NBA @ 2: Lakers Behind the Curve
The Los Angeles Lakers made their preseason debut on Monday against the new-look Los Angeles Clippers, and the results were not pretty. In Mike Brown’s first appearance as the team’s head coach (albeit an exhibition), the Lakers were handed a 114-95 loss in a game that saw the Clippers score 36 points in the third quarter.
“Ugly game from us,” said Brown after the fact. “We’ve got a long way to go. I felt that we were a little closer than what we showed tonight.”
Like the 29 other teams, the Lakers are trying to cram a lot of basketball into a very abbreviated training camp.
“We’re a little bit behind the curve in where we need to be,” admitted Brown.
While some teams, like the Oklahoma City Thunder, have minimal changes to implement from last season, the Lakers are starting from scratch with a new coach with an entirely different approach but offensively and defensively.
With Lamar Odom off to Dallas, the Lakers have added two former Pacers in Josh McRoberts and Troy Murphy. Neither has been signed long enough to get a feel for what Brown is expecting of them on the floor.
“The effort that Josh gave, even though he doesn’t quite know what he’s doing on both ends of the floor, was pretty positive,” said Brown.
It’s certainly too early to write off the Lakers after one preseason game but it was an unimpressive showing.
The Lakers sat veteran point guard Derek Fisher and got exactly zero baskets on 11 attempts from small forwards Matt Barnes and Metta World Peace.
Brown indicated that he expects Fisher to start for the team, likely beginning on opening night. Fisher is getting a little bit of extra time to get into game shape after a lengthy, drawn-out summer as the president of the NBAPA.
While Barnes and Peace struggled, second-year forward Devin Ebanks hit all three of his shot attempts to score seven points in less than 13 minutes.
“I need to watch the tape,” said Brown. “Devin, and he’s been doing it all training camp, he’s been making shots. That’s a positive from that small forward spot because you’re going to get some opportunities when you’re talking about having Kobe [Bryant] on the floor with Andrew [Bynum] and with Pau [Gasol]. If he can step up and make shots and defend, he might get an opportunity.”
At least on paper, Coach Brown will choose to start either Barnes or Ebanks. Peace will anchor the second unit, meaning that the player not chosen to start could end up scrounging for minutes.
“I need a small forward that’s going to want to defend, he’s going to want to run the floor every single possession and he might not get a single touch but he keeps running to put pressure on the defense,” said Brown. “I need him to rebound. I need him to slash and if the ball gets swung to him, step in with confidence and knock in that open shot”
“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with Matt and Devin,” continued Brown, omitting any mention of Luke Walton.
So Brown has rotation issues, aging veterans to manage over a compact schedule, and systems to implement with almost no time to practice.
There’s also a question of roster composition, although anyone asked on Monday redirected to General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Clearly the front office recognized the importance of change when they nearly triggered a deal for Chris Paul.
Even if Brown can get through the challenges in front of him, do the Lakers have the roster to remain one of the best teams in the West?
“I’m always concerned going into the preseason, especially with having a new system and having a lot of new players, always concerned,” said Bryant. “We have the willingness to push forward and I like the pieces that we have. There’s a lot of room for improvement.”
Both Bynum and Kobe acknowledged change thus far has not been easy.
“To me it’s a learning curve offensively for the most part because we’re so used to being on one side of the basketball, ducking in and then reading different actions,” said Bynum. “In this action it’s more timing and reading other players, knowing when to dive, all those types of things vs. when not to. All those types of things.”
“We’re used to doing things one way,” added Bryant, saying the solution is to keep working at it. “Just do repetition and get your muscle memory down so you don’t have to think about it, so it becomes habit.”
Brown’s focus is getting the team to be an elite defensive unit first with the offense to hopefully follow.
“Right now I don’t care how many points we score. I think we’ll be able to score when it’s all said and done but we can’t give up 114 points on 49 or 50% shooting,” said the Laker coach. “A lot of that just had to do with our lack of a sense of urgency. We have to play with a sense of urgency because if we float, especially against good teams, we’re going to get our behind kicked. We’ve got to be a physical defensive team that plays with a sense of urgency on every position and we have to play every possession like it’s our last, and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Sense of urgency? Not necessarily the words you want to hear out of a coach before the season has even started.
“I thought there were too many times that we allowed guys to have uncontested looks from the perimeter,” said Brown. “If we rotate or give multiple effort the correct way and they knock down a shot . . . I can live with it. What bothers me is when we had guys tonight not even contest shots, look at shooters and allow them to shoot what I call ‘horse shots.’ The shots that you shoot in your backyard growing up when no defense is on you. We gave up too many of those shots tonight. We have to do a better job of giving effort first before we even got to what we’re trying to do conceptually on the defensive end of the floor.”
The good news from Kobe is that he says his knee, which hampered him all of last season, is doing well.
“I feel a lot strong and a lot quicker,” said Kobe. “[I was] able to get to the basket and the free throw line, which will be a huge plus for us.”
Bryant noticed the deficiencies Monday night and agreed with Brown.
“We’re always defense first,” said Bryant. “So we’ve got to shore up some things, get back in transition a lot better.”
Of course Mike didn’t let Bryant off the hook either with his performance, “Defensively Kobe was just as guilty as everybody else.”
