Tag:Los Angeles Lakers
Posted on: January 7, 2013 11:59 am
 

NBA Feeling Lakers' Pain

“When America sneezes, the world catches cold.” That’s a variant of what Klemens von Metternich wrote about France during the Napoleonic period in the early 1800s.

In the same vane, when the Los Angeles Lakers are under-the-weather, all of basketball feels a tad queasy.

With his title in tow, LeBron James may be the contented face of the NBA and other clubs can surely pack a punch, but if there’s an America’s Team on the pro hardwood circuit it has to be the men in purple & gold of southern California.

Don’t like the Lakers as NBA standard-bearer? Tough noogies. Find another team that‘s done their fans as proud as have the Lakers over past sixty years and you can complain.

Celtics had a good run there but have fashioned just one title (‘08) since ‘86; the Knicks’ drought is so long it raises concerns over climate change; Bulls will milk the Jordan / Jackson legacy dry, content waiting on good fortune to land in their lap again; and only time will tell whether the Spurs, Heat, Mavericks and the myriad of contender / pretenders that pop up every decade will make the long-term investment standard-bearing requires.

Whether it was the Yankees, Maple Leafs, Packers or Gophers football and their 6 national crowns that provided the template, I don’t know. What I do know is that when the NBA set-up shop in the Land of 10,000 Lakes in 1947, the new ownership created a strategy for success that’s remained in place as long as any other franchise in all of sportdom.

From those early days when original superstar George Mikan carried the frozen Lakers on his back (‘49-50, ‘52-54), to the Baylor / West era, Wilt’s arrival and first golden title in ’72, Kareem‘s return, then the magical ride of Earvin Johnson & friends to the Jacksonian Era (Kobe), LA’s foray into the NBA has been great for its fans and good for the game.

As of this writing LAL’s record stands at 15-18. Not in full funk yet but starting to give a faint feeling of futility.

The numbers tell a tale.

Kobe Bryant’s putting up points like Michael Jordan was pre-Phil (30.5), bidding time while he and everyone around him tries to find their bearings.

Pau Gasol’s numbers are down (8.5 REB / 12) as he adjusts to the new arrivals and bears-up under the constant talk of trade.

Prize pre-season pick-up Dwight “Pip” Howard of the “Great Expectations” has seen his offensive boards ebbing low (3.7) but overall puts up respectable digits (12 REB / 17+).

The other half of Lakers surprise off-season haul, Steve Nash, is rounding into form (8.2 APG / 10.2) since returning from a leg injury that had him sidelined from tip-off. The challenge: Is there a power-sharing or does Nash take charge and direct the flow?

Team tallies: Lakers are fifth in scoring (102.8) but just four spots up on NBA worst Charlotte (103.8) in points allowed (100.5), in the top-half of FG% (45.3), near the rear in FT% (69) but just behind leader Golden State (46+) in all important RPG category (45.8).

Recent coaching changes have taken their toll on continuity, chemistry and confidence.

Mike Brown’s firing felt like panic, Kupchak & Buss’ flirtation with Phil Jackson smacked of a bad, discount chain, shoe-store interview in Green Bay and current mastermind Mike D’Antoni’s record is spotty: solid in Phoenix, so-so in NYC.

It’s too easy and a bit lame to blame their current malaise on “old” age (Bryant). A likely motivational move by their team-leader but not carefully crafted when it comes outta’ the mouth of one of the NBA’s aging war-horses (34).

Kobe may’ve signed-off on the D’Antoni hire to show Steve he’s team-minded and fully-vested in his addition to the Lakers’ roster. If yes, a classy move by KB but complicated when Jackson was also in the mix. Phil’s too savvy to demand the sun, moon and stars from Buss, though, certainly had every right to do so given his credentials and the State of Lakerland at the time, a state it’s not all together clear has improved much.

But the Lakers have ‘crossed the Rubicon’ with Mike D., for the rest of this season. There’s still plenty of time to turn this thing around and make the playoffs, where anything can happen and often does in today's wild & wacky sports world.

I see an intelligent, experienced Lakers’ team, deep in talent and guided by a skillful coach, all of whom, through some calculated trial & error, need time to make the proper adjustments. More specifically, better defense, fewer 3-pointers, more inside game, protect the ball (15.5 TOG) and concentration when at the charity stripe.

