Luke’s Era: Differences Noticed by Fans and the Media from Last Year’s Lakers (@lakersreporter @serenawinters)

November 29, 2016

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The Los Angeles Lakers started the season with quite a few things working against them. The odds were initially stacked against them as the sports experts immediately determined that the rebuilding young Lakers would barely win 30 games. They were young, they were inexperienced, they were years away from any of these young players having any resemblance of star quality. They had a young inexperienced coach in Luke Walton who had nothing more than an impressive run with a great team that “anybody could coach”, and finally, the NBA scheduled the beginning of their season to include three games against the Golden State Warriors, two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, two games against the Atlanta Hawks and games against Spurs and Bulls. They would open the season against James Harden’s Rockets and Jazz. With a few supposed “winnable” games against the Sacramento Kings, New Orleans Pelicans, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, Minnesota Timberwolves and the Dallas Mavericks, the NBA would still consider those games that the Lakers would lose as bottom feeders in the league.

With this in the backdrop, we still had last years’ Lakers in our minds and expected that this team would most likely squeak out wins against the bad teams while getting scorched by the playoff contenders and young upstarts like the Timberwolves en route to perhaps a record like 3-15. They would compete, but they would  take the all too familiar “moral victory”, possessing an awful record and telling the media that they are much better than their record indicates.

What actually happened was the Lakers opened the season with a win against the Rockets, to which they attributed to dumb luck and opening day excitement. They proceeded to lose three straight on the road, competing up to the final quarter before succumbing to inexperienced clutch ball.

So the media was vindicated…for the moment. Then the Lakers did the improbable. They came back from double digits to put away the Atlanta Hawks on the road. They returned home and pummeled the Golden State Warriors and soundly beat the Phoenix Suns. After a letdown against the Dallas Mavericks, they came from 19 down to beat the Kings on the road and then embarrassed the New Orleans Pelicans.

Now they were back to talking about the surprise young Lakers. Following a few more wins and losses they entered a stretch that included back-to-back games against Golden State, preceded by games against the Spurs, Bulls and Thunder. They managed to pull off a win against the Thunder on Nick Young’s go-ahead three.

However, the Lakers now met a new setback that has destroyed them in recent years. D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle went down before the game against Golden State and Nick Young joined the injured before the back-to-back game against Golden State. Fans familiar with the last few years were afraid of deja vu. Furthermore, the Lakers now faced a new challenge. They had been blown out in two straight games and lost four of their last five to legitimate contenders.

So the media is vindicated once more? No.

The Lakers regrouped and soundly destroyed the Atlanta Hawks by 15, sweeping the season series and rededicating themselves to defense after a forgettable first quarter.

Now these Los Angeles Lakers improbably sit at 9-9 and sit at 8 (not last) in the Western Conference. The difference between these Lakers and last years Lakers has become increasingly noticeable and everyone has taken notice. But what are these differences?

1. The Lakers Expect to Win. When the Lakers lose, they actually feel that is based on their performance, not because they just lost to a better team. Even in their losses early in the season they made adjustments. In each loss they had come closer and closer to winning the game. The last one against the Pacers, it took Paul George heroics to put the game away. Even in losses to teams like the Spurs and Bulls, they felt these games were still theirs to win. It took Tony Parker clutch play to stop a furious 4th quarter Laker rally. This winning mentality was virtually non-existent last year.

2. The Lakers are NEVER out of it. This season the Lakers have been down double digits to several of their opponents. Each time, they have come roaring back to make it a game. The only two times this did not happen was against the Golden State Warriors and Minnesota Timberwolves. Against Minnesota, they still got down to single digits, and against Golden State they forced Steve Kerr to keep his starters in the fourth quarter as the Lakers pulled within 12 in their last meeting (without Russell or Randle). The rest of the time the Lakers are almost guaranteed to make it a game AND win. Last year the Lakers would have all but given up, over and over again.

