Los Angeles Lakers: Derek Fisher
The Lakers' faithful have had close to three months to digest the news that Phil Jackson won't be coming back through their door for a third stint coaching the team, but seeing Derek Fisher become the 26th head coach in Knicks history -- rather than the 25th head coach in Lakers history -- surely had to open up old wounds.
Fisher said otherwise. According to the freshly retired, 18-year veteran, the Lakers indeed expressed interest in him, but he told them he was already so far down the road with Jackson and the Knicks that they shouldn't bother with exploratory talks unless they were ready to talk serious business.
"I was surprised, as some of you were, that they made the announcement they made that they wouldn't pursue me," Fisher said during his introductory news conference. "I don't think they ever intended to. That's fine. I respect it. I never thought of that or tried to compare the two opportunities. This was an opportunity that spoke to me right away. I was excited about that from the beginning."
Whether the Lakers really believe they are better off with a more experienced coach or they were merely saving face to avoid it looking like their former player spurned them for the same guy they had spurned in November 2012 (in Jackson) can be debated.
It is certainly better for the Lakers to make a blanket statement and say they aren't interested in current college coaches or candidates with no head coaching experience in the league than to have the narrative be that a bunch of the guys they had initially targeted -- Fisher, Connecticut's Kevin Ollie, Kentucky's John Calipari, Southern Methodist's Larry Brown, former Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Quin Snyder -- all chose to be somewhere other than with the Lakers moving forward.
Ollie and Calipari both inked lucrative deals to stay with their schools -- five years, $14 million for Ollie and seven years, $52 million for Calipari. This after Calipari turned down a Godfather-type deal from Cleveland that would have netted him close to $80 million over 10 years, according to ESPN.com's Marc Stein. Brown told USA Today Sports that he wasn't interested in L.A. because his goal is to capture another NCAA national championship to pair with the one he won with Kansas in 1988. And Snyder, who was previously a Lakers assistant under Mike Brown, was hired to coach the Utah Jazz last week.
Now Fisher moves on to another phase of his basketball career, becoming a head coach, and Knicks fans hope he can work a similar type of magic. The Knicks haven’t won an NBA title since 1973, the seventh-longest drought among current NBA teams.
What’s to know about Fisher from a statistical perspective?
Start with this, since his rookie season of 1996-1997, he’s won 161 playoff games, the most of any player in NBA history (as are his 259 playoff games). The Knicks have won 40 playoff games (and no titles) in that same span.
The Elias Sports Bureau notes that Fisher is the fifth head coach who became a coach in the first season following his final appearance as a player, since the NBA and ABA merged prior to the 1976-77 season.
The other four- Paul Silas, Mike Dunleavy, Avery Johnson and Jason Kidd, were a combined 154-110 in that first season.
Fisher got the same deal that Steve Kerr, who was reportedly the Knicks first choice, got from the Golden State Warriors, five years and $25 million.
Fisher played for nine years under Phil Jackson, who will be his boss in New York (compared to Kerr’s five) and won five championships with him (to Kerr’s three).
Jackson’s former assistants and players have yet to have the sort of success as a head coach that they had working with him. Brian Shaw, Bill Cartwright, Jim Cleamons and Kurt Rambis are a combined 147-348 as full-time head coaches (non-interim stints).
The Los Angeles Lakers are in the market to hire the 25th head coach in franchise history, and now, several weeks after the job became available, it seems as if there are 25 candidates to fill the position.
The Lakers have still not reached out to any of the names they are considering, according to a team source familiar with the coaching search. They are expected to commence a preliminary round of phone interviews soon, but will not schedule any sit-down sessions until later in the month.
As the clock keeps ticking since Mike D’Antoni resigned April 30, three pertinent questions spring to mind:
1. What should the Lakers be looking for in their next coach?
2. Who are the Lakers considering?
3. What is taking so long?
We’ll start in reverse order.
While it’s natural to assume the Lakers should have a sense of urgency about finding their coach -- particularly as other jobs open up around the league (Golden State, New York, Utah, Minnesota and, presumably, Detroit) -- the Lakers are in something resembling a high-stakes game of Texas hold ‘em.
They know what cards they’re holding: two aging future Hall of Famers in Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash under contract for close to $34 million for next season; a significant chunk of cap space beyond that; and, of course, the intangible asset of calling Southern California home -- plus a prestigious résumé as one of the most storied franchises in the league.
The draft lottery
What they’re waiting for is the flop. In this case, the information that will determine how they play their hand will come May 20, when the NBA conducts the draft lottery in Times Square.
The Lakers’ 27-55 record was sixth worst in the league this season, thus giving them a 43.9 percent chance of ending up with the No. 6 pick. But in the lottery system, it’s a crapshoot. The Lakers have a 6.3 percent chance of ending up with the No. 1 pick and a 21.5 percent chance of ending up in the top three. Then again, they have a 34.6 percent chance of picking somewhere in the Nos. 7-9 range, worse than their finishing slot.
In a New York minute, everything can change, as they say. The Lakers are hoping for a little luck on their side when they send the last No. 1 overall pick in team history, James Worthy, to New York to represent them for the night.
Whichever draft tier they ultimately find themselves in -- picks Nos. 1-3, standing pat at No. 6 (they are ineligible to move up to 4-5 in the current system) or falling to 7-9 -- could lead the franchise in drastically different directions on its coaching quest.
