Calm Down! It’s Only One Game…Right?

October 27, 2016
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Clarkson attacks the basket

The Lakers WIN! After all the questions about who’s going to take the torch and run with the post-Kobe Lakers era, and all the insults about not getting a major free agent, and all the ESPN hate, the Lakers open up the season with a victory! Take that, haters!

HOLD ON THERE, SPARKY!

Let’s dial it back a second. It’s only ONE GAME. But is it? Is it really only one game?

There are two ways we can look at such a victory. We can take the position that these Lakers are still the same team expected to finish somewhere in the cellar of the Western Conference. This win is nice and it feels good, but it means nothing. You’ve got 81 more to go. Furthermore, once you meet Utah and OKC, everybody will be singing a different tune.

So chill out! 

But there’s another view. The view that I will mostly subscribe to. The Lakers Optimist view.

This win goes far beyond just a season opener victory on the merits of excitement and fanfare. From an X’s and O’s perspective coach Luke Walton did what coaches do: make adjustments. In last night’s game, the Rockets darted out to a whopping 71 points behind James Harden’s epic passing and Clint Capela’s excessive dunks. The game was exciting; however, anybody who knows basketball was thinking, “This can’t be good because defense wins championships”. In the second half, the Lakers held these same Houston Rockets to only 43 points. So what happened is Luke Walton gave them the challenge of cleaning it up defensively as they soundly outscored Houston 57-43. We saw quite a few defensive stops by the likes of Jordan Clarkson, Nick Young and even Metta World Peace. Offensively they were able to close out with timely buckets and rebounds.

This win matters, not only because of the standings (duh!), but because of summer league. In summer league the Lakers went 3-2 and had fun on the court. Players sometimes looked unstoppable. It also matters because of preseason where the Lakers (2-6) also showed fight in many of the games and even gave Golden State a slight battle in their second meeting. During this whole process, the one common thread is that the Lakers are having fun again, they are buying what Luke Walton is selling and it’s showing on the court by way of one simple adjustment after halftime. It’s one thing when a coach has great ideas. It’s another when the team actually cares enough to implement them.

Luke Walton came in with the goal to change the culture. This does not guarantee a 24-0 winning streak out of the gate. This guarantees a concentrated effort night in and night out, assuming these young Lakers maintain that hunger and respect. The coaching style which empowers players, maintains transparency with the players and does not insult them in the media (at least not yet) has cultivated a complete team relationship and atmosphere. Jordan Clarkson came off the bench amid much speculation (including me) and still finished the game, taking over in the 4th quarter both offensively and defensively. D’Angelo Russell maintained his cool even with a few “bonehead plays” and helped guide his team to victory. The vets Lou Williams, Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov steadied the ship with some great defense and offensive output (see Timofey’s run in the first half). And Nick “Uncle P” Young has accepted the challenge to play defense and gave Harden some fits. Let’s not forget a modest, yet impressive debut for rookie Brandon Ingram ending with 9 points on 4-6 shooting.

Potential? Yes. Perhaps what the Laker faithful and the media need to see is potential. They are already waiting for the Lakers to slip up and provide something juicy to pounce on. But not last night.

The 76ers lost. The over-hyped Golden State Warriors got pummeled. Mike D’Antoni’s return to Staples Center was foiled. Yet the post-Kobe Era, or more appropriately, Luke Walton Era began the right way…with a “W”.

I’m sure that the media will quickly return back to Lakerhater Land if the Lakers are smashed by both the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder. But in the meantime, let’s enjoy this one and consider it a sign of things to come.

Let’s see what “The Breakfast Club” does next. 

 

Off-Season Decisions: Who To Keep?

June 5, 2016

Decisions, decisions! The Lakers brass have to know that they can’t keep everybody on this roster– nor would they WANT to.

The Lakers know for sure that they have a young core that will receive a #2 draft pick to add to it. They intend to dip into that 60 million plus to pick up some quality free agents or a big fish (i.e. Durant, Whiteside). With all that in mind, the Lakers had some players that were bright spots in a dark season. They had some let-downs and some guys that simply felt the sting of an awkward Kobe-farewell riddled season. There are also guys that have overstayed their welcome wearing the purple and gold.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. We know that Anthony Brown is staying. Jordan Clarkson wants to stay. Kobe is gone. Nance, Randle and Russell are here for the long haul.

So we have for sure Brown, Clarkson, Russell, Nance and Randle.

So let’s talk about the remaining 9 Lakers on the fringe. Let’s discuss who the Lakers should try to keep and who they should trade, waive or just not resign.

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Brandon Bass was the most consistent player on this team. He was a bully in the post and cleaned the glass night in and night out. He also did a pretty decent job on defense. He probably had a career year and can be a perfect bench piece for a championship team. The problem with Brandon Bass is the Lakers have that in Tarik Black who just couldn’t find the minutes due to the logjam at that position.

Verdict: I don’t think Bass wants to return anyway. However, it might be better to make room for Tarik Black to fill that role with the rest of the young core. 

