LA Lakers

How Kobe Bryant (or Jim Buss) killed the Lakers

Two years and $48.5 million.  Twenty three and a half million dollars next season; twenty five million dollars next season.  Not to mention thirty million dollars this season.  This is the amount of money that Kobe Bryant is being paid to play basketball between the ages of 35 and 37.

And it is crazy.  Maybe the dumbest move in recent sports-contract history.  Was it dumber than paying Gilbert Arenas ($111m/ 6 years in 2008) or Rashard Lewis ($118m / 6 years)?  Perhaps not, but neither Arenas or Lewis was 35 years old coming off a ruptured achilles tendon and on a storied franchise that seemed to be all set to make another run at the NBA title.

Signing away the Lakers future?

The NBA’s salary cap for the 2013-2014 season is set at $58,697,000, or two 2013 Kobe Bryant’s…give or take a million and a bit dollars.  The Lakers more or less clear the decks this off season – only Steve Nash and Robert Sacre were contracted beyond this season.  Everyone assumed that with Bryant’s serious injury costing him a good portion of the season the Lakers would simply play the season out, let Kobe come back and gun his way towards the NBA’s all-time scoring record and pick up a stud in the upcoming NBA draft.  Then they would have practically their entire salary cap free to dangle at the free agency market – and perhaps lure Kobe back for a run at his sixth title.

But not any more.

Some have had the audacity to claim that his new contract allowed the Lakers to sign another “max level” player.  Yeah, but you have to have another 10 players on the roster as well.  LeBron James could ask for $20m next season; Carmelo Anthony $22.5m (105% of their current contracts).  LeBron does bring you the possibility of contending.  Carmelo does not.  That possibility also hinges on getting “max level” performances out of a then-36 year old 18 year veteran with a dodgy achilles (admittedly alongside an incredible pain thresh-hold).

Any NBA expert worth his salt – Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, Chris Broussard’s “sources” – has noted that no other team was going to pay Kobe any more than about $12 million.  Allowing for low-balling, was anyone going to pay $15 million to Kobe next season?  Maybe.  Was Kobe going to go to “anyone” to make an extra $3 million?  He’s earning ten times that this season.  Who would this “anyone” be anyway?  Memphis?  Is Kobe really going to go to Memphis to play out his career for $15 million?  Not a chance.

Now, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Kobe was offered this deal.  He signed it, but it was offered to him.  This tells us that the Los Angeles Lakers are an organisation totally bereft of ideas.  Smart teams do not overpay for over-the-hill talent.  Just look at Major League Baseball – St Louis got better AFTER they let Albert Pujols go to the LA Angels.  The Angels got worse.  There is no space for sentiment in the business-like sports world.  The Lakers saw their current predicament and panicked.

The Clippers are better than them.  The Dodgers are more interesting – even Magic Johnson thinks so, he owns the team.  Steve Nash is falling apart.  Pau Gasol doesn’t feel loved and is looking for his last big contract.  He’s not going to get it in LA now.

Kobe has often commented that he doesn’t want to be one of those players who fades out of the game into irrelevancy.  His likely solution is to score the ball, which requires more shots.  The current top 4 all-time scorers in NBA history:

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – 38,387

Karl Malone – 36,928

Michael Jordan – 32,292

Kobe Bryant – 31,617

So he’s 600-ish points short of MJ.  He’ll overtake Jordan this season, all being well.  The next 4,000 to overtake Malone might be trickier, but on a Lakers team with no other options, he should manage it.  Then it’s just 1500 points to the holy grail of Kareem.

I hope he gets there.  It will be the only exciting thing that LA basketball fans will get to see between now and 2016.  Unless they start buying tickets for Clippers games…

NBA: Game on

The first games are in the book and all went as predicted.  The Miami Heat lost after a failing to get past the “curse of the ring night” and Derrick Rose’s comeback was spectacular, the LA Clippers cemented their status as legitimate contenders whilst seeing off their long-since-past-it city rivals and the Indiana Pacers had a comfortable win over the Orlando Magic.

Well, as a famous singer almost once said, one out of three aint bad.

