Happy Game Day, ya clowns! We got a big one tonight, as our ‘Bockers look to stay undefeated in the elephant shit stink of the World’s Most Famous when they take on the faltering Lakers (9-13, including 4-8 under new coach Mark Dantonio or something).
I had a chance to exchange five questions and one fruitcake recipe with Andy Kamenetzky of ESPN LA. You can check out my contribution over at ESPN Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, here’s how he managed my fastballs. The recipe will be relayed in wing-ding code on Twitter during the game.
1) Do you feel D’Antoni is capable of adjusting to his roster’s unique talent and capabilities, or does knowing there’s no way Lakers management fires two coaches mid-season give him cover for turning this into a square-peg-round-hole SSOL experiment?
I would like to think he’s capable. D’Antoni’s always struck me as a very creative offensive mind, and he’s got some high end talent at his disposal once the roster is fully intact. It would be wasteful and irresponsible not to tinker a bit if that’s what it takes to best utilize someone like Pau Gasol (the highest profile, least organic fit for a classic D’Antoni scheme). If it doesn’t work, so be it, and Mitch Kupchak can make some phone calls, but the effort should come in earnest. Plus, Steve Nash, upon his return, will ultimately be pulling the strings, and he’s among the best in the biz at getting the most out of teammates and putting them in the right spot to succeed. While the Lakers will obviously operate at a faster pace than under Mike Brown, I don’t picture them running and gunning for 48 minutes. That’s not who these guys are. However, D’Antoni’s system also involves a lot of pick-and-rolls, and with Nash the chief quarterback, plus Kobe Bryant, Pau and Dwight Howard surrounding him, this group could flourish under that game plan. Once all hands are on deck, I do believe that approach could result in success.
2) The Lakers’ defensive struggles have been well-documented, but Kobe in particular has been getting a lot of heat of late. Do you think it’s warranted, and is this what we should expect going forward as Bean rides into the twilight?
Unfortunately, it’s quite warranted. When Kobe feels inclined, he’s still capable of playing top shelf defense. But those cases have grown increasingly few and far between. For the last few seasons, Kobe has increasingly picked his spots, and they usually involve either a star he deems worthy of his time or a game with high stakes, like the playoffs. Otherwise, he tends to “roam” (the kind way of putting it), gamble for steals, rotate late and argue with referees over no-calls rather than get back. These habits have been glaringly evident this season, as the Lakers’ defensive cohesion is already non-existent to begin with.
To be fair, the Lakers’ defensive shortcomings obviously can’t be laid entirely at Kobe’s feet. But as I recently noted, until The Mamba makes a definitive point of setting a defensive tone that begins with him, there’s a ceiling to how much improvement will be witnessed. Kobe is the Lakers’ leader, and if he’s not fully attentive defensively, those cues will be taken. If Kobe really wants to make a statement, rather than attempting to carry the Lakers offensively (which is unnecessary to begin with), he should look to inspire teammates on the other side of the ball.
3) The Lakers need a point guard. Unfortunately, the pickins be slim. Who do you see the Lakers nabbing as a stopgap ahead of Nash’s return?
Among free agents, unless it’s Delonte West (reportedly on the radar), I’m guessing — and almost hoping — nobody, because the other names popping up are pretty bad. Mike James, who’s 37 and hasn’t played significant minutes since 2009. Eddie House, who’s been out of the league two years and can barely dribble. Jonny Flynn, who’s… Jonny Flynn. I don’t anticipate these guys helping enough to make integrating them worth the effort.
4) You knew it was coming. Pau Gasol: Keep him or trade him? If the latter, for whom?
Personally, I think it’s worth keeping Gasol until Nash’s return and we see what the video game starting five actually looks like. The front office had a vision and it feels premature to abandon ship before getting an educated look at the potential. (Plus, Pau’s trade value may be pretty low at the moment.) But were they to move Pau, I actually wonder if the Lakers would be better served trading for depth rather than another star, because “A-List Player X” may find himself the same odd-fitting fourth wheel as Gasol. Perhaps the problem is there simply isn’t enough ball to go around with Kobe, Howard, Nash and, to a lesser extent, Antawn Jamison and Metta World Peace on hand. Unless we’re talking a high profile player who’s just an obviously perfect fit, bring in some solid role players to improve the rotation.
5) What’s your prediction for tonight’s game?
Given how both teams have played of late, it would be silly to predict anything other than a victory for the home team. However, I do think the Lakers will make the game competitive. Win or lose, the Lakers have tended to play their best (or at the very least, their hardest) against elite opponents, and the Knicks certainly qualify. Plus, it’s the Garden, and Kobe lives to light up Penn Plaza. Between these factors, I expect the Lakers to show up, even while falling to (yeesh!) 9-14.
So there you have it — strong insight, if I do say. Big thanks again to Andy and Brian!