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Tarik Black was pretty efficient as an undersized center in Byron’s first year as Lakers head coach. However he somehow managed to get in Scott’s doghouse for much of the following season. He also lost minutes in favor of Brandon Bass and Julius Randle. Black showed much of the same offensive and defensive prowess as Bass. He is a terrific finisher off pick and rolls and has a great motor. The question with Black is can he pickup where he left of the season before last and add some outside shooting to his repertoire. Playing under Luke Walton in a more fast-paced offense can lead to many highlight dunks.

Verdict: Lakers should keep Black and hopefully Luke will find a way to work him into the rotation as a key component of this young core.

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Roy Hibbert was brought in to adress a dire need for a rim protector. Byron’s instructions were to rebound and defend. What he didn’t know was that he would be forced to make up for an awful perimeter defense that allowed consistent dribble penetration. Hibbert was forced to help while receiving no help himself. He was not asked to be a featured scoring option so we can’t blame him for that. Nor can we blame him for being just a few years past his prime as he got schooled consistently by the Whitesides and Deandres on a nightly basis.

Verdict: I’d let him go and either see what you can get on the free agent market or who on your roster can fill that role as center.

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Marcelo Huertas dazzled us with pretty passes and intelligent plays during the pre-season. Then he went into Scott’s doghouse in favor of defense, before returning to pre-season form and finishing the year strong. He has a calming and cerebral approach similar to the great Steve Nash. He definitely has a place in the NBA. Pop is probably waiting for Lakers to drop the ball on this guy. The problem with Marcelino is he can be somewhat of a liability on defense (Like Steve Nash). However, that can be trumped by how he can potentially feast in Luke’s system.

Verdict: Make sure you keep this kid. He can and will be a part of a competitive NBA team.

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Ryan Kelly had his best year under D’antoni as a stretch four. Byron took the reigns and tried the failed experiment of placing him at the five. In Byron’s last year Kelly started the pre-season attacking the basket and looking really good. Defensively challenged, he was forced out of the rotation and never really recovered. At his best he is a stretch four that can finish at the rim. At his worst he is a poor shooter and a so-so defender. The problem with Kelly is do we wish to play the game and see which one shows up?

Verdict: With the Lakers loading up on bigs through the draft and free agency, it’s time to move on from this kid and see if a change of scenery will do him some good (And let’s hope that doesn’t come back to bite us).

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Robert Sacre plays his heart out. He fights on defense, he has a decent jumpshot and uses all six of his fouls on defense. He’s a locker room guy. The problem is has he peaked? Is this all there is? What can Luke do with this kid to make him a solid contributor?

Verdict: I was surprised last year when he was still on the team. It’s time to let him try his luck with another team.

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Lou Williams is a beast.  He lit up OKC for over 40 points and shouldered much of the scoring load consistently throughout the year when healthy. The former 6th man of the year made a bid for future star of LA, post-Kobe. He has a killer jump shot and can create his own shot. He couldn’t truly be the man sharing the spotlight with Kobe. I see no downside with Lou, other than whether or not he wishes to be a part of a rebuild once more.

Verdict: Along with Marcelo Huertas, he can really light it up off the bench. Under Luke Walton and under normal circumstances, Lou can return to bid for 6th man of the year. Try to keep him.

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Metta World Peace was kept as an on the floor coach and locker room mentor. However, when he went in the game the complexion on defense changed. He still has it. Although offensively he’s seen better days. Of course I never could understand why Scott never just stuck him in the post to bully the smaller weaker 3’s on the opposing teams. Metta is defense and can be a locker room mentor for this young team. The problem is do you have space to keep him there?

Verdict: This is tough. Invite him to training camp and see what you have when it’s time to make cuts. He still has a couple good years in him in short bursts off the bench and provides a player with championship experience.

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Nick Young never could find his footing with coach Byron Scott to say the least. Not sure who’s fault that was. Then they were losing. Then D’Angelo Russell happened. Now the Lakers are faced with a few questions. One, is he and Russell going to be able to coexist? Two, can he clear the baggage from his head and return to Swaggy P form? Three, can his fire-at-will game fit Luke’s strategy? At his best, Nick can light it up. But will Luke have Nick and Lou work together off the bench or do they have to pick one or the other (hint: it would be Lou).

Verdict: If you can’t ship him out in a package deal with Kelly and Sacre, let’s see what Luke can conjure up to make him an integral part of this new era.

So there you have it. Most likely heading into training camp I see the following team:

Anthony Brown – SF
Jordan Clarkson – SG/PG
D’Angelo Russell – PG
Julius Randle – SF/PF
Larry Nance Jr. – PF/C
Tarik Black – PF/C
Marcelo Huertas – PG
Lou Williams – SG
*Metta World Peace – SF
*Nick Young – SF/SG

*tentative

The Lakers will not be done seeking deals and adding free agents. This will look much different before training camp begins. Stay tuned.