The Heat, while indeed starting a little slowly (after Mario Chalmers reminded Derrick Rose that you need to protect the basketball, picking his pocket and feeding Udonis Haslem for the slam) they quickly picked up and ended the half 21 points to the good.  They managed to hold off a Bulls comeback in the fourth, led by the impressive-but-can-he-do-it-when-it-really-counts Carlos Boozer who had 31 and were fairly comfortable in their 12 point win.  Miami were led by LeBron’s 17 points, but only Udonis Haslem and Chris Andersen, of the players who played, failed to score double digits.  Particularly impressive was Shane Battier who went 4-4 from the arc.

Welcome back Derrick. His knee is fine…his ankles…

The Bulls problems were evident throughout – they lack consistent wing scoring.  Rose was actually pretty good in his first game in well over a year and his turnovers – five in this game – will drop as he finds his rhythm.  Jimmy Butler and Luol Deng both got in foul trouble early, which meant that LeBron’s two major opponents had to sit for long spells of the first half.  Tony Snell is not quite up to the job, at least not yet.  I like the look of the Bulls, but they will go as Deng and Butler go.  If these two can offer scoring from the wings, then they could well go all the way.  The problem is that that is not particularly likely, as much as it pains me to say given how much I love Deng.

Roy defends Vucevic

The first game of the night, albeit the one that had its thunder stolen by events in South Florida, was in Indiana as the much vaunted Pacers took on the Magic.  They started strongly, but Andrew Nicholson – so polite when TCC met him at the All Star Game earlier this year, even though we clearly had no idea who he was – kept Orlando in the game with a total of 18 points.  Indiana came out strong in the third quarter and eventually put the Magic away, but will be worried by the sight of Roy Hibbert’s knee seeming to buckle in the fourth quarter.  Hibbert later tweeted that he was ok and ready to play again today.  His 7 – yes SEVEN – blocked shots in the game prior to his injury showed exactly what he will bring to the table this season.

For Orlando, Victor Oladipo was solid in his NBA debut, but there wasn’t a whole lot else to write home about other than Nicholson.  He will surely unseat Jason Maxiell as the starting power forward for this team going forward.  The major objective for Orlando this season will be the development of Oladipo: can he be an NBA caliber point guard?  He doesn’t look tall enough to get away with significant minutes at the 2 in the NBA and the Magic already have Arron Afflalo in that position.

Gasol vs Griffin

The final game of the night was the Los Angeles “derby” (I don’t think they use this expression, but I like it).  The Clippers were BLOWN AWAY by the Lakers bench.  The list reads like a who’s who of NBA rejects:

Chris Kaman – 10 points.  Jordan Hill – 12 points.  Jordan Farmar – 16 points.  Jodie Meeks – 13 points. XAVIER HENRY (remember him?) – 22 freaking points.  Unreal.

The Clippers played fine, getting double-doubles from DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul, but again their deficiencies, hangovers from last season, were all too obvious.  Jordan is incredibly athletic but incredibly limited.  If it’s not a dunk or a block, you can’t really rely on him for anything.  The Lakers guards, particularly the savvier ones, went straight at him on pick and rolls.  He ended up with five fouls.  Griffin, for all that he is another fan favourite and a spectacular player, is also limited.  He doesn’t offer enough defensively to be an elite player.

Of course, it’s only one game.  Eighty-one to go!

The Lakeshow is over. The Tankshow begins.

In competitive sports, it’s instilled that winning is paramount and failure is not acceptable. Fans don’t want to pay good money to see poor teams, they want champions, winners or at least a team or club they can be proud of. Growing up we watch sporting icons who inspire and light up their respective professions, raising the bar of excellence and sporting achievement. Take the ’92 Dream Team. Every player (Ok maybe Christian Laettner aside) was a cut above the rest, and had one thing in common: They hated to lose. It didn’t sit well with them.  They strived to be at the pinnacle of basketball and most certainly achieved this during their careers.

How would they react if the message from front office was, “Look guys, we need a shot at the draft, we are making moves to get as close to the number one slot as possible, and this team will be going in that direction.” Yes you could argue players of such caliber wouldn’t be in a bad team.

