Los Angeles Lakers: Ramon Sessions

How the Lakers got here: 10 decisions that shaped their fate

May, 28, 2013
5/28/13
4:43
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- For the first time in a long time, the Los Angeles Lakers are in a bit of a rut. For a franchise that has won 16 championships, a first-round playoff exit via sweep -- punctuating a three-year stretch in which the team failed to make it out of the second round -- is the equivalent of a band known for its epic encores ending a set after playing only a few songs.

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.

Sessions says being a Laker a 'good experience'

December, 18, 2012
12/18/12
7:58
PM PT
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Ramon Sessions wasn't a Los Angeles Laker long enough for his return to Staples Center on Tuesday night as a member of the Charlotte Bobcats to feel like a homecoming. All told, he was here just a few months after the Lakers acquired him at the trade deadline in March, then parted ways with him after trading for Steve Nash at the beginning of July.

Still, Sessions said the experience was so memorable for him "the short time I was here felt like a long time" because of the way fans embraced him and the way he played during the playoffs, when the Lakers were eliminated in the second round by the Oklahoma City Thunder.

"I definitely wish I could've finished what I started," he said. "There were a couple [playoff] games where we had two or three minutes left and five or six points could've turned it and made the difference. But you live and you learn, it was a good experience and something I'll never forget."

Much to the chagrin of the Lakers, Sessions opted out of the final year of his contract after the season and became a free agent despite assurances from Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak that the team hoped he'd be its point guard of the future. The Lakers had every intention of bringing him back, but when the trade for Steve Nash became an option, everything changed quickly.

"It kind of came out of nowhere, but if you can get a guy like him you've got to go with him," Sessions said of the Nash trade. "I'm happy for those guys. So I just had to move on and I'm happy where I am now."

If anything, the trade for Nash validated the reasons Sessions said he opted out in the first place.

"It was one of those things where I knew [Deron] Williams was talked about, they always had talked about the bigger name guys," he said. "I didn't really want to go into my contract year not knowing if I would be the starter or I'd be the backup or I'd be traded. So I jumped out and made the decision I made.

"Any time you can get longevity in this league, because you never know what can happen day in and day out, I was trying to secure my future. I thought it was going to be here, but it was elsewhere."

(Read full post)

Darius Morris making the most of his time

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
7:21
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McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Darius Morris couldn't crack a rotation last season that featured the likes of Derek Fisher, Ramon Sessions, Steve Blake and Andrew Goudelock playing ahead of him.

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."

(Read full post)

Midsummer update: How many needs have the Lakers filled?

July, 23, 2012
7/23/12
9:28
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Early last month, I looked at some pressing needs for the Lakers heading into the summer's draft/free-agency period, noting similarities to the list from the summer of 2011. Now the collegians and internationals have all been selected. Players, including most of the significant ones, have flown around the NBA in a flurry of trades and signings. DwightWatch! is in full swing (though reviews indicate viewers believe the plot is moving too slowly for their tastes).


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


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

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

1. Outside shooting.

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

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

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

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

(Read full post)

The purple and gold butterfly effect

July, 11, 2012
7/11/12
10:52
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Steve Nash's introductory press conference Wednesday in El Segundo featured plenty of sentiment along the lines of "I never expected this to happen." Nash, who'd previously stated his apprehension to join a heated rival, described this chapter of his career as "surreal." Mitch Kupchak, who smiled while describing the point guard as "a thorn in the Lakers' side for most of this decade," still seemed to be wrapping his head around Nash sharing a backcourt with Kobe Bryant. And really, who can blame anyone pinching themselves during this meet-and-greet? Absolutely nobody, including the Lakers' brass, anticipated this turn of events, as Kupchak explained while recounting the courtship of the two-time MVP.

AP Photo/Reed Saxon
Who'da thunk it?


"We always like to call our players that are free agents first," recalled Kupchak. "Ramon Sessions and Jordan Hill. Players that were on our roster. So we did that. Coincidentally, Steve Nash is also represented by Jordan Hill's representative [Bill Duffy]. Steve was on the top of our list, in terms of point guards, but it never occurred to me that he would be available. All we had was the (mini mid-level), which is a $3 million exception. Jim Buss kept on saying, "Mitch, don't forget to call. Don't forget to call." Of course, he's at the top of the list. I said, 'Jim, I'm not sure this is something that can even begin to work out, but you never know until you try.'

"So when I spoke to Bill Duffy, we talked about Jordan Hill and I talked about Steve Nash. And his first comment was, 'Mitch, would you like to speak to him?' I said, 'Of course.' And then 10 seconds later, he was on the phone. He was with Steve Nash when I called at 12:01. I think they were together in New York. So that doesn't happen very often. Maybe looking back on it, it was a sign, if you believe in those things. Didn't hear much for a day or two, and then we got a call from Bill Duffy saying Steve's thought about the conversation we had and he'd like to make this work. So that started the whole thing with Phoenix in motion."

