Archive for the ‘Los Angeles Lakers’ Category

Chemistry 101

July 6, 2009

I never was good at science – I only took chemistry up to grade 11. However, I do know the importance of chemistry, especially in regards to compiling a winning basketball team. With some of the free agent moves going down this past week, apparently some GMs need a refresher course in Winning Chemistry 101.

Yes, the most important thing for a championship team is talent. You aren’t going to win if you don’t have a roster full of top-shelf talent. But the most talented team doesn’t always win – look no further than the Pistons beating the Kobe-Shaq-Mailman-Glove Lakers squad in 2004. That is because when it comes to adding talent to a roster, eventually the Law of Diminishing Returns kicks in. More talent does not equal more wins and more rings. After a certain point, chemistry and players willing to accept and thrive in the role they are assigned is more important than talent.

I’m of course talking about this past season’s top two teams – the Lakers and the Magic – tearing apart their rosters. Both teams’ key players were relatively young and thoughts of long time domination for both wasn’t a far-flung idea. Then Orlando went out and lost three starters – Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee & Hedo Turkoglu – from this year’s team. Its true that Rafer Alston wouldn’t have been the starting point guard if Jameer Nelson hadn’t been injured, but losing three starters from a championship contending team and only getting Vince Carter back in return isn’t a recipe for prolonged success. Then there is the case of the champion Lakers. They have replaced their young breakout star of the playoffs – Trevor Ariza – with the combustible Ron Artest. Now, on paper that is an upgrade in talent – at this point in their careers Artest is the better player of the two. And the defensive intensity that he brings to your team – not to mention his scoring ability – is substantial. But he’s not exactly the most stable of players.

This is where that chemistry word comes in to play. Turkoglu – not Dwight Howard – was the heart and soul of the Magic with his versatility and size. Ariza was a formidable third scoring option and solid defender for the Lakers. Not to mention both guys worked well within their team’s structures. While adding Carter and Artest might upgrade your talent level, it is at the expense of your team’s chemistry and cohesiveness. In my not so humble opinion, the Magic and Lakers are worse off today than they were a few weeks ago. I won’t be betting on either to win the title next year (not that I would ever dream of gambling).

I’m a big believer that the core of a team has to be together for a couple of years before they become serious title contenders. While there are exceptions to the rule (2008 Celtics), if you go through the list of recent NBA champions you’ll see that their key players were given multiple seasons to gel. The Spurs and the Pistons are prime examples of teams that kept their core guys together for a long time and, subsequently, each spring and summer they were among the last teams standing. Look what happened to the Pistons this season when they did break up their core by shipping out Chauncey Billups.

But you can’t put all the blame on the GMs. It is next to impossible to keep winning teams together, especially in today’s day and age. There are too many factors conspiring against keeping a team intact. The salary cap and the luxury tax (especially now with the economy tanking). Players with different agendas – some guys aren’t interested in being the second or third banana on a team; some guys would rather play closer to home or in a bigger media market; some guys only care about the dough – the highest bidder wins. Basically it is all the same reasons why I argued that they should get rid of the NBA draft. The teams that can keep their big happy families together (those dastardly Spurs) tend to be perennial contenders. But in today’s NBA, rightly or wrongly, the players call the shots so teams have to do the best they can patching together their rosters from year to year. Power to the people. Death to the dynasty.


It Takes A Village

June 16, 2009

As painful as it is for me to type these words, truth must rule the day – KOBE BRYANT IS ONE OF THE GREATEST PLAYERS OF ALL-TIME. Just where on the greatest of all-time list he falls I’m still trying to figure out – perhaps that will have to be a post for another day. The talk show host on the sports radio show I appeared on today claimed that Kobe is better than Bird, but I’m not conceding that just yet.

