Los Angeles Lakers – Showtime

October 28, 2006

Website: Showtime
Author: Yannis Koutroupis

Last years record: 45-37
Key Losses: Devean George, Jim Jackson, Von Wafer
Key additions: Vladimir Radmanovic, Shammond Williams, Jordan Farmar

1. What significant moves were made during the off season?
After watching the make everyone a threat formula nearly get them into the second round, the Lakers decided to stick with that plan and bring in two guys who are established threats. Vladimir Radmanovic, who nearly everyone involved in the Laker organization made a call to help recruit, was signed to a long term deal. In this offense he’ll get opportunities to shoot threes all day, but the Lakers are really hoping that he’ll be able to establish himself as a threat in the mid range and post as well as the perimeter. Farmar was drafted 26th overall to one day become the starting point guard. His basketball IQ, leadership, and pure point guard abilities made the Lakers really feel like they got a steal at 26. Maurice Evans is one of the first small-but very effective pick ups that Kupchak has ever made. Getting a guy who can contribute right away with his offense and athleticism for a second rounder who won’t be ready for the NBA for at least two or three years was a steal. Evans will battle Sasha Vujacic for minutes as the back up two, while sliding over to the one and three if necessary. It wasn’t a blockbuster move, but it was one of Mitch’s better moves yet.

2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
When healthy the depth and size of this team are what stands out. The Lakers have two guys at every position, three at some, who can come in and have an impact on the game. Because of injuries, depth has become a necessity. Before all the injuries the Lakers were planning to have a starting lineup of 6’4 Smush Parker, 6’6 Kobe Bryant, 6’10 Vladimir Radmanovic, 6’10 Lamar Odom, and 7’0 Kwame Brown. That would be one of the bigger starting lineups in the leagues. Medical staff is also a big strength, without Vitti and crew Lakers would be strong candidates for the lottery.

3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
Obviously, injuries are the biggest weakness right now. Just about every player on the Laker roster has experienced some kind of set back this off season. Kobe’s knee injury is on month four now and is still not fully healed despite the expected recovery time being three months max. Vladimir Radmanovic has a torn ligament in his shooting hand and right now is saying that he’s just going to play through it. However, the hand injury will not get any better and will require surgery at the end of the season, no word yet if they’ll recommend he get surgery now or not. Luke Walton is in a contract year and in the best shape of his career, but he doesn’t open things up for Kobe and Lamar like Vladimir would. Shammond William’s pelvis injury will likely linger throughout the season as well, but with rookie Jordan Farmar playing so well, it’s not much of a set back. Kwame Brown has a hurt rotator cuff, and is expected to miss three weeks. Chris Mihm has an ankle that is similar to the type you see in major car accidents according to Gary Vitti. They say he needs just three more weeks, but it very possibly could be more – much more.

4. What are the goals for this team?
Coming into training camp, the general consensus was to get into the second round of the playoffs, despite Luke Walton saying they can win it all this year. They’re still a very young team that needs a little longer to develop. But now, with training camp nearly over, the goal is to get healthy. Mihm, Bryant, Brown, and Mckie will all likely miss the opener against Phoenix on the 31st, along with time after that. If this team can ever get close to 100%, the goal of advancing in the playoffs comes back. But as of right now, the development of guys like Andrew Bynum and Jordan Farmar and getting healthy are the big issues.

5. How will the young guys develop?
The plan was for Andrew Bynum to sit and learn his first two years, but that plan has been scrapped because of injuries to Chris Mihm and Kwame Brown. Andrew will be the starter on opening night, and by the looks of his last two pre season games he is ready. He’s done things these last two games he’s rarely done before: Run the floor hard, utilize his wide variety of offensive moves, finished strong around the basket, and make his free throws. If Bynum keeps this up, it’s not out of the question that he could keep his starting spot. Moving Kwame to the four along with Andrew at the five would make the Lakers much stronger defensively down low, as Kwame is a good man defender, and Andrew’s a good shot blocker. Ronny Turiaf has shown the hustle and heart that made him such a great player at Gonzaga, and until Chris and Kwame get healthy he’ll be Andrew’s primary back up. Jordan Farmar gives the team ‘inspiration’ when he’s out there according to Phil, and with Shammond struggling to get healthy he could get a chance to play as well. His play early in the pre season was very impressive, but tailed off a little bit in the final games. He’s shooting the ball from three better than expected though, and the rest of his game has never been in question. He’s ready now, as is Andrew.

