Can the Lakers keep their pick?

by on Oct.29, 2014, under Lakers, NBA

The Lakers owe the Suns a 1st-round pick. It is top-5 protected this year. So the Lakers will have to finish in the bottom 5 of the league to keep it.

To get a handle on this, you have to understand the difference between:

  • Strategic Tanking (ST)
  • Tactical Tanking (TT)
  • Plain-‘ol-Bad (PB)

Strategic Tanking is like first degree murder – it requires malice aforethought. You have to carefully plan to be bad, then ruthlessly execute your plan. Last year, there were an unprecedented six STs. This year, I only see two: Sixers and Celtics.

Tactical Tanking is what happens when teams take advantage of a slow start, and just give up. See the Warriors, 2nd-half of the 2011-12 season. This year, we can expect a few teams to become TTers. At some point, the Wolves, Pacers, and Magic will realize they aren’t contending for anything.

And then there are teams that are just bad. They look okay on paper, and they want to win. But they have mis-matched parts, and they over overmatched by 10 other teams in the own conference. I’m thinking specifically of the Kings, Pelicans, Jazz, Bucks, and Pistons.

So where do we place the Lakers? Before the opener tonight, I would have said PB leading to TT by January.  But after tonight…

I think Mitch Kupchak is an evil genius. The ST is on!

Kupchak was tasked this summer with putting together a roster that would both:

  • sell tickets, and
  • lose regularly

Sell tickets: Kobe, Steve Nash, Carlos Boozer, Linsanity, Ed Davis, Swaggy P.

Lose regularly: Ronnie Price, Xavier Henry, Robert Sacre, Carlos Boozer,.

And so far, so good. The Rockets are a good-not-great team, and they just drubbed the Lakers by near 30. Byron Scott limited Kobe’s minutes, which means it’s entirely possible that he is in on the fix.

Julius Randle had the potential to swing some games, but broke his leg tonight.

Zach Lowe rates the Lakers as 4th worst. Actually, his worst ranking is:

  1. Sixers
  2. Wolves
  3. Kings
  4. Lakers
  5. Pacers

Obviously, I disagree. The Kings are a PB team, and the Wolves will be a TT team starting in January. The Pacers will try really hard, and they are in the East. Meanwhile, the Celtics are ST-ing. And so are the Lakers! My ranking looks like this:

  1. Sixers
  2. Lakers
  3. Celtics
  4. Wolves
  5. Magic

Nobody is worse than the Sixers. But the Lakers are so sneaky bad (and playing in the West) that I see them cruising to number 2. The Celtics will try to win,  but they’ll be sabotaged at regular intervals by their GM. Flip Saunders will eventually embrace tanking, and the Wolves are in the West, so they will lose a lot. The Magic are also going to switch to TT-ing later, but they are in the East, so they’ll finish above the Wolves.

 

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Summer pull quotes

by on Jul.19, 2014, under Lakers, Warriors

A couple of quotes from Andrew Sharp that I want to highlight.

On the Warriors:

If they don’t get Kevin Love, there’s still a chance that they keep Klay Thompson and, long-term, turn into a team that can contend with anybody in the league. But there’s a much better chance that Love will land in Cleveland, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut will break down over the next few years, Golden State will overpay to keep Klay next summer, and Warriors fans will spend years cursing those few weeks before the draft when this team somehow turned Klay Thompson into a franchise cornerstone.

 

On the Lakers:

It’s too bad that Julius Randle and Ed Davis have to be involved in this horrible science experiment of a basketball team, but everything else is worth it just to see what happens.

It’s all building to a riot outside Jim Buss’s house.

It’s all building to a first-round pick that they’ll try to tank for but inevitably lose to Phoenix when they fall juuuuuuust outside the top five.

It’s all building to Kobe losing his mind.

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Mitch K’s Trade Emporium

by on Jul.18, 2014, under Lakers

I figured out Mitch Kupchak’s plan to rebuild the Lakers.

At first, I thought he had sunk into depression and started just signing guys. If he recognized your name, you got a fat contract.

Then, optimistically, I concluded that he was secretly tanking. He needed to convince Kobe that he was actually trying, so he grabbed recognizable names at higher-than-necessary prices. He collected shiny puzzle pieces, but from different puzzles. There is no way to fit them together. The Lakers 1st round pick is top-5 protected. This Frankenstein roster could easily contend for the 4-5 spot. Remember, the Warriors tanked into the 7th spot 3 years ago, collecting Harrison Barnes. And the Warriors didn’t start tanking until halfway through the season. Imagine what this Lakers roster could do with a full season!

