Saturday, July 08, 2006

Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days


Amazingly, I just said to myself “Ooh, that’ll be exciting” after perusing Utah’s roster for the upcoming season. Along with Rodney Carney, I predict Ronnie Brewer will prove to be one of my favorite swingmen Orlando passed up for JJ Kerr. J-Sloan might be contemplating the use of a more fashionably-paced bebop tempo offense, subbing in defensive vet Fisher and moving Deron “Darren” Williams to his more natural shooting role. Could the Jazz feature enough versatile defenders to employ a speed frontline of Brewer-Kirelenko-Boozer? Perhaps this will Okur to the coaching staff. CJ Miles might be another infusion of range with young legs. Harpring’s handy if you need a three Mehmet can’t provide. They’re one Allen Ray signing away from concerning a few people.


Due to mindless frugality, Pat Burke could be a rotation player for Phoenix next season. After so many superbly efficient and economical moves over the past three years, the Suns grew a not-undeserved GM God complex. The got greedy. And why not? Observe the catalog of hall-of-fame selections and signings:

1) Drafting Amare Stoudemire with the #9 pick in 2002
2) Stealing Two-Time MVP Steve Nash away from Dallas for $10M per in 2004
3) Trading San Antonio for the rights to Leandro Barbosa in 2004
4) Sign-and-trading Joe Johnson for Boris Diaw and picks in 2005
5) Signing Free Agent starter Raja Bell for the MLE in 2005
6) Signing Free Agent Tim Thomas for a portion of the veteran’s minimum in 2006

Trading Quentin Richardson for Kurt Thomas and adding James Jones and Eddie House to the arsenal didn’t hurt either. But notice how cheaply this roster was constructed—by taking advantage of other teams’ stupidity. Eight teams (!) passed on Amare, including the Warriors, Cavs and Knicks. D’Antoni ravaged New York and Atlanta for their unsung heroes and diamonds in the rough. An overpaid yet supremely talented combo forward wilting under a disciplinarian becomes a starter in the Western Conference Finals. Bravo.

But the businessmen of the league wised up this summer and Suns management parlayed away serious assets for the sake of avoiding the tax. Gone are the potential Nash understudies that could have been had for cheap at #21 or #27. Trade Rondo to the Celts for a future first, fine: but why not stash Sergio Rodriguez, the Spanish Magician, away in Europe for a few years? Why not get tough or athletic with Lowry or Farmar? Don’t you want to run your dynamic offense and shorten Steve’s minutes so a healthy weasel can feed a hungry Stoudy all postseason long? You let Thomas and House fend for themselves because of your thin pockets: could you really not afford to add a rookie pay scale or two in exchange for their replacements—Shannon Brown, James White, Steve Novak, Alexander Johnson?

Let’s hope a revitalized Amare can hold this skeleton crew together—elsewise, Colangelo The Younger’s departure will herald more growing pains than they bargained for. It’s hard to buy a championship for peanuts.


I love this man. I want to be his grand-nephew just so I could tell stories about how everyone thought my batty old uncle was insane when he made a flurry of draft day deals that turned out to be the tipping point for his franchise’s championship run. Twice.

Rudy Gay is not Kobe Bryant. Neither is Pau Gasol Shaquille O’Neal. They are, however, going to be perfect compliments to one another and have certainly (along with blood-sweat-‘n-tears Lowry and Hakim “Stretch Armstrong” Warrick) piqued my interest unlike any Grizzlies before them. After their seventy eighth consecutive winless playoff exit, my analysis of this Memphis team started thusly: “I have no idea what this team is doing.” That is no longer the case. Not only do I think Rudy Gay will have a better season than Shane Battier—I think he might contribute more to his team than Tracy My-back-Grady. Imagine if T-Mac played defense, cared about his team, and played as many games in a season as Scottie Pippen, but still retained his sick jumper and uber-athleticism. This is what I expect out of Rudy Gay in 2008. The Rockets won’t crack the NBA’s top four in the next two years anyway, so displacing RG for SB makes no sense to me.