3. The Lakers Make Adjustments. With slow starts and injuries, this Laker team never seems rattled. In the first game against Houston, the Lakers gave up 71 points in the first half. The second half was very different as the Lakers tightened the screws on defense to overtake the Rockets and win, only giving up 43. This same result took place against the Kings. The Lakers are currently withstanding injuries which blindsided them at first. However, Luke and staff have managed the help these Lakers once again adjust and get back in the win column. Against these Hawks, the Lakers gave up a miserable 32 points in the first quarter before making adjustments and never looked back. Last year ties into the second point and, quite frankly, the Lakers made zero adjustments.

4. Same Cast, Different Script? Tarik Black is a beast on the boards and is a key component in the Lakers surprising start. He did not play last year. Nick Young is a smart team player and developing into a 3 and D player. He did not play much last year. Lou Williams and Nick Young were type cast as the same type of players and would never coexist on the court. They are setting each other up for plays. The Lakers have picked up some great additions through free agency and the draft, but Luke Walton is getting the most (and he’s not done yet) out of the same players that played on this Laker team last year. The players are empowered. It’s their game to win or lose. They don’t go in fearing they will be yanked out for a bad play.

5. The Lakers are Buying In. Last year, I have no doubt that the coaching staff had great ideas about offense and defense and even James Worthy as a eyewitness can see the team worked on defense and sharing the ball. Time and time again, post-game interviews would speak about what they did in practice failing to “translate on the court”. The major difference between this year and last year is that these Lakers are buying into what the coaching staff wants to do. That is a very powerful component that determines how any team performs. For whatever reason, many of which I’ve highlighted before, the Lakers are making it a priority to implement everything Luke and staff teaches.

6. The Lakers are Getting Easier Looks. The Lakers are 6th in the league, averaging 108 points a game. Last year they averaged 97 and were dead last. Why? This year, any basketball head would notice that the Lakers have an easier time getting into their offense. They work the ball around for a great shot and many of their shots are open looks. It just looks easier, AND easier to watch. Theoretically, once they knock these shots down with more regularity, they will be scoring with even more efficiency. The Lakers had many of these shooters last year. Yet they struggled to get an uncontested shot off. Their offense looked very labored and uninspired. The ball stuck with one player in ill-advised iso instead of moving around. The Lakers this year miss shots because of either great defense by the opposing team or simply because they just missed an open look.

*And as a note, defensively, even though this is far from their specialty, they are much more active, they make key stops to win games and they do allow more points simply due to the pace of the game. 

Which these points being made, even with the odds stacked against these young Lakers to fail and be doomed to experience the horrors of a rebuilding franchise, the Lakers are 9-9. Expectations are rising. The fans are excited. The players are excited. Even as they find themselves down 19, they can turn around and be up 10. Even after losing 2 straight, they will refocus and win the next game by 15. Even as they lose two starters, they find victories from their bench and veterans. In this young season, the Lakers expect to win and to make it even worse, they expect to get better.

The Lakers will need to maintain their dedication to defense and replicate the performance they had against Atlanta for 3 quarters. They will need to replicate the 20 assists (or more) and 9 turnovers (or less) in that same performance. They will also need to continue to pay attention to detail and start hitting open shots with more regularity.

The NBA and sports experts will still find a way to spin it negative. They say they still won’t make the playoffs or they will still be awful when it all settles down. However, The Lakers Optimist says that we don’t know. Right now, the Lakers when healthy can beat anybody in the league. The Golden State Warriors have not beaten a healthy Lakers team this season. Fact. Without Randle and Russell, the Lakers manhandled the Hawks. So, we still approach the remainder of this season with cautious optimism and take it one game at a time.

Tonight the Lakers face another winnable opponent, although the Pelicans have Jrue Holiday and are playing much better as of late. With every game being a test, the Lakers have to show that they are back to winning ways and take this game in decisive fashion. They must control the boards, hit open looks and take care of the basketball. I’m expecting a victory tonight.

Enjoy the game!

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Los Angeles Lakers are 2 Games Over .500 and Doing the Unexpected (Take that ESPN)

November 18, 2016
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Larry Nance Jr. posterizes David West.