Finally, today, I struck on a third option. Mitch is trolling for assets. The trading desk is open for business!

Jordan Hill? As Bill Simmons said of Celtic forward Kris Humphries last year, every team needs a $9MM expiring contract as trade filler for the big targets, If the Lakers somehow get into the Kevin Love action, know that Hill will be salary ballast.

Steve Nash? He shoots the lights out. If he demonstrates a minimum of health, a contending team might ask for him near the deadline.

Swaggy P? Small market teams like the Bucks and Wolves really need affordable, service-able guys on longer contracts. I mean, given a choice (for equivalent money), Nick Young never goes to those places. So if you are dumping Sanders or Ilyasova, or parting with Kevin Love, those are the kinds of deals you want coming back. But really, anyone would be happy to take that deal. Super trade-able.

Jeremy Lin? Okay, the Lakers did that for the accompanying 1st-round pick.

Ed Davis? Er… When I saw “Lakers sign Davis” on twitter, I thought, “Baron? Cool!” Alas…

Carlos Boozer? Lakers are stuck with him all year. So… Maybe Secret Tanking is the plan after all?

The true Lakers plan is (and always has been): 1) acquire a marquee player; 2) use him as bait to sign one or two more marquee players. The Lakers are profoundly uninterested in competing for anything before step 1 is accomplished. I mean, if it happens, great. But meanwhile, Mitch wants to collect picks (and maybe prospects) until he can either trade for, or sign the marquee guy.

If guys keep peeling off the Laker’s roster this year, you know Mitch’s plan is working,

 

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Last one out, get the lights, Lakers!

by on Jul.13, 2014, under Lakers

It was hard to name this post. I might have called it:

  • Meet the new Lakers, same as the old Lakers
  • Lakers – Keep gettin’ dem’ (season-ticket) checks

The Lakers are sitting on some significant franchise advantages:

  • an insane local TV contract, that craps money on them
  • demonstrated willingness to go over the tax
  • really great local weather
  • a large and affluent african-american community
  • a rich tradition
  • Hollywood, the music industry, celebrity culture

So… why won’t anyone play there? Why is it more popular to play for the Sterlings than the Buss’s these days? How many times do you whiff on free agency before you get the message?

Maybe the NBA has changed? When Jerry Buss (and Eddie DeBartolo) roamed the Earth, part of the thrill of owning a pro sports team was hanging out with the athletes. That hasn’t been true for a long time. A decade, at least. If the Lakers were mostly held together based on the ties that bind, and the ties died 2 1/12 years back, where does that leave the Lakers?

To brass tacks:

The Lakers lost Dwight Howard, followed by Melo.

Did they have a plan B? Er… apparently not.

When the Mavs missed on Howard last year, it was clear they had a Plan B: sign a bunch of veterans. The Laker’s Plan B? Conserve cap space for another failing run next summer.

Let’s talk about the Kobe factor. Kobe’s contract only ever made sense in 2 scenarios:

  1. The Lakers hope to contend
  2. The Lakers need to sell tickets

All I ask, as a fan, is that the Lakers be honest with me. And plan 2) is not honest. Plan 2) is selling out lifetime Laker fans to watch the last 2 years of an amazing talent, a lifetime Laker.

You know what a good Plan B would have looked like: Lance Stepenson. A wild gamble, roll-of-the-dice. But if he turns into the next LeBron? Brilliant!

Instead we get Julius Randle, Nick Young, Jeremy Lin, and Jordan Hill, and whatever Steve Nash has left. Wee!

You know who blew it? Kent Bazmore, who could have logged heavy NBA minutes on this lame team.

I was in a forgiving mood last year, Lakers. And, yes, I will stick around to watch the end of Kobe’s career. I won’t be rooting “for you,” so much as “with you.” But if you continue to squander your considerable gifts, I will move on. The NBA is a glorious kingdom. Pity that you are no longer a part of it.

 

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Bodies are not cars

by on Jul.12, 2014, under NBA

Ever since MLB discovered the “pitch count,” sports fans have formed a “athlete’s bodies are like cars” metaphor. And it is false.

Every athlete has a certain amount of effort stored up inside. Granted. But it varies by individual. And it short-term. And it declines by year. Which means, in NBA terms, that quoting someone’s supposed “mileage” is BS.