Conversely, Memphis might not make it out of the first round this year (likely against Houston), but they’ll win some games. And more the next year. Alexander Johnson (Rodman 2K6?) and Kyle Lowry (Hardaway 2K6?) are two of “my guys” in this draft, and I expect both to become championship-level role players in their careers. Meanwhile, Stromile Swift can either reunite with the frontcourt that earned him his silly contract, or net them a future asset from New Jersey who pursued him last summer and would be poised to contend in the East now with the addition of an athletic shot-blocking force.


Brian Parker and I are writing a love letter to John Paxson. It goes like this: Thank you for praying on the idiocy of both the smartest and stupidest executives in the history of the league.” Though I don’t share his disdain for the flailing Knickerbockers (that would involve caring about them in the first place), I do echo Parker’s predilection for pooh-poohing the Pistons. Not only did offering a mere $3M more per year cause one of the most tremendous heart-and-soul transplants in modern NBA History (Shaq to Miami and Nash to Phoenix are of similar magnitude), but it also insured an even greater disparity between the spots at which the Bulls and the Knicks will be selecting in the 2007 NBA Draft.

Lest ye forget, part of the Eddie “Could Die on the Court At Any Time” Curry trade of 2005 was (along with this year’s pick that became Tyrus Thomas) the right to SWAP picks in loaded 2007. What truly majestic foresight by Pax. Many expect New York to win more games under Isaih than they did under Larry Brown – indeed, it would be hard not to. However, if you can name me five teams that will win fewer games than New York next year, you win a cookie. Heck—one million cookies. Because Minnesota and Philly are the only teams that look like they might blow it up, and those are long shots at best. Portland, Atlanta and Charlotte are certainly lottery bound, but I would put money on the Bulls landing a top ten pick next spring. If Big Ben teaching T2 how to bench-press, rebounding with Luel and snarling with Noccioni isn’t enough to get you excited about the Bulls future, check out the options on the top of the draft board in 2007. At the very worst they get FSU stud forward Al Hortford.

Too many sportswriters are criticizing the Bulls for signing Benedict Wallace to such a hefty tenure because he lacks a post game. Keep in mind, Marc Steins of the world, that this is the New NBA. A post-game helps, but is not necessary to contend. Observe:

Teams Advancing in the Playoffs w/o Interior Scoring:

Dallas (finals)
Detroit (conference finals)
Phoenix (conference finals)
New Jersey (2nd round)
Cleveland (2nd round – and no, Z doesn’t count as he tied Memphis’ star guard Chucky Atkins at 9.8 points per in the 2006 playoffs, nearly catching the likes of Brent Barry’s 10.7 and wunderkind Luke Walton’s 12.1)

Teams Advancing w/ Low-post Scoring:

Clippers (2nd round)
San Antonio (2nd round)
Miami (champion)

Only nine of the top 50 playoff postseason scorers play in the post. One could argue a perimeter attack can suffice, at least until the very end. And even then, wasn’t Ben Wallace part of the 2004 championship team that only occasionally featured Sheed on the block? I think Chicago knows what they’re doing.


Apparently not. Dudes out in the cold after draft night ’06 include:

- Allen Ray
- Mike Gansey
- Kevin Pitrsnogle
- Gerry Macnamara
- Rashad Anderson
- J.P. Batista
- Louis Annundson

Despite winning the title, Miami realized they still have needs to fill in order to complement their vast talent level with some cohesive parts. They’ve already locked up Mike Gansey for two years at a paltry $1.1M. A gritty pure shotter, energy/glue-guy in the mold of Jeff Hornacek, Mike G should see productive minutes at SG to give Wade either time on the bench of at the point. Likewise, fellow mountaineer Kevin Pittsnogle is taking a crack at the Heat’s summer league. Who doesn’t want a tough PF who has viable NBA 3-pt range? For the MINIMUM?