Let’s say they luck out and catapult into the top three. The Lakers will find themselves in a win-win situation. On one side of this coin, they believe that one of the top prospects -- Joel Embiid, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, etc. -- will be an immediate franchise-changer, a player they can bring into the program to learn from Bryant for a couple of seasons before he takes the reins alongside whichever max-level free agent they bring in over the next two summers. On the other, they find another team that believes there is transformative talent available at the top of this draft and trade the pick.
Both are enviable positions for the Lakers to find themselves in, but they are the starting points for vastly divergent paths. If they use their top pick on a player they think can lead the team for years, then the coaching hire will surely be expected to cater to that prospect’s strengths as his top priority. While the sun and moon in the Lakers’ universe have revolved around Bryant for nearly the past two decades, developing that young player would suddenly become an even more important task for the franchise than protecting Bryant’s legacy as he plays out the final two years of his contract for $48.5 million.
If the Lakers trade the pick for an established veteran such as Minnesota’s Kevin Love, for instance, it puts the franchise on a totally different trajectory. Suddenly, by pairing Bryant with another star in his prime, the Lakers are theoretically back to being a factor right away, even in the stacked Western Conference.
Let’s say the pick ends up being worse than they were hoping for, in the Nos. 7-9 range. Maybe they fall in love with a prospect and take him at that spot, but maybe the pick is expendable. And while a selection that late in the draft surely wouldn’t be enough to land a vet like Love, it might be enough to convince the Chicago Bulls to let Tom Thibodeau out of his contract to coach the Lakers.
The opt-out options
If the draft lotto is the flop, then seeing which players choose to opt out of their current contracts and test free agency come July 1 represents the turn in this big poker game.
Why hire a coach in June if it develops come July that LeBron James is looking to leave Miami? Why commit prematurely to a coach -- and, subsequently, a certain style of play -- and potentially shut yourself out from consideration by James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and others when it comes time to decide on their futures?
That's another major variable the Lakers are weighing. When it comes to landing a marquee free agent, you want any edge you can garner over the other teams competing for his services. The Lakers could be in a position where they can tell James or whomever else they target, “Not only do we want you, but we want you so much we’ll let you help pick who is going to be your coach.” For some players, that could be a major incentive.
With all that in mind, it should offer some clarity as to why the Lakers’ candidate pool is so deep at this point.
They have different coaches in mind who would be specific fits for every different direction they could end up heading in.
If they are going to be a rebuilding team, why not take a chance on a younger coach who can grow with those young players? It worked in Phoenix this season with first-time head coach Jeff Hornacek. Why not hire Kevin Ollie, fresh off taking Connecticut to a surprise NCAA title, to lead that transition and cut his teeth in the league without the pressure to win every night? Or maybe Atlanta Hawks assistant coach Quin Snyder becomes that guy. Or Derek Fisher should he retire from playing after the Oklahoma City Thunder finish their current playoff run.
Veteran coaches who are looking for work, like Lionel Hollins, George Karl and Mike Dunleavy, have all expressed interest, but they are at points where they have little leverage. They would take the Lakers job whether they end up with the No. 1 pick or the No. 9 pick; whether Los Angeles signed a big-name free agent or held onto its cap space for the summer of 2015; whether Nash and Bryant were healthy or they were going to continue to struggle with injuries.
But making moves to become a more veteran-laden squad could coax Jeff Van Gundy or Stan Van Gundy to leave their broadcast jobs. Equipping their team to be competitive right away next season could get Thibodeau to tell Chicago to listen to the Lakers’ pitch. Bringing in guys who already know how to win could convince Mark Jackson to come on board. Going that route could get John Calipari to consider leaving his ready-made gig at Kentucky. It might even get Steve Kerr, who seems to have his pick between the Knicks and the Warriors at the moment, to want to don the purple and gold.
All of the names mentioned above have surely already been bandied about by the Lakers’ front office. Throw in Byron Scott, Kurt Rambis, Ettore Messina, Roy Williams and Larry Brown. There are others, undoubtedly.
The Lakers just don’t have enough information at this point to start eliminating any, nor do they really have enough to rank names properly, either.
Which brings us back to the first question: What should the Lakers be looking for in their next head coach?
There are three job requirements that he must be able to handle, no matter what happens in the lottery or in free agency. First and foremost, he must have a clear vision defensively. Seeing the video-game-like numbers opponents put up against the Lakers this season -- including that terrible stretch when they gave up an unthinkable 408 points over three non-overtime games -- convinced Lakers execs they have to go back to a coach who will make it a priority.
The Kobe factor
Second, the coach must be able to coexist with Bryant. The Bryant-D’Antoni relationship deteriorated to the point where the pair barely spoke by the end of their tenure together. Even in D’Antoni’s first season in L.A., when the Lakers still managed to win 28 of their final 40 games to make the playoffs, there was conflict.
Bryant would often use the Lakers’ shootaround time to receive treatment in the training room. When D’Antoni thought this was causing a disconnect between Bryant and his teammates, the coach asked the star guard to change his routine, according to a league source. As a compromise, Bryant still often used shootaround for treatment, only he had the training table brought out next to the practice court so he was physically present, technically, during the sessions. After playing such a long time at an elite level, it was understandable for Bryant to need extra time to get his body ready, but it led to occasions on the court where the team would be executing one way based on adjustments made during shootaround that morning -- and Bryant would be executing another.