Example: LeBron has 40K NBA minutes on his 29-year-old body. Is that relevant? Maybe.

See, every minute does not count the same. When Lebron was 20, maybe those minutes hardly affected his body. Tom Tolbert is famous for recounting how life in the NBA is a picnic.

Maybe LeBron loafed 25% of his minutes last year. How do you calculate that?

From my very-limited perspective, playing lots of minutes in any given night does not matter. Nor does playing heavy minutes every night. An NBA game is only 48 minutes of clock-time. There are lots of breaks. The country is full of guys who play more than 48 minutes a night in rec-leagues and pick-up games. Number-of-minutes is a stupid metric in the NBA.

What really wears in the the NBA is the every-night expectation. Football players play once-a-week. Baseball players take nights off without remark. NBA players are expected to show up, at top level, every night. For 82 games.  When Gregg Popovovich famously rests his plays for a game, the team gets fined a quarter million dollars. No rest for the weary.

If you really want to measure a guy’s NBA mileage, you have to gin-up some formula that accounts for:

  • heavy minutes
  • in close games
  • where the player is one of the top-2 scorers on his team
  • home or away
  • with how much rest (back-to back? three-games-in-four-nights?)

Let me know when that exists.

 

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Melo

by on Jul.10, 2014, under Lakers, NBA

He is returning to the Knicks. Of course.

Look, he is waiting around, hoping to unite with another All-Star. But it’s not happening. He can take the NY money, the LA money, or the (much smaller) Chicago money.

Seriously, as long as Jerry Reinsdorf owns the Bulls, they are:

a) never exceeding the tax
b) out of the free agent market

Sorry, not happening. The Lakers money isn’t far off from the Knicks,  Does Melo want to live in NY or LA? That is the question.

Meanwhile, the Lakers will show up here every year, hoping for the fist “piece.” The first piece is a guy who draws other guys. Melo could be that guy. But so could other (future) guys. If the Lakers miss this year, oh well. They’ll get another one. Later.

 

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Waiting for Wade (and Melo)…

by on Jul.04, 2014, under Lakers, NBA

It is the end of day three of free agency. The Heat stars have not broken radio silence. Well… mostly. Chris Bosh’s agent surfaced long enough to debunk a rumor that had Bosh settling for $11MM/year. Not happening.

So now, the whole world waits for the King, as it should. If LeBron re-signs with the Heat (probably for max-money), then Bosh can soberly decide to accept a pay cut to keep playing with LeBron. Or not. We’ll see.

But wait! I think the whole thing depends on Dwayne Wade. If Wade takes a huge paycut (say, to $10MM/year), the Heat will gain tax space even as Lebron gets paid. That induces LeBron and then Bosh to re-sign.  If Wade holds out for $16MM+, LeBron may bolt (because the Heat will be taxed-out). And if LeBron leaves, will Bosh accept less than max-money himself? The whole Heat cookie could crumble in the next week.

If LeBron flees, and Melo returns to the Knicks, Bosh can get mad-money from the Lakers! Would he still stick with his BFF Wade in that case? What if the Heat won’t match the Laker bid?

After the Decision II, lots of money becomes available. Maybe Cleveland makes that max offer to Gordon Hayward after all. Lots of teams have cap space. Some of them want to win.

Four summers ago, the Big 3 conspired to take less money and form a super-team. Now, they could blow up that team with rational decision making.  There is an owner vs players angle to this as well.

Meanwhile…

There are several teams who are hoarding money for Melo. I don’t see Chicago winning this race, because they can’t/won’t clear enough cap space. That makes it a three horse race between the Knicks, Rockets, and Lakers. Too close to call.

On a related note… the Bulls will amnesty Boozer when Hell freezes over. Jerry Reinsdorf is not giving away a dollar. Not now. Not ever.

If Melo signs with the Knicks, it unlocks a lot of money with the Rockets. Mavs, and Lakers. I look for the Lakers to pull a Cuban, and load up with high-dollar, short-term contracts.

 

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On the JKidd maneuver…

by on Jul.03, 2014, under NBA

The band Extreme taught us that there are 3 sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.

Over a wild several days, Jason Kidd was resigned/fired from/by the Nets, and replaced with Lionel Hollins. Meanwhile, Kidd lands the head coaching job with the Bucks.