The Lakers and Clipper meet again on Wednesday in a Clipper home game. The Lakers start the season on Christmas against the Chicago Bulls but will be without Bynum, who is serving a five-game suspension for his hit on J.J. Barea in the NBA Finals.
How quickly will the Lakers be able to pull it all together?
“I don’t know,” said an earnest Kobe Bryant, “but we’ll figure it out.”
Clippers’ Investment in DeAndre Jordan
Last season was DeAndre’s career year and he averaged just 7.1 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks a game.
As a restricted free agent, Jordan was given a $43 million, four-year offer sheet from the Golden State Warriors which was matched by the Clippers.
Historically, the Clippers have not been a team willing to overly reward a player for just one great season (i.e. Bobby Simmons) but would Jordan’s humble numbers even put him in that category?
“I think that everybody understood that with DeAndre Jordan, that there was a dollar amount based on who he is today. And then there was a premium paid, not only to obtain his services but the premium that was going to be paid based on upside and potential,” said Clippers Vice President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey. “That was our asset, we developed it, he was always going to be part of our future, and once you make that decision, the dollar amount doesn’t matter. I mean, you know, Golden State would try and put as much pressure on us as possible from a financial standpoint, but at the end of the day once we decide that DeAndre Jordan’s going to be here, the money is secondary.”
The Clippers are clearly taking a new approach to building a team, one that started with their move to the STAPLES Center in 2000. The team briefly put together a winner in 2006, getting to within a win of the Western Conference Finals but injuries, Elton Brand’s exit and Baron Davis’ arrival all proved to be sizable setbacks.
Now with Blake Griffin putting the team on the map, the Clippers are trying to win now. DeAndre’s contract reflects that approach.
“It was an easy basketball decision, and that’s the most important thing for our franchise,” said Clipper President Andy Roeser. “We’ve put ourselves in a position to be able to afford it, and so whether it’s a little more or a little less we would’ve liked to pay, I think it’s completely secondary. I think from a basketball standpoint which is what matters, we think he’s a good fit for our team, an important member of our team, and we’re happy to have him back.”
It’s been an interesting road for Jordan who had greater expectations for his first few years in the league.
“You know the draft was obviously a disappointing time for me and my family,” said DeAndre, who had slipped to the second round. “I came here with a chip on my shoulder and tried to learn from as many veterans and coaches as I could and just really listen, and when I got the opportunity to play, I tried to play as hard as I possibly could and help us get some wins and you know, it all paid off.”
Whether it’s at the rookie minimum or on a lucrative contract Jordan said he’s going to continue to grow a player.
“People may want it to be pressure, but nah I don’t think so,” said Jordan. “I’m gonna come out and play my same game, I’m not gonna come out and shoot 3′s because I got a new contract. It’s not that, I’m gonna come out and be the same player and hopefully be even better to help us make the postseason.”
Morris Impressive Debut
The draft was also bittersweet for point guard Darius Morris who fell to the second round, drafted 41st by the Lakers.
“If they had squeezed into the first round, it would definitely have been my hope,” said Morris on the Lakers. “Nobody expected me to go there but everything happens for a reason and I’m happy, i couldn’t be happier going any other place.”
Nonetheless, Morris was thrilled to be picked by LA, a team certainly in need of help at the point.
‘They definitely communicated that to me even before the draft got kicked off the Lakers were one of the first to express interest in me and express how good they thought I was,” said Morris. “I think it’s just great that i ended up here. Although it was a weird route here, I’m happy, you always want to be somewhere you are wanted.”
On Monday he found himself on the court against Chris Paul and Mo Williams.
“I was feeling excited, a little bit nervous all at the same time,” said Morris.
Darius scored nine points very quickly in the first quarter, hitting two shot-clock buzzer beaters. He struggled a little bit in the second half, as did most of the Lakers, with the Clippers cutting off his penetration.
“It was a little different than college, once you get out there you learn to adjust, the main thing to be careful of is not to try play their speed or the other team’s speed,” said Morris. “You’re in control of your team when you’re out there as the point guard, so you kind of want to play at your own tempo.”
The Laker rookie wasn’t intimidated by his opponents.
“I’ve been playing against players like Kobe Bryant in practice,” said Darius. “When you’re playing with the best, it makes it a little bit easier.”
I thought he played very well with a lot of confidence,” said Bryant. “He shot the ball very well too.”
Darius said the Clippers had one key advantage last night.
“With Mo Williams having experience playing with Coach Brown, they kind of knew some of the plays or tried to jam our wings, so that means they wouldn’t let them catch the ball so you have to go into your counter actions and right now we’re still new to the offense and the counters that would normally flow,” said Morris.
Coach Brown saw some good things in Morris but noted the team wasn’t expecting to rely on him much early in the season.
“The rook came in and he was either feast or famine,” said Brown. “It was his first taste of NBA action.”
On his overall debut against the Clippers?
“I feel like i belong out here,” said Morris.
New Laker Josh McRoberts told HOOPSWORLD Monday that he doesn’t know exactly where the “McBob” nickname came from but he is not a fan (“Some blog or something,” said McRoberts).
Josh said he’s usually called “Mac” in the locker room, one he certainly prefers.
Indiana readers have indicated “J-Mac” was another popular option during his Pacer days.
HOOPSWORLD will try to get McRoberts’ take on that Wednesday . . .