With the financial commitment the Lakers have made to Bryant and the clout he has in both the locker room -- several of Bryant’s younger teammates grew up idolizing him the way that he grew up idolizing Michael Jordan -- and with the fans in Los Angeles, to whom he has helped deliver five championships, the coach must have a rapport with Bryant if the team is going to have any chance at real success.
Bryant won't necessarily be best friends with whomever gets put on the sidelines next to him -- he even famously clashed with Phil Jackson at times -- but will buy in if he is convinced the coach is capable.
So the fact that Bryant, as a rookie, was teammates with Scott and has been in contact with him in recent weeks, according to Chris Broussard of ESPN the Magazine, cannot be understated. Then again, he has relationships with many of the other coaches mentioned above, from Thibodeau (who was an assistant with Philadelphia when a high school-aged Bryant used to practice with the 76ers) to Rambis, Snyder and Messina (who all have coached him in L.A.) to Fisher, of course, a fellow rookie on that 1996 Lakers squad.
Third, the coach had better be just as astute at recruiting as he is with X’s and O’s. With the restrictive nature of the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement preventing the Lakers from going over the luxury tax as willingly as they did in the past, having a coach who attracts top talent can be a workaround. The best players in basketball generally go on to win championships. Teams like the 2010-11 Dallas Mavericks or 2003-04 Detroit Pistons that win as a collective are much more rare than James and the Heat, or Bryant and the Lakers, or Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs stacking titles because they have the best individual talent on the court.
With that said, if whomever the Lakers choose arrives with the promise of getting one of those top-tier players to join him in L.A. down the line, it makes that candidate all the more attractive. Scott is a nice coach and all, but Scott plus Kyrie Irving is a pretty package. Same goes for Calipari if he can leverage his relationship with James, or Ollie or Fisher if they can sway Kevin Durant to head West.
The chips are down in the Lakers' coaching search. The stakes are high. But don't expect to spot any tell signs until the draft lottery May 20. And even at that point, there could still be a lot more poker to play before the hand is decided.
Young recently had a stretch of three 4-point plays in four games from Dec. 20-25, something no player had accomplished since Jamal Crawford did it in March 2009 for the Golden State Warriors, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Crawford happens to be the league's all-time leader in the quirky stat.
"Well, that's one of our goals," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni deadpanned when asked about Young's 4-point feat.
Young now has eight 4-point plays in his seven-year career.
"It is uncanny," D'Antoni said. "Some guys have it. I think Jamal Crawford has that. There's a few guys that can do that. I don't know how they do it. I couldn't make an open 3 just by myself. How they can draw the foul and be able to make it is a mystery. But he does have that ability."
Young's four 4-point plays have already set a Lakers franchise record for most in a season. When asked before the Lakers played the Utah Jazz on Friday if he could guess the four other players in Lakers history to have two or more 4-points plays in a season (since 1978-79 and including playoffs), Young was able to guess three of them -- Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Eddie Jones -- and needed help from teammate Jordan Farmar to get the fourth (Sasha Vujacic).
What does Farmar think about Young's 4-point ways?
"You don't see it often, so when you see it four times in a season, five times in a season -- however many times he's done it -- you notice," Farmar said. "You pay attention."
Then Farmar revealed the secret behind Young's 4-point success.
"He shoots it normal and then just, 'Ahhhh!' " Farmar said with a laugh as he contorted his body in exaggerated fashion to simulate how Young reacts to contact when he shoots beyond the arc.
How did the Lakers get here? Some occurrences were out of their control, of course. The litany of injuries that depleted the roster this past season couldn’t be anticipated. And the new collective bargaining agreement that went into effect before the 2011-12 lockout-shortened season has severely affected the way the Lakers go about their business.
That said, the Lakers’ management team hardly has been innocent bystanders over the past two years. As with any professional sports team, the Lakers have had to make major decision after major decision in order to maintain their current relevancy while simultaneously keeping an eye on the future. String together a handful of successful decisions in a row -- such as the way the Indiana Pacers picked up Tyler Hansbrough, Paul George and Lance Stephenson in consecutive drafts -- and it can take your franchise to new heights.
However, a couple of wrong moves can snowball, and instead of having that perennial success that once seemed preordained, you’re suddenly like the Bluth family on “Arrested Development.”
Here’s a look at the 10 major decisions the Lakers have made in the past two years that got them to where they are today.
1. Hiring Mike Brown
Following Phil Jackson’s retirement, the Lakers had a short list of candidates to replace him as head coach: Brown, Rick Adelman, Mike Dunleavy and Brian Shaw. The Lakers were blown away by Brown’s interview because of his preparedness and attention to detail, and chose the defense-minded coach who was almost the polar opposite of Jackson in terms of age and coaching style. Brown’s hasty dismissal the following season, just five games into the second year of a four-year contract, is grounds to play the “What if?” game.
What if Shaw had been handed the reins, continued to run the triangle offense and maintained strong relationships with Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol? Maybe Bynum doesn’t have the breakout season he had under Brown’s post-up oriented system, but maybe Gasol’s career doesn’t sputter either. What if Adelman had come in with all that playoff experience from Portland and Sacramento under his belt and kept the group from skipping a beat?
2. Letting go of longtime support staff in conjunction with the lockout
Again, the lockout might have been out of the Lakers’ control, but how they responded to it wasn’t. The team parted with nearly 20 longtime employees in summer 2011 -- assistant general manager Ronnie Lester as well as a collection of experienced scouts among them -- and it was a very public glimpse for the outside world into the inner workings of the Lakers.
