NBA PM: Was Mike Brown The Lakers’ Problem?
It was bound to happen. When the Los Angeles Lakers went winless in the preseason it raised a few eyebrows, but the preseason is not always a good indicator of regular season success. When the games started to count, though, the losing became more troublesome. Considering the number of changes to the Lakers’ roster, the new offense being implemented, the lack of depth and the injury to Steve Nash, firing the head coach is a bit like putting a band-aid on a cracked dam.
The turnover alone would be enough to derail any NBA team. Yes, the Lakers have four All-Stars in their starting lineup, but once you get past the starters there is a noticeable drop-off in talent. Dwight Howard has foul troubles from time to time, and Jordan Hill is hardly a suitable stand-in. Steve Nash’s age was a concern from day one, yet the best the Lakers have behind him is Steve Blake, who has struggled since he arrived in L.A. Kobe Bryant has been as dominant as ever, but should he need to miss games for any reason the Lakers would be leaning on Jodie Meeks, who is shooting 28 percent on the season. The only position where the Lakers have a strong back-up is at forward, but even Antawn Jamison has had a hard time sparking the team off the bench.
The starting lineup is another story. Bryant is the most demanding teammate in the NBA, a lesson that Pau Gasol learned immediately upon being acquired by the Lakers. Howard does not approach the game with anything like the same level of seriousness as Bryant, and Howard’s recent comments about people needing to “lighten up” are no doubt in reference to Bryant. No one takes losing as personally as Bryant, and it seems only a matter of time before he has to go off on Howard in an effort to get him to take losing more seriously. Until he does, the Lakers will continue to struggle, no matter who is doing the coaching.
Finally, there’s the new offense, which seems to have turned Nash and Howard into bystanders instead of dominant, game-changing players. The Princeton offense, in particular, is a brilliant offense when it’s run properly. Rick Adelman, for example, has had great success with it for many years, spanning a large number of All-Star players on five different NBA teams. It worked with Terry Porter and Kevin Duckworth in Portland, it worked with Vlade Divac and Mike Bibby in Sacramento, and it worked with Yao Ming and a variety of supporting players in Houston. There’s no reason why that offense couldn’t work with Howard and Nash as the primary catalysts, but it’s not something that happens overnight.
There are plenty of reasons for the Lakers’ struggles to date. Lack of depth and the correspondingly low bench production would top my list, and that has little or nothing to do with coaching. Brown was handed a team and told to go out and compete for a championship, but the composition of that team is not such that competing for a championship is necessarily a given. Sure, the starting lineup is impressive, and that lineup has struggled to get on the same page. That comes down to coaching, but the other factors at play are beyond what Brown, or any other coach, can control.
We expect a replacement to be named soon, so stay tuned to HOOPSWORLD for more on this emerging story. In the meantime, be sure to read Yannis Koutroupis’ take on who might be the Lakers’ next head coach here!
Lillard Making His Presence Felt Early
Damian Lillard doesn’t seem like a rookie. When you’re around him, seeing the way he carries himself, seeing his pregame preparation, he doesn’t give any sign of being new to this NBA thing. He has a focused, no-nonsense approach that betrays his years.
His game hasn’t betrayed his rookie status, either, as he is averaging 18.6 points and 7.2 assists through his first five games.
“I’ve been trying to find ways to impact the game, help my team win games,” Lillard told HOOPSWORLD. “I think being in school for four years, I got to learn a lot. A lot of guys come into the league 18, 19 years old, one or two years removed from high school and that wasn’t me. I got a chance to mature as a person and a player and just working on my game, being comfortable and not letting things speed me up and being confident in myself.”
Blazers head coach Terry Stotts couldn’t be more pleased with what he’s seen from his young floor general, especially Lillard’s hunger to improve.
“Damian is like everybody has been saying: he’s an excellent, young guy, who’s played well, but he’s not content with how he’s played,” Stotts said. “He’s had three good games that people have been putting into historical context, but at the same time he looks at it as how he can improve, and where the areas are that he can do better, so I think that’s going to help him down the line.”
Lillard has also impressed his team captain early, though LaMarcus Aldridge had seem him in summer league before training camp and preaseason and had an idea what to expect.
“If I didn’t go through training camp with him, I think I’d be surprised,” Aldridge said. “I’ve seen him all through training camp and he’s done this day in and day out, so I’m not overly surprised. He’s that good, he’s talented, he’s smart, he knows the game very well. He has that pace to his game that next-level guys have, he doesn’t get sped up, he kind of dictates the offense, so that’s good for him.”
The chemistry between Aldridge and Lillard is already strong, so much so that Stotts has been running plays similar to those he helped the Dallas Mavericks develop with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Terry when Stotts was an assistant to Rick Carlisle.