Allen Ray has a 6’9” wingspan, making his statue as a 6’2” SG not nearly as debilitating as, say JJ Reddick’s 6’3” wingspan despite standing 6’4”. Rashad Anderson fits the bill as well. Any team in need of a near-Reddick quality sharpshooter with MUCH better defensive length should scoop one of these guys up—Utah, Cleveland, Charlotte, I’m looking at you. Of course it would be Danny Ainge who scoops up a competitive talent like Ray only to present him with the challenge of making it past summer leagues only to be stashed behind Boston’s glut of combo swingmen. One more player in his image, one more reason to smile at a GM’s God complex…


Who’s on the Piston’s summer league roster? None other than Rodney Billups, brother of Chauncey, and Wayne Wallace, nephew of Ben. However, Rodney is five inches shorter than his big bro, and Wayne is at least five inches less mean than Uncle Fro. Unless their respective gene pool has some kind of otherworldly surplus, Joe Dumars better hire a good HR person to navigate the hurt feelings of his superstars’ next of kin. Although I guess if Wally Szerbiack were my mom’s brother I’d be pretty excited just to be invited to summer camp with future hundred-thousandaires…

Additionally, I was waiting to hear which legit-sized-shooting-guard-deprived teams would think to enlist Kareem Rush and Casey Jacobson, both fantastic 6’6” shooters who have shown promise in the playoffs. The answer: Orlando and Denver, respectively. Both will make the teams and have the chance not only to earn minutes, but to start over the likes of JJ “T-Rex” Reddick and Ruben “Uh, guys, I’m a small forward…” Patterson.

I heart free agency.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Epistle to the Colossians

In the robust spring of AD 57 (or perhaps, some scholars think, 62), Paul penned letters from the state pen. in Rome to his buddies in Colossae in order to counteract what he considered the false teachings of Eastern mysticism and asceticism. I find no more appropriate an occasion to re-enact what P-Diddy did than prior to tonight's impending NBA draft.

Like most of Paul's epistles, this address consists of a doctrinal and a practical. Unlike Big P's grandstanding (not to mention that of every other mock draft and sportswriter out there), however, I'm gonna write letters to my friends (see PRACTICAL below) who have a stake in tonight's events. Namely, basketball fans. Let the games begin.


1. Need. The Need for Speed.
2. Know Your Window
3. Dynamite in '07 If You Blow It Up Now

#1: Draft for Need. Period. Too often teams attempt to take "the best player available" only to stash them behind capable starters of the same position and lose them in subsequent free agencies. Jermaine O'Neal behind Rasheed Wallace, for example. Marvin Williams in the crowded swingland of Atlanta, for another. On the one hand you lose a potential franchise player because he gets no minutes. On the other hand, you miss out on Chris Paul, a franchise level PG whom the Hawks passed up in deference to Royal Ivy. Draft for need.

Additionally, realize that You Need Speed. The Dawning of the New NBA is no fluke--David Stern's Cheney-esque subtle yet ingenius manipulation of the officiating handbook in the summer of 2004 has created a league dominated by quicker, more agile players as opposed to the old logic of 'drafting for size' or 'you can't coach height'. More appropriately: YOU CAN'T COACH QUICK. And quick will get you everywhere. Ask Mike D'Antoni and Avery Johnson.

#2: Know Your Window. Every GM should ask himself: When will my team be ready to compete? If the answer is NOW, draft appropriately. If the answer is IT'LL BE A WHILE, do likewise. For instance, the Suns are desperately trying to move Shawn Marion for an equally effective yet cheaper piece to their puzzle, Rashard Lewis. While the Seattle swingman plays 10% the defense the Matrix does, he will spread the floor better for a returning Stoudemire and allow Phoenix the flexibility to re-sign their new diamond in the rough, Boris Diaw. Plus, they can swing the #10 pick away from the Sonics in order to infuse their swing position with athleticism and either deadly speed (Rodney Carney) or excellent defense and passing (Ronnie Brewer) to study under Raja Bell. Meanwhile, Seattle is prime bait for this trade because they need to energize their fanbase, and Shawn will do the trick. Both clubs are sensitive to their window for success and what success entails.