A season can take on a feel, a mood where either it keeps clicking or instead stays out of sync. This Lakers’ squad may need more than one season to gel, more time to flavor that broth that too many cooks can spoil if not of the same recipe. The new-fangled Miami Heat of a few years back had a better record to this point than Kobe’s crew but also needed their own time to find a cohesiveness and style for success.

Words to the wise: I’d get my licks in now when opposing these Lakers because when they do hit their stride, watch out NBA.

Steven Keys
The Solid State
Posted on: October 16, 2012 3:22 pm
 

Lakers / Heat Stoke NBA '12-13

Consider this the year of LeBron.

Not because he and his Heat team are a lock to repeat as champs in 2013. Au contraire, the new & improved Lakers will have a thing or two to say about who dons that crown come next June.

Rather, it’s because this’ll be the first time in his 10-year NBA tenure that Mr. James can actually enjoy himself on a basketball court.

Having garnered that elusive championship-ring by confounding the over-matched Oklahoma City Thunder in the Finals of a strike-shortened ‘11-12 NBA season, LJ effectively bumped that proverbial primate off his back, placed there by fans, media, owners and himself.

Now he can relax, a little.

That could be a good thing. It could free-up LeBron to attain new heights of excellence, or, it could be impetus to trouble, inviting the 2012 MVP to revert to old form, thinking himself like Dirk Nowitzki and capable of draining jumpers from anywhere & everywhere on the court.

If he chooses the later he’ll be applying for membership in that exclusive club of great under-achievers, a/k/a, under-achievers that were great. That’s popular perception, anyway. Men and women who, though talented and holders of a victor’s laurel or two (Wilt Chamberlain / Mary (Decker) Slaney), never met the great expectations their special abilities created in the minds of fans & scribes.

Over his career James has taken more than his share of flak for being hesitant & detached in crunch time, but no one has ever accused him of being short on brains. He is certainly one of the most articulate men in the NBA and should know full well what made the difference this time around. Like Nowitzki in the ‘11 Finals, LJ ditched the tres as a child out-grows a toy, played to his strength and embraced the inside game. He and his team controlled the tempo by dominating under the boards and won’t soon forget it.

Neither will Eric Spoelstra, Heat guru who could‘ve used a flak-jacket himself these past two long & trying years.

And the Heat team? Choosing them as anything less than ‘favorites to repeat’ would be...“uncivilized?” I think Mr. Right Guard Sir Charles (Barkley) might agree.

Both have a tendency to drift to the perimeter but when James and Chris Bosh work in the paint there is no better tandem in the game today, even with the Lakers dreamy up-grade. Though often excluded from the Wade-James cliché, on the court, Bosh made himself a leader, the glue holding this team together in good times & bad.

Dwyane Wade has been a rare talent in the Ass’n with two rings to prove it, but he’s oft-injured, past prime and has a propensity towards juvenileness (‘11 Finals). Finding his eventual replacement(s) is key for Miami maintaining its top-perch.

Los Angeles Lakers

Commissioner Stern must be on cloud nine: an East Coast champ (a bit lower on the map than most prefer) with a West Coast contender in LA who’s loaded-for-bear.

My only complaint Mr. Buss: What took you so long? Sure, the Dwight Howard thing had to play out in Orlando, but Steve Nash? The 2-time MVP might’ve been coaxed out of Phoenix years ago, given that his talents were being under-appreciated by an inactive ownership. Lakers believe Stevo still has some gas in the tank. I think they’re right.

And the retention of F/C Pau Gasol (Lakers’ Mr. Dangerfield) through all the deal-making was the cherry on top. This future Hall of Famer is a key component in keeping continuity with what worked in the past, while helping Coach Mike Brown and Kobe Bryant facilitate a transition with the Lakers’ new-look roster.

A pro since ‘04, Dwight Howard is still part-unknown. Terrifically talented in the vital rebound department, Dwight‘s been afforded consideration for playing most of his career on a non-contender. Like Kobe, this Atlanta native has the mind (NBA’s Age of Enlightenment?) and thick-skinned, resilient persona to handle the babies & brutes under the boards. But can he handle the pressure that will build on an expectant winner throughout the ebb & flow of a long NBA season? More importantly, can he find comfort on a team of stars as a not-quite-as-large-a-fish in a bigger pond?  Sure, why not.