“You think of the Lakers and you think they are a great organization,” Lester told the L.A. Times. “But if you work inside the organization, it’s only a perception of being a great organization. It’s probably not a great organization, because great organizations don’t treat their personnel like they’ve done.”
The Lakers have since promoted Glenn Carraro to assistant GM and have hired new scouts, but the layoffs certainly took some of the Lakers’ luster -- and they could have angered the basketball gods, if you believe in that sort of thing.
3. Trading Derek Fisher
In the 43 games Fisher played in his final season in L.A., the veteran guard averaged 5.9 points and 3.3 assists while shooting 38.3 percent from the floor and 32.4 percent from 3-point territory. In the 53 regular-season games he has played with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Dallas Mavericks since then, Fisher has averaged 5.2 points and 1.4 assists on 34.2 percent shooting overall and 35.7 percent from deep, so it’s not like the Lakers missed out on the final glory days of Fisher’s career. They even got Jordan Hill out of the deal with the Houston Rockets, but moves aren’t always about what’s on paper.
By parting with Fisher, the Lakers got rid of a strong leadership presence in the locker room and also one of the few people on Earth with the power to sway Bryant. Teams across all sports have to cut ties with aging players on a regular basis, so the Fisher move wasn't unprecedented, but it was still jarring to say goodbye to a captain who was an integral part of five championships. In conjunction with losing Fisher, the Lakers acquired Ramon Sessions from Cleveland in a separate trade, thinking the 26-year-old could be their point guard of the future to contend with the NBA’s new wave of talent at that position.
4. Not retaining Ettore Messina and Quin Snyder
The Lakers’ five-game flameout in the second round of the 2012 playoffs against the Thunder was hard enough to swallow, but not long after the team learned it was also losing two of Brown’s top assistants in Messina and Snyder, who were going overseas to coach Messina’s former team, CSKA Moscow. The lucrative salary Messina was commanding to be a head coach once again in Europe made it more his decision than the Lakers’ to part ways. However, the departures of Messina and Snyder -- along with the reclassification of John Kuester to East Coast scout -- pretty much erased any rapport that Brown’s staff had developed with the team and ensured another season of new faces and ideologies for 2012-13.
5. Hiring Eddie Jordan to coach the Princeton offense
With Brown’s original staff gutted, he chose to go in a different direction by bringing in Jordan to run the Princeton offense. Brown was smart enough to get Bryant’s blessing on the move in Las Vegas during USA Basketball camp, before the Olympics and before Jordan officially came to the Lakers, but ultimately the offense proved to be too complicated for the team to run and too much of an ill fit for the pieces the Lakers would eventually acquire.
6. Not re-signing Ramon Sessions
After struggling in the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder (averaging 6.8 points and 3.0 assists while shooting 35.3 percent, down from 12.7 and 6.2, respectively, on 47.9 percent shooting from the field in the regular season with L.A.), Sessions opted out of the final year of his contract in search of a multiyear commitment. The Lakers would have been amenable to bringing Sessions back had he opted in, but didn’t feel the young point guard had showed them enough to commit for the long term. Sessions received a two-year, $10 million deal from the Charlotte Bobcats and went on to average 14.4 points and 3.8 assists per game as an effective substitute off their bench.
7. Trading for Steve Nash
With Fisher gone and Sessions making it clear he was seeking a commitment the Lakers weren’t willing to give, the story goes that Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak called up agent Bill Duffy at the start of the official free-agency period and Duffy happened to be sitting next to Nash at the time. Kupchak was surprised to hear about Nash’s interest in becoming a Laker and so began the negotiation process, which ended with a three-year deal worth about $27 million for Nash and four draft picks -- two in the first round, two in the second -- going Phoenix’s way. The Lakers addressed two major needs -- experienced point guard play (especially after Sessions wilted in the postseason) and shooting -- but also went from a 37-year-old guard in Fisher to a 26-year-old in Sessions back to a 38-year-old in Nash (now 39). Nash went on to average 12.7 points and 6.7 assists while missing 32 games because of injuries in his first season in L.A. and was paid $8.9 million, nearly double what Sessions made (although Nash shot 49.7 percent for the Lakers compared to Sessions’ 40.8 percent for the Cats).
It was a swing-for-the-fences move by the Lakers, who ended up acquiring a Hall of Fame-bound point guard just seven months after being thwarted in their attempt to get Chris Paul. Kupchak and Lakers vice president of player personnel Jim Buss had no way of knowing that Nash would miss so many games because of a fracture in his left leg and nerve damage in his right hip and hamstring, but they knew quite clearly the risk involved in pursuing a guard who was approaching 40 years old.
8. Trading for Dwight Howard
No matter what Howard decides to do this offseason, L.A.’s management deserves credit for bringing him in for Andrew Bynum, who didn’t play a single game in 2012-13 because of his knees, rather than extending a long-term offer to Bynum after he was an All-Star for the first time in 2011-12. When healthy, Howard is right there with LeBron James as the most impactful two-way player in the game. Despite everything that went down in L.A. this season, he was the linchpin in helping the Lakers finish the season 28-12 over the final 40 games of the regular season.
The Lakers traded for Howard not knowing if he planned on signing a max extension to stay with them and figured a season wearing the purple and gold would persuade him to want to put down roots.