#3: This follows #2 logically -- if you aren't ready to compete right now, the best possible thing you can do for your franchise is blow it up. The draft class of 2007 is perhaps even deeper and more promising than the unfathomable success of 2003. If your team is ill-equipped to rise to or near the top this fall (I'm talking to you Knicks, Sixers, Blazers, Pacers--Charlotte, Toronto, you're doing fine), use this draft to enhance your prospects for the future. More teams are willing to trade up, down or out of this draft for two reasons:

-- No surefire prospects, but many decent ones
-- Weak Free Agent Market

This makes for lots of trades, lots of moves, and the potential to mortgage the now for the later. And when Greg Oden is sitting in the pot at the end of the 15-67 rainbow, well...drop everything and find you a leprechaun.

Dear Tibet (yes, this is my friend's name) --

As an MA native, you've understood the Truth for some time now: there are no easy Asnwers. But I truly admire what Danny Ainge is doing--building. Finding the right man for the job at each position to grow a team with experience, chemistry, and the talent to contend. The proported Allen Iverson trade may be the union of all three of my drafting Doctrines: a perimeter-foccused offense realizing Paul Pierce and Allen Iverson are both in their prime and Billy King opting to blow up the storied 76ers rather than see his aging superstar get even more banged up with no return in sight. Who Boston gives up will be key--Sczerbiak is a given, but Philly will need a little more to swweten the pot. DA will have to part with one of his prized pups (Jefferson & Green) or a tasty 2007 pick. Let's hope for your sake he gets away with just moving Tony Allen--that's a Tommy Point! This would leave the C's of 06 looking like this:

G Allen Iverson / Sebastian Telfair
G Gerald Green / Delonte West
F Paul Pierce
F Al Jefferson / Ryan Gomes
C Perk / Ratliff

Dear Parker --

What can I say? Ben Gordon is a tweener (see yesterday's post). No matter how much you love Pax, he's gonna have to make the tough decision: trade Gordon now, or lose him later. Garnett might be on the table. I truly hope they don't ship the #2 for Marion, even if it means getting rid of Chandler's bloated contract. Make the #2 Brandon Roy and the #16 Saer Sene. I would love to watch those Bulls. Some whitey's in the Windy City might love Adam Morrison, especially if he could play SG, and that may well be the outcome tonight. In any case, you guys still have New York's pick for next year, so there's really no way to mess this up.

Unless you take Aldridge. Please god leave hiim for the Blazers...

G Kirk Hinrich / Chris Duhon
G Ben Gordon / Thabo Sefeloshahahaha
F Luol Deng / Andres Noccioni
F Tyrus Thomas / Mike Sweetney
C Tyson Chandler

Dear Livia --

I know you still have a Charles Smith jersey from the 1994 playoffs. It won't change the Knicks. I actually believe Isaih will coach the team well. There are two guys I would grab if I'm New York: Kyle Lowry and Alexander Johnson. Lowry is a courageous, scrappy competitor at the point and would be a huge boom for their heartless backcourt. AJ is a rebounding monster ala Dennis Rodman himself, and who wouldn't want the Worm in Orange and Blue? They'll probably take Shawn Williams at #21, though. Silly Knicks.

I'd also move Channing Frye--since you can't have two soft bigs in the middle and Eddy Curry is the "franchise" "player"--and the 07 pick (that the Bulls can swap for)--and an expiring contract (Jalen Rose?) to Denver for Kenyon Martin. They'd do it in a heartbeat. And you might even sniff the playoffs...