Predicted Record: If injuries to key players continue: 40-42
If they can manage to get relatively healthy: 49-33


Los Angeles Lakers – Forum Blue & Gold

October 28, 2006

Website: Forum Blue & Gold
Author: Kurt

Los Angeles Lakers
Last Years Record: 45-37

Growing from within: While trades and free agents are what excites the fan base in the offseason, the key to the Lakers’ success this year is growth of guys already in the system. It’s a nice zen-like concept (which is fitting). After a season to get the complex triangle figured out, this is the season we see who can really fit in this system and who should be kindly escorted out.

Questions include: Can Lamar Odom continue to assert himself like he did the last couple months of last season? Can Kwame play, well, if not like the first overall pick at least like he should have been picked? Can Andrew Bynum play older than his 18-years? (He’s going to have to because of injuries at the start of the season.) Can Smush Parker not look baffled any time the opponent runs the pick-and-roll?

Key Additions: There are three guys coming in — the big name, the sleeper and the future favorite.

Vladimir Radmanovic got most of the ink this summer, moving from Donald Sterling’s condominium to Jerry Buss’ Playboyesque mansion (which one would most men chose?). Vlade’s main skill is no secret and will help him thrive in the triangle — he’s a big who can space the floor. He’s been described as bringing what Steve Kerr brought to those 90s Bulls teams — you know you can’t leave him alone, and that is one less guy to colapse on Kobe driving the lane, or a little farther to go on a rotation that gives someone else a good look. And he will get his looks, too.

Maurice Evans was a little discussed draft day pickup but may have a bigger impact this season than any other change. The reason is the guy he will spell much of the time — Kobe Bryant. Last season the Laker were +4.5 points (per 48 minutes) when Kobe was on the court and -7.9 when he sat. The reason was it’s a very long fall from Kobe to Sasha Vujacic and LaRon Proffit. The end result was Kobe played a lot of minutes, carried a lot of burden. Evans is no All-Star but he is a very solid NBA player — he can hit the corner three (39.1% from his favorite left corner last year), he can defend and he can make smart plays. All of that means a little more rest for Kobe’s knee (especially to start the season), which is huge.

Then there is Jordan Farmar, who was already loved in LA after taking UCLA to the brink of another title. He walked on the floor with a confidence that gives Lakers fans a vision on strength at what for a couple of years has been a weakness. He is already better leading the break than any other Laker, and he is already as good a defensive point guard as we have. What he lacks is a consistent outside shot (something the triangle demands of its PG), some time in the weight room to help defend the stronger points in the NBA, and experence. He won’t start, but by the end of the season he’ll be getting key minutes.

Key Losses: Nothing that will be seriously missed, although Laker fans will always think back fondly on Devean George.

What is the Lakers’ biggest strength? Um, have you seen Kobe play? At points in the preseason Laker fans have been hyped about all impressive and improved side dishes we have this season, but the main course is what will make or break the meal. And the Lakers have one of the best in the game.

We could fill up the rest of this preview talking about what Kobe brings to the table, but instead let’s talk about another strength — creating matchup problems. Let’s say you’re the coach facing the Lakers, it’s clear that your best perimeter defender has to guard Kobe so you can hope to hold him to 40. But what do you do with Odom? But a sloth-like power forward on him and he steps outside and burns you J, or just drives past the pylon and into the lane. Go with someone small and, well, look what he did to Shaun Marrion in the playoffs in the post. Newcomer Radmanovic poses a problem too, although he prefers to be outside he is still 6-10 and if you put someone too small on him he’ll take advantage. Luke Walton has become confident in the offense and his shot, making him a threat from the high post or on the wing. Smush, who is 6-4 and strong, can even post up the Steve Nash’s of the world.

The Lakers are big and long, and that is hard to defend.

What is the team’s biggest weakness? Perimeter defense. Simple to name, hard to fix. Also the key to how well they do this season.

When opponents ran the high pick-and-roll last season, Laker defenders acted like they were carrying the hanta virus. Laker bigs didn’t trap or show well on a consistent basis, Smush Parker fought through the pick as often as the Raiders win football games. But the problems went beyond that: Smush just had trouble staying in front of his man, any big who could step out 15 feet and hit a jumper was given free reign to do so.