Even with the disappointment of Howard’s first season in L.A., it is hard to second-guess the trade made by the Lakers to acquire him. When you can add the best defensive player in the game, you have to do it. However, in adding yet another major contract to the books (to accompany Bryant, Gasol, Nash and Metta World Peace), the Lakers were fully committing to the plan to be a top-heavy team that relies on rookie deals and veteran minimum contracts to fill out the bulk of the roster outside of the mini midlevel exception. This strategy has its upside, clearly, but if any of the talent at the top gets injured or underperforms (which happened across the board this season) it puts severe stress on the rest of the Lakers to play above their heads to reach expectations, which isn’t a reasonable scenario and is a testament to why depth is so important in the NBA.
9. Firing Mike Brown
Hiring Brown was the tipping point to get the Lakers to the state they are in and you could argue that they fired him without giving him a chance to implement what he promised to do. After an 0-8 preseason and 1-4 start to the regular season, Brown was relieved of his duties as head coach. If Brown had been given the time to have Howard get healthy and have Nash return from his leg injury, maybe he would have gotten through to the group and had the success the Lakers were banking on when they hired him. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but by firing Brown the Lakers' management was admitting it made a major mistake on one of those major decisions.
10. Hiring Mike D’Antoni
The same decision that started the cycle two years ago –- hiring a coach –- was the last major move made by Lakers management to date. The front office claimed Mike D’Antoni was a better fit for the current personnel than Phil Jackson was, and didn’t await an answer from the 11-time championship-winning coach before moving forward and offering the job to the former Suns and New York Knicks front man. The Lakers were a far cry from “Showtime II” this past season. D’Antoni even admitted to ESPNLosAngeles.com late in the season that, “We're not running anything that I would normally run.”
Kupchak took that as D’Antoni being adaptable and endorsed the coach as having earned the right to keep his job for next season. While D’Antoni was able to maneuver through injuries and personality conflicts to help guide the Lakers into the playoffs, their season came to a screeching halt with an embarrassing 4-0 sweep to the Spurs once there.
So, that’s how the Lakers got here. The next major decision won’t be the franchise’s, but rather Howard’s to figure out if he wants to remain a Laker. Following that, there will be more franchise-altering choices to make -- whom to trade, whom to amnesty, whom to draft -- that could be either the start of building something in the right direction or the continuation of this difficult period in the team’s history.
Did he figure he had a chance to get much burn for the Los Angeles Lakers this season with Hall of Fame-bound Steve Nash starting at point guard and Chris Duhon, an established veteran, as well as Darius Johnson-Odom, a rookie the Lakers paid $500,000 to Dallas just to acquire his rights, being added to the mix?
"Somebody asked me like, 'Ah, the depth chart is looking really thick,'" Morris recalled the other day. "I just put my faith in God and I just work hard. That's one thing I never stop doing and things happen for a reason, so you just have to always remain positive. But for me to say, 'Oh, I could call this?' No, not at all."
In 19 games last season, Morris totaled 46 points. Through eight games this season, including three starts, Morris already has 51 points.
With Nash (fractured left fibula) and Blake (strained abdomen) sidelined indefinitely, Morris has become the surprise starting point guard to kick off the Mike D'Antoni coaching era in L.A.
After never scoring more than nine points in a game as a rookie and handing out more than four assists only once, Morris has reached double-digit scoring in two of the past five games (including a career-high 12 points against the Houston Rockets on Sunday) and has dished out five or more assists three times in that same span.
"With the fact that Nash has been out, the kid's had an opportunity to play and you do not get experience through osmosis," Lakers interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. "So, he's had an opportunity to play and I think it's terrific for him and his confidence."
Also contributing to that confidence is the trust of everyone surrounding him in the purple and gold.
"I just thank my teammates for giving me that confidence," Morris said. "Thank God, most importantly, but also my coaching staff as well, just telling me to go out there and play. Really just trying to simplify it for me. Steve Nash has been giving me some great advice as well, so people around me are really helping me."
The original assumption, that CBA rules prevented Derek Fisher's return to the Lakers until March 15, turns out not to be true. Because Fisher was bought out by the Houston Rockets following last year's deadline deal before he was eligible to pick up his extension for this year, he's able to sign wherever he'd like, including with the Lakers.
Stein reports at least theoretical interest from both sides, though I'd be almost shocked if it actually happened. Still, for a lot of fans, the lure of Fish is still strong. I get it. This is a Lakers blog. If you need the significance of Derek Fisher explained, I suspect you're new around here. But strip away the sentimentality, and it becomes clear bringing him back isn't a good idea.
A few reasons why (even if the Lakers, with four point guards on the roster, could somehow clear out the glut):
Over the weekend Kobe articulated his leadership philosophy on his Facebook page.
"Leadership is responsibility.
There comes a point when one must make a decision. Are YOU willing to do what it takes to push the right buttons to elevate those around you? If the answer is YES, are you willing to push the right buttons even if it means being perceived as the villain? Here's where the true responsibility of being a leader lies.
Sometimes you must prioritize the success of the team ahead of how your own image is perceived. The ability to elevate those around you is more than simply sharing the ball or making teammates feel a certain level of comfort. It's pushing them to find their inner beast, even if they end up resenting you for it at the time.
I'd rather be perceived as a winner than a good teammate. I wish they both went hand in hand all the time but that's just not reality. I have nothing in common with lazy people who blame others for their lack of success. Great things come from hard work and perseverance. No excuses.
