The Lakers have their 15th World Championship, and it is a spectacular time to be a Los Angelino generally, and a Lakers fan specifically. The parade will be one of the highlights of the year in SoCal, and I'm excited to be a part of our broadcast on 710 ESPN with a position at the Coliseum.
The question is, "Can Dr. Buss and Mitch Kupchak keep this team together?" I was doing some Laker math today, and it's going to be financially demanding for the Buss family. Here's how I see it.
He can opt out of the final 2 years of his contract. He's currently set to earn $24M in 2009-2010 and $24.8M in 2010-2011. There's one theory out there that says Kobe could opt out and take less to make it easier for the Lakers to sign Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza. I believe that's complete "pie-in-the-sky." C'mon. This is potentially Kobe's last big contract. If he opts out, he's in line for 5yrs and $135M - $25M next season, $26M in 2010-2011, $27M in 2011-2012, $28M in 2012-2013 and $29M in 2013-2014. How could you blame Kobe for getting what is rightfully his. God knows that he has earned every penny of it.
I've done my own casual analysis, and, given that Trevor earned about $3M this year and that he's only 23yo, 6yrs-$48M seems about right. That would mean $6M next season, $7M in 2010-2011, $8M in 2011-2012, $8.5M in 2012-2013, $9M in 2013-2014 and 9.5M in 2014-2015. It is possible that he could get a much bigger offer somewhere else, and it's conceivable that he would take less to be a part of a very special championship group.
Made $11.5M this year, and there's a chance that a bad team with a bunch of cap room could make a big offer (Memphis, Charlotte, New Jersey or Minnesota), but that seems unlikely. LO will have to take less. Maybe something like 3yrs-$27M gets it done with a nice club option for 2012-2013 that provides incentive without keeping the Lakers on the hook for a big number for a 33yo Candy Man.
Appears to be an unrestricted free agent. He made $800,000 this year and was a steal.Possible 2yrs-$5M gets him to stay and develop.
Lakers hold an option for next season at $959,000. That seems like a no-brainer.
These guys are already under contract with their 2009-2010 salary.
PAU GASOL - $16,451,250
ANDREW BYNUM - $12,526,998
ADAM MORRISON - $5,257,258
DEREK FISHER - $5,000,000
SASHA VUJACIC - $5,000,000
LUKE WALTON - $4,840,000
JORDAN FARMAR -$1,947,240
If all of those deals work out in my scenario, the Lakers will have a team payroll of $92,981,746 for next season. That would be $23,581,746 OVER the proposed luxury tax threshhold of $69.4M. The only team with a higher payroll in 2008-09 is the Knicks with $98.4M.
In an ideal world, Ariza, LO and Shannon Brown all return, but this will be a test of Dr. Jerry Buss' willingness to pay a big luxury tax number. In a struggling economy, when league revenues are down, is it unfair to expect any league owner to pay this kind of toll?
After the Lakers seized control of the NBA Finals with a 99-91 Overtime win at Amway Arena Thursday night, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy gave his standard “regular guy” press conference. I love Stan’s routine. He thrives at being under-estimated, and despite his more-than-passing resemblance to Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy, his round physique and a voice that, at times, sounds like a new character on Sesame Street, he is a crafty, smart, resourceful NBA head coach.
Before the game, he threw red meat to the assembled media about the NBA’s age-limit (more on that later), but in his post-game session he downplayed experience as being a factor in the series. Paraphrasing here, he says the experience thing is a cliché. All of these guys have played in big games their whole lives, and it doesn’t matter if they were NBA Playoff games. The baskets aren’t all of the sudden 11-feet high. The experience storyline is overplayed.
There's a famous adage that says,"Experience is what you got by not having it when you need it." Think about it for a minute. It applies to this series.