Well take a look at the Lakers. Kobe Bryant is a bona fide superstar, on a team which seems to be setting up for a ‘Tanking’ run at the 2014 lottery. Their roster is weak on talent, and depth. It has an ageing star in Kobe, coming off one of the worst types of injuries an NBA player can have. Pau Gasol as a big man who feels under appreciated. At point guard, Steve Nash is pushing 40 years of age, and in a declining state of physical condition to run the show in Lala Land. Throw in a strong dislike by Lakers fans of coach Mike D’Antoni and his lack of defense on show in games, they are a team at a crossroads. Do they hit the reset button, or try to rebuild whilst remaining competitive?

Firstly, they have no real tradeable assets aside from Gasol, and even then at 33 with a $20 mil final year of his deal remaining, not many teams want to swallow that.  Metta World Peace has left for the Big Apple to add some steel to the Knicks, Dwight “Loyalty” Howard had jetted off to Houston to recover form and fitness and add another piece to a talented team, leaving the team short of a few pieces. In their current state, they in all likelihood miss the playoffs, so a losing season is pretty much a banker. Question marks will be over Bryant and how well he can recover from injury to lead the team. In his absence the leadership will fall on Nash, having successfully played some of his best basketball under D’Antoni in Phoenix during the ‘Seven seconds or less’ era, to take charge of the players that will be relied upon to deliver wins in LA.

This has the Lakers looking at the other available option, in ‘tanking’, to gain a favourable spot in the highly billed 2014 NBA Draft. I can’t see players like Kobe, Gasol & Nash comfortable with that option, but it may be the Lakers best hope at turning it around for the longer term. Teams like OKC, Indiana & Golden State have built sensibly over past few seasons, adding assets and good draft picks. Teams like Orlando and Phoenix are adopting similar models. They know they are in no position to contend for playoffs, so why make a run at scraping 8th spot and ruining a chance at a great draft prospect for sake of a first round exit. So their front office and coaches are investing time in scouting and ensuring they get maximum value in trades and picks. This is the strategy the Lakers should be looking at, instead of quick, band-aid fixes.

Rumours have them making a run at Carmelo Anthony or even Lebron in free agency to revitalise them, and have them as a Western Conference superpower within the next couple years. However in this time Kobe will be older, and no telling if his body holds up. All the while they continue to pay top dollar contracts. Yes they may be box office on television, but the same will happen again leaving them to reboot or reload without tearing roster apart. The tough Western Conference is more competitive than the East, many teams either at beginning of rebuild phase or in the middle of their development are, it would seem, ahead of the Lakers and have a clear definition of where their franchises are heading.

As of now, there is no clear idea of what is happening in for those in Gold & Purple. They have no clear forward plan that can be seen from the outside, I’m sure Lakers fans will have fingers crossed Mitch Kupchak & Jim Buss have one, although it’s hard to see what their next moves will be. It’s looking like a long way back, especially now the Clippers are the power in LA.

 

 

NBA Pre-Preseason Power Rankings Part 1

nba_power_rankings_576With only Mo Williams, Tyrus Thomas, AJ Price, Roddy Buckets as the only free agents that could even get a garbage time 30 seconds on a championship team, I think rosters are about as set as they will be. So lets start with the first group:

The Tank4Wiggins Crew:

30: Philadelphia 76ers

The Sixers were a solid team last year and that’s without Andrew Bynum so this year they should really be something special. Oh they didn’t attempt to resign Bynum? That is fair enough, he is a big contract and a big risk. They still have the talented and young Jrue Holiday though so that’s a bonus. Oh he got traded? They probably got something great in return. They only got an underweight rookie center? He can’t play for a year? Knee injuries? Oh lord.

Thank god Doug Collins is still there, he could coach any team to being decent. Oh he got fired? Well they better have had a great backup choice. They didn’t? THEY STILL DON’T HAVE A COACH? Tank4Wiggins is real and it is not being taken lightly. The Sixers as of right now are worse than the Bobcats of 2011-12.