This is my way. It might not be right for YOU but all I can do is share my thoughts. It’s on YOU to figure out which leadership style suits you best.
Will check back in with you soon.. Till then
His central premise -- that in the interest of larger goals real leadership requires a willingness to say or do unpopular things perhaps damaging to the leader's popularity or public image -- is undeniable, but not universally practiced. (Just look at Washington, D.C.) And there's absolutely no question Kobe is willing to push whatever buttons he feels necessary if it gets his team -- and himself, obviously -- closer to a title. That he's willing to be unpopular (Kobe uses different terminology) in the process is also self-evident.
If it's not, he'll frequently remind you.
It's a badge he wears with pride, actually, and not without with cause. Many aren't willing to sacrifice personal popularity in the interest of larger goals. As Dwight Howard can attest, the natural desire to please and be liked is a powerful one.
Kobe knows exactly how he prioritizes that sort of thing relative to winning.
However, the subject matter of Nash & Howard’s first comedy act after Wednesday’s Los Angeles Lakers practice didn’t seem like laugh-track material.
The NBA announced its new anti-flopping rule on Wednesday, which will penalize players financially after the fact for flopping, based on video review, and, well ... we’ll let Nash & Howard take it away from here:
Howard: “Me and Steve had a play like that today. He flopped and he got away with it, so he should be getting fined.”
(Howard yells over to Nash who is standing in a separate media scrum about 10 feet away.)
Howard: “Steve, you’re fined. I just got off the phone with David Stern.”
Nash: “There’s no video tape in here! … “Sorry, buddy, you’re not going to win this one.”
Howard: “Well, there’s no evidence of the flop, so the NBA rescinded it.”
Not exactly the stuff that will garner the Mark Twain Prize, but perhaps the bigger joke was on the NBA on Wednesday, as no one within the Lakers could seem to agree on whether the rule change would be an effective deterrent against floppers or not.
Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace agreed that flops were embarrassing.
Bryant: “Shameless flopping, that’s a chump move.”
World Peace: “Flopping is very stupid. It’s not even basketball. I don’t know who taught people how to flop.”
Yet, their overall stance on the rule change varied greatly.
Bryant and Pau Gasol both suggested that in lieu of a fine, technical fouls should be doled out during the course of a game to really have an impact on how players conduct themselves, similar to how international basketball is officiated.
For Howard, who led the league in technicals in 2010-11 with 18, Ts certainly weren’t the way to go.
“There shouldn’t be any techs given,” Howard said. “I think once you give guys techs for flopping, it’s just more money, it really hurts the team and it hurts them later on in the year. I’ve experienced getting a lot of technical fouls, and it’s not a good thing.”
World Peace put the onus on the referees to ignore floppers, swallow the whistle and give the advantage to the offensive player to continue unimpeded to the hoop while the defender who flopped is on the floor.
“You can’t blame the players for adjusting to how they’re reffing the game,” World Peace said. “Now you can’t just take somebody’s money for adjusting to how (the referees) adjusted the rules.”
And Lakers coach Mike Brown just didn’t like the rule at all, questioning how it can be properly enforced after the fact.
“I think it’s tough to determine that,” Brown said. “Because watching it on tape, do you really know if a guy is flopping or not? It’s a subjective call.”
Brown, who has benefitted from having a couple notorious floppers on his teams in the past (Anderson Varejao in Cleveland Cavaliers and Derek Fisher in L.A. come to mind), doesn’t feel like the rule will have an impact on this year’s Lakers squad.
“We should never get fined, because we don’t have any floppers on our team,” Brown said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Save bringing point guard/Kobe confidant Derek Fisher back into the fold, Mitch Kupchak and Dr. Buss responded to the outburst by presenting Bryant a roster essentially untouched. Thus, speculation swirled as to whether 24 would actually report to camp. Lest anybody assume this was simply the media churning the waters to create drama, think again. After 15-20 minutes with no sign of Kobe, I vividly remember Kwame Brown asking me if I'd seen the superstar, and if I knew whether he was gonna show up. This was truly the $1,000,000 question, and nobody was quite sure how the day would shake out.
Eventually, Kobe did emerge, palpably unenthusiastic, but committed to remaining professional. The season turned out considerably better than expected, even before Pau Gasol trade. Since then, Kobe has collected his fourth and fifth rings, and despite this offseason presenting seemingly few avenues for upgrading a team stuck in good-but-not-great purgatory, we're now looking at a starting five of Steve Nash, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Dwight Howard.
And Oct. 1, 2007 feels about 100 years in the rear view mirror.
It reminds me of this exchange between Glen (Sam McMurray) and H.I. (Nicolas Cage) in Raising Arizona:
Glen: It's a crazy world.
H.I.: Someone oughta sell tickets.
Glen: Sure, I'd buy one.
Enjoy the season.
With the Lakers now boasting among the splashiest starting fives in league history, naysayers are quick to cite the 2004 Lakers as a worst-case scenario.
Three members of the last big four in L.A.
The comparison is inevitable, but also lazy. Yes, there are commonalities. Both teams featured four big names, each of which is a lock or near-lock for the Hall of Fame. Both teams were built by Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family with the blueprint of "championship or bust." But a deeper look makes it pretty obvious that there are massive differences. Most negatives surrounding the 2004 squad were part of a specific backstory, one not shared by the 2012 team. Below are four huge factors favoring the 2012 big four.