I did some quick math after the game. Including tonight’s Game 4, the Magic roster has played in 528 NBA playoff games compared to 716 for the Lakers. The 6 Orlando players who were on the floor for the most minutes – Dwight Howard, Rashard Lewis, Hedo Torkoglu, Michael Pietrus, Rafer Alston and Jameer Nelson – have now combined to play in 273 playoff games. Compare that to the Lakers big 6 minutes-eaters – Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum – and you have 534 playoff games (+261 for LA).
Game 4 was Derek Fisher’s 175th career playoff game and Kobe’s 174th career postseason appearance. That matters. Orlando had a 5-point lead with about a minute and a half in regulation and a 3-point advantage with 11.1 seconds to play. This is where experience matters. This is where having "been there" matters more than being better than the other guys because as Phil Jackson likes to say, “These games are decided by a trifle.”
Two things happened in the final 11.1 seconds. The Magic’s Jameer Nelson didn’t defend the 3-point line and a guy who had been 0-5 from beyond the arc got a clean look. All of the sudden, Derek Fisher didn’t look like the 32yo guy who I’ve been railing on for the last 8 weeks. He bore only a passing resemblance to the point guard who was a combined 18-64 (25%) from 3-ball territory in this 2009 post-season. He shot right over the lackadaisical Jameer and tied the game, forcing overtime.
I myself have called for Derek Fisher to be benched in favor of some combination of Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown on multiple occasions this post-season. This has nothing to do with how I feel about DFish personally. He’s a spectacular human being and a great Laker through-and-through, but he struggled at the defensive end with guys like Deron Williams and Aaron Brooks and Chauncey Billups, and it seemed to be affecting his shot. In that 7-game Houston series he shot 37% from the field (12-32) and 6% from beyond the arc (1-15).
As I tweeted during the game, I take back every bad thing that I have ever said about Derek Fisher. Even after the game-tying, ice-water-in-the-veins 3 at the end of regulation, ole man Fish wasn’t done. He also drilled the trey in OT that put the Lakers up for good.
This game may have been a bigger one for Fisher’s legacy than even his .4 buzzer-beater against the Spurs in Game 5 of the Conference Semis against San Antonio in '04. That heroic shot didn’t lead to a championship as the Lakers were shocked by Detroit in the NBA Finals. Tonight's 2 devastating daggers happened in a Finals game and have pushed LA to within 48 minutes of its 15th NBA Championship.
Back to Van Gundy for a minute. Before the game, he called the NBA’s age-limit rule a “shame.” I couldn’t agree more. He also said that the NCAA is “one of the worst organizations going.” One-and-done should be over-and-out. College isn’t for everyone, and the NBA has no legal right to deny employment to an 18yo who could be cashing in for millions. The NBA’s rule is turning college hoops into a sham, and throwing the most talented 18-year-olds in the world into the deep end of the pool with a bunch of sharks (street agents and marketing dirtbags, etc.). Good for Van Gundy for saying it.
A couple of other thoughts. It dawned on me during this game, as Trevor Ariza took command in the 3rd quarter, that Lamar Odom may be playing his final games as a Laker. In a few days, he’ll have a ring. He’s got one big contract left in his career, and he may very well cash in. Plus it may not be possible for the Lakers to sign both LO and Ariza, and Trevor must be the priority. The choice could also come down to keeping Ariza and Shannon Brown (who I think has a real future in the Laker backcourt) and keeping Odom. If Lamar wants anything close to the 5yrs-$50M that Corey Maggette got last summer, he will be wearing another uniform next year.
My thought is that the Lakers keep Ariza and Brown, and then find a way to get Chris Birdman Anderson who’s a free agent from Denver. Not crazy expensive. Huge energy guy off the bench. Would be just the kind of star that Laker fans love.
Finally, Michael Pietrus should be suspended for the outright two-handed push of Gasol in the back while Pau was in the air at the end of the game. He was called for a flagrant, but that’s a dangerous play. It was sheer frustration on Pietrus’ part and served no strategic purpose whatsoever. That kind of dangerous, reckless immaturity should be punished with a one-game suspension. I’m guessing that the league won’t see it that way. Why take a game away from a valuable Magic contributor just as Orlando faces elimination? Isn’t there more revenue in a 6-game series as opposed to a 5-game series? I still say that the Frenchman has it coming.
