HoopsHype.com Bloggers Corner

"You have to agree with Bryant in questioning the front office"
by HoopsHype/ July 25, 2007

There were plenty of rumors about Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O'Neal and other big names before the draft. How did you feel when draft night went by and nothing big happened for the Lakers?

Brian Kamenetzky (Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog): Honestly, I wasn't surprised. First, it's always easier to talk about making a blockbuster trade than it is to actually do it. Every year it seems like names are tossed around, but actually seeing those guys get traded is more the exception than the rule. In terms of the Lakers, with Jermaine O'Neal, they had a deal out there if they wanted it, but it would have cost them Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom. One reportedly would have even tossed in Kwame Brown and had the Lakers take back Troy Murphy's albatross of a contract. Fortunately for the Lakers, Mitch Kupchak passed. The bottom line is they don't look willing to trade Bynum and Odom for O'Neal, and aside from the Kobe appeasement factor, the Lakers probably shouldn't. O'Neal doesn't improve them to the point of making it worthwhile to give up so much in assets so early in the process. It fills one hole but creates others, and wouldn't make them an elite Western Conference team.

With KG, the Lakers just didn't have the pieces to get it done. It would have taken a third or fourth team, because the Wolves wanted youth, picks, and cap space for KG... of which the Lakers had little to offer. Bynum, Kwame's expiring contract and the 19th pick? Not for KG. Toss in whatever other assets you can mine from the Lakers and it still doesn't work for Minnesota. Even Kevin McHale wouldn't make that deal. So it would require other teams to get it done, which only makes the process that much tougher. I'd have been really surprised if at the end of draft day Kevin Garnett was a Laker.

They're just not in a position to make a lot of big splash moves because they lack a lot of the necessary components to make it happen.

Kevin Ding (Orange County Register): The fact that Garnett was out there and available was a spectacular opportunity for the Lakers to turn their whole situation around – if Mitch Kupchak could find the right three-, four- or 20-team combination to bring him to the Lakers for a titanic tandem again with Kobe Bryant. Kupchak said he was more aggressive than ever in working the phones, but the net result was nothing except Kupchak saying he had a lot of players people wanted and everything he'd been working on could be carried over into the summer. Unless he still comes up with KG somehow (undeniably the ideal partner for Bryant and someone the Lakers have investigated year after year), it has to be viewed as an opportunity lost. Call it fanciful thinking, but Ari Gold would've come up with some creative stuff to get the deal done for Vincent Chase; Kupchak hasn't figured out the right combination to make magic happen yet.

Kurt Helin (ForumBlueandGold.com): Not that surprised and not terribly disappointed, for a couple reasons. First, it was pretty clear for a couple days before the draft that nothing was going to happen unless either Minnesota or Indiana had a major change in their thinking.

The other reason is that the goal of any such trade for a superstar would be to make the Lakers instant contenders, but the deals (at least the ones that were leaked to the public) did not do that. In the case of getting KG, the Lakers would have two of the five best players in the league but the deal would have stripped the team of virtually every decent role player to put around the big two. It would have taken at least a couple years to build some talent around them to compete. In the case of O'Neal, to trade Odom and Bynum (plus the pick) would have been basically a lateral move for the Lakers. O'Neal makes the Lakers better defensively in the paint but a little weaker on offense, especially in terms of versatility. Really, the only way O'Neal makes the Lakers an instant contender is if both Odom and Kobe remain Lakers as well (meaning a deal of Bynum, Kwame Brown and maybe another young player), and that was not a deal Indiana seemed willing to accept.

Paul Hershenson (IntheRefrigerator.com): Like a bride left at the altar! I finally broke down and bought a 50” plasma TV. I had to rush to get it installed by the draft, but come on, I just had to see David Stern announce the KG deal in larger-than-life HD. I was so ready for the Lakers to make a move. The pre-draft roar was deafening. If the Lakers could land KG, all would be right with the world again. And why shouldn’t they? Everyone knows the natural order of the universe is for the Lakers to win championships.

I came home from work early. Set out the chips and salsa. Flipped on the plasma. Eased onto the couch with a look of smug anticipation on my face and awaited destiny…

And then nothing. Zilch. Deafening silence. “With the 19th pick in the NBA draft, the Lakers select Javaris Crittenton from Georgia Tech.” Well that’s nice. He’s a better than expected prospect at 19. But where's KG? Do you know how mind-numbingly long the NBA draft is when you’re waiting for your team to do something and they don’t? It’s worse than watching a mid-season baseball game.

How will the Kobe issue end up? What's your prediction?

BK: What Kobe issue? Just kidding. At this point, I think you can only look at this season in terms of making predictions. Jerry Buss would sooner start dating in his age group before he'd trade 24, so that leaves a training camp holdout as the only possible thing standing in between Bryant and a 2007-08 season in L.A. I don't think he'll hold out. I'd be fairly shocked, actually. Down the road? Who knows.