This is where the growth part of getting better really comes in – because only one personnel move might have an impact and that is even borderline. When he walked in the door Jordan Farmar was as good a defender at the point as the Lakers had. In a year or two, with experience and some physical strength he’ll be an upgrade, but we’re not previewing 2009. For this season, well, if Radmanovic is improving your perimeter defense then things were really F&*$%& bad.

Returning assistant coach Jim Cleamons is the guy at the forefront of fixing this problem from within. And improvement is possible — the Lakers were dead last in the league in defensive rating two seasons ago (points per 100 possessions), last year they were 15th. If the coaches can get players to understand their roles, make steals and not fear the pick-and-roll, they can improve again. And that would mean improvement in the record.

Little Help Here. The Lakers have for a long time been a franchise hesitant to make mid-season trades, a tendency that has been stronger in the triangle era (it’s a hard system to pick up on the fly, just look at the second half of the 04-05 season under Frank Hamblin).

But this season could be different. For one thing, they have three seven-foot inside centers in Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum and Chris Mihm. That’s one more than you really need – and Mihm is in the last year of his deal. Also, because the Lakers guaranteed Kwame Brown’s $9 million for next season, they have no real cap flexibility to go get a free agent. So, if they see a weakness, a trade is the only real way to address it. Likely a two-for-one deal, say Mihm with Aaron McKie or Brian Cook for a veteran guard. Still not likely, but more likely than in past years.

What are the goals for this team? The Lakers are one of those few franchises in all sport where fans have come to expect the team to be in contention annually. We all have that at our gut level, even the rational ones among us who know that there won’t be a parade through downtown every year. At the Summer League, GM Mitch Kupchak suggested that the goals should be 50 wins and a second round playoff berth.

This season we’ll see if the team is really moving in the direction of hosting another parade or not – not just on a team level but also with individual players within the system. Mitch’s goals, if met, would suggest they are on the right tack.

Predicted Record: 49-33, followed by a first-round playoff win (likely and upset).

Los Angeles Lakers – Jones on the NBA

October 28, 2006

Website: Jones on the NBA
Author: Nate

Last Years Record: 45-37
Key Loses: Devean George
Key Additions: Jordan Farmar, Shammond Williams, Vladamir Radmonovic, Maurice Evans

Significant Moves:
The most significant moves made during the off season were the acquisitions of Jordan Farmar (through the draft), and Vladamir Radmonovic (via Free Agency). These acquisitions should help the Lakers remedy two of their largest weaknesses from last season in their outside shooting and point guard play. They also addressed another significant weakness by adding defensive stopper and part-time energizer bunny, Maurice Evans.

The Lakers are hoping that Radmanovic could turn into the dead eye shooter that they desperately needed last year. With Kobe Bryant sure to draw plenty of double and triple teams, it is essential for the Lakers to have someone that consistently knock down an open three pointer once KB24 kicks the ball back out. The season hasn’t even started yet and the Radmanovic experiment has already started to head in the wrong direction due to an injury Vlad suffered during training camp. It was announced yesterday that Vlad has torn radial collateral ligament in his right shooting hand. According to reports the injury will not completely heal without surgery, meaning that Vlad will most likely have to play with the injury for the entire season. Your designated shooter with a bad shooting hand is not the best thing in the world. Hopefully he can figure out a way to play through the pain and contribute in other ways to the team. The Lakers coaching staff has already been impressed with his rotations on team defense, so maybe it is possible for him to contribute in another fashion besides scoring.

Jordan Farmar has quickly captivated the hearts and minds of Laker fans everywhere with his play during the pre-season. The pick of the former UCLA point guard was initially thought to be a pick for the future, yet with his pre-season play, Farmar has shown that he probably will be able to contribute some positive minutes to the Lakers this season. Farmar is a knowledgeable, fiery, point guard that is not familiar with sitting on the bench. I personally have known Farmar for years, and know that he is the type of guy that won’t accept anything less than being the best. In his head he probably believes that he should be the starting point guard of the Lakers and is going to do everything in his power to ensure that occurs. He already has shown a solid understanding of the triangle offense and has played much more poised than what you would expect from a 19 year old rookie. The bottom line is that the guy is all heart and basketball knowledge. Combine those things with solid athleticism and a drive to be the best (similar to that of his teammate Kobe Bryant) and you have a kid that is destined for greatness. Right now, he really just needs to work on his three-point shooting. As a point guard in the triangle offense it’s imperative that you be able to knock down a spot up three (see Derek Fisher, BJ Armstrong, and John Paxson). If he can work on that I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s splitting minutes with Smush at the PG position by the end of the year.