G Starbury / Nate Robinson
G Stevie Franchise / J Crawford
F Shawne Williams / David Lee
F Kenyon Martin / A. Johnson
C Eddy Curry / Jerome James

Ooh, it's almost 7:30! (Who watches the draft live?!?) More to come...

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Who’s Afraid of the #1 Pick?

It's no wonder GM's are trading out of the top of this draft like their life depended on it -- it's scary on the top. The ghosts of drafts past haunt the decision makers of Wednesday...

2001 Kwame Brown
1998 Michael Olowokandi
1995 Joe Smith
1980 Joe Barry Carroll
1956 Sihugo Green, drafted by Rochester over Bill Russell

What will 2007 hold? Andrea Bargnani and particularly Lamarcus Aldridge have the potential to be such picks. In a more dangerous way than Patrick O’Bryant’s Olowokandi-oozing potential, Aldridge’s tip-toes a precipitously fine line between the heights of MONCB (Myth of the Next Chris Bosh) and the abysmal depths of Mark Blountitude. Nowitzki and Tskitisivili are the popular poles Bargnani is thought capable of.

Many consider Brandon Roy (and even Randy Foye) the surest thing in the draft—but no one believes they could go to the head of the class.

Rudy Gaye is unanimously touted for his peerless (save perhaps Bargnani) potential; he is also consistently second-guessed for his as of yet inconsistent drive to be great. Adam Morrison doubtlessly has the epitome of this drive, but his lack of defense/foot speed could render him a hyped-up Sczerbiak/Dunlevy instead of a poor man’s Larry Legend.

So to place the present in context:

2002: Yao Ming
2003: LeBron James
2004: Dwight Howard
2005: Andrew Bogut
2006: ???

Toronto hasn’t relinquished it’s hold of the top spot yet—and they might not before their 5 minutes to select is up. I’ll tell you right now who they should take—Morrison. Since no player in the top 7 is head-over-shoulders better than the rest, take the most coveted player available. That gives you the best chance to trade down for the player you truly want (Bargnani or Foye) and pick up assets in the exchange. Teams like Charlotte, Portland, Minnesota, and Seattle are desperate for a new face of the franchise, an identity fans and players alike can rally around. The other top prospects are raw, foreign, undersized, uninspired, gutless, or a combination of the above. And even if you have to keep him, he’ll fit nicely into a Colangelo-constructed up-tempo team.

Be afraid if they choose anyone else, Raptors fans. Because you’ll probably be stuck with ‘em.

The Trouble with Tweeners

Sorry, Ben. Secret's out.

Despite going 9-for-9 from downtown to tie Latrell “Chokehold” Sprewell’s NBA record.Ben “The Microwave” Gordon was repeatedly left off the list each time Bill “Hyperbole” Walton named the players that would be Chicago’s young core of the future. And, as painful as it is for me to admit it, this time Uncle Bill has a point.

Tweeners are players who’s offensive skills set doesn’t correspond to the positions they can guard on defense. This is not to be confused with your multipositional player who can play more than one role on O and then hustle back to guard guys of varying size and speed. For instance, Shawn Marion is multipositional rather than a tweener: he can play both forward spots on offense while defending opposing 2’s, 3’s and 4’s. Versatility is an advantage.

Tweeners like Gordon, on the other hand, are a liability. They play one position when attacking yet must defend a smaller or slower position on the other end. As a sixth man, Gordon is elite—as a starter he struggles against starting SG’s. And as the third overall pick, he will insist on starter’s money when his contract is up. And Paxson will be hard pressed to commit his starting 2 slot to a guy the size of Derek Fisher who can’t defend, rebound, or play the point like him.

There are three ways a tweener can start in this league—learn the offensive skills your size/speed dictates, learn to defend bigger guys, or get surrounded with complimentary multipositional players.