29: Los Angeles Lakers

The Lakers best player is Kobe Bryant. He has a torn Achilles tendon which is one of the hardest injuries to come back from. He is however an alien made from a different fabric than us humans. I expect him to be back sooner than was scheduled but that does not matter. By then it will be December or January and with the best draft in a very long time just around the corner I don’t think the lakers will be pushing too hard. Tanking now will give Kobe the best opportunity at another ring. Something I think he can see himself.
Pau and Nash will need a tonne of help early this season and they are not going to get it. Unless Robert Sacre takes 50% of the energy he spends on bench celebrations and uses it to become a post scorer.
Side note: There is only one greater celebrator on a bench in the NBA and that is Chris Duhon.

chris duhon

28: Sacremento Kings

The Kings are a team that have talent but also suffer from a historic and laughable lack of chemistry and teamwork. Bill Simmons called them “The Pickup Team from Hell” and he was sp0t on. The main question that the whole organisation needed answering was it’s future. It’s future is now secured and the little issue of playing basketball is the only problem left. Boogie Cousins is a big talent but also a headcase. McLemore has star potential but has possible off the court distractions.
They are the worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA and I don’t see that getting any better. Though I  really like Greivis Vasquez but I think that is because he sounds like a comic book villain of the Latin variety. It will be a long season but one thing it will not be is boring. Oh and Jimmer is going to make a cool 2.5 million while being the 3rd string 2 guard, but is he happy?

jimmer2

27: Utah Jazz

The Jazz are in transition, which is funny for the 11th slowest team in the NBA. They have decent pieces, mostly the long awaited starting pair of Favors and Kanter. They also picked up the best college player in Trey Burke. He is undersized but he is no kid and should be able to play right away. So it is all positive right? Well no, their best offensive player? Gordon Hayward. Now I like Hayward, I think he is a promising swingman that has improved every year but this year he is the man. That is a large problem. The offensive load certainly can not fall to Biedrins who may be the worst offensive player of our generation. The Jazz won’t call this tanking, just rebuilding.

26: Milwaukee Bucks

So the Bucks traded Brandon Jennings for Brandon Knight, 2 other players (one is Khris Middleton who I think could be good). That is the final nail in the Tank4Wiggins coffin the Bucks are building for themselves. The team lacks scoring big men. Larry Sanders best chance at a basket is if the Bucks find a way to make blocking an offensive art. John Henson is a talented second year man who had his first year messed up by injuries. His summer league was good and the organisation must be happy to see they could have something, but again he is offensively limited. OJ Mayo is a good pick up with other pieces around him and Ilyasova is the same. They just lack those pieces. With my favorite rookie, Giannis Antetokounmpo, there now I hope he gets some game time to develop cause he is talented in a Kevin Durant way. (He is not, nor will he ever be Kevin Durant but let me dream). Plus I really look forward to people trying to say his name.. AN-TEK-O-KUMPO?

25: Phoenix Suns

Phoenix got a great piece to build around in Eric Bledsoe. He is fast and super aggressive. He fits the Suns ethos to a tee. It helps that he is one of the top 5 NBA athletes too. He just needed more court time that he was never going to get behind Chris Paul. What is a bigger plus going forward is their new coach. Jeff Hornacek blew away the interview panel for this job with a brain that most ex players don’t have. He just knows what the Suns want and how to get it. Exciting basketball is more possible now than ever with the re-introduction of smallball.

I may be the only one that thinks the Morris twins have a place in this league but I think the undersized twins have the ability to score in a good smallball system. I also think Gortat has a chance to get one last decent contract if he plays well. Alex Len is the rookie built in Gortat’s image. Big, athletic, soft hands and Eastern European. Hopefully his injury does not hold him back for too long. Also lets pray the Suns rebrand soon and get rid of the 2nd worst logo in the NBA (behind Washington of course).

24: Charlotte Bobcats

The lowly Bobcats would probably celebrate being the 5th worst team in the NBA.  A streak as the worst team in the NBA will do that to an organisation. Michael Jordan is as good as a GM as he is a loser. They went out and got a fairly large free agent in Al Jefferson, which they needed to do to show that it is in fact possible for people to go to Charlotte without being drafted. Big Al will be useful as the Bobcats can’t do offense and Al only does offense. He could theoretically take every shot while he is on the court and this would improve their offense. I think Cody Zeller is a great rookie with a very high ceiling for potential. I also like Biyombo and his defense and utterly adorable drunk kitten type offensive abilities. They will suck at times but hopefully for the franchise they can avoid being the absolute worst.