Whether Kobe elects to opt out after next year depends a lot on what the Lakers do the rest of the summer, how they perform this season, and whatever moves they make a year from now. Even if looking at a potential opt out, the Lakers will try to avoid trading him if at all possible.

I believe this season will be a lot quieter than the summer has been. Kobe may continue expressing to the organization his desire to leave, but I think he learned his lesson with the Great Radio Tour. This sort of thing is best handled in house. Or at the very least, not like it was.

KD: A still-dissatisfied Bryant winds up trying to make the best of it given that the Lakers won't trade him, and he reports to training camp and plays hard the way he always has. If the Lakers do well, maybe he can be swayed to stay. If not, next summer will be another wild one.

KH: For this year, he will come back and play (and, because he's Kobe and he has that fire, he'll play well). He really has no choice, the Lakers can't trade him (there would be a ticket holder/sponsor revolt) and if he tries to hold out his public image takes another beating. That gives the Lakers a window of time to find the key piece or pieces needed to make the Lakers contenders. If not, this time next year the Lakers could find themselves in the position that the Minnesota does now – trying to find a trade they can sell to the fan base before their star chooses to opt out the following summer.

PH: I have two answers: one from the heart and one from the brain. My heart tells me that a kinder, gentler Kobe Bryant, under the calming influence of Derek Fisher, will open up to the New Age tutelage of Phil Jackson and practice selflessness on the court and in the locker room for the entire year. Lamar will flourish and have his best season as a pro. Bynum will develop into a consistent low-post threat and a force on defense. Even Kwame will relax enough to catch the ball (occasionally) in the paint. As a result, the Lakers will shock everybody by advancing to the Western conference finals. Oh, they’ll be decimated by the Spurs. Even my heart isn’t that dumb. But they’ll do well enough to keep Kobe in the fold while they wait for Andrew Bynum to develop.

Now my brain, on the other hand, well… that’s not a pretty picture.

The Lakers will play well some of the time. Lamar and Bynum will tease us with flashes of brilliance. Fisher will hit a few big shots at the end of games. The Lakers will beat the good teams and disappoint against the bad teams. Kobe will have stretches of playing team ball, but more often, we’ll all groan as he jacks up three-pointer after three-pointer as the shot clock expires while open teammates stand around watching. They’ll make the playoffs and have a chance to win the opening series, but Kobe will fail to pass to a wide open Luke Walton when the game is on the line. Instead, he’ll throw up a prayer with three defenders draped on him. The ball will clang off the rim and that will just be the beginning.

After the season, all hell will break loose. Kobe Watch 2008 will make this summer’s soap opera look like a dress rehearsal. Kobe will demand a trade. He’ll do every talk radio show in America and a few overseas. He’ll blame Lakers management. He’ll blame his teammates. He’ll blame Al Gore. He’ll go on Oprah and talk to Dr. Phil. He’ll ask Congress to intervene on his behalf. It will be all Kobe all of the time until the Lakers are forced to accept whatever riff raff the Chicago Bulls throw on the table. Then Laker fans will be left with nothing but REM’s “it’s the end of the world as we know it” ringing in our ears – except we won’t feel fine.

What's your personal opinion on Kobe Bryant as a player and as a person?

BK: As a person, I don't really know him. Last season Kobe clearly made an effort to be more accessible and communicative with the media. He was generally relaxed, open (or as open as he gets), and willing to stand and answer questions. But that's as far as my relationship with him goes. Kobe has, deservedly I'd say, a reputation for being insulated and hard to really know on a personal level. But it's not his job to be my friend, so that certainly doesn't bother me.

As a player, he's the best in the league, and I think is doing a better job of adapting his play to the guys around him in an effort to support them. Over the first half of the Lakers '06-'07 season, before injuries took the wheels off the wagon, Kobe kept his shots down (relatively speaking) and his teammates involved. That slipped away over the second half, but like I said, injuries had a lot to do with it. It'll be interesting to see how this year plays out. Kobe's talent is such that if he's not careful, he can suck the oxygen off the court and turn his teammates into spectators, even when he doesn't want to. If the Lakers are going to be successful, he needs to make sure that doesn't happen.

KD: I have a ton of respect for the way Kobe goes about his job. People don't give him enough credit for daring to believe he can be No. 1 – and working for it. Yet as easy as it is to summarize him as a player – tremendous work ethic, will and skill – there are a lot more layers to it from a personal perspective. Much of that is rooted in an uncanny desire (and ability) to control things that have happened throughout his life. That doesn't make him a bad guy, though.

KH: We're spoiled in LA because Kobe the player is a treat to watch night in and night out. In part it's because he is so fundamentally sound, something that is seemingly increasingly rare. But part of the fun of watching him is his drive – he may be the most driven player since Jordan. Nobody works harder on his game, has crafted a more complete game, in the NBA right now. He can make a 50-point night look almost effortless.

