference, then saw Manu Ginobili hurt himself at the worst possible time and lost in the first round to a Memphis team showing oodles of potential. Now the Spurs have one more year with Tim Duncan under contract and two more seasons with Ginobili to go with Tony Parker for their Big Three. I suspect the trio will make at least one more run together, and as the 61 wins from this season attest, it's still a very competitive core. Add in solid role players like Gary Neal, George Hill, DeJuan Blair and Tiago Splitter, and the Spurs have every reason to give it one more go.

In terms of significant pieces likely gone for next season, the only big name is Antonio McDyess, likely retiring after a distinguished 16-year career. Whether he shelves the sneaks or not, the Spurs need some size to bolster the frontcourt and prevent Duncan from being overtaxed. Explosiveness on the wings wouldn't hurt, either, because Richard Jefferson essentially became a spot-up shooter last year, with nearly half of his shots coming from beyond the arc. Parker and Ginobili still attack the rack, but one more guy would take a lot of pressure off a core needing every break it can get.

A little defensive help would be a nice touch, too.

Projections (Round 1): Chad Ford, ESPN.com (Insider Required)- Davis Bertans (SF, Latvia). DraftExpress- Nikola Mirotic (PF, Montenegro)

--Brian Kamenetzky

Dallas Mavericks

2010-2011: 57-25, won the 2011 NBA championship

Picks: 26, Round 1. 57, Round 2.

Where they stand: With bigger fish to fry than the draft. Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, and DeShawn Stevenson all could depart after playing critical roles in capturing the franchise's first title, and Caron Butler, their second best player before a season ending injury, is a free agent as well. The Mavs outlasted the field in part because of their superior depth, thus their bid to repeat depends in large part on retaining as many useful players as possible to surround their lone superstar (Dirk Nowitzki, for the benefit of the thick).

PODCAST
Andy and Brian talk with David Thorpe (ESPN.com's Scout's Inc.) about what the Lakers can do in the second round of the draft. Plus, a look at the hot rumor (Pau for Kevin Love/#2 pick) and the vocal stylings of Dirk Nowitzki
Podcast Listen
Still, there are needs beyond maintaining continuity. With Roddy Beaubois an unproven commodity, covering their bases with another point guard wouldn't be the worst idea. Shawn Marion will need a backup if Butler isn't re-signed. And while Jason Kidd isn't quite ready yet to drive a Rascal, every year spent counting on a player pushing 40 carries inherent risk. Equally risky is penciling in a shrimp like Barea as a 30-40 mpg lead guard of the future. Again, factors pointing to bolstering the backcourt.

But really, given the team's collective age, prospects at any position are justifiable, particularly since the likelihood of finding a player able to help immediately from their draft position is unlikely.

Projections: Chad Ford - Josh Selby (PG, Kansas), Draft Express- Justin Harper (PF, Richmond)

--Andy Kamenetzky

(Read full post)

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