 

The Too Good to Tankers:

23: Orlando Magic 

I had a very soft spot for Orlando last season. Most of this softness was for Nikola Vucevic who I had picked as most improved player before a ball had been thrown and if it was not for that pesky Paul George he would have been my pick at the end of the season too. He had one of the best stat lines of last season (20 points, 29 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals, 2 blocks). It was not against the Bobcats which would void the stat line but it was against the Heat.
The Magic have a very young team but that youth is plentiful. Tobias Harris came on a huge amount after he got traded to them and add him to Nicholson and Harkless and you have a big 3-4 combination no matter who is playing. The biggest trump card though is Oladipo. The 2nd overall pick in a terrible draft is usually not much but he is the best player in the draft and has the ability to come straight into this league and lock down whoever is in front of him. The Magic were the 6th worst defensive team in the league last year and I expect that to change……slightly.

22: Boston Celtics

The Celtic’s Danny Ainge is an axe wielding maniac. This is both a good and bad thing. He decided on cutting his loses with the Pierce and Garnett trade. The team is too old for another realistic title push and that’s all the Ainge cares about. Focusing on a title is not a bad thing though. What he got in return is pieces to rebuild ie, draft picks galore. The Celtics received the Nets 2016 first round pick and the ability to switch picks with the Nets in 2014 and 2017. (The Nets have the same deal with Atlanta though so the Celtics will be switching with whoever has the worse pick in 2014). What does this all mean? Well the Celts will suck this year.
Some bright points are the fact Rajan Rondo is a freak and will probably be back for the opening game from his ACL tear, new coach Brad Stevens is intreging to say the least. Loved at Butler by all basketball fans, he now has to step up to a stage much brighter than he is used to. He gets rave reviews from other NBA coaches but that means nothing in the win column.  If the Celtics can find a hypnotist that can convince Jeff Green that if he misses his first shot it IS possible to have a good game and that he doesn’t have to call it quits on that particular game, it would be great. Oh and try convince Gerald Wallace that it is 2009 and he is still a Bobcat.

21: New Orleans Pelicans

Yes we PeliCAN…… no you PeliCANT. Not this year anyway. Look I love the rebranding, I think the logos and crests are brilliant and you do not mess with Pelicans. The team however is lacking a certain…how do I put this, Greg Stiemsma is their starting center and last year he averaged 7.6 fouls per 48 minutes. I like Greg but he can’t start. Luckily they have Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson that will soak up all those minutes he will miss.
The Pels went out and got 2 good players in Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday (Any player signed that keeps Austin Rivers off the ball is a good signing). Tyreke is covered in the mist of Sacremento which is to say we dont know if he is actually any good. Was he good for the Kings of was everyone else just so bad he looked good. You know that trick of standing beside unattractive people so you look better? That is Tyreke….
Jrue Holiday got out of Philly just in time as they set up their new venture into bath tubs with plugs installed.

20: Dallas Mavericks

What I like:

  • Shawn Marian
  • Dirk
  • Jose Calderon in a new system
  • Dalembert
  • Vince Carter’s defensive revival

What I don’t like:

They are all over 31.

The Mavs are a solid team but they are an injury away from facing serious issues at pretty much all positions and that is not great when your starting 5 is over 31. Resigning Brandan Wright is a good piece of business but resigning him for 5 million a year is a strange piece of business. He averaged  8 points and 4 rebounds last year. Is that worth 10 million over 2 years? I don’t think so.
Monta Ellis is a big upgrade over Roddy Buckets and will give them firepower when Dirk sits much like Jason Terry did.

8th Seed Chasers:

19: Washington Wizards

As a Wizards fan you have to be happy, John Wall is near signing a max extension. With Kyrie Irving he is the best young point guard in the league. The Wizards biggest off season deal right now was the resigning of Martell Webster. It was a big deal, 22 million over 4 years, but if it is what the team needs to win right now then it is a good deal. He, Wall and Beal played well together when the Wizards went small.
Beal may be the key right now though. He must improve and stay at the level he finished the season with. He tore up the rookie rankings towards the end of the season. Why did he get better as the season went on? John Wall returned. John Wall needs to stay healthy this season and give the Wizards 70+ games. Okafor and Nene are solid players that do not hinder the Wiz offense. The Wizards need the playoffs maybe more than any team in the East.