I don't have a great detailed opinion on Kobe the person because I don't know Kobe the person, and frankly I'm not sure we in the pubic really can. We can see the crafted image he wants us to see; we have seen the cracks in that image. But neither of those are a complete picture. I think Kobe is actually a complex person, not a typical "pampered jock" and he doesn't fit neatly into the boxes we try to stuff him in. But that isn't much of an opinion, because I don't know him.

PH: Oh, that’s like handing me a loaded gun and asking me to pull the trigger! I don’t know Kobe Bryant as a person. I haven’t met him. I haven’t walked in his shoes. I don’t know what it’s like to live in the public eye. He’s tantalizingly well spoken. He seems to love his children. He works his butt off. I want to love him. I want to believe in his inherent goodness. I want him to be my hero. But sadly, he keeps falling short. Maybe, probably… that’s just because he’s human. But if I did live in the public eye, I would hope to emulate other public figures, not Bryant. Dwyane Wade. Elton Brand. Derek Fisher. Even Shaq.

As an individual player, he’s unsurpassed. Every time I watch a Laker game, I remind myself to savor the moment. When the Kobe Bryant era is over, whenever that is, he’s going to leave a Grand Canyon like abyss in the LA sports scene. His 81 point game was the most amazing athletic feat that I’ve ever seen and I suspect that’s true for many of you as well. He makes scoring 50 routine. He’s the rare athlete who can inspire an entire city, maybe even the entire world, with his greatness. And yet, I suspect that his legacy will be one of failed potential and disappointment.

Kobe says he’s all about winning. He works relentlessly on his game. He’s in the gym at 4:30 AM every day working out because he’s all about winning. If there’s a skill that Kobe can acquire by working hard, Kobe has it. But the one thing he’s missing, the tragic flaw in this hero’s character, money can’t buy and hard work can’t develop: leadership. Kobe just isn’t a leader. He never has been and I’m afraid he never will be. Imagine if Kobe had Magic Johnson’s leadership skills, or even Steve Nash’s. It wouldn’t be fair. He’d win ten championships in his career.

What has been Mitch Kupchak's biggest mistake during his tenure as the Lakers GM?

Andrew Kamenetzky (Los Angeles Times Lakers Blog): In my opinion, trading Caron Butler for Kwame Brown, by far. I always thought they should have given the Kobe-Odom-Butler trio another season, considering the team wasn’t in a realistic position to make much noise, anyway. If they show promise, that’s a nice core to hold down the fort while Andrew Bynum develops. Yes, the Lakers had plenty of small forwards, but Butler was much better than anybody replacing him. Luke Walton is solid, but he’s a more ideal 6th or 7th man. Mo Evans is a quality reserve. Vlad Radmanovic has never been a regular starter. The Lakers could use a better SF. They had that guy and traded him.

I also realize that the Lakers needed size, but Butler was too valuable to trade for a project. They already had one in Bynum and Odom’s always been talented but erratic. You need consistency somewhere, so I think Butler was worth keeping (and paying, which the Lakers didn’t want to do). Or if the Lakers absolutely felt obligated to get a big, I would have preferred somebody with less theoretical “upside,” but is solid and dependable. Kwame is a terrific one-on-one post defender, but rebounds poorly for a center and his offense is totally unreliable. And while I think he’s a great guy off the court, I often question his desire. Butler plays with a lot of heart. Considering how the team’s general lack of fire has upset Kobe, it makes the absence of Bryant’s buddy that much more pointed.

KD: I thought there was some potential in dealing Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins for Kwame Brown in 2005, but I didn't know Brown's competitive drive was so feeble compared to Butler's. As much as the Lakers had a logjam at Butler's position (and thus didn't want to extend his contract), he was the kind of warrior the Lakers needed even more than Brown's obvious size and upside. I actually consider Brown a more useful player than most people do because he does often play really great defense, but he is fundamentally weak-minded and injury-prone. The additional element that Butler was Bryant's pal – and Bryant was peeved he wasn't consulted in advance of the trade by Kupchak – just makes it burn more. If Jason Kidd, 34, plays another great several years (who knows on that one), not trading Andrew Bynum for him will rank as worse – especially in light of how upset Bryant became this summer. Bear in mind through all of this, however, that Kupchak has only so much power; Jerry and Jim Buss have plenty of say in what happens or doesn't happen.

KH: The easy answer here would be to say the Shaq trade, but I don¹t think that falls on Mitch. It is clear Jerry Buss made the decision to make the trade, then Mitch got stuck having to do it fast to make sure Kobe didn't jump to another team that free agency period. So he got what he could get.