“I think there is [great chemistry], just because he can shoot the pick-and-pop jumper so well and score on the block,” Lillard said of Aldridge. “I think it takes away the chance for teams to double-team him on the block because I can make shots, Nic [Batum] can make shots, Wes [Matthews] can make shots, so they got to let him play one-on-one or we’re going to make shots. When I’m on the pick-n-pop, I think I’m a threat to score the ball, so if I have a chance to draw a big out, he’s open for a jumper or down in the post. So a lot of times it’s just about finding him for an easy shot.”
One intangible that has helped Lillard make an impact right away is the closeness of his Blazers team when they aren’t playing basketball.
“I think it’s been the whole team,” Lillard said. “I got friends throughout the team; Jared Jeffries is probably the main person that I talk to, Wesley Matthews too. But I think we have a close-knit group, more than I expected. I think we have a pretty close team. … “I think it’s important because we’re around each other a lot. So the more we’re around each other off the floor, getting to know each other, I think it will translate to better chemistry on the court.”
Make no mistake about it, despite Lillard’s impressive early performances, dropping 23 points and 11 assists against Steve Nash, 21 points and seven assists against Russell Westbrook, and 20 points and nine assists against Jeremy Lin, he still has some learning to do at what is arguably the toughest position in the modern NBA.
“I think the toughest thing for me is probably going to be my position,” Lillard admitted. “My position is the toughest spot night in and night out. The point guard spot is the toughest position to play and it’s a long season. I’ve been in college four years and the games have just been 30, 31, 32, now it’s 82. So all my games in college will probably equal one season in the NBA, so I think that will be the biggest adjustment.”
So far, Lillard looks like much more than an NBA rookie, learning the ropes as he goes along. He was thrown into the deep end from the opening tip, and has held his own with Nash, Westbrook and even Chris Paul. The Trail Blazers are rebuilding, to be certain, but with Lillard at the helm that process is likely to be a short one.
Felton Happy For Second Knicks Run
Raymond Felton’s first run with the New York Knicks was fairly short-lived. He played just 54 games for the Knicks in 2010-11 before being sent to Denver as part of the Carmelo Anthony blockbuster trade. He wasn’t happy coming off the bench behind Ty Lawson, and was later traded to the Portland Trail Blazers. His experience in Portland was short-lived, too, though he is only willing to admit to part of the scuttlebutt surrounding his rocky time in Portland.
“No. Now that part was definitely not true,” Felton said of the rumor that he forced his way out of Portland. “I think anybody, any coach, any player other than … I ain’t going to put that out there. I don’t think no coach would say that. No player would say that. It was just the media writing some stuff they didn’t know anything about. Only thing was that I came in out of shape. I said that from day one. I admitted to it, but I worked my behind off to get my weight off towards the end of the year and second half of the season to have better numbers. I made sure that didn’t happen again this year. I came in in great shape and still am.”
When free agency found him back in New York prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, Felton couldn’t have been happier.
“Oh man, I felt like a newborn kid again,” Felton said. “It’s just one of those things where this is where I wanted to be. It makes things easier when you are somewhere where you want to be and somewhere you’re wanted. I worked out extra hard this summer. I worked out two times, three times a day, just putting in the extra work to really be ready this year.”
Last season, the Knicks talked about winning, but their performance on the court didn’t necessarily back up their talk off of it. This season, Felton says the team is really pushing behind the scenes to live up to their lofty postseason goals.
“Oh, no question. It shows in practice,” Felton revealed. “If you were able to tell the way we go at each other, the way we focus in and we really know what we want and we focus in on it. Everyone has the same common goal and we’re going for it. That’s the key. If you’ve got a team that is willing to sacrifice and be together as one, no matter who it is, you’ve got a good chance to do some amazing things. I feel like we have that type of team.”
The Knicks are currently the only undefeated team in the NBA, holding a 3-0 record on the young season. The upside is they’ve been good early despite the absence of injured All-Star Amar’e Stoudemire and prized bench player Iman Shumpert. Felton says the team will be even better once those guys return, especially if their defense continues to perform at a high level.
“We’re definitely excited about that, with the way we’re playing right now,” Felton said. “To add those two guys back to our roster off injuries, like I said, man, we’ve got a good enough team to do something special. But we just gotta keep it together and continue to play the way we have been playing, and right now I think our defense is the key, not our scoring. Not Carmelo Anthony scoring points. Not J.R. Smith scoring points. Not myself scoring points. Not Steve Novak. Everybody. Not Jason Kidd. Ronnie Brewer. Our defense has been winning us games.”
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