Take Iverson. An incredibly talented 6’ shooting guard can score on offense and guard the one spot IF he has a big PG like Eric Snow who will gladly set the table on O and D up the opposing team’s two. When Eric Snow left town, AI had to develop point skills—he had to start (fan favorite, starter’s money) but would force the coach to either play a PG next to him thus hurting their defense, or no PG at all thus hurting their offense.

Gordon’s biggest obstacle to resigning for big cash is Hinrich. Though not quite as talented, Kirk can start as an NBA point guard and has the versatility to adequately guard the two position also. Starting the two of them in the backcourt seems unwise, so unless BG can accept his electrifying backup role, greener pastures will likely offer him green.

As the draft draws near, we still hear both management and fanbase from the Windy City declaring two clear needs -- low-post scoring, and a big two-guard. Unless Benny thinks he's ousting Kirk as the starting point, he must realize this is an endictment on him.

The solution? There's a native Chicagoan who is ultra-competative, has prototype size, and whose franchise desperately needs an infusion of youth and draft choices. Could Kevin Garnett be a Bull by summer's end? Possibly. Should Kevin McHale trade his superstar in order to rejuvinate his franchise with flailing youth just in time to earn the near-mythical #1 pick of the 2007 draft? Absolutely. Will it happen?

No way. But just for fun, this is what it would look like:

CHI sends Ben Gordon, Malik Allen, their 2006 #2 pick, and their 2007 1rst round pick (via NYK) to
MIN for Kevin Garnett and Ricky Davis

Kirk Hinrich / Chris Duhon
Ricky Davis / #16 Ronnie Brewer
Luel Deng / Andres Noccioni
Kevin Garnett
Tyson Changler

Ben Gordon
Randy Foye
Adam Morrison
+ two shots at Greg Oden

Thursday, May 11, 2006

It’s a Kind of Magic (Holy 2nd Draft, Batman!)

(I wrote this on Easter, if that makes any more sense.)

Freddie Mercury, Jesus of Nazareth, and Shaquille O’Neal have all moved on to greener pastures. For the city of Orlando, this trinity tells a story of painful tragedy, heart-wrenching loss, and miraculous redemption. If The Daddy, the Son, and the Spirit of 80’s Rock have anything in common, it is that each in his own way gave people a reason to come together and believe.

The concept of the “second draft” applies perfectly to what Darko Milicic is doing in Orlando. The Magic chose to 1) dump a veteran banger in exchange for a 26-year-old PG who would start for many teams, and 2) trade a future first-rounder for a former first-rounder, essentially making him their draft selection because he still has untested upside despite being in the league for nearly 3 years. Still younger than many of this year’s rookies, what kind of potential does the snarling Serbian have left to break through all the nay-saying and unfulfilled expectations?

Darko at age 20, in 21 mpg:
8.0p, 4.4r, 1.1a; 0.4s, 2.2b
FG 53%; FT 60%;
1.3 TO, 2.4 PF

Dirk at age 20, in 20mpg:
8.2p, 3.4r, 1.0a; 0.6s, 0.6b
FG 41%; FT 77%; 3pt 20%
1.6 TO, 2.2 PF

Raise any eyebrows? Dirk put a few more free throws and three pointers on the board in his rookie campaign, but Darko’s block-party (2.2 bpg!) and shot selection (53%!) blow the blonde bomber out of the water. Of course, Milicic had three more years to understand the NBA game and understudy with the Wallace Brothers—but Nowitzki had the coaching staff behind him all the way, which is worth more than gold.

Really, it’ll get you a max contract.

Perhaps all a talented young Eurobig needs is a losing situation where a coach can comfortably give him 7th man minutes and encourage him to find his game. Don Nelson is a zany, offensively-unorthodox genius, the perfect general to take a three-point shooting 7-footer into battle against gawking fans and smirking media. The Detroit franchise was bent on a championship, and the Dumars-Brown contingent continuously reminded everyone they had big plans for their #2 overall pick, mentioning the eventual goal of “a European Bill Russell” in every other press conference. But delicate flowers can’t bloom under Larry Brown, much less in 553 minutes played.