Challengers

San Antonio Spurs

I fell for it last season. I’m not doing that again. The fade-away San Antonio pulled in the Western final last June against up-start OKC (2-4), a squad clearly not-ready-for-prime-time (Heat / 1-4), was the biggest story of the PS and nothing short of pitiful. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Gregg Popovich forged one of basketball’s great dynasties. Thanks for the memories, fellas.

Oklahoma City Thunder

“Surprise, surprise, surprise!” It’s like Gomer Pyle was running the 2012 post-season. The way OKC breezed through the West, tossing aside powers LA Lakers (4-1) & San Antonio, it looked like nothing would stop Kevin Durant & Co. from grabbing the first in a long line of titles. Unbeknownst to America the Miami Heat had other plans. Kevin proved to be, if not a paper tiger, certainly not as advertised. He seems destined to hoist the hardware one day but OKC’s failure to acquire a proven, dominant force down-low, along with KD’s insistence in making the talented but high-maintenance Russ Westbrook his cause-celebre, puts that day off for a spell.

Boston Celtics

The surprise here was that green gang got one win away from the promised land in PS ‘12, then failed to close the deal in G6 vs the Heat (98-79) in of all places, the Garden. Because these guys play with passion they just might get close again, but it’s doubtful. Like the Spurs, key Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are long in the tooth (Terry / 13-yr) while gifted Rajon Rondo seems determined, but ill-advised, to keep trying to carry this club.  See; Westbrook.

Chicago Bulls

Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer comprise a nice one-two punch inside but it’s former MVP Derrick Rose who makes the Bulls a contender. Chicago hopes to stay classy until that time Rose can return from a knee injury (ACL / Rubio) suffered in last season’s 1st-round playoffs (76ers). This explains the Bulls (other teams) dipping deep into the foreign b-ball market hoping to find the next Gasol, Nowitzki, Kukoc or Drazen Petrovic, evidence it’s not just soccer / futbol covering the globe in athletic glory.

New York Knicks

Had Knicks’ ownership seriously pursued coaching great and former NYC player Phil Jackson to work his Magic on this talented but underachieving roster, I’d have this team near the top in Eastern Conference potentiality. But as game as stars Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler can be, and laudable their efforts versus the Heat last spring (1-4), reaching the next level to ‘challenger’ should be the realistic goal here.

Playoff Aspirants

The Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers, Los Angeles Clippers, Atlanta Hawks, Memphis Grizzlies, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz will give their fans hope in NBA '12-13.

Steven Keys
Posted on: June 16, 2012 11:37 am
 

NBA's All-Time Best, Plus Teo

With the word “legacy” being tossed about in these NBA Finals like it’s the only reason for living, I got to thinking of those players who set the legacy-bar in the pro game.

Those memorables who’ve became the standard by which every aspiring superstar will eventually come to be measured.

Aspirants in these Finals would be the reigning MVP LeBron James, ring-holder Dwyane Wade and their up-start opponent, NBA scoring champ Kevin Durant.

And then there’s Russ Westbrook. An asset when he plays Scottie Pippen, second fiddle to OKC’s version of Michael Jordan, Mr. Durant. And if Russ hits the right notes at the right times, like Scottie, he just might get his ticket punched to Springfield, too (HOF).

Why just five all-time greatest hoopsters? Ever since Letterman made the top-ten list a national pastime it’s been run into the ground (ESPN).  And those top-100 lists were tiresome & tacky from the start (NFLN). Besides, picking the top five is a slam-dunk. After that, it gets a bit dicey.

5) Michael Jordan

Everyone’s #1 in the 40 & under group. I won’t get on that bandwagon. Mike comes in at #5. Cons: he never faced greatness in the Finals. Competition matters, a lot. Bulls beat a past-prime LA (‘91), Blazers (‘92), Suns (‘93), Sonics (‘96) and Jazz (1997-98). Then there’s Phil. Mike was more than a tweak away before Jackson arrived. The NPR coach is a basketball genius and deserves a share of the credit, winning in NY, Chicago and LA.

Pros: Two, back-to-back-to-back championship runs, an armful of MVPs and an unquenchable thirst for winning once he got a taste for it, all put him in this select group.