Despite being poked and prodded by the media into admitting that this title is special to him because it came without Shaq, Kobe commendably didn’t fall into the fifth estate’s trap and admit it. This was a smart move by him for several reasons -admitting that would belittle his contribution to the three rings he won with Shaq, it would undermine his current teammates’ abilities (“I don’t need Shaq to win a ring, I can win it with a bunch of scrubs”), and despite Shaq and Kobe pretending that everything is lovey dovey between them now, we all know that they still hate one another.

But it takes more than one player to win a championship (just ask LeBron, or Jordan in his early days), and the Lakers secondary performers are as much to thank for this title than Kobe. Too often all the praise or blame for championships won or lost are heaped upon the star player, when in reality no player wins or loses a championship on their own (with the possible exception of Hakeem in 1994). So while Pau and company deserve much of the credit for the championship this year, Kobe also deserves credit for the three rings he won already. Most people (myself included) totally dismiss the fact the Kobe already has won three championships due to the fact that Shaq was on that team. But it wasn’t as if Kobe was just along for the ride – in the 2001 Finals he averaged 25/8/6 and in 2002 his numbers were 26/6/5. So while we give Kobe praises for this year’s title, now is also a good time to look back and give the man long overdue respect for the Lakers triumphs in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

My fellow Kobe haters, don’t feel bad – we had a good run. We denied the man his due for much longer than we ever could have hoped. But now that all has been said and done, this championship has allowed Kobe to come out from under Shaq’s massive shadow and take his rightful place among the games all-time greats. So here’s to you Mr Bryant – you are a king among men. Now excuse me while I go vomit.

The Tiger Has Purple Eyes

May 30, 2009

Canadians that have gone onto recently will have been treated to an advertising alerting them of the opportunity to meet NBA legend Jerome Williams at Best Buy in the coming weeks. I’m quite amused that a player who averaged 7 points and 6 boards a game and was out of the League by the time he was 32 is being referred to as a “legend”.

Which brings us to talk about something truly legendary – this year’s Lakers team. After seemingly playing around with the Rockets before knocking them off, L.A. has the look of a champion now, or to get all cliche up in here, they have the “eye of the tiger”. In their dismantling of Denver last night, Kobe and the boys appear to be out for blood. And it probably won’t even matter who the Eastern Conference crowns as their champion, because the Lakers are stronger than both Cleveland and Orlando. As already mentioned here, Cleveland has been exposed as a championship-contender fraud, and Orlando probably doesn’t have a legit chance at beating L.A. unless they get really hot from long range for the whole series.

Meanwhile, all the pieces are there for the Lakers to dominant the Finals – a superstar with a killer instinct, a big man who is happy playing the part of secondary star, role players willing and able to play their roles, and a coach with the most rings in NBA history. In fact, considering Kobe and Derek Fisher are the only members of the team who have blown out 30 candles on a cake, this Lakers team could be dominant for a long, long time. Assuming they can resign Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza, who has probably earned himself a big raise after his play this playoffs.

Which means I’m going to have to come to grips with my hate for the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite possessing the only Lakers home jersey with CEBALLOS on the back of it left in existence, the Lakers have always worn the black hat in my world. My distaste for them has only increased with the rise of Kobe Bryant. While commiserating with a fellow Lakers hater (who especially hates them due to Sasha Vujacic screwing him out of winning bets twice by hitting meaningless three-pointers at the buzzer of blowouts instead of dribbling out the clock), he hit the nail on the head why we don’t like this team. In his words, they are like the spoiled rich kid villains in movies (Caddyshack, Revenge of the Nerds, Animal House, etc.) that terrorize the heroes, steal the girl and have everything go their way, only to have the heroes turn the tables and vanquish the bad guys at the end of the movie. Except, in the Lakers case, it doesn’t appear like it will blow up in their face this year.

Additionally, as a Kobe “hater”, both of the way he plays the game and the way he carries himself, I’ve always had the “can’t win a ring without Shaq” defense in my arsenal. Looks like that is going by the wayside also. All biases aside, Bryant is having a great playoffs and is one of the rare players who actually posts better stats in the playoffs than in the regular season. I still believe LeBron is the best player in the game right now, but with the game on the line there is no one I’d rather have take the last shot than Kobe Bean. As much as all this pains me to say, the truth can not be denied.