Does Darko Defy the Daunting Dilemma of his Disappointing Detroit Days to Deliver Dirk-like Displays of Downtown Dynamism? Might Milicic Make Mighty GM Joe Dumars Lament His Latest Mistake?

Probably not. Will he breakout as a 17ppg starter next season as Nowitzki did? Doubtful. But starting next to Dwight Howard takes a lot of attention away from you, leaving you open for easy jumpers and allowing you to block slashers who unwisely drive at you to avoid your frontcourt mate. Pending draft decisions in June (I hope they get Roy or Carney) and preseason play next October, I’ll pencil DM in for14-7-2 on 50% shooting with 2.5 blocks in 31 minutes. Which is better than 10-year veteran and former minute-blocker Rasheed Wallace’s numbers this season. Go figure.

See Darko: The Future -

A Glitch in the Matrix?

To keep or not to keep? The Odom question is central when thinking about the Laker’s offseason and long-term game plan to build a contender. Many LA bloggers say there’s only one player they’d rather have as the complimentary superstar to his soon-to-be-24-ness than LO: KG. If the Ticket demands for a transfer this summer, by all means deliver him to sunny CA. But would no one else play second fiddle better than Odom? Certain promising Toronto and Orlando-based bigmen come to mind. I could be persuaded to imagine a skinnier O’Neal in purple and gold if the Pacers decide to blow it up sooner rather than later. My affinity for single-named Brazillians might even force me to throw The Artist Formerly Known as Hilario into the mix.

But all-star, Olympian, and unique a talent as he is, I would not take Shawn Marion over Lamar Odom. I’ll take Marc Stein’s surprisingly on-base point one step further: the Matrix can be controlled. Unlike Neo, Shawn is incapble of dominating his surroundings when it matters most. It’s almost unnoticeable at first, but sure as those octopus ships will drill into Zion, playoff level defenses take away the powers that Marion so impressively exhibits during the regular season.

His one-on-one moves are worse than Kwame Brown’s. His handle is sub-Kaman. And if you close out so he’s forced to dribble into that little goose neck, his shot is as reliable as Quinton Ross’. He relies on inattentive defense to back-cut, flash to the middle, snag offensive boards—he finds himself in a whole new reality come May.

Ask yourself: is that really air you are breathing?

Requiem for a Dream

I feel your frustration, Kobe. The dream died, and it was such a pretty dream. Maybe changing your jersey number will fix the team. Maybe refusing to attack last Saturday will up the ante for teammates and management to do their part. Maybe giving Raja’s nose a few love elbows will give you the edge when you face them in the second round next spring. Maybe Kevin will demand more than spare parts this summer. Maybe.

As a man, I can comprehend Bryant’s decision to forfeit a foregone Game 7. As a coach, I cannot comprehend the inability of Phil Jackson or Mike Brown to impart a simple principle to their superstars: pass and cut. I have no problem with Kobe passing out of double teams instead of trying to beat them; I DO have a problem with him standing still after those passes. Impeccable conditioning and ultimate competitiveness DEMANDS that once you ditch the ball at the top of the arc, you cut to the high-post or set a down pick to free up someone else. Getting your teammates involved doesn’t mean voiding aggressiveness. Likewise, LeBron could create way more havoc on Detroit if he quickly cut after passing to get the ball back. As the Suns, Pistons, and Spurs demonstrate, ball movement and player movement can be crisp and decisive without causing turnovers and still ending up in a go-to guy’s hands. Receive the ball, make a move or hit the next guy. Pass, cut.