It’s an exciting off-season as the Los Angeles Lakers try to right the ship and return back to winning ways.

Post-Kobe…and So Far it Looks Good!

May 26, 2016

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Well folks, we finally say goodbye to the worst Lakers season in HISTORY. This season started with a somewhat unexpected Kobe retirement announcement and ended with a Kobe 60 point ending. But the Lakers managed only a 17-65 lottery earning season.

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The season featured the development of 2nd round draft pick D’Angelo Russell, 2nd year “rookie” Julius Randle and softmore Jordan Clarkson amid celebrating the Kobe retirement tour. Coach Byron Scott attempted to navigate such a conundrum, and Mitch Kupchak stated that he did a good job— before firing him.

Nobody really wishes to relive this horror story of a season, so let’s move on. The fact of the matter is the Lakers have quickly moved from the NBA’s punching bag to a team on their way back to the hated winners we all are used to. Within a matter of about a month the Lakers had a combination of choices, circumstances and luck that set the stage for a quick turnaround. Here are following things that are very promising for your beloved Los Angeles Lakers.

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1. Kobe retires: Mamba out. I can’t stress enough how HUGE this is. Last season was an anomaly of sorts because Kobe was in and out of the lineup to preserve him to the end of the season. When Kobe was in the game, Kobe was going to still be Kobe for better or for worse. And while Kobe was noble in his efforts to teach the kids, the rookies’ development somewhat took a backseat. Furthermore, the gaping hole that Kobe leaves is what presents the biggest benefit. The team is now crying for an alpha male to take over the franchise. This player will no longer have to defer to anyone. This also leaves the Lakers with a fresh start mentality that goes a long way. Lastly, this hole can be very appetizing to a free agent looking to fill such a gap on a storied franchise such as the Lakers. Not to mention, the millions that they now have to potentially pay that max player if they choose. Here’s to new beginnings. I can’t leave this section without saying thank you, Kobe for everything!!!!

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2. Lakers part ways with Byron Scott. Even if Byron didn’t see this coming, I think a lot of fans and sports analysts did. I read a great article that did a great job pointing out how Byron was fired for doing exactly what was expected of him this year. Perhaps he was the right guy to manage this team under the circumstances. His job was to develop the youth and get Kobe through the season. He wasn’t told to win at all costs. However, all that aside, one can argue that this Lakers team which features the future tandem of Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell is not looking forward to starting this new era under Byron Scott’s tough love regime. Lastly, it just made sense that this new era begins completely anew. Remove the stains of the previous two forgettable seasons. Fair? No. Necessary? Yes. Magic didn’t necessarily rejoice like he did when D’antoni was let go, but I’m sure he knew this was necessary.

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3. Lakers hire Luke Walton. Luke Walton became an instantly sought after coach after guiding Golden State’s historic start as Steve Kerr was recovering from surgery. He is widely known as someone whose basketball mind would lead him to being a great coach some day. He’s a young likable guy who can embrace the current direction the game is going while having been a part of winning organizations in Los Angeles and Golden State. Okay. He’s unproven. He has no true head coaching experience. So why is his hiring such a big deal? Because he’s fresh and new, he knows basketball, the young players like him already and and he represents the new era. He will also reportedly be joined by lead assistant coach Brian Shaw. Lastly, he’s Luke Walton. Get excited.

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4.  Lakers get the #2 pick. After sitting in front of the television sweating bullets, the Lakers survived the lottery and kept their second pick. This puts them in the running to pick up a rookie that can help them immediately. Ben Simmons is picked to be the next LeBron while Brandon Ingram is considered to be the next Durant. Okay, we’re jumping ahead of ourselves, but the Lakers are poised to add another piece to the new era puzzle (or trade it which I doubt).

These factors put the Lakers in an excellent position to start heading in the right direction.  These small moves have resulted in an immediate upgrade. 

Stay tuned as we watch the Lakers prepare for the new post-Kobe era. Once again we start anew and the Lakers Optimist is ready!

The Home Stretch

March 4, 2016

WARNING: I HAVE ALOT TO SAY!!!!

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Larrybrownsports.com

The Lakers have been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and are on their way to breaking more dismal records as far as losing goes.

The focus as a team has been the same: Kobe’s retirement tour and develop the rookies. As the year winds down, coach Byron Scott has brought D’Angelo Russell back into the starting lineup and has given rookies like Anthony Brown and Tarik Black more meaningful minutes. He has also implemented a new offensive set that has not only given the players more freedom, but has created more ball movement. Much like last season, this is the time to truly figure out what your post-Kobe squad is made of. And I gotta say, the future looks bright.

D’Angelo Russell had his official breakout game in a win against the hapless Brooklyn Nets (who broke thier first losing streak early this season), dropping 39 points and raining 8 threes. We even saw some genuine swag from Dloading as he drained a Curry-esque deep three in the closing minutes.

