In our ongoing series of Q&A sessions with bloggers covering the opponent, today we have some answers from Kurt from Forum Blue and Gold. Don't hate him because he's beautiful.
Update [2008-2-23 16:18:29 by ClipperSteve]: No time for a preview today, so this is your Lakers game thread. It's the Lakers, so what's new. I guess they've got some Spanish or Mexican guy who's supposed to be pretty good. Also, here's the link to my answers to Kurt's question on FB&G. I thought Kurt's questions were particularly salient. Enjoy.
ClipperSteve: Obviously it's been quite a strange 9 months for the Lakers. Was there a point where you thought they would actually trade Kobe last summer.
Kurt: Not really, because while Kobe was pissed he didn't have a lot of leverage -- his opt out was two years away. Plus, by freaking out in about the most public way possible, Kobe insured the Lakers were going to get nothing but lowball offers from other teams. The concern was really that the Lakers would not improve/make a big trade this season, because then the threat of the opt-out would have put more pressure on the Lakers to make a deal this coming summer. Now, that all seams like some alternate reality.
ClipperSteve: The perception of Mitch Kupchak has gone from 'total incompetent' to 'basketball genius' during the course of a partial season. And it's not just the Gasol deal - every draft pick from Vujacic to Farmar to Turiaf is paying dividends, the Ariza trade was solid, and obviously Bynum has justified his untouchable status with a vengeance. Hell, even Radmanovic looks good. Tell the truth - did you have Mitch's back all along?
Kurt: I don't know that I had his back, but I wasn't as brutal on him as some were. For example, I didn't like the Kidd for Bynum trade even last year (which had more to do with Kidd's age and how he'd fit in the triangle offense than knowing Bynum would grow so fast). I thought the Lakers had built up a good core of role players but still needed one more star, and I wondered if Mitch could pull that move off. Who knew Memphis really wanted to pair Kwame Brown with Darko to create the most overvalued front line in NBA history?
One more quick note on Mitch -- what really got him such a bad wrap from fans was the Shaq trade, breaking up a championship team. But that was not Mitch's call, he was executing the owner's orders. And he had to do it fast (between the end of the season and the free agent signing date, in an effort to keep Kobe from the Clippers) which led to a host of low-ball offers. Mitch just chose the best bad offer. It was not a great trade, but it was not on Mitch.
ClipperSteve: Is this the season Kobe Bryant wins the MVP? From my perspective, he's been held accountable for not getting his teammates involved and playing on mediocre teams in the past. If the Lakers end at the top of the conference, and Kobe is doing a better job of getting everyone involved, don't they pretty much have to reward him with the hardware?
Kurt: I think you can certainly make a very good case for it (as you could for Chris Paul or some guy named LeBron). And I hope Kobe does, I think he deserves it not just for this season but his "body of work" (to use an Oscars phrase). But let me say this -- the reason Kobe is getting his teammates involved more this year (and his shots attempts per game are down 7 from two seasons ago) has a lot to do with the talent around him. Last season when the double came to Kobe he had passing options such as Kwame "hands of stone" Brown in the post, Smush "where am I now" Parker at the point and Luke Walton. This season when that same double comes Kobe can pass to Pau Gasol (or earlier Andrew Bynum), Derek Fisher and a rejuvenated shooter in Radmanovic. Basically, now Kobe can pass to players he can trust. Bottom line, Kobe is all about winning, and when he looked at his options last year he often thought "my shot over the double team is the best option" and this year that is not the case. Sure, Kobe's drive and ego fuel part of that, but he wasn't totally wrong.
ClipperSteve: What will go through your head when Cat Mobley slaps at Kobe's right hand on Saturday?
Kurt: What will go through my head? I wonder what kind of car Mobley drives. Mobley's a good defender, but honestly I was more worried about Raja Bell doing that the other night (he and Kobe have a history).
Kobe said it (and so did Doc Rivers of all people), in today's NBA it's not likely someone is going to take a swipe at the finger to win a regular season game. That's not how the players think anymore, by and large. But here's what I asked on my blog: First game of the first round of the playoffs, a seven game series against (let's say) the Phoenix Suns -- does Bell or someone take a swipe then? And that's not to single out Bell and the Suns, the question is do the rules change in the playoffs? I guess we'll find out.
Thanks Kurt, that was great. For the record, I'm not implying that Cat Mobley is a dirty player or that he would go after the golden pinky on purpose. But Cat loves to rake the ball, and, you know, the hand is part of the ball. There will be some anxious moments for Lakers' fans this season, that's for sure.