The expression “The fierce urgency of now” was originally coined by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967, and received a boost from now-President Barack Obama, who revived it during his campaign for the Presidency. It can be applied to many real-life situations and is apropos for Game 3 of the NBA Finals at Amway Arena.
Magic coach Stan Van Gundy drew up a perfect play for the final .6 of a second at the end of regulation of Game 2 at Staple’s Sunday. To get a look like that for rookie Courtney Lee was a great piece of coaching, but the kid couldn’t get it to fall. It’s a tough shot, and Pau did just enough defensively to change the shot.Somebody online has already turned the missed shot into a mock Southwest Airlines commercial.
Not an easy shot. If you think about it, the shot would have been a series-changer. The series would be even at one game apiece instead of Orlando being in an 0-2 hole. And not only the trajectory of the series would have been changed. It could have changed the trajectory of Courtney Lee’s career and even his life. Look no further than Derek Fisher to see what a last second playoff make do for your legacy.
Will Courtney see that .6 seconds in his sleep for the rest of his life. I hope not. But, he definitely wouldn’t have had to buy any drinks in Orlando for a couple of years, and that basket would be a huge part of his legacy. Possibly a career defining moment. (You can just imagine the .6 Courtney Lee t-shirts.)
Now comes Game 3. As a team, where is Orlando’s head? How do you react to “the one that got away?” How do you deal with “Only 3 teams in history have come back from an 0-2 deficit in the NBA Finals.” Can the Magic overcome a not-ready-for-the-finals Jameer Nelson and the emotional wreckage of Rafer Alston and win without a point guard playing at a high level?
One thing is certain. It is must-win for the Magic. Down 0-3 would be a pit of despair. If Dwight Howard doesn’t get his game together and if Orlando doesn’t find its collective shooting stroke, Quincy will put the toe tag on the Eastern Conference Champion and CSI Miami will show up with David Caruso putting on his sunglasses and saying uttering some hyper dramatic one-liner.
If the Magic can’t salvage Game 3, “No Magic trick will be able to save them from elimination.”
As for the Lakers, Kobe “Mr. Sunshine” Bryant was asked after Game 2 if he’s happy now, and he snarled, “What’s there to be happy about.” #24 has begin to view an NBA Finals as something precious. Who knows when he will get another chance to be 2 wins away a title?
Kobe and Phil Jackson have failed in their last 2 finals appearances. I know that it’s popular for Laker fans to say, “This is the first of back-to-back championships.” Or, “This is the start of a Laker Dynasty.” But so much can happen.
Whose to say that Portland’s young core with Brandon Roy (24yo), LaMarcus Aldridge (23yo), Travis Outlaw (23yo), Rudy Fernandez (23yo) and Greg Oden (21yo) doesn’t begin to fulfill its championship caliber promise next year and challenge the Lakers in the Western Conference. Or that Houston, who pushed LA to 7 games, with Yao in the middle, Aaron Brooks (24yo), Kyle Lowry (22yo) and Luis Scola in his prime don’t parlay this year’s post-season success into a significant run next year. Or that Denver won’t, with a year of experience, be ready to “graduate” to the Finals (especially if they are able to re-sign Birdman, JR Smith and Dahntay Jones).
In the East, Orlando will have another year under its belt and that is an exceedingly young group. And, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert says he doesn’t give a damn about the luxury task, and if the Cavs make the right moves, a dominant LeBron era is not out of the question.
My point is that you just don’t know. If the Lakers fail to retain Lamar Odom, if Trevor Ariza and or Shannon Brown bolt as free agents, if Phil elects to walk away, if Kobe or Pau suffers an injury, if Bynum doesn’t develop, the Lakers may not get back to an NBA Finals next year. Kobe is in his prime, and he’s not getting any younger. That’s why he is laser focused.