Julius Randle is the official double-double machine and really is becoming potentially unstoppable in the post. Larry Nance Jr. is being cautiously used amid a knee situation, but has become a defensive force, contesting and blocking shots. Of course, we can’t forget the high flying dunks we are now growing accustomed to. Anthony Brown is comfortably stepping up to his 3 and D expectations when given the minutes.

Let’s give Jordan Clarkson his own paragraph. Jordan was given the team the latter part of last season where he emerged and made the All-Rookie team. This year he has continued to improve and has been very consistent. Am I a tad biased? Yes. I feel he has fallen by the wayside amid the Kobe retirement tour and the hoopla surrounding D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle. The Lakers better be careful not to lose him in the shuffle. He is up for free agency next year and he knows that he is going to be a hot ticket next year. That being said, the potential for this team to be virtually unstoppable in a matter of a couple years is high.

If you are a veteran on this team, this is very tough position. The Lakers have seen a 44 point effort from Lou Williams who is now suffering a hamstring issue. I honestly felt like he could be thier star leader post-Kobe and then he became inconsistent. Now that remains to be seen. Brandon Bass has really come out this year offensively and defensively, which begs the question: do you keep him? Bass will surely be coveted by contenders looking for a solid bench player. Right now, Bass shares the same skill set as the seldom used Tarik Black.

Swaggy P is in a funny place. His minutes are inconsistent and his shooting percentage and scoring average is way down. Is he being misused? Of course! His value has diminished greatly, but teams would be foolish to not consider him as a come off the bench gunner. See: Cavs, Grizzlies, etc. Roy Hibbert is one person I can see the Lakers holding onto, yet I can also see them letting him go. The days of him starting may be behind him though. Let’s not overlook the fact that a contending team wouldn’t mind having a defensive gem like Hibbert anchoring thier defense. See: Spurs, Thunder.

The Laker fans are looking at two major things in the off-season. The first one is the draft. The Lakers are off and running in the Ben Simmons sweepstakes second only to those horrible Sixers who have made losing and getting draft picks and losing a franchise staple. Having said that, fans and front office alike are looking to see which additional piece they can add from the draft. They will no doubt need to look for a center.

No matter who they get in the draft, none of these guys are going to be game-changers. This is where free agency (once again) becomes paramount. Kevin Durant and Demar Derozan are two key players the Lakers will be coveting this off-season. Both players are on teams competing for rings, but following what may be a conference semi or conference finals result at best, both players may seek a change of scenery. Kobe is leaving a gaping hole that only a select few will want to fill. Regardless of what anybody says, being the star on the Lakers is a HUGE honor that sells itself…if anyone is willing to buy.

Having said that, the Lakers may come away with nothing but small but valuable complimentary pieces. The Lakers can very well give the team keys to…Russell? Clarkson? Randle? (note: last franchise guy was a SG. The one before that? PG.) The Lakers will have to decide who. I honestly don’t think that missing out on a big ticket star would necessarily be a bad thing.

As we head into the close of the season, our last point of focus is the coach. Byron Scott. Is he the coach to weather the storm or your coach to return them to glory? At this point, I think he was the best for the situation. I don’t agree with the way he has used his players or rotated them. I don’t think he’s had the easiest of situations. Part of me says give him a clean slate like the 2016-2017 Kobe-less season and see how he does. He deserves a good team minus the drama. Part of me says he had a team perfectly capable of winning 30-40 games and screwed that up. His players aren’t buying what he’s selling. His coaching style does not work with THIS team. Then again look at the progress of the rookies. Metta World Peace isn’t complaining about minutes which could speak to his team management.

I’ll leave that alone and let the Lakers brass decide. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the Kobe show, watch the young guys gel and look to another pivotal off-season.

Stick with your team, Lakers faithful.

Low End Theory: Lakers At 9-41

February 1, 2016

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The Lakers continue to reach new lows, hence my play on words— Low End Theory. The Lakers are 9-41. They have lost 10 straight games en route to making history again. The longest streak in franchise history is 10 games. The fans are booing. The players are frustrated or confused or both. The interviews are depressing.

I’ve seen enough. The only optimism at this point is that the season is halfway over. Ben Simmons here we come!

But seriously.

There has to be two theories to consider. Either this team lacks talent or this team is not playing well. I’ve said time and time again that this team is not playing well. This means that there are fixes that can take place. First there needs to be a problem determined. I have a couple.

1. They don’t score enough. The Lakers are I think the worst scoring team in the league. Is it because of bad shots or are they missing good looks? I’d say it’s both. The Lakers started to embrace the three point shot, for better or worse. The problem is they don’t make enough. They force quite a few. They sometimes make plays toward the basket in spurts and they do not post anybody enough. They also hardly move the ball. However, the Lakers biggest issue is they have no defined roles. They have 4 one on one players in the starting lineup and have not determined who the head of the snake is. They have nobody expected to score consistently if not guarded. NO LAKER DESERVES A DOUBLE TEAM. Ball movement is effective when you have scoring threats. The defense will move to respect a scoring threat. If there are none, forget about whether or not you move the ball. Right now no Laker commands that attention. I blame that on strategy. When Kobe was Kobe, the plan was for either Kobe to get his and then get others involved or vice versa depending on the flow of the game. Now who is the guy for that job now? Lou? Jordan? Julius? If every other play a different guy is trying to be the man it just makes an unorganized mess on the offensive end.  They need to decide who’s going to be the offensive number 1, 2 and 3.

