For this edition of the Questionable Blogger, we turn across town to the guy I play hoops with twice a week, CA Clark from the SBNation Lakers blog Silver Screen and Roll. What's up with Bynum, how much longer can Kobe be Kobe? The answers to these questions and many more are waiting for you after the jump.
Be sure to check out Silver Screen and Roll for my answers to his questions as well. Based on my answers, I'm kind of expecting to take some heat over there, so check out the comments as well (but be nice, it's their blog).
Steve Perrin: Obligatory Andrew Bynum question. I'm sure you're sick of the subject, but what is up with this guy? It seems to have blown over for now -- until the next incident I guess. The thing about his three point attempt, for me anyway, wasn't that he took the shot. The real problem to me was all the crap he said afterwards. Why doesn't he get it? He's not stupid, so what's going on?
CA Clark: I'm the wrong person to ask. There are few in the Lakers fanbase as anti-Bynum as I am, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. He's not lazy. He's not stupid (the dude builds his own computers). He's not even young anymore. At 24 years old, he's well past the age where folks are expected to start acting like adults.The only response that makes any sense is that he's entitled and spoiled. At this point, it's well documented that Jim Buss, son of owner Jerry Buss, VP of basketball operations, and heir apparent to the Lakers throne, is behind Andrew Bynum 100% and believes in him as the future of the franchise, and these latest incidents (you can add yesterday's fine for "repeated infractions" to the list) smack of a dude testing out the limits of what exactly he can get away with. The answer, apparently, is a lot.
SP: I think the Ramon Sessions acquisition was probably the steal of the trade deadline. In fact, I've been thinking of writing an email to Dan Gilbert (comic sans, of course) asking when the last time was that a team got both the best player in a trade AND got rid of a terrible contract in the process. At any rate, how does Sessions help this Lakers team?
CAC: Sessions really does have the potential to be a game changer for the Lakers, not because he's all that spectacular himself, but because he's so much better of a point guard than the Lakers have had, literally, in the past 15 years. He's putting up numbers that only Nick Van Exel and some guy named Earvin Johnson were able to accomplish in a Laker uniform since the 1980s. The primary thing that Sessions brings to the Lakers is the ability to have a balanced lineup on the court at all times. With Bynum and Gasol, the Lakers can ensure they always have a tremendous post presence on the court at all times. With Sessions, the Lakers can now manage his and Kobe's minutes similarly so that there is always one perimeter creator on the court as well. There's just one problem ...
SP: Fifty some games into the season, how do you feel about Mike Brown? Is he the right coach for this team long term?
CAC: Since day one, I was never a big fan of the Mike Brown hire, and the reason is wrapped up in your 2nd question. For this Lakers team, there is no long term. There is only right now, and a bleak future filled with cold winters of rebuilding. My opinion pre-season was that the Lakers needed to bring in a coach that could successfully transition the team from the Triangle era into the next step, while dealing with a roster that is designed specifically for said Triangle. Mike Brown is certainly not that guy, and it has shown so far this season. Now, with Sessions instead of Derek Fisher, the Lakers are more suited to run what he likes to do offensively, and it's showed, but Brown was supposed to bring top notch defense with him, and the Lakers are ranked worse defensively than they have been since before the Pau Gasol era. That's not entirely his fault (turning Troy Murphy, Derek Fisher, Steve Blake and Josh McRoberts into members of an elite defensive unit was always going to be a challenge), but the bottom line is that the Lakers are average defensively, and average offensively, despite having some top notch talent at the top of their roster.
But if you ask any Lakers fan about the problem with Mike Brown, we will unilaterally mention his rotations. They are inconsistent, erratic, and don't even seem to make much sense strategically. He seems to be throwing lineups against the wall and seeing what sticks, and he's been doing it for 50 games now. To be fair, I understand his dilemma ... prior to the Sessions trade, it was impossible to find a team with as little talent as the Lakers had in the 4-15 roster spots. I analyzed it earlier this year, and at the time, the Lakers had given nearly 50% of all available minutes to players with a PER below 10, nearly twice as much as any other team in the NBA. But even with the excuses, the rotations are bad. Take Sessions for example. From the second Ramon set foot on the court for the Lakers, it was clear that he was at his best when he had the ball in his hands to create easy shots for his teammates. That's tough to achieve with Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum, and Pau Gasol on the court. For the four games Sessions played on the bench, he transformed the bench unit from one of the worst in the NBA to a pretty decent unit that was capable of holding, or even building upon, a lead. Despite him clearly being the team's best point guard, I wanted to keep Sessions on the bench because of how naturally his game fit in with the needs of the 2nd unit. It wasn't to be and Sessions (rightfully) became the starter, but it certainly seemed to me that the concept (as mentioned above) that Sessions needed to play every second of action that Kobe Bryant didn't play in order to maximize his potential was completely obvious. Apparently not. Sessions and Kobe have both been on the bench at the same time many times over the last eleven games, and the results have almost always been disastrous. Combine the weird rotations with Kobe and Pau's insanely high minutes (only guys over 30 in the top 20 of minutes played per game), and you have the recipe for a coach that appears out of his depth.