1. The coach and players are on better terms.
The discord between Kobe and Phil has been documented to death by now, most famously in "The Last Season," Jackson's diary of the tumultuous 2004 season. (Ironically, Phil was prompted to return in part to amend his largely negative portrayal of Kobe.) But the Mamba wasn't the only player failing to see eye to eye with The Zen Master. Payton sulked over his role in the triangle, and The Glove was often a tough customer when happy as a clam, never mind when he was surly. Those misgivings spilled onto the court and resulted in a watered-down version of Payton.
This year's incarnation, however, features no such conflicts. That's not to say everyone has bought into Mike Brown, no questions asked. Some prominent holdovers, notably Kobe, Gasol and Metta World Peace, expressed skepticism about their new coach throughout 2012, and I imagine Brown still hasn't truly proven himself. However, there's a difference between disenchantment and defiance, and the player who openly chafed most at Brown's authority -- Andrew Bynum -- is now the starting center in Philadelphia. Players and coach may still be feeling each other out, but outright hostility doesn't appear to be looming.
Thankfully, Kobe didn't wear that Hornets hat very long.
However, there is the mission statement, and there is reality.
In reality, no team wins it all every year.
In reality, the new CBA will make it near impossible to win the "Lakers way," which has largely involved a willingness to spend. Obviously, success doesn't come purely by shelling out bucks like a drunken sailor. You have to spend wisely, and the players have to make good on that investment. The Knicks have proved beyond any shadow of a doubt that you can't just purchase titles. But there's no question that money had a hand in that success, and life as a luxury-tax-paying team will soon become exceptionally punitive.
And in reality, the Lakers as currently constructed aren't legitimate contenders, despite (knowingly false) claims from vice president of player personnel Jim Buss or general manager Mitch Kupchak. What's more, any fix will be difficult. They have a mini midlevel and veteran's minimum money available for free agents. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and a theoretically signed-and-traded Ramon Sessions are the only assets of any discernible value, and it's debatable how much they'd fetch in return. (There's also the Lamar Odom trade exception, but who knows whether they'd actually use it.) Derrick Williams as a potential centerpiece for Gasol doesn't necessarily make the Lakers much better, at least for now. Josh Smith and Andre Iguodala pop up in rumors, but the talk doesn't seem to be gaining much traction. And players like Steve Nash, Dwight Howard and Deron Williams seemingly have no interest in donning purple and gold (which in and of itself feels like a paradigm shift).
Plus, if we're being honest with ourselves, Kobe's mammoth contract does the Lakers no favors. Whether you think he's ridiculously overpaid, criminally underpaid or paid accordingly, Bryant's salary made team-building difficult under the old CBA, much less the new one. Bryant also remains a high-end player, but his age is showing, whether judged by athleticism, burst or increased propensity for injury. He's no longer able to regularly take over games, particularly down the stretch, in an effective, efficient manner. (That's not to say he's incapable, but would you bet big money on a favorable result?) Yes, German wunder-science helped his legs, and I expect similarly springy results to begin this season after this summer's scheduled procedure. But I also expect the grind to catch up with Kobe, just as it did in 2011-12. Bottom line, he'll be 34 in his 17th season, and with playoff games included, Kobe has logged nearly the equivalent mileage of a 20-year veteran. A cyborg wouldn't be impervious to that much pounding, much less a mamba.
Like it or not, it's fair to wonder whether a team with Bryant as the clear focal point still can win a title. Or whether actively continuing to build around Kobe, no questions asked, is still best for the Lakers as a franchise moving forward.
"They're the leader in the clubhouse right now," Hill's agent, Kevin Bradbury, told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Wednesday.
Hill, who turns 25 next month, sat at the end of Lakers coach Mike Brown's bench after being acquired from the Houston Rockets in a deal for Derek Fisher at the trade deadline in March but eventually broke into the rotation. He contributed three double-doubles over the course of six games from the second to last game of the regular season through Game 4 of the Lakers' first round series against the Denver Nuggets. The Lakers won all three games.
Right at the top of the Lakers' to-do list come July 1 is to engage Hill in contract negotiations, a source familiar with the team's thinking told ESPNLosAngeles.com. Even though Hill is unrestricted and the Lakers are over the luxury tax for next season, the Lakers hold partial Bird rights to him and can offer Hill a maximum of $3,632,450 a season for up to five years. Even though Hill is young and has shown flashes of brilliance in his three-year career thus far, he comes with a couple of question marks stemming from the MCL injury he sustained to his right knee last season as well as a pending felony assault court case. Those question marks, along with their partial Bird rights, figure to allow the Lakers to make a competitive enough offer that will be comparable with what the free-agent market will bear for him.
A court date for Hill was scheduled for June 8, but it is unclear if he ended up having to attend the hearing.
"It should be handled fairly quickly," said Bradbury, acknowledging that Hill's lawyers were still seeking a resolution to the charges.
The Lakers were the third team Hill played for in his short career and he would like to put down roots. Bradbury says Hill feels a certain degree of loyalty toward the Lakers after being featured by Brown late in the season and experiencing his first taste of the postseason.
"It’s definitely one of, if not the best organization in the league. I had a great time here with the short time I was here. The staff, the players, everybody. I enjoyed it," Hill told reporters after his exit interview with Brown and general manager Mitch Kupchak last month. "I'm definitely looking forward to, if possible, more to come. ... It definitely would be great (to stay). I hate moving."