Lakers don’t score enough because they don’t ever go into the low post consistently. How many times have we seen Julius Randle have his way with his defensive man? However, whereas most teams would milk a match-up until the other team figures it out or throws a double team, the Lakers do NOTHING with consistency. Clarkson will get to the basket and create and then never do it again for the next 7 minutes. Nance Jr had a mismatch when the Clippers went small recently and this was NEVER exploited. These are offensive strategies that are purely an indictment on not putting your personnel in a position to be successful. When entering the post they should do it early in the shot clock.

Lakers don’t score enough because they wait way too long to get into their offense. I’ll add to that the fact that they do not push the ball off of a defensive rebound. Observe how many times this Laker team is walking the ball up the court. As a young, athletic team that lacks dominant halfcourt ability, they should be keeping opposing defenses on their heels and getting into their offensive strategies before the defense sets up. Typically time is wasted on the shot clock because the ball sticks or moves to slowly, starting with the trot into halfcourt and the meaningless 5 seconds of dribbling.

2. Lakers don’t rebound well. How many times have you just about pulled your hair out after the Lakers have surrendered yet another offensive put-back or rebound? Part of the issue is pure effort. The other is perimeter breakdowns. Bigs leave their man to collapse on the the scorer. However, the Lakers usually fail to help the helper. This is a huge issue for a team who’s defense is lacking. Whenever they do make a stop, they give the team a second and third chance.

3. The Lakers have awful rotations. I can’t speak to why Metta World Peace hasn’t seen the court or why Tarik Black doesn’t play. Nick Young sits for about 7 games and then plays the next 4. The Lakers have changed their starting lineup only a few times, not including the Kobe situation when he sits a game out. But the bottom line is there are players playing that should be playing and then vice versa. There are not enough minutes for everyone, but it would help knowing what to expect as a player. This doesn’t include players being sat down when they are hot or benching certain players in the 4th quarter. Consistency builds chemistry.

As a huge Byron Scott fan, I still don’t know what the game plan is. During this Kobe farewell, the players should be urged to give him the proper send off. This isn’t it. The plan to develop the youth should be balanced with the desire to win games. This Lakers team doesn’t look like they know how to win. The effort reeks of confusion and they bottomed out by losing by 20 plus points to an average Charlotte Hornets team that was INJURED.

They have a right to be frustrated and fans have a right to boo. But until a change in strategy happens or a game changing superstar comes on board, we can expect more of this. When the Lakers win, they are sharing the ball and their big three, Clarkson, Russell and Randle have big games. They get out in transition and they hit 3’s. This has only happened 9 times. Something has to be done.

Until then we will be wondering what kind of team Kobe has left behind to carry the torch.

New Year…New Team? A Lakers Optimist Quickie-Blog

January 9, 2016
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Nba.com

Have the Lakers developed an identity? I think what the Lakers have embraced is a halfcourt slow tempo offense with plays and attacks toward the basket…an inside out team. This team is developing into a team that defends and then effectively scores in transition. IF they accept and run with this identity and stick to the script they will be dangerous. The reason they almost beat OKC last night is because they contested shots, effectively got in lanes and forced turnovers and created transition opportunities. Players like Bass and Nance are not afraid to dunk and contest shots. Stay tuned to see if this consistent identity becomes the face of Lakeshow 2016.

Now don’t get mad, Laker fans, but the picture up top could very well be the face of your Los Angeles Lakers. Unless you’ve been under a rock, the Lakers backcourt has been Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson with Kobe and Nance in the front and Hibbert in the middle. Sometimes a star might be right under your nose. Lou Williams has been one of the most consistent scorers on this team. He has also ramped up his defense. As Kobe rides off into the sunset the Lakers will be left with Lou Williams, who has showed that he can take over games. Let’s consider that he poured 44 on OKC. With nobody to share “run the team” duties with, he could propel into the stratosphere on a GOOD Lakers team. Yes, expect Lakers to court a superstar like Durant (he ain’t coming over here.) but please oh please don’t let Lou Will go ANYWHERE.

As this Laker team looks toward the future and continues to improve, we can easily spot our consistent players. Larry Nance Jr. has quickly become a high fly act, offensive paint weapon, decent and improving perimeter shooter and good defender with brimming confidence. He has all but solidified his place in that starting lineup. Jordan Clarkson is my poor man’s Russell Westbrook and has been consistent as a shooter, attacker, finisher and passer. He’s developing on defense as well. He’s quickly establishing his own identity and stardom.

