I'd like to think it's because I have such well-reasoned opinion, in truth, I think it is because Powell is offering me up for fodder. Either way, the Kamenetzky brothers over at the LA Times Lakers Blog asked me to answer some questions as part of their Know Thy Enemy series. I, in turn, asked them some questions. You can see my answers to there questions here.
I didn't come up with the Teddy KGB picture, but I think it was a great addition by them. I particularly like my Hold Em analyogy. A big thanks to Andrew and Brian for giving me an opportunity to run my mouth.
I had specific questions for each brother:
- Andrew, who on the Lakers does Brian think is better than he really is? Why does Brian overrate him? Any player that loans him a twenty-spot is always “All-Star” caliber in Brian’s eyes, including the recently waived late-second round pick Joe Crawford. Actually, I’m kidding. None of these guys are dumb enough to hand either of us cash. But in all seriousness, I think BK has a pretty good handle on these guys’ strengths and weaknesses, since we have to watch them so often. But maybe I missed that series of posts where he labeled Sun Yue “the true Laker engine,” so if our readers feel differently, they can (and likely will) let you know.
- Brian, does it hurt that the Lakers traded Brian Cook but kept Andrew Bynum? Did you take this personally? Originally, when I thought the Lakers would then flip Trevor Ariza (obtained for Cook from Orlando) for Brian Cardinal, making the final deal “Brian neutral,” as it were, I was okay with it. Then, as it became clear that the organization not only was going to keep Ariza but actually liked him? Yeah, I was a little hurt. It was just another in a series of little digs the Lakers have delivered, combined with favoritism for Andy. His parking space at the arena is next to Kobe Bryant’s, mine next to Coby Karl’s. He always gets a breast when they serve chicken for the pregame meal, I’m left with a thigh or wing. His media seat is courtside, mine is in the upper bowl.
- Andrew, is Phil Jackson’s health going to be an issue for the Lakers? I don’t think so. In 2007, when Jackson was on the heels of hip surgery, it was more of a viable concern, but he feels considerably better than around this time last year. He was able to swim and remain more active during the offseason, which made him happy. And he looks better, too. While The Zen Master remains a long shot for a “Dancing with the Stars” invite, it used to be almost as painful to watch him walk as it was for him to do take those steps. Now, not so much.
Brian, outside of Kobe, who is the one Laker that has to be healthy? I realize this isn’t the most original answer in the world, but the biggest difference between this year’s team and the one that played in the Finals needs to be a healthy Andrew Bynum. The Lakers don’t necessarily need his offense, though Bynum’s ability to move, extend, and grab lobs near the basket is an incredible weapon for the team. Instead, he should make a big impact defensively, as a true shot blocking post presence that can change the way teams attack the Lakers’ basket. Given Bynum’s athleticism and learning curve, he should have a huge impact on both ends before it’s all said and done. People forget that even before the Gasol deal, the Lakers were ahead in the Western Conference, do in large part to Bynum’s improvement. He’ll also help them on the boards, where the Lakers were good but occasionally vulnerable.
Andrew, do the Suns worry you at all? In a word, hell no. The Shaq trade struck me as so ridiculous that when the rumors started floating around and readers asked me about it, I kept insisting that it must be nothing but empty talk, because that made absolutely no sense for Phoenix. Turned out, we both looked silly. Shaq is a shell of himself on offense and hasn’t been interested in playing D since the early decade. Unless Shawn Marion and Amare Stoudemire were literally about to enter the Octagon, Phoenix should have ridden the tension out for one more postseason (clearly Marion was missed more than Shaq was needed) and traded the Matrix for logical pieces. Now they’re looking at an aging, injury-prone starting unit (only Amare is under 30) and no proven bench guys outside of Leandro Barbosa and Boris Diaw, who’s only played well under Mike D’Antoni. I’m not ready to say they’ll miss the playoffs (although I’m not ready to say they won’t miss them, either), but even wherever they finish, will they even have enough gas in the tank to make a good run of it?