Maurice Evans might turn out to be the best move of the off-season. Capturing him for a token 2nd round pick seems to already have paid off big time. He’s basically the Lakers replacement for Devean George. The former Italian League player of the year brings the type of energy level that is perfect for a guy in the role of a 6th man/defensive stopper. Evans brings tremendous athletic ability, slashing, offensive rebounding, and on the ball defense. The Lakers think that he can be the on the ball defender that they so desperatley need. The Lakers already have one of the best perimeter defenders in the league in Kobe Bryant, but with him being called upon to do some many other thing on the floor, he can’t also be expected to shut down the opponents best perimiter player on a nightly basis. Evans seems very up to the task.

Kobe Bryant: Arguably the best player in the league. Just as complete a player as you can possibly be from the shooting guard position. At this point it’s not a question of his actual basketball talent and more of a question of his ability to bring out the best in his teammates. I think this is the year you will see this all come together for Bryant.

Phil Jackson: Hands down the best coach in the NBA. The guy has coached 15 Seasons and made 10 NBA Finals and never missed the playoffs. His ability to motivate his players is second to none. As well, he’s a solid game planner who has stuck to his offensive and defensive schemes throughout his career. Having PJ as the Lakers coach almost guarantees that they will make the playoffs

Depth: This year the Lakers can actually be called a deep team. With their current additions and the maturity of their younger players from last year, the Lakers now have solid depth at pretty much every position. Although they could use a little more veteran experience from the point guard position, they have solidly talented players at almost every position. Now it is more of a question of if they can stay healthy enough to benefit from that depth.

Their main weaknesses are their youth and their lack of shooting and defense from the point guard position. The Lakers are a very young squad. Hopefully the experience they gained from their seven game series with the Suns last season helped them mature a bit. I believe it has, so hopefully they will look a little bit more poised in end of the game situations than they did last year. I can think of at least 10 games they lost in the last minute of the game last year. Most of those loses came as a result of stupid mistakes, so hopefully going through that will serve as a learning experience for this youthful group. Having the experience of Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant should also help negate their rosters overall lack of experience.

I’m still very concerned with the fact that the Lakers do not have a designated shooter from the point guard position. Every successful Phil Jackson team has had a point guard who is solid from behind the three point line (see: Kerr, Paxson, Armstrong, Fisher, etc.). The Lakers are looking for Sasha Vujacic to be the player on their roster that fills that role, but until he shows some sort of consistency in his shooting, I’m still going to consider that a weakness. Although still a concern, on the ball defense from the point guard position is not as large of a weakness as it was in years past. The combination of Farmar, Parker, and Vujacic should be above average at that position. Yet, I still think that the Lakers could make improvements via trade at that position. A guy like Chris Duhon could solve both problems from the point in that he’s a great three-point shooter and a solid on the ball defender.

Team Goals:
The Lakers main goals should be to overcome their early injury bug, make the playoffs and advance out of the first round. I think these are very feasible goals. The theme of the Lakers season should be internal growth. If players such as Andrew Bynum, Smush Parker, Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, and Kwame Brown can continue the growth they showed under Jackson last year they should be able to accomplish the goals I mentioned above.

If Turiaf and Bynum can continue to play the way they have this pre-season, the Lakers will surely be an improved bunch.

Bynum can be a factor with his shot blocking ability and his package of low post moves. I think the Lakers got a steal when they picked him with the 10th pick in last year’s draft. The Lakers surely have to be happy with his continued improvement during the pre-season. Last night against the Nuggets Bynum tallied 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, and two blocks. If he could just give the Lakers a solid 15-20 minutes a night this season at that level of play, it would surely help the Lakers improve a bit.

As a second round pick, Turiaf looks like he will also turn out to be a major steal. His energy and willingness to just do the little things is something that can help the Lakers tremendously. At his high end, I could see him turning into a Udonis Haslem type player.

In conclusion:
The main goal for the Lakers should be continued improvement of their core group of players. A lot is always expected of the Lakers because of the team’s past accomplishments, but fans and the media must realize that this is a very young team. Guys like Smush Parker, who had little to no experience playing big minutes in the league, were asked to play significant minutes throughout the year. It was obvious that by the end of the playoffs many of them had hit a wall. With another year under Phil Jackson’s system, I feel like many of those young players will show significant improvement.

Predicted Record: 48-34 (without significant injuries)