So your big three might actually be Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. But let’s consider that D’angelo Russell is quickly developing into a little monster…so big 4? Randle for me needs to come off the bench a little longer because of his inconsistent offense, but you have to have strong bench players anyway. Randle shares frontcourt duties with another consistent bench guy in Brandon Bass. This guy plays HARD. He’s an active body on defense and is also an energy guy.

I know I said that Lou should come off the bench, but I can change my mind. Perhaps Randle will return to early season form and change my mind as well. Either way, Mitch Kupchak has his core. Hibbert might be up for debate but your post-Kobe starters might be Clarkson, Russell, Williams, Nance and Hibbert.

Let’s watch as the season unfolds and look for the Lakers to either embrace this identity and start winning games or resume searching for one while losing.

State of the Lakers: Year-end Wrap up

January 2, 2016
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Nba.com

The season is well underway and the Lakers have quickly plummeted to the Western conference cellar. The Lakers are 6-27. Need we say more? The team is just as horrible as their record indicates. They have lost the majority of their games by double digits to the top teams and the bottom-feeders.

Let’s not mince words as to what this season represents in order to temper expectations. This is the great Kobe Bryant’s last season, his farewell tour, as evidenced by the totally uncharacteristic cheers at every opposing building where they will see the Black Mamba play in the NBA for the last time. This is the dawn of a new era and features the development of a very young core, the youngest being 19 years of age. The talent is raw and we can’t expect domination just yet.

This season we saw Kobe officially announce his retirement, shoot awful and then recapture his game to a respectable and sometimes vintage Kobe level (see highlight dunks against Houston and clutch shots against Boston). Since then it’s been a task to manage Kobe’s minutes, deal with the hoopla of his tour, develop the youth and still try to squeeze in some victories.

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This season we saw D’angelo Russell and Julius Randle get demoted to the bench amid mixed reactions. Julius had a pretty dominant start before scouts learned that if you dare him to shoot you can stop him. He’s still a bully who can get to the basket anytime he wants, but he needs to hit jump shots in order for his inside attack to open up. He must also finish better and add his right hand. He’s started to really work on this already and has become somewhat of a three point shooter. Randle with a deadly jump shot can be virtually unstoppable. Russell still fights with turnovers and a low shooting percentage. After being benched and moved to the second unit, he seemed to have found his game. His swagger is what is going propel him. When the skill meets the swagger, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. He’s already moving up the curve relatively quickly.

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This season saw Clarkson pick up right where he left off. Even with a few tweaked ankles and a brief shooting slump, Clarkson can get his shot anytime he wants. He’s shooting about 44% from the field and around 48% from three. He’s also shown glimpses of brilliance on defense. He’s my pick to be the first star for this team.

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Larry Nance Jr. is our human highlight reel and yet he has no desire to simply be a one trick pony or even an energy guy. He has been consistently hitting a mid-range jumper over the last few games and is a smart defender with a high basketball IQ. He is one that I hope will stay in the starting lineup. Unfortunately we will have to wait awhile to see Anthony Brown develop due to minutes. This may have to happen after Kobe retires, opening up the frontcourt. Also unfortunate is Tarik Black who’s become odd man out. Ryan Kelly was awesome is pre-season and just floundered early in the season leading to an early demotion out of the rotation.

We saw a shuffling of rotations that left Metta World Peace out of the loop over the last few games. Which has not kept him from making his mark. He has been mentoring players like Randle. Pickups Bass, Hibbert and Williams have done their share. Brandon Bass started slow but is a true energy guy who is effective when coupled with Randle in the frontcourt. He has no problem dunking when given the opportunity. Roy needs his own discussion section because you guys are being too mean to him. Lou Williams is Mr. Consistent with his shot, his willingness to run the offense and even his defense. However, the 6th man should be the 6th man. But I love his game and I hope he remains a core player for the future.

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Nba.com

Roy Hibbert is on the receiving end of some undeserved hate by Laker fans due to unrealistic expectations. The knock is on his rim protecting and offensive production. However Roy is not featured in this offense, a surpising thought considering Byron’s inside-out approach. So he cannot score a whole lot if he averages 5 shots a game. Defensively, if your perimeter defense is getting broken down, Roy will rotate to block the shot. If your team will not rotate to help the helper, you either have a rebound dunk or a pass to the man Hibbert had to leave to make the block. This is not a good defensive team and one shot blocker can’t fix that. That being said, I would consider the tough decision of bringing him off the bench in favor of Nance at the 5 with Randle and Kobe in the frontcourt with Russell and Clarkson in the backcourt. This gives the Lakers a much more athletic starting unit.

The reason the Lakers are so awful is because their defense allows over 100 points a game and thier offense doesn’t possess enough punch. They come out of the first quarter playing catch up. This team has to score and score consistently to compensate for their lack of defensive prowess. They need to share the ball. They need to make at least 3-4 passes before shooting.