SP: What is the deal with the Lakers playing down (and sometimes up) to their competition? Every team does it to some extent, but recent games against depleted Hornets and Warriors teams were pretty ugly. Of course, LAL still got the win, which is all that matters, but it's a dangerous game.
CAC: It is a dangerous game, and the loss of big leads to those sub-par teams is certainly a problem, but as I wrote this morning, the loss of big leads is something all teams fall prey to. And besides, any excuse we get to lather praise on Kobe Bryant's late game heroics is one we have to take, right? But the bottom line is that the Lakers are dependent on their stars, and Kobe has been struggling over the past few weeks, probably due to the high level of minutes he's been playing that I mentioned above. Just in the past two weeks, he had his worst game as a professional basketball player (statistically), shooting 3-20 and turning the ball over 7 times, and then he shot even worse in a game (3-21, including the game winner) in the following week. After a strong start to the season, Kobe's shooting is nearing career lows on the season, and the minutes has to be a big reason why. Really, it doesn't seem from the outside as if the Lakers are playing down to the competition so much as they are lucky the poor competition is coming at the right time. I'm not sure the Lakers would be able to beat anybody but the Hornets of the world.
SP: The Lakers have always managed to get another star about when they needed it, from Kareem to Magic to Shaq to Kobe to Bynum to Pau. Are you emotionally prepared for what happens if they DON'T pull off another miracle re-build and actually decline like normal teams do? Or are you confident that the immediate post-Kobe era will involve many more banners courtesy of an as yet unnamed new Laker superstar?
CAC: I'd like to think I'm prepared for it, but considering a lack of life experience, I don't know that I'm qualified to answer the question. That said, I do think the Lakers will be in store for a longer rough patch than we're accustomed to once Kobe calls it quits or declines enough to no longer be the centerpiece of a great team. The new CBA, and more importantly, the Lakers' front office's apparent fear of it, plays a role here. The Lakers have been making cost cutting moves left and right, and while it's possible that might just be smart business at this point, the fact remains that the Lakers don't look like a team willing to spend more than other teams to win anymore, and that spells trouble for the level of dominance the franchise has achieved over the years.
But this is still the Lakers we're talking about. With shorter contracts as the norm, the Lakers will ALWAYS be able to bring in big stars. There is simply no better combination of destination (big city, year round great weather, celebrity) and prestige in the league, and that is going to appeal to any big name that becomes available in free agency. I imagine post-Kobe, the Lakers will go scorched earth on the roster and go well below the salary cap until they can land (through the draft or free agency) the next Kobe/Durant/LeBron. It may take a few years, but it won't take them as long as it would take pretty much any other team.
SP: How many more seasons can Kobe be Kobe? At 33 he's still Kobe. How many prime time seasons do you think he's got left?
CAC: At the rate he's getting played this season, it's hard to see it lasting much longer.My biggest fear about Mike Brown as a coach is that he might shorten the shelf-life of Kobe Bryant's late prime and quicken the pace of the Mamba's eventual decline. I haven't looked it up, but I would imagine it's probably pretty unprecedented in the past 20-30 years for one of the league's active leaders in overall minutes played to also be among the league's leaders in minutes played per game on the season.
And the question with Kobe is never going to be how many seasons he has left, but whether he'll be willing to dial back his game in accordance with his age. If Kobe morphs into an off the ball player who gets freed up via screens (a la Ray Allen), he can play effectively in that style for years, much like Allen has. If he bulks up and perfects his post game, he can go the late years MJ route. But if he insists on playing primarily as a perimeter playmaker off the dribble, he's going to get less and less effective and those prime seasons will disappear faster.