Lakers Legend, Hall of Famer and The Logo himself, Jerry West, made 9 NBA Finals appearances and won only one championship. He had the misfortune of playing in an era with Bill Russell’s Celtics and those Walt Frazier, Earl Monroe, Willis Reed, Phil Jackson Knicks teams. Magic Johnson won 5 NBA Championships as a Laker, but lost 4 times in the Finals.
Getting to the NBA Finals is precious. This is Kobe’s 5th Finals appearance, and he has converted 3 times. This will be number 4. He has the Lakers playing the most focused basketball in the post-Shaq era. He will not squander this opportunity. He’s barking at his teammates (like when Gasol blows a defensive assignment or Shannon Brown isn’t in the corner for a kickout shot). He’s snarling at officials when a call doesn’t go LA’s way. And he is not suffering fools in the media gladly. No joking. No smiling. Every quarter is the 4th quarter of Game 7. And that’s how it should be.
The fierce urgency of Game 3. Must-win for Orlando vs. Kobe with a bullwhip driving his teammates like it’s the 4th quarter of an elimination game with the Lakers on the ropes. The Lakers will come out with energy, urgency and even some desperation because there’s no guarantee that Kobe or Phil will get this close to a ring again.
Before Game 2 of the NBA Finals Sunday at Staple's, Rick Fox played a little game of H-O-R-S-E with a jockey named Iggy Puglisi to promote the fact that tickets are now on sale for The Breeder's Cup, which will be held for a second consecutive year at Santa Anita. I was the master of ceremonies for this odd competition. It was ultimately won by Foxy, but Iggy hung around for awhile. Puglisi had a decent little set shot, but Rick was killing with long bank shots, and he even threw in a little Skyhook as a tribute to Kareem. Here are some photos.
On May 18th, Lakers legend Jerry West was quoted as saying that LeBron James had “surpassed” Kobe Bryant as the NBA’s best player. That next day, May 19, Kobe “went off” for 40pts leading the Lakers past Denver 105-103 in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against Denver.
Since that “dis” from The Logo, Kobe has been spectacular. In the next 7 playoff games, #24 is shooting 48% from the field on 79-165 for just a shade under 35ppg. That includes tonight’s offensive explosion against the Orlando Magic. How about this for a line: 40pts, 8reb, 8ast, 2stls and 2 blks in the Lakers 100-75 Game 1 demolition of the Magic.
After the game, Phil Jackson noted that “Kobe didn’t shoot very well,” but he was impressed with his “drive.” He was a better-than-respectable 16-34 shooting, and it’s hard to imagine him delivering a more spectacular, more assertive, more ridiculously dynamic performance than what we witnessed tonight. Kobe ate the magic alive. Guys like Michael Pietrus, Courtney Lee and JJ Redick on KB24 is like a mink coat on Rosie O’Donnell. It’s ugly.
Since Jerry West downgraded Bryant, he’s not just scoring. Kobe is filling up the box score as prolifically as any player in NBA history. He’s averaging 6reb, 6ast, 1stl per game, and he’s even managed 5 blocked shots. And he is doing what his critics have always said he would never do. He’s making everyone around him better.
As for the Magic, they had a disastrous shooting night. They were launching laser guided missiles when they sunk the Cavaliers, but tonight their scuds were off-target all night. 30% from the field on 23-77? The Lakers defended the pick-and-roll proficiently and Dwight Howard was only 1-6 from the floor. He went to the line 16 times (making 10), but 12pts and 15reb is a very quiet night for the Beast from the East. The 5 Magic starters – Rafer Alston, Courtney Lee, Howard, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu – were a combined 11-46. That’s a horrific 24%!
Before the game, TJ Simers badgered Phil Jackson about whether or not a head coach really has much influence at this point in the season. The guy with all the rings said that he believes his players will know how to play in a game like this and “that there will be some real coaching between Games 1 and 2.”