We are 12 games into the young NBA season and the Los Angeles Lakers have so far managed to not only to be competitive, but to also shock the naysayers who expect this team to finish with under 30 wins…if that! The Los Angeles Lakers under new head coach Luke Walton are 7-5 and have won 6 out out 8 games since starting 1-3. They are doing it with an assist-driven, high tempo offense that keeps defenses on their heels. They are exciting, putting down at least 2 highlight dunks per game and that’s being modest! They are at times playing lockdown defense en route to clutch victories against Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix and Brooklyn and blowouts against Golden State, Sacramento and New Orleans.

This team has by no means crowned a “superstar” or an “alpha male” as of yet. At times D’Angelo Russell has shined in plays like his barrage of threes in the first quarter against Brooklyn and continues to develop into the head of the snake. Nick “Swaggy P” Young has accepted Luke’s challenge and has developed into an effective defender and has regained his shooting touch. Lou Williams has developed into the Lakers’ closer in many of these games and is providing an scoring punch off the bench. Jordan Clarkson is getting ever more dangerous and seems as though he can get his shot anytime he wants to. He too has taken defense much more seriously this year. Julius Randle may be the strongest Lakers player as he notched a triple double already in their last game against the Nets. He is the closest to the total package with developing on-ball defense, an almost indefensible inside shot and great passing ability. That issue with finishing at the basket is almost a non-factor this year.

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Mozgov with one of his many monster dunks! 

Larry Nance is truly the heart and soul of the team and does a little bit of everything. His defensive presence and ability to finish with STYLE in the paint is huge in these games. Timofey Mozgov is proving his worth, altering shots and clogging the paint on defense, while finishing ally oops and being a problem for defenses on the interior. Brandon Ingram is so far ahead of the curve as a rookie, with clutch blocks and clutch plays in games where Luke Walton is comfortable enough to leave him in during crunch time. Tarik Black really had a coming out game against Nets, being tenacious on the glass and creating nasty, NASTY dunks off of great inside passing. All of this taking place as Luol Deng continues to find his footing with this team. Perhaps the biggest reason for their success is that nobody feels the need to be the “Alpha Male”. They share the ball, share the passion, share the blame and share the success.

The Lakers once had an “Alpha Male” named Kobe Bryant. In fact, we are only a few months removed from his stellar 60 point swan song that left Staples Center abuzz even as this capped a historically awful season. While we hate to relive the past (at least the bad memories), we know that this very Kobe Bryant when on his game is the main reason the Lakers hoisted up the Larry O’Brien trophy 5 times and were in playoff and or championship contention during his 20 years as a Laker. However, we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight how things came to a grinding halt on that fateful day at Staples Center against the Golden State Warriors. Although we argued and we hoped, that would mark the rapid decline of the greatest since Jordan.

So as we bridge the gap between the Laker legend and the Lakers youth, the question we ask is, “Where does Kobe fit in all of this?” It would appear to be a stupid question if not for the constant conversation about his last two dismal years, particularly in the wake of drafting the Lakers future stars D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. Last year, they brought in the young cocky point guard D’Angelo Russell to hopefully take the torch and run alongside Randle and Clarkson back toward Lakers glory. Of course we know that this was the same year that Kobe would declare this to be his last ride. Then the goal changed from youth development and winning games in the process to keeping Kobe healthy, celebrating Kobe and oh— let’s develop the youth.

So the question becomes, “Did Kobe help develop the young guys and does he have a hand in this year’s success?”

I’m so glad you asked! The answer is yes and no. There is wide speculation on if Kobe even gave the young Lakers and even the old ones (Like Nick Young) any advice or if he had talked to them at all. Some say that Russell pointed out not having guidance from the ones that were supposed to guide him. We already know of his level of confusion under Coach Scott last year. There are mentions of Kobe not really interacting with the team. I have also seen Kobe be somewhat of a coach on the floor during games and rallying the troops when they had those very few victories. So the first issue is whether or not Kobe taught the kids. Well whether or not he had two words to say to D’Angelo Russell is not really on Kobe. To be perfectly honest, when you’ve been in the league as long as Kobe has and have worked as hard as he has and has also had the accolades that he’s had, you don’t necessarily have any obligation to say anything to a rookie no matter how great they expect him to be. Should he teach them? Of course, but obligation? Nah. It seems to make perfect sense to me for a player of D’Angelo Russell’s current NBA status to have to work for such a position that a Carmello Anthony has, such as texting back and forth with Kobe like BFF’s.