In the Lakers’ recent win against Boston, which is ALWAYS a landmark win, the team showed glimpses of what they can do when they score, share the ball and play enough defense the right time. It took 112 points to down the Celts. This might be the standard. They have to score until their defense catches up. The rookies were agressive offensively. We saw the future big 3 of Randle, Clarkson and Russell at their best. Nance Jr. is ahead of the curve and could be the first to breakout ahead of Russ and Randle.

What I firmly believe is that once Kobe retires the real season begins. The hoopla will be over. The coach, whoever it is, can start fresh. The team will be one year older and there will be a renewed focus on success. What we need to do right now is enjoy the tough times of this season and stick with this team. This way the true purple Laker fans can say they remember when.

What I will say is to expect this team to win more frequently as this season progresses. The Lakers have a potential two game winning streak should they bring the same effort against an awful Philadelphia 76er team.

Let’s see this all unfold.

The Curious Case of Byron Scott

November 24, 2015

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The Lakers fans were nothing short of jubilant when they heard that Mike D’antoni was no longer the head coach. Even Magic Johnson voiced his satisfaction. Following a “coaching search” they brought in Laker legend Byron Scott. There was an air of excitement and a sense that winning would begin. More importantly, there was a sense that defense would return. D’antoni represented that offensive mastermind where defense took a backseat. Defense was energy rather than X’s and O’s. The best defense was a good offense. Byron represented that old-fashioned basketball where defense wins championships and threes help, but don’t win it for you. We saw the sideline commentary about how Mike misused his bigs and the jury was always out on whether or not he coached defense and, if nothing else, Byron had us all salivating for his hire and this return to the winning ways Laker fans were used to.

And now?

Lakers finished last season 21-61. Ok. We’ll not beat a dead horse. The team was horrible on paper and injuries and blah blah. Now we are at the first 13 games of the young 2015-2016 season and the Lakers, revamped, healthy and brimming with talented raw youth are 2-11. 2 wins and 11 LOSSES. The winning culture can only be proven by winning and these Lakers are not doing so. Kobe is an average player now who cannot hit his patented fall away and hovers around the three point line where he misses badly. Not his fault. He’s probably playing his last year. The young core of Russell, Clarkson and Randle have yet to gel. The vets are playing hard but none are dominant. And yes, the defense still stinks. When the defense does do decent job, the offense sputters.

But this isn’t about the players. This is about Byron. A coach who has to process multiple storylines: A superstar in his last year who is struggling to find his game. A 1st round number 2 pick finding his footing and his way to superstardom. A young core that is intended to be the future big 3. A group of talented veterans looking to support this core. A desire to win at all costs and return to championship contention. A desire to patiently develop the youth into winners. Then you have to coach under these circunstances and WIN under the scrutiny that comes with being a Los Angeles Laker.

Perhaps the only thing that stops the questions and the scrutiny is winning. Nobody questions a winning coach. Nobody really complained about Phil. Nobody hated on D’antoni in Phoenix’s dominant days. But Byron is not winning. Unfair? Yes. But when you are losing, then the question becomes why? Perhaps Byron loves defense. What NBA player or coach doesn’t know defense wins championships? But coaching defense is another ballgame. Can he coach defense? There is an art to this that Poppovich, Phil and Thibideau among others know. Does he know it? Why are we so hung up on the Princeton offense? This offense got Mike Brown canned a few years ago. Perhaps at it’s best execution it’s not what this team needs right now.

I look at this roster and I fail to see how this team is not at least 5-6. There is too much talent even for a rebuilding squad. Perhaps like Jeremy Lin once did as a Laker, Byron is thinking too much on this. He should just coach. Forget about all the talk and storylines. Play to win. The rookies will develop. They don’t need 40 plus minutes to do so. Stop being nice to Kobe. If he’s cold, sit him down. Leave that Princeton offense alone and let them play and move the ball.

Media won’t say that Byron is on the hotseat. My view is to give him the talent. If he still can’t win, this might not work. I think he has the talent. Now it’s time to see some wins. Anything less than 40 wins is a failure.

Byron, you’re on.

Rocky Start for the Lakeshow/ Lakers Optimist on Facebook!

November 7, 2015

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Hi folks! The season is off and running! Lakers are off to a rough start, but finally notched thier first victory albeit against another struggling team. Byron is working on the right mix off the bench and this team is learning each other. Kobe is learning his aging body in quite possibly his last season. Russell is learning how to be a star. Randle believes he is a star and Clarkson is picking up right where he left off. Hibbert is anchoring the defense as expected.

The Lakers continue to lack the one thing that wins games– defense. They seemed to get it against the Nets. Yes the Nets are awful right now but history will show you that a win against an awful team can sometimes be the right medicine. It keyed Cleveland’s run last year after a lackluster stretch of losses. 

Byron finally decided to give Kelly and Bass a seat in favor of Metta and Nance Jr. There is no substitute for defensive energy and major hops! This was key is thier first win. Lakers, if defense is thier calling card this year must hold thier opponents under 100 points.