That’s got to send a shiver down the spine of every Orlando fan. Now comes the "real coaching." Phil Jackson vs. Stan Van Gundy? That’s chess versus checkers. Which coach will make better adjustments? That’s like choosing between Rembrandt and a kid with finger paints.
You’ve got to question Van Gundy’s Jameer Nelson gambit. Some Orlando media guys were grousing in the press-room about Stan screwing up the team chemistry by jamming the pride of St. Joe’s back into the mix.
On Thursday’s Mason & Ireland Show, Rick Fox made a great point. The Magic had just won a Game 7 at Boston and ousted the team with the best record in the league. They became the Eastern Conference champions and point guard Rafer Alston was playing at a very high level. Now, Alston has spent the last 5 days answering questions about Nelson's amazing return. Can't be good for the confidence and self-esteem.
Van Gundy said after the game that he doesn’t think “Jameer coming back can make Rafer miss shots,” but I disagree. You can argue that the Magic were the hot team coming into the series, but suddenly people were talking about Nelson being “the X-factor.” After a few solid minutes in the 2nd quarter, Jameer just wasn’t very good and Alston’s game was derailed with 2-9 from the field and 0-4 from beyond the arc. Team chemistry is always very delicate and Jameer Nelson may be the equivalent of too much salt in the Orlando stew.
If Howard doesn’t get his game together and Alston doesn’t return to form and the Magic don’t start shooting straight and Van Gundy doesn’t figure out how to defend Kobe Bryant and the Orlando Magic don’t win Game 2. This series is over and a sweep isn’t impossible.
How's this for a starting lineup?
PG - John Stockton
SG - Pete Maravich
SF - Reggie Miller
PF - Charles Barkley
C - Patrick Ewing
That would be an incredible team.
How about this one?
PG - Steve Nash
SG - Adrian Dantley
SF - Elgin Baylor
PF - Karl Malone
C - Bob Lanier
What do those 10 guys have in common? 0 championships. Scoring titles. MVP Awards. All Star Games. But no rings.
You can look at a tennis player like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal and say they control whether or not they win a Grand Slam tournament. Tiger is in complete control of seizing a green jacket at Augusta or the British Open title or the US Open. But basketball is a team sport.
Who's got the most rings isn't a good measure for how great a player is. Does Magic Johnson win 5 rings without Kareem Abdul Jabaar or vice versa? (Kareem also won one with Oscar Robertson in Milwaukee in 1971?) Michael Cooper has 5 rings as well with much credit to his fellow Lakers Hall of Famers. Do Tom Heinson, KC Jones, Tom Sanders and John Havlicek have 8 championships apiece if they had not had the good fortune of playing alongside Bill Russell? Guys like Steve Kerr (5 rings), Ron Harper (5 rings), Dennis Rodman (5 rings) without road the considerable coattails of Michael Jordan (and Scottie Pippin)?
It takes good fortune to win a championship. It is the perfect comfluence of just the right teammates during a stretch where there is no team that is more dominant. Michael and the Bulls kept Malone-Stockton and Patrick Ewing from hoisting the Larry O'Brien Trophy. If Magic hadn't joined Kareem at the Fabulous Forum, would Barkley have found his way to the NBA winner's circle?
Nobody does it alone. Who cares if Shaq has 4 rings and Kobe has 3.Regardless of what Shaq says, if he didn't have Kobe and Dwayne Wade as sidekicks, he might not have any titles to brag about. Winning a ring is about being with the right players at a time where there isn't a more dominant team.
I think that in 6 games or so, Kobe and Shaq will have 4 championship rings apiece, and it will not diminish Shaq. It will burnish Kobe's legacy, but he remains among the greatest even if the Magic pull off a staggering upset. It would be nice if every great player got that elusive title, but it doesn't happen. We judge the unlucky more harshly than we should.