But as I thought about the general manager's words, I realized "motion" actually began much earlier, even if we didn't know it at the time. Looking backward, here's everything required to happen before Nash eventually ended up a Laker.

-- The Chris Paul deal must get scuttled, which eventually led to Lamar Odom asking out, which created the trade exception allowing the Lakers to absorb Nash in a sign-and-trade deal. Not that anyone would necessarily be complaining with CP3 around, of course, but the core would now be thinner, and despite any money saved by moving Odom and Pau Gasol, financial flexibility to build a supporting cast wouldn't necessarily have been gained. One could argue, at least in the short run, the team is better off as currently constructed. Either way, Nash certainly wouldn't be a Laker with Paul on board.

-- Hill must become the incoming player from Houston in the Derek Fisher deal. Otherwise, Kupchak might not call Duffy at 12:01 (regarding Hill), preventing him from talking directly with Nash so early in the process. Not that Kupchak couldn't have successfully gotten the ball rolling later, but given Nash's reluctance to become a Laker, the longer he stewed in that mindset, the dicier the prospect of changing his outlook could grow. Plus, as ESPN.com's Marc Stein noted in this must-read feature, the Raptors and Knicks pulled out ALL the stops pitching Nash, so having the Lakers on his brain from minute one was a bonus.

-- Sessions must opt out of the final year of his deal, creating a void at the starting point guard. Had Sessions opted in, the front office might have been content to see how the young player developed in a full year as the team's starter. And with Sessions off the books, absorbing Nash's salary perhaps becomes more palatable for the cost-conscious bean counters.

-- Kupchak must decide to let Kobe talk with Nash first early in the process rather than later, "a risk" given The Mamba's unpredictable nature. (Kupchak's words, not mine, so don't kill the messenger.) As it turned out, Bryant's salesmanship played a big role in persuading the point guard to join forces.

-- And finally, Suns owner Robert Sarver, despite whatever bitter taste it could leave in the mouths of Phoenix's fan base (not to mention his own), must agree to help a fierce divisional rival become a more legitimate contender by trading them arguably the franchise's most iconic player.

Safe to say, a lot of unrelated situations were required to pile up to reach an endgame involving the Lakers' best point guard since Magic Johnson. Was some luck involved? No question. But at the same time, every successful franchise benefits from lady luck occasionally smiling on them. Plus, some of these events (CP3, LO's departure, Sessions becoming a free agent) weren't necessarily regarded as positives from the outset. In fact, they actually left many (myself included) to periodically wonder if the Lakers were stuck between a rock and a hard place. But in the end, these obstacles, through happy coincidences, patience, and savvy were eventually converted into a productive conclusion.

As the saying goes, you make your own luck.

PodKast: The draft, free agency and tampering

July, 3, 2012
7/03/12
12:29
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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We recorded this show between the draft and free agency's official start, a few days ahead of the Nets' dramatic, Dwight Howard-free makeover. Obviously, the NBA landscape has already dramatically changed, but the topics and concerns expressed remain as relevant. That's just how talented BK and I are.

The podcast can be heard by clicking on the module, and a list of talking points can seen below:



Play Download

- (2:05): We break down the Lakers' draft haul (Darius Johnson-Odom, Robert Sacre), along with Mitch Kupchak's attempts to move up in the draft. Shockingly, his attempt to move small forward/Vancouver weatherman/Twitter addict Metta World Peace for a first-round draft pick bore no fruit. For that matter, an attempt to move Gasol for a high pick and established talent left the Lakers at square one.

- (12:00): Free agency is underway and the Lakers will be weighing options. Unfortunately, those choices are quite limited, making their own guys (Ramon Sessions, Jordan Hill, Devin Ebanks) the most realistic priority. In particular, Sessions will be difficult to replace on the open market, even acknowledging his weaknesses.

- (18:47): Bottom line, how much better can the front office really make the Lakers next season? And how will fans react if the answer is "not much?" After all, it's hard to question the commitment, whether by money spent or results, toward winning over the last few seasons. Either way, how will Kobe Bryant handle potentially playing the next two seasons on a team that's competitive, but not a legitimate contender?

- (24:30): What's up with all these top names (Deron Williams, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash) seemingly disinclined to join the Lakers?

- (29:18): With Dirk Nowitzki publicly recruiting D.Will to join the Mavericks while still technically a Net, we debate what constitutes "tampering."

A purple-and-gold crossroads for Kobe and the Lakers?