There I go rambling! All I wanted to do was give you my Facebook page. I can’t always write up something but I’m always posting here.

https://www.facebook.com/LakersOptimist/

Lakers next face the New York Knicks on Sunday. Another winnable opponent. Let’s see if the growth continues.

GO LAKERS!

Great Lake-spectations

August 22, 2015

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Alright folks we are on the verge of training camp, pre-season the 2015-2016 NBA season. The Los Angeles Lakers have once again retooled and yet again, nobody expects anything out of purple and gold.

The funny thing is, they are not necessarilly basing thier opinion on how bad the Lakers are, as opposed to how good the West is. Okay, but let’s look at it differently. Let’s actually take a look at these Lakers.

The pundits, stars-or-bust fans and Lakershaters can confidently say before every season that the Lakers will suck because there are “too many questions.” How illogical is that? If there are too many questions then how does that lead you to make a definitive answer? Secondly, they continue to overlook the fact that the Lakers have not been fully healthy since the year they were eliminated by Dallas in the second round! My favorite part is where they say even if healthy they would have still been just as bad. Based on what facts or sample size? Much like any other team in the league, your success is banked on the fact that a large percentage of your key players are HEALTHY enough to make a substantial contribution (see OKC and Pacers) The healthiest team wins the ring.

I just had to get that off my chest for what it’s worth. So what do the Lakers have this year? Lakers have a combination of untapped youth potential, budding stars, recent all-stars and effective veterans— and Kobe.

Looking at their potential starting five, let’s just assume that this team can develop chemistry quick enough to eek out some wins as they are learning to gel. In the middle at the 5 is Roy Hibbert. Roy is an elite defender and is chiefly responsible for the defensive prowess in Indiana. Roy’s expectation is to defend and to remove the swiss cheese defense plaguing the Lakers over the last few years. Byron will have him on the block to rebound and catch and dunk as needed. For the first time since the botched Dwight experiment, they have a true center. Major upgrade.

Hibbert will share the frontcourt with our number 4, Julius Randle. Julius is now back. Julius posseses mini-LeBron capabilities as a one man fast break. He creates contact and can get to the paint in a hurry. Offensively he is expected to control that area just around that free throw line and below. He is also a decent passer out of double-teams. His deciding factor is finishing consistently at the rim and hitting that mid-range jumper. His brand of bully ball should help him grab plenty of rebounds as well.

Small forward, the 3, has been a questionable area for Lakers. I like that Kobe will be manning that wing spot. Kobe will find himself in the post and on the recieving end of some passes to hit some open threes as well. From that vantage point he can still create closer to the basket rather than bringing the ball upcourt. We know Kobe, so expect great. Period. Defensively this will be a concern and a question of matchups from night to night. However the Lakers have shored up this position to give Kobe a break with Nick Young, Lou Williams, Anthony Brown and Johnathan Holmes, all possibilities to fill this spot.

Alternating most likely at the 4 and 5 are 2nd pick D’angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson. D’angelo has already been touted for his playmaking ability and shooting. He is going to make several mistakes which is why it’s great that 2nd year softmore Jordan “Fearless” Clarkson will share point guard duties. Clarkson has become a deadly paint attacker and pretty effective from outside. He also is a very good finisher and rebounder. Your wings can pretty much be Clarkson and Bryant. As a backcourt, expect glimpses of a dangerous duo in Clarkson and Russell. Defense will be a question, but the instant youth injection can boost Lakers perimeter defense on athleticism alone and allow them to stay in front of the ball much better to keep Hibbert from doing too much bailing out.

The defense will get better, how much better will remain to be seen. However, offensively, there will be two guards essentially able to get to the basket and hit the open three. Also they can set the table for each other, as well as Kobe, Randle and Hibbert down low. Kobe will have that post and will feast in that area. Randle will also be a bully on the block and in that mid-range. Hopefully Russell and Clarkson can effectively space the floor by hitting open threes. Spacing within Bryon’s offense is key so defenses will have to remain honest. Lakers potentially can have quite a few weapons.

Oh yeah that bench! Potential gunners working side by side are newly signed Lou Williams and Swaggy P himself, Nick Young. Brandon Bass will bring toughness on defense and a good jumpshot. Lakers also have another potential standout guard in Jabari Brown who showed flashes of point guard brilliance. Tarik Black is almost a shoe-in for backup center for Hibbert and is just tenacious on both ends. Lakers have also picked up big man Jeremy Tyler and guard Michael Frazier. Lakers have shored up their three point shooting this year.

It’s funny nowadays that to assume health and chemistry for the Lakers is to assume alot, but to assume doom gloom and 26 wins before the first tip-off isn’t.

Well this team right here, regardless of the way the West looks, is a very solid team that will only get better. I do expect no less than 40 wins– MINIMUM. In April they will compete for 7th or 8th. That’s honestly in my opinion being modest.

So I guess I’m saying ESPN doesn’t know what they are talking about.

But remember, I’m The Lakers Optimist.