What Kobe did for this young Laker team was show them first hand what a legend looks like. Being in his presence and getting a first look at the greatness that he brought to the table for so many years can charge up a young team. There is something about the rare air that Kobe brought in and actually left on the court after his 60 point ending. When you have been touted as the ones destined to pick up where he left off, that hunger translates into the off-season and on the court. Metta World Peace speaks to this very concept. It was up to the players to actually see the benefit in playing alongside Kobe and take whatever they can from him while he donned the Laker jersey.

While Kobe retired in style, another big thing Kobe did was RETIRE. What Kobe left was a torch that was to be taken, not necessarily by one player, but by the whole team. This young core experienced greatness, and then that greatness left an opportunity for them to create their own greatness. As Kobe was on the court with Russell, Clarkson, Nance and Randle, that ball belonged to Kobe. It was still the Kobe show. It was still Kobe’s game to win or lose. It was Kobe taking all the shots. It was Kobe taking the minutes. When you have great players salivating at their opportunity to do the same while learning on the fly, a hunger develops. Now these Lakers can feast! Luke Walton, who also had the ability to take a wealth of knowledge from Kobe, now can temper this wild urge to take their spot in Lakers glory. Nobody can say don’t shoot it. Nobody can yank them out of the game. Nobody can tell them not to take over in the clutch. Each one of these players, and you can add Brandon Ingram, are free to carve their legacy. As talented as these players were, including Lou Williams and Nick Young, all they needed was one man to loose the reigns. That man was actually Kobe Bryant.

With Kobe Bryant out of the picture, Luke Walton wisely instituted a pass-first mentality and a share-the-ball offense that the players are buying into. Perhaps the biggest reason, besides Luke’s amazing ability to empower his players, is that this represents the antithesis of what they experienced just last year. It’s not that no player is special on the team. It’s that ALL the players are special. It’s that Julius can finish inside, Clarkson can spot up from three or score off the dribble, Lou Williams and drive in the middle for a floater, Nick Young can spot up and drain the three when open, Nance can take a pass from Russell and tomahawk slam and Russell can actually bring the ball up and run the offense. This is their team.

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A teaching moment with Luke Walton.

This year Mitch Kupchak, who has been the center of hate the last few years, made some pretty genius moves in putting together a great mix of young extremely talented players with high ceilings along with some veterans that are pretty strong at their respective positions. Furthermore, none of these players are “too good” to listen and implement what Luke brings to the table. Capping those wise draft picks and free agent signings is picking up Luke Walton. Not because he threatened to use the “pine” (sorry Byron) or decided to humble his rookies. Quite the contrary, Brandon Ingram actually played in clutch moments early in his career when Russell sat down in his rookie year. Luke really is just being himself. He knows basketball. His father is Bill Walton. His championship coach was Phil Jackson. He learned from Phil when injured. He won rings under Phil Jackson. He assisted Steve Kerr (who played under Phil Jackson and came from the school of Gregg Poppovich) and won a championship as an assistant coach. He coached Golden State to 24-0 (No fluke by any stretch).

After all that information, the haters still declared, “THIS MEANS NOTHING”. So here goes nothing. The Lakers sit 5th in the Western  Conference at 7-5. Yes they have a tough 5 game stretch that includes the Spurs, Bulls, Thunder and back-to-back games against the Warriors, who would like nothing more than to embarrass the Lakers right back. However, these Lakers are competitive, which was Luke Walton’s goal. They are a team you actually prepare for. When I say prepare, I don’t mean circle it as an easy win and tell your team not to take them lightly just because they suck. I mean prepare as in figure out how you’re going to slow down Randle, get points around Mozgov, keep Nick Young, Lou Williams and Jordan Clarkson off the three point line and keep Larry Nance and Tarik Black off the glass.

The league and the media respect the Los Angeles Lakers once again. The players are having fun and even Laker haters find that this team is fun to watch too. Welcome to the new era of Los Angeles Lakers basketball.

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.