July, 1, 2012
7/01/12
11:37
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Even for fans harking back to the days of West, Baylor and Wilt, it's probably hard to think about the Lakers without Kobe Bryant. Next season will be his 17th with the franchise, the longest any player has donned a Lakers uniform. During this time, he has been synonymous with championships. The five he has won. Two additional trips to the Finals. Even his arrival came with banners and parades in mind. Even with the Shaq deal in the works, trading a center like Vlade Divac for a high school kid's draft rights was unheard of in 1996. You don't make that move without picturing Bryant as a primary piece of a championship squad reasonably soon. It was a marriage of player and franchise bonded by a mutual obsession with winning. Both sides consider championships not just a goal but the standard. Anything less, as Kobe said after his 2011 exit interview, would be "a wasted year of my life."

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
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.

(Read full post)

Kupchak says there's more to come

June, 28, 2012
6/28/12
11:55
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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After spending the days and weeks leading up to the NBA draft trying to move into the first round, the Los Angeles Lakers were unable to do so Thursday night. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak took it in stride.

“To get into the first round, it’s not that easy to do without pledging substantial assets, so to some degree, it was a challenge to look for something that would be fair to do," said Kupchak, who had gone knocking on teams' doors equipped to hand over Pau Gasol wrapped in a bow in exchange for a top pick. "But for the last week or two, we think we’ve covered and canvased the league and got a feel for what the opportunities were there for us to move into the first round. ... So this is really the beginning phase of when teams look to improve their team.”

The beginning phase will be followed in short order by two more days of pursuing trades until free agency officially begins Saturday evening at 9:01 p.m. PT. The Lakers have many decisions to make about whether to retain unrestricted free agents Ramon Sessions, Matt Barnes, Troy Murphy and Jordan Hill as well as restricted free agents Devin Ebanks, Darius Morris (should they extend a qualifying offer by Saturday) and Andrew Goudelock. There's also the issue of starting negotiations on a longterm contract extension with Andrew Bynum which figures to be in the four-years/max money range.

And that's just on their own team. The Lakers also have the mini mid-level exception to offer to a player from another team, worth about $3 million in its first year, and will also look to add players at the veteran minimum contract rate.

Before any of that happens, Kupchak will shift his focus to re-signing Sessions on Saturday night.

“I won’t be there, but I’ll be on the phone," Kupchak said. "That’s important. Normally, nothing is determined [the first night of free agency], but it’s a sign that you have some interest. And I think the player is sitting at home, awake, and he’s hoping for a call from the agent, and saying, ‘Who called me tonight?' So that’s important.”

Kupchak told reporters that the draft signified the beginning of a process of trying to improve leading up to training camp in the fall to open the 2012-13 season.

"It’s an exciting time and a busy time for us," Kupchak said. "I know we have great fan interest, that are watching closely, so hopefully we can do something good. So we always try to hit a home run."

To continue the analogy, Kupchak made it clear that teams do not blindly swing for the fences anymore however because of the restrictions of the new collective bargaining agreement.

(Read full post)

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

No deal is imminent, says the report.

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

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

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

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

For example:

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

June, 26, 2012
6/26/12
10:14
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Back in the olden days, when the Lakers were the West's dominant franchise and the CBA didn't exist to stunt the franchise's championship dreams, the NBA draft was fun, but ultimately a night belonging to the league's weaker sisters.

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

As in, "What if...

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

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

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

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

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

Probably, because their draft record isn't bad.

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Lakers chat transcript

June, 20, 2012
6/20/12
9:12
AM PT
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Whew! It was an active room today, with plenty of conversation about next week's draft, Ramon Sessions, free agency, and fresh comments from Jim Buss indicating the Lakers might be cool with what they have. So are they?

Click here for the transcript and find out.

Ramon Sessions will become a free agent

June, 19, 2012
6/19/12
12:03
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
The list of players under contract with the Lakers is a little smaller. As ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin reports, point guard Ramon Sessions , has declined to exercise his player option for next season, worth $4.55 million, and will instead become an unrestricted free agent.

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


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


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

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

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Chat transcript

June, 13, 2012
6/13/12
8:38
AM PT
By The Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
As I expected, lotta questions about potential offseason moves. Pau Gasol? Andrew Bynum? Steve Blake? Could all these guys be relocated?

Click here to relive the discussion.

The Forum: Ramon Sessions and the Lakers

June, 11, 2012
6/11/12
8:41
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
Ramon Sessions has until June 20 to decide whether to exercise his player option for the final year of his contract or test free agency. Is it in the Lakers' best interests for the point guard to stick around for another campaign? Kevin Arnovitz, Dave McMenamin and I debate the question.video

Chat transcript

June, 6, 2012
6/06/12
8:15
AM PT
By the Kamenetzky Brothers
ESPNLosAngeles.com
Archive
So many questions about the trade value of "Laker X" or the free agents potentially pursued this offseason. So little time.

Here's the link to the room.

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