As Phil has reiterated, the Lakers don’t anticipate much action this summer. They need to see which pieces can develop. Talent injections are nice, but the LA feels free agency and the draft look much better next summer when they’re under the cap and abundant talent will fill the green room. Still, I see ways to meet needs in June and July. Virtually Gming follows thusly:

Option #1: Develop this Group, Add Small Pieces

Kobe and Lamar are where they need to be: a midrange Odom jumper would do Pippen proud. Bynum is a true low-post, shot-blocking prospect. With improved D and a more reliable threeball, Walton can be the perfect triangle SF. The 91-93 Bulls had two components the Lakers need to find—jump shooting bigs, and decisive, shooting PGs.

The frontline has Mihm, Kwame, Cook, and Turiaf to work with. I’d keep Mihm’s expiring $4M contract around as a more valuable asset come February and a reliable stand-in if Kwame regresses in the fall. Cook has the jumper, Turiaf has the fiery D—whichever one adds the missing skills first is the keeper. Darius Songalia has a nice midrange shot and can probably be snagged from Chicago for part of the MLE. Shot-blockers Saer Sene and Josh Boone will probably be available in the late first round, and even though they can’t shoot, such a presence certainly would have helped against Phoenix.

Smush and Sasha both have nice upside—neither looks like the Lakers starting PG of the future. Of all FA guards, Bobby Jackson or David Wesley would look nicest next to Kobe, but I wouldn’t prioritize them over minutes for S&V. Villanova’s Kyle Lowry could be a great steal in the draft. Rudy Fernandez could fit, but might be more Vujacic than Ginobili.

My Mitchery this summer would probably sit tight, draft Sene or Lowry, and sign Matt Harpring or Trevor Ariza with the MLE. Washington’s Bobby Jones is way under the 2nd round radar and would be a Ron Harper fit and a Bruce Bowen-like steal.

PG: Parker / Lowry / Jackson
SG: Bryant / Vujacic
SF: Walton / Harpring / Ariza
PF: Odom / Songalia / Cook / Turiaf
C: Brown / Mihm / Bynum / Sene

Option #2: The Big Splash

Obviously if Kevin Garnett is available, he would be the Greatest Second Banana of All Time to Kobe's phenomenal perimeter play. If Brian Grant's expiring $15M contract were included (and yes, you can trade such a thing), giving up LO would not only net KG but perhaps a Trenton Hassell or Marcus Banks as well. If the Pacers decide to blow it up, I wouldn't be opposed to using the same package for the skinnier O'Neal plus the spirited Saurunas Jasekevicius. However, I have a more likely and certainly more daring proposal:

PG: Ben Gordon / Smush
SG: Bryant / Vujacic
SF: Walton / Rudy Gaye
PF: Cook / Turiaf / Cederic Simmons
C: Brown / Bynum

Hear me out: Lamar Odom may be the best fit for this Lakers team at PF – but he may have reached his peak and it will take at least two more years to contend. Chicago is at the crossroands right now, and would a nickle’s worth of post-play now for ten cents of potential down the road. A Mihm-Odom deal for Ben Gordon and their two first round picks may be worth the risk for this LA franchise. Chicago loves Gordon, but has trouble starting him next to Hinrich and will certainly be hesitant to give him the starters money he will demand in ’08. On the other hand, LA loves Odom, but his passing and rebounding don’t quite make him a defensive pitbull and triangle assasain that Pippen was. Chicago gets the hard-working low-post threats they crave while retaining New York’s promising ’07 pick for the future. The Lakers get Pippen 2K6 in Rudy Gaye, a potential superstar guard who fits the triangle perfectly in Gordon, and the potential to infuse youthful talent around Bryant while remaining under the cap. It would be a step backward for LA, but provide a brighter future.

Removing Lamar lets Luke become the point-forward he was meant to be and gives more minutes at PF to sort out the young studs. Ben can easily take on LO’s scoring load and moves Smush to his more effective backup role. Draft Boone at #26 and you have Kobe playing with a UConn championship team (Gordon, Gaye, Boone, Bynum). Go Huskies!