4) Larry Bird

Being half of the second greatest match-up in history gives you cachet. Three NBA titles (‘87 got away) and three MVPs gives you substance. Some would say his being the best white player of the past 35 years worked a bias, but Bird was no ‘great white (hype) hope.’ He had the shooting touch of Oscar Robertson, passing skills of Bob Cousy and rebounded like Dennis Rodman. And all these results with a chronic bad back, in the most competitive decade in NBA history, the 1980s. Before that back went out and Phil arrived in Chicago, head-to-head, Bird & Boston always had Jordan’s number, even when he put up 60 points.

3) Wilt Chamberlain

If the prize for ‘greatest player ever’ were awarded solely on talent, Chamberlain would get the nod easy. But as it stands today, titles have become the litmus test for greatness. He claimed the prize twice, first as a 76er, besting Boston along the way (’67), then in LA (’72). Coaching was the crux early on but when it finally coalesced in Philly, change came again. Though his shipment to LA formed a super trifecta (Baylor / West), all were winding down. Wilt’s best remembered for his individual feats, persona and battles with Bill.  He may've been his own worst enemy, albeit in a time of great culture clash.  Had his earlier career benefited from the team-stability enjoyed by the other four greats, Wilt the Stilt may’ve had a ring for every finger.

2) Bill Russell

Still #1 for fans-over-fifty, Bill’s the safe choice, given his ring-laden hands (11). Makes you wonder how Jordan can get the votes (6). Bill’s one of the great ‘might have beens’ (for St. Louis): drafted by Hawks (’56). Wilt-supporters (fans) always point to Bill’s team-talent as the winning-edge. With the likes of Sam Jones, Bob Cousy and Hondo Havlicek, it’s a fair point. But in their day, key battles were waged & won down low, in the paint, giants fighting for dominance. And no player (coach ‘66-69), then or since, has dripped more determination onto the hardwood than Mr. Russell.

1) Earvin “Magic” Johnson

Change is good, at least that‘s what we‘re told. I’m not a big fan, no one really is, but in this case, it’s apropos. It’s time Earvin was moved into the top spot. If Bill was Mr. determination, Magic was, well, magical. Nobody seemed to love the game…the GAME of basketball more than Earvin Johnson. America first saw that big smile when he ran the court as a Spartan and for the next 10 years it would light-up the NBA, receding only when he faced nemesis Bird and finally with his shocking AIDS announcement (’91).

Bill doubles-up Magic on titles and MVPs but the gold-standard (rings) is weighted by its karat-count: competition. Russell v Chamberlain was the battle-royal for posterity, but Magic and Lakers faced a more formidable field than did the 60s Celtics. The 80s had four great teams: Lakers, Celtics, 76ers and Pistons, with Bulls, Rockets & Bucks close behind. It’s why the introduction of professionalism into the Olympics (Dream Team) has been nothing more than a marketing money-grab and a farce.

Taking the O’Brien Trophy in his first NBA season (’79-80), subbing for Kareem in ‘87 (hook-shot heard ‘round the world) and even getting his weary Lakers back to the Finals one last time in ’91, all put Mr. Johnson on the highest pedestal. Congrats, Earvin.

Plus Teofilo 

As oddly loud as the sport pages have been recently with whining on the Bradley v Pacquiao decision (even Manny’s judge had it close @ 115-113), they’ve been as oddly quiet on the recent passing of another ‘greatest’ in sport. On June 11th it was announced Cuban boxer Teofilo Stevenson had died of a heart condition at the age of 60.

The undefeated, classy fighter settled for ‘greatest amateur,’ choosing to never turn pro after winning three Olympic heavyweight gold medallions, his first coming at Munich in 1972. By remaining loyal to Fidel Castro and Cuba, Teofilo created another big ‘might have been’: the Stevenson v Ali super-fight. And it would’ve been tremendous. The bad rap on TS: an unproven record. But those critics never saw him fight and then, in his era, the Olympics were the proving ground for prominence, catapulting names like Clay (Ali), Frazier, Foreman and Leonard. Fans of boxing history will remember Teofilo Stevenson.

Steven Keys
Posted on: May 22, 2012 12:25 pm
 

How the Tres Tamed the NBA

They were giants of the sporting world: names like Mikan, Pettit, Russell, Wilt the Stilt, Truck, Moses, The Enforcer, the Big O, the Big E and the Big Redhead.

Basketball’s leviathans in the low post.

Fans thrilled at their combination of size, strength and agility. The battles they fought under the boards defined the NBA and made sport headlines for nearly 40 years.