So Lakers haters will have to come to terms with the fact that L.A. is probably going to win the title this year. And this could just be the start of the purple reign.

Donkey Games

May 16, 2009

Now is not the time to be messing about. If you want to take games off, do it in November or December, not in May and June when the outcomes really matter. Yet the Lakers of Los Angeles think it is ok to only show up every other game, and wave off lax performances with a shrug and a “we’ll get ’em next game”. Sorry, in the playoffs, THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH.

The Houston-Lakers series should have been over games ago, after Yao went down with his injury. Instead Houston has won two games since then – with a lineup that wouldn’t have even come close to making the playoffs, even if they played in the (L)Eastern Conference. Yes, somehow the Lakers are allowing the Rockets to fulfill the prophecy of another bunch of Houston’s finest.

The Lakers 40-point blowout win in Game 5 shows that they think that they can just turn it on and off whenever they like. And against a decimated Houston team they probably can get away with it and win Game 7 on their home court. But if they think that they can show up only when the spirit moves them in the next round against Denver, they are in for a rude awakening.
Denver has a legit leader and champion running their team, and a scoring machine star holding it down on the wing. Throw in some athletic bigs and energy guys off the bench, and the Lakers will have their hands full. That is assuming they can even get past Houston tomorrow.

Now Cleveland, on the other hand, know what time it is. They are going about their business like it is just that – business, not fun and games. Get in and out as quick as possible then chill at home and wait for their next victim. As well as Houston is playing, there is no way the Cavs would be letting them hang around for seven games. Despite the Lakers having more talent than LeBron’s squad, and having a “genius” coach, Cleveland has to be considered the heavy favourite to grab the title this year. And if the Lakers don’t get their act together in time for Game 7 on Sunday, all this “we’ll get ’em next game” talk will be fruitless – eventually there is no next game.

Rolling and Tumbling

May 8, 2009

There is nothing better than some rough stuff to make a series interesting. I was only moderately interested in the Houston-Lakers series until the mayhem that ensued in Game 2. Now this series has become must-see-TV.

It comes as no surprise that Ron Artest found himself in the middle of the bro ha ha. What is surprising is that he isn’t being portrayed as the villain for once. There is perhaps only one player in the League that is capable of taking the villain role away from Artest, and that would be one Kobe Bean Bryant.

Kobe has been known to throw some ‘bows, but the talk that he wasn’t suspended after Game 2 because he is a superstar is just silly. The elbow he laid on Artest was hardly blatant or malicious. However, the fact that he wasn’t punished and Artest was kicked out of the game for getting into his face about it does cater to the belief that superstars are treated differently. Now Bryant knows that he can get away with throwing elbows without any action from the League or from opposing players. If a player can’t even get into Kobe’s smug face to challenge him after a hard foul without getting tossed., there is not much risk that anyone is going to be willing to retaliate physically to a Bryant cheap shot (with the exception being Raja Bell).

Which brings me back to reminiscing of the good old days, where frontier justice ruled the NBA. A time where players like Laimbeer, Mahorn, Oakley and the X-Man weren’t afraid to dish out the punishment (and cheap shots) to opponents. A time where players could stand up for themselves without getting lengthily suspensions. The way things are now, you can’t even foul someone relatively hard without getting a flagrant foul and/or fine and suspension. The Kenyon Martin foul on Dirk being the prime example.

But, going back to Artest again, after what he did in Detroit (aka the Malice in the Palace) we will never get back to those good old days again. The NBA is so sanitized now that a player can’t even take a step away from the bench during an altercation without being suspended. But, what the powers-that-be should realize is that violence sells – why do you think hockey still allows fighting. And a little rough stuff is the best way to create an intriguing, emotional, intense playoff rivalry. And, because of it, I’m more interested than ever in Rockets/Lakers proceedings.