I think his biggest mistake has been one of philosophy – the Lakers have simultaneously tried to build both to win now and for the long term. With Kobe at his prime, with Phil Jackson as the coach, the effort for the last few years should have been to build a contender fast and around Bryant, but some moves (such as an apparent desire not to trade Andrew Bynum) appear to be made with the longer term in mind. The front office (and the decision makers with the Lakers go beyond just Mitch – Jim and Jerry Buss both are involved, although its hard to tell how much) needs to chose one philosophy and go after it.

PH: Failing to get Dwyane Wade in the Shaquille O’Neal trade. I have no idea how Kobe and Wade would have meshed, but man, based on sheer talent alone, that would have been immensely fun to watch. And I think it was doable. Shaq was still close to the top of his game and Wade wasn’t quite Wade yet. If Kupchak were a better poker player than Pat Riley, the Kobe/D. Wade Lakers might be on their third championship by now.

The Lakers are still not champion contenders, but are they closer to being one than they were one year ago?

AK: I don’t think so. Obviously, staying healthy will help. But the Lakers were also never quite as good as last season’s home-heavy early record and haven’t done much to improve. Derek Fisher is an upgrade over Smush Parker (especially in the attitude department), but he’s not an ideal starter. Their defense still looks problematic on paper. And should Kobe remain unhappy, everyone could be walking on eggshells for eight months, which could take a toll.

Of course, one never knows. I’ve heard great things about Bynum’s offseason workouts. Rookie Javaris Crittenton dominated summer league. Granted, it’s Summer League, but maybe he’s ready to contribute. If
Ronny Turiaf can learn to play without fouling, his role could be expanded. And unless Radmanovic takes up hang gliding, I don’t see how his 2008 can’t go better than 2007. Throw in a healthy Odom, Brown and
Chris Mihm and maybe everything clicks. But remember, the other Western playoff teams haven’t gotten any worse. We saw down the stretch how well the Hornets can play while healthy. Should the Clippers remain focused, ditto. The Lakers could find themselves playing at the top of their game, but still moving down in the standings by virtue of the Western conference’s competitiveness.

KD: You have to agree with Bryant in questioning the front office when you look back at the list of Lakers additions since Bryant re-signed on July 15, 2004. 2004-05: Sasha Vujacic, Vlade Divac, Chris Mihm, Chucky Atkins, Jumaine Jones, Tony Bobbitt, Tierre Brown; 2005-06: Bynum, Von Wafer, Kwame Brown, Laron Profit, Smush Parker, Aaron McKie, Devin Green, Ronny Turiaf, Jim Jackson; 2006-07: Maurice Evans, Jordan Farmar, Vladimir Radmanovic, Shammond Williams. It ain't too pretty, and this summer, with all the pressure on, no hope-swelling trade came. I do think Bynum, whose will to work is iffy, should be traded for immediate help. That said, I don't think trading Lamar Odom and Bynum for Jermaine O'Neal is worth it. I expect a bigger year from Odom (if he's not traded), a decent something from Radmanovic and maybe even the best of Brown while playing for a new contract. Luke Walton, Derek Fisher and Mihm can help the Lakers win – and with better health they can easily be in the upper echelon of the West. The team was on the upswing after 2005-06 and among the league's best early last season, so if Bryant is willing to give it another try, it's possible for the Lakers to position themselves to be maybe one really good player away from making everybody happy. It's just that teaming Garnett and Bryant is immediately so much more exciting and promising.

KH: Marginally. The biggest difference between last year's roster and this year's roster – providing no big trades are made – is health and increased maturity. That is not something to scoff at, remember the Lakers got off to a fast start last year in part because they were healthier. A healed Lamar Odom and a frontline that isn't forced to throw a young Andrew Bynum into the fire as much (plus Kwame in a contract year) will make this a better team. But much of the West seems better and this Laker roster is not competing with Phoenix or San Antonio or Dallas as is.

PH: If you exclude the remarkable Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls, the following statement is true: dominant big men win championships. This summer, in the big man department, the Lakers re-signed Chris Mihm. Uh… I like Chris Mihm, but he’s not Tim Duncan. Hell, he’s not even Nenad Krstic.

The Lakers have made some important incremental improvements. Derek Fisher is a huge upgrade over Smush Parker, maybe not in the talent department, but certainly in the “intangibles” department. Having players come back healthy will help. Vlade Radmanovic will be more productive next season (he couldn’t possibly be worse). So the Lakers will be better. But are they closer to contending for a championship? No. Absolutely not.

One of two things must happen for them to be contenders again. They must either acquire a dominant big man to partner with Kobe Bryant (think KG here – I’m not sold on Jermaine O’Neal) or Andrew Bynum must develop into a dominant big man before the Lakers implode. There have been some positive reports about Bynum this summer. His workouts have apparently been impressive, but until he does it on the court, every night, he’s just a long term project.

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