But change is the constant in a consumer democracy.

The Chuck Taylor high-tops and short-shorts are long gone, replaced with hideous foot-wear and a plethora of prison-yard tattoos. Historic but cramped old arenas gave-way to bigger & brighter venues with better seats, paint-happy hardwood and $12.50 nachos.

And no change has been greater than disappearance of the inside game. In particular, the demise of the dominant center and power-forward.

Different from women’s basketball where the tall pivot player still reigns, the menacing man in the middle has become an endangered species.

Since the days of Kareem Abdul Jabbar you could count on two hands the number of big men who’ve dominated down low: Bob Parish, Bird, McHale, Laimbeer, Shaq, Rodman, Magic, Olajuwon, Duncan and Karl Malone nearly fill out a very short list.

The culprit: NBA’s adoption of the three-point shot.

The National was sitting pretty in the late 70s, having absorbed what remained of a monopolized ABA (1976) and negotiated lucrative TV / merchandise deals. But a dramatic rise in player salaries gave some jughead in a Suit reason to get creative.

In 1979 they reached into their former rival’s bag of tricks (the American employed the dunk and the tres in 1968 “as marketing tool(s) to compete with the NBA (Wikipedia)” and pulled out the three-point gimmick to prime the pump.

Basketball’s never been the same.

There had been a balance, a symmetry, a ying & yang in roundball.

Fans were treated to two theaters of play: one inside, where bruisers like Nate Thurmond, Dantley, Unseld, Reed, Walton, Lanier, Cowens, Gilmore and Dan Issel waged war; the other, out on the key where long-rangers Jerry West, Bing, Frazier, Maravich, Gervin, Winters and Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson could Heat it up in a hurry.

As long as both theaters had direction there was a symbiosis and the game flourished.

But by the mid-80s the physical, combative play which for years had made the sport so colorful…vanished. Centers and power forwards regressed into mere supporting players or disappeared all together. Much of the action moved away from the paint and up to the high-post where guards and guard-wannabes directed the flow and became the stars.

The spotlight swung away from bangers and over to finesse guys like Julius Erving and Mike Jordan as the 3-pointer and un-contested dunk became signature plays of the NBA.

If you see a guy in the low-post today chances are he’s only waiting on an alley-oop or mesmerized as an opponent dunks on his head. Post game both will hug & laugh about it.

As most NBA rookies are today on the 5-year maturation plan, they’ll never develop the wide range of skills that even stylers like Dr. J and Jordan would eventually pick-up.

“You don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle” (Seinfeld).

They don’t sell the game anymore, they sell celebrity (endorsements), air-time (TV / Twitter / fantasy) and merchandise (cantaloupe-sized driver heads and wicked metal bats in Little League (Outside the Lines; 3/1/11)). If it generates a nice revenue stream, then history, integrity and sometimes safety, it would appear, all get swept under the rug.

When big-shots like Kevin Love (6’10) and Kevin Durant (6’9) spend half their time on the perimeter you know the game’s gone soft. Both should live inside 15 feet. Instead, the past four seasons has seen a steady up-tick in their 3PAs. It's surprising, given the tremendous shooting touch both possess (FG%: .457 / .468) when not launching 3s.

So much for pumping-up the offense.

In comparison, the newly-crowned MVP LeBron James has seen his 3PA% decrease each of the past three seasons: 25% (‘09-10); 19% (‘11); 13% (abridged ‘12). That’s growth.

Prime example of the tamer NBA: With 6 ticks left on the clock and down by only one vs OKC (PS G2 '12), rather than design a drive to the hoop for two, likely draw the foul, and even with a miss and no whistle, ball’s in play for a rebounded score (Gasol / Bynum), Lakers Coach Mike Brown opts for the thrilling, unnecessary, low-percentage 3-pointer that Steve Blake rims out. Blake & Brown are lambasted but what the Lakers did was SOP in today’s b-ball.

There are men who keep the spirit alive with dynamic play in the paint. A few of the standouts: centers Tim Duncan, Howard, Pau Gasol, Bynum and Joakim Noah; forwards Blake Griffin, Garnett, Cousins, Humphries and Atlanta’s Josh Smith.

It’s time to bounce the 3-pointer outta’ the gym. Send it, along with the dunk contest and home run derby over to where they all belong: Saturday morning TV.

Then watch the roundball renaissance begin.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com