- Brian, as the season progresses and you are evaluating the Lakers chances this year, what are you looking at? I want to see how the different lineup combinations the Lakers can throw at teams mesh together. In my mind, the biggest advantage the Lakers have over the rest of the W.C. is versatility and depth. Most teams have another contender that, based on matchups and skill sets, would give them trouble in a playoff series. The Lakers, though, ought to be able to put together a lineup that can play with any team in the conference. They can run and push pace, go big in a halfcourt set, run offense through the block or attack the rack from the perimeter. That’s not to say that LA can’t be beaten in the playoffs, but assuming Phil Jackson can get all the parts working together, they’ll enter the playoffs without a specific Achilles heel that would make them particularly vulnerable. So that’s what I want to see- how many ways they can make the parts fit together and still be effective.
Andrew, the big knock on the Lakers after the Finals was their toughness. Do you think this was a fair criticism? Do you think they will be able to address this? It depends on what type of “toughness” you’re talking about. If you mean “mental,” I think it’s a fair criticism. Many of these guys were on the big stage for the first time- for some guys, the first time in a very young career- and it was a little overwhelming. But in terms of not being physically tough, I think this became a completely overblown issue, where you had a bunch of pundits repeating ad nauseam a phrase (“soft”) that sounds like they’re “not afraid” to “tell it like it is” and be “tough” on the Lakers. “They’re soft! The Lakers are soft!”
Did the Lakers get pushed around some by Boston? At times, yes. But that’s more about Boston being an exceptionally physical team and the Lakers having certain matchups where they gave up size than the Lakers being “afraid” of contact. It’s not like L.A. figure skated its way into the Finals (my apologies to all the street fighting figure skaters out there). They got past two notably physical teams in Utah and San Antonio, which doesn’t happen if you’re afraid to mix it up. Pau Gasol got piled on for the way he was muscled out of the paint at times, but people also forget that they played some pretty good D on Kevin Garnett during most of the series (not to mention Tim Duncan and Carlos Boozer in ones). Again, that’s not “soft.” The same can be said for a lot of Lakers.
But even if you don’t buy what I’m saying and think the Lakers were soft, the return of Andrew Bynum at center (who, besides providing legit size and a defensive presence, prevents fewer size mismatches for guys like Gasol and Odom) and a healthy Trevor Ariza (both a good perimeter defender and no pushover) address the issue, in my opinion. They would have been a much better team with those two available at full strength. Would they have beaten Boston? Maybe, maybe not. It’s certainly not a given. But I’d bet the farm it would have been a different series.
Which brings me to my next point. The biggest issue for the Lakers wasn’t them being “soft,” but running into a better Boston team at a fuller strength. A lot of fans and media (myself included, who picked the Lakers in five) put too much stock in how dominant the Lakers looked hading into the Finals and, more importantly, dismissed how the Celtics had been the best team all year because of their flat pair of opening rounds. The series didn’t play out the way most expected, but in retrospect, it went down exactly as we should have. With Odom now getting his first run with the second unit, they’ll be strong on the glass throughout games. The Lakers didn’t do much in terms of adding or subtracting personnel this offseason. The big difference maker was and is supposed to be a healthy Bynum.
Brian, who on the Lakers roster do you expect to be a revelation this season? If the preseason means anything, Jordan Farmar looks ready to build in a big way on a very successful sophomore season. He’s been arguably the Lakers best player during the fake games, displaying a greater confidence in his ability to run the floor, find the open man, or his own shot. It’s led to more turnovers, but I think once the real games start Farmar will be more careful with the ball. Jackson wants him to lead a second unit that will push the ball up and down the court, and Farmar’s game is perfectly suited for that. He’ll also likely finish some games as well.
Another guy to watch is Ariza, who gives the Lakers a wing defender they were missing while he was hurt last season. He’s also a very athletic slasher and finisher, and has looked very good playing with Farmar.