While the Lakers should be considered the favorites for Hill to sign with, being an unrestricted free agent, he will certainly field other offers before making a decision. The Minnesota Timberwolves are one of the other teams that could take a long look at Hill, according to a league source.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
For any Lakers fan, any NBA finals without the purple and gold is by definition a disappointing series. The Lakers are a franchise that openly cries "championship or bust," and that standard has been enthusiastically adopted by the faithful. Thus, being on the outside looking into a trophy chase always leaves a bitter taste.
However, this particular Finals may really stick in the Laker Nation's craw. The Miami Heat aren't just a super-team distastefully forged, and the Oklahoma City aren't just scary good, scary young and Western conference residents. They both feature foils to the supremacy of Kobe Bryant. LeBron James has long been viewed by Lakers fans as prematurely crowned "King" at Kobe's expense and Dwyane Wade has received favorable Mamba comparisons as well. (That Flash broke Bryant's nose/concussed him during a freakin' All-Star Game doesn't help, either.) In the meantime, Kevin Durant has already lapped Bryant as a scoring machine, but a title could make it impossible to argue, career achievement aside, he hasn't passed Bryant altogether. Thus, either teams basking in championship glory packs a potential double-whammy for Lakers fans.
AP Photo, Getty Images
Unless we're talking Smush, once Lakers, always Lakers, right?
Still, from a pure basketball perspective, this should be a massively entertaining series, and I'd hate to see Lakers fans sulk themselves out of any sense of enjoyment. The solution is to tab one team as the lesser of two evils, then root hard against the other. With that in mind, I'm here to help break some ties.
Pros to the Heat Winning
• Ronny Turiaf and Pat Riley, ex-Lakers still held in good esteem amongst the fan base, will get their first and seventh rings respectively.
• Over the last few years, some have questioned James' drive, and whether he's more consumed by his game or brand. Granted, his improved outside shooting and post game have quieted that criticism to some degree. But for those unconvinced, perhaps the championship demons exorcised will result in complacency, along with opportunity knocking for a revamped Laker squad to capitalize.
• Whenever the Heat falter, the rumor mill kicks into overdrive with scenarios bringing Dwight Howard to South Beach. Obviously, all gossip must be treated with a grain of salt, but it stands to reason a title decreases the odds of Miami dealing for Superman, which keeps hope alive for an L.A. landing.
• Realistically speaking, the odds favor this bunch winning one title. I mean, let's just be honest. So if they are destined to break through, it might as well happen during an "asterisk" season, right? With any luck, that will be the only "Heatle" title, and their time together will carry as little gravitas as possible.
• For that matter, they Heat would also win without having to go through either Derrick Rose and Dwight Howard in the East. Let the discrediting process begin!
• Despite logging just 83 minutes in the regular season and (likely) none in the postseason, Eddy Curry will get a ring, making Kwame Brown the lone member of the Brown-Curry-Tyson Chandler "straight from high school into the 2001 NBA lottery" trio without a championship. And Laker fans never tire of jokes at Kwame's expense.
• The Heat knocked Boston out of the playoffs the last two seasons, which didn't just allow Lakers fans to rejoice, but also prevented the Pierce-KG-Allen Celts from tying or even besting the title count of the Kobe-Gasol Lakers. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, as the old saying goes.
• South Beach + June weather + championship parade = wall-to-wall eye candy. And this celebration will be televised. I'm just sayin'.
- (2:54): The OKC Thunder pulled off what was the seemingly impossible, reversing a 2-0 Western Conference Finals deficit with four consecutive wins against the San Antonio Spurs, heretofore undefeated in the postseason. And in a nice bit of symbolism, they defeated the Mavs, Lakers and Spurs along the way, and those just happen to be the ONLY teams who've represented the west since 1998. Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Serge Ibaka are all 23 or younger. Save perhaps luxury tax implications, can anything prevent OKC from becoming a sustained powerhouse, and can the Lakers be a part of that roadblock?
- (6:50): A note to NBA players who dig the no-lens glasses (and we're not judging this fashion trend, just making an observation): If you wanna wear them at the podium, where you'll be filmed from a distance, knock yourself out. But as Dwyane Wade demonstrated after the game 5 loss to OKC, those glasses look ridiculous while filmed in a media scrum from close up. You look like a kid doing a high school play.
- (12:30): However the Lakers retool the roster, they need to make sure the pieces complement each other. Star power alone doesn't guarantee wins. Just ask the Knicks. For that matter, any role players added must be more reliable and compatible as well.
- (16:30): The Lakers' cap issues are very real, and very hard to circumvent.
- (21:50): There are some Lakers fans rooting against the Thunder because they don't want to see Derek Fisher get a sixth ring before Kobe Bryant. Umm... why? Has the "Count the rings!!!" mantra really made us this literal-minded? I understand Mamba fans being prideful/protective of 24's legacy, but I can assure you, his first ballot Hall of Fame resume doesn't become diluted in the slightest by Fish owning one more chip. Trust me on this. I have a blog.
- (25:08): None of us are rooting for the Heat, but if they do happen to win a title, we're hoping a byproduct will be a change in the way fans and media talk about basketball.
- (29:00): If the Heat don't win, will it put an end to the "You must have a Big 3 to compete" narrative of the last couple seasons?
- (32:10): Metta Weatherman Peace!