The media narrative:

  • Kidd over-reached, demanding the top basketball ops spot, above incumbent GM Billy King
  • The Nets refused, triggering his dismissal.
  • The Bucks, half-owned by Kidd’s former financial advisor and BFF, hired him before firing incumbant Larry Drew

My narrative:

  • Even if Kidd made an unseemly demand, and later broke the “coach code,” so what? As Zach Lowe said on Bill Simmons’ podcast, no one is going to take care of you, but you.
  • More from Lowe: Kidd was unhappy with King’s leadership/vision/supervision in January. He did not want to report to Billy King. He did not want Billy King in charge of all personnel decisions. He made his case, he asked to report to someone else, he advocated that a higher-level decision-maker be installed over King. He was rebuffed.
  • After Steve Kerr and Derek Fisher got $5MM/year deals, did Kidd want a new deal himself? Of course! Who wouldn’t? Is coaching out your below-market contract in silence part of the “coach code?” Maybe. Whatever. See above.
  • If Larry Drew is a victim, he is an odd one. Recall that he broke the “coach code” himself when he stole Mike Woodson’s job in Atlanta. Recall, also, that Drew was mediocre, at best, as a head coach. If a mediocre coach falls in the woods, does anyone care?
  • If you own a failing team, and your coach is not-great, and a better coach is available, can you hire the better guy? And then fire the no-so-great coach? Yes. (Note to Warriors fans: see M. Montgomery => D Nelson.)

Meanwhile, so stipulated:

  • Is Kidd a great human being? No. Is he a good human being?  Er…
  • Is he popular among the current players? Yes.
  • Do current players respond to his coaching? Yes.

But, hey, good-guy Lionel Hollins lands on his feet. So there’s that!

 

 

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The Sterling Dodge is doomed

by on May.24, 2014, under NBA

One day, hopefully, I will say more, much more, about the reign of Donald Sterling. But for now, I have just a small thought.

Today, Donald surrendered controlling interest to his estranged wife, Shelly. Shelly now hopes to sell the team on her own terms.

Does this remind you of the Maloofs? At the end, they needed to sell, but wanted to keep running the team. They actually brokered that exact deal for their Palms Casino in Las Vegas. So it is not unheard of…

Shelly is already on record saying she wants to own the team until she dies, and she wants her son to have a job with the Clippers for life. So I imagine this dodge is really an effort to sell to a “friendly” source, who will invite Shelly (and maybe even Donald) to enjoy a luxury suite, employ the son, and befriend the Sterlings for the next half-dozen years that they are alive and kicking.

It didn’t work for the Maloofs…

Just saying…

Meanwhile, I am actually sad that Donald Sterling surrendered so easily. No love for Donald here, to be sure. But the NBA by-laws don’t really account for this situation. And Mark Cuban, at least, was queued up to vote for Sterling (on the basis of a narrow principle, which would have been great blog fodder). Now we’ll never know. Like so much else in the law, an un-challenged assertion wins. And that is sad.

 

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How the Warriors can get Kevin Love

by on May.21, 2014, under Warriors

The “narrative” out there is that other teams, choking on draft picks, have the pole position to get Kevin Love. I offer another scenario.

What if Gen Taylor and Flip Saunders want to win soon, like next year? Trading Love for draft picks means launching a rebuild, which means giving up on Rubio and Pekovic. And I’m not convinced that Taylor and Saunders are are ready to swallow that pill.

If the T-Wolves want to rebuild instantly, around Rubio and Pekovic, then the Warriors have what they want: long term contracts. As Ken Berger said last summer:

small- and mid-market teams still aren’t playing by the same rules as those in the glamour markets

Minnesota needs good players, good locker-room/community guys, signed to multi-year deals. Ladies and gentlemen, I present you: David Lee, Harrison Barnes, and Draymond Green.

Lee is under contract for 2 more years. Ditto for Barnes. Green is restricted after next season. Barnes is restricted after 2 seasons. The T-Wolves would have Lee’s Bird rights. This is what mid-market teams crave.

Minnesota could demand Klay Thompson, restricted after this season (plus Lee, and maybe a future draft pick). If that is the sticking point, I agree with Marcus Thompson II: the Warriors make that deal.

Love > Thompson + Lee.

If Minnesota decides to do a tear-down, then the Warriors don’t have the goods. But if they want to rebuild-on-the-fly, the Warriors have the right stuff.

 

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