18: Toronto Raptors

The Raptors are a very deep team. They are 2 deep at all positions.
PG: Lowry, Augustin
SG: DeRozan, Ross
SF: Gay , Novak, Fields
PF: Johnson, Hansborough
C: Jonas Valanciunas , Jonas Valanciunas , Jonas Valanciunas

I have a strong male crush on Jonas. He runs the floor like he hates the ground so much that it should be punished by pounding it with his feet harder than anyone else. His post moves improved all year and he showed at the summer league that he is getting a hook shot. His 8 points 6 boards a game will improve drastically this year as he learns to not foul opposing guards, forwards, fans, refs, or anyone else in the building. His ceiling for this year is 14 points 10 boards and just under 2 blocks a game. Look at his willingness to stop a sideline pass.

jonasvalThe Raptors rid themselves of the Bargiani stank that had followed them since he arrived and made it very clear that he thinks defense is that antichrist. It is time for them to make a real push for the playoffs as their window with Gay is closing quickly.

17: Denver Nuggets

George Karl was the identity of the Nuggets, he was the reason they pushed tempo like it was going out of fashion. He was liked by most NBA fans for this very reason. The Nuggets were always great to watch and now they have a new face. Brian Shaw is a name that got thrown around for every head coach job in the NBA since about 2011. He has been in great organisations like the Lakers and Pacers in the last years. The transition the team needs to make is going to be huge. Will the tempo stay ramped up to 11? Probably not to 11 but Shaw has said they will keep running but their half court offense will be more focused. Sounds pretty good to me.

So the roster, how does it look? It looks like a George Karl roster which I am not sure is a Brian Shaw roster. The lack of a star is not a brilliant start for a rookie head coach. That said it is a talented team. Ty Lawson, Andre Miller, Nate Robinson, Randy Foye will share the ball and all do different jobs well. Wilson Chandler will have to play big while Galinari is sidelined until December. The frontcourt has potential and ability. Faried is an animal, JJ Hickson broke out last year and so did Anthony Randolph (to a lesser degree.). Then there is the center position where you have 2 of the most different players of all time. McGee can win you a game by himself with his defense and rebounding but he will lose you 5 games for all the ones he wins. They you have Mozgov. Solid and reliable. It is up to Shaw who he plays more. I want Denver to make the playoffs but only because we need more Italian celebrations in the NBA.

nuggetscelebration

 

16: Minnesota Timberwolves

Ah the Timberwolves. They shed the biggest cancer of all the NBA teams this season. Goodbye Kahn and fair the well. He was the one who drafted 3 point guards in the first round. He didn’t even take the best 3. He left Steph Curry and Jrue Holiday on the board. Lets not get stuck in the details. Flip Saunders is now head of basketball operations and that should help with decision making. Oh they gave up Trey Burke for Shabbaz Muhommad? Crap.

The Wolves have one surprise this season…
rubio surpriseRubio needs a full season, his career arch shows all the promise and all the ability. He is the best passer in the league and came second in steals last year. He just needs 82 games with Kevin Love. It is projected that they will both be fully healed by the start of the season. They could be a pair of stars together and would be a must watch on league pass.
The rest of the squad is talented too. JJ Berea backs up Rubio, Kevin Martin plays in front of the talented Shved. Budinger and Brewer make up the small forward spot, both can jump out of the gym and Brewer has a renewed jumper. Of course the key to the squad is Kevin Love. If he could rebound from injuries as well as he actually rebounds he would be a superman…. that pun felt forced…sorry. Behind Love is draft flob extraordinaire Derrick Williams and largely improved Dante Cunningham. Then comes PEK.
Nikola Pekovic is to basketball what Sylvester Stallone is to the movie industry. Simple, brilliant, brilliantly-simple and looks like he is seconds from fighting everything made of atoms. He will be resigned by the Twolves and it is the right move. He has improved every year and spelled Kevin Love better than anyone could have thought.

pekmeat

 

The Wolves will be in the hunt for the playoffs and I suspect they will make it.

That is the end of part 1. 15-1 will be in part 2 including a big surprise as to who number one is. It rhymes with Cryhammy Sleet…. but shhhh the slow people might still be working it out.