Lakers offensive system not the problem, it’s the shooters

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The Lakers are frustrated. They are talking about wanting to run more triangle sets and less of Mike Brown’s east-to-west motion offense. I’ve said it’s less about the offense than the execution — the Lakers need to be an inside-out team, but are you when Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined take just 1.7 more shots per game than Kobe Bryant alone? And in the loss to Washington, Kobe had 30 points on 31 shots to Bynum/Gasol having 38 points on 19 shots. That’s not running the offense as designed.

The problem is it’s not always easy for the Lakers to get the ball into their post players because defenders sag down into the paint — and the Lakers don’t make them pay. The Lakers are shooting just 30.3 percent from three going into Friday night, third worst in the league (the Bobcats and Jazz are worse).

Coach Mike Brown talked about it, as reported by Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register:

“We’ve got to make them pay on the back side, so teams are hesitant about doubling because they’re getting hurt on the weak side,” Brown said. “We’re shooting 30 percent from 3(-point range) right now, so that doesn’t quite help the cause, because teams stay in the double team longer and they really come aggressively.

“If we were halfway decent in that (3-point) area, where we’re getting great looks because guys are getting doubled, we’d be even better and more efficient offensively. But it’s going to continue to be a struggle for our guys on the block, because, shoot, I know if I’m playing us, I would double those guys. I don’t know who wouldn’t.”

What Brown wants to run is what the Spurs ran with Tim Duncan and David Robinson — but those Spurs teams had good shooters everywhere spacing the court. Collapse on the bigs and the ball moved and you paid a price.

There is no price to be paid with the Lakers. They don’t move the ball consistently, they don’t knock down shots. They do not make themselves hard to defend, they just beat you because they have three really talented players. But those guys need help.

Cavaliers crumbled quickly without LeBron James

AP Photo/Ron Schwane
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Kevin Love became the target at the Cavaliers’ infamous meeting last January. The team was struggling, and he left a game early a couple days prior and then missed the next practice. His teammates demanded to know why.

“They’re like to the point of ‘Unless somebody is dying, we don’t give a sh.’ You know what I mean?” Love said. “And I’m saying, ‘I’m dealing with something. I’m going to be better for you guys. But right now is a really tough time for me.’ With where the team was, I don’t know if some guys were hearing that or not.”

Then-Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue came to Love’s defense, according to Love. Love said Lue brought up what Love later revealed to be a panic attack during an earlier game. Love doesn’t blame Lue, who was dealing with his own anxiety issues, and believes Lue was trying to protect him. But Love also said Lue inadvertently crossed a line.

“It was kind of an oh-shit moment where I said, ‘Man, if I was going to say anything, I was going to say it on my own terms,'” Love said.

That and DeMar DeRozan coming forward sparked Love to open up about his anxiety and depression. Love said therapy has taught him lessons that apply not just to his mental health, but also difficult basketball situations.

“I’ve learned to, a lot of things roll off my chest. A lot of things, I absorb and can use it into then furthering my team or furthering myself in a very positive way,” Love said. “So, I think those definitely go hand-in-hand, because they have to.

“You either grow or you die.”

***

LeBron James returns to Cleveland tonight for his first game there with the Lakers.

He’ll see his former franchise in ruin.

The Cavs are 2-13, the remnants of a roster LeBron propped up incapable of competing without him. These are the consequences of four years of title contention – the win-now trades, the long-term contracts, the necessity of resting rather than practicing.

LeBron escaped to Los Angeles. The Cavaliers have to deal with it.

They’re starting from behind. Of the 13 teams to begin a season so poorly in the last decade, only the Mavericks the previous two years did so with an average age so old (weighted for playing time, holding a player’s age constant as of Feb. 1):

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Cleveland just has too many veterans accustomed to competing. Current Cavaliers have 653 games of playoff experience, second only to the Warriors.

Going from meaningful games to this can be a shock to the system.

J.R. Smith said the team was tanking then got sent home. Kyle Korver was reportedly promised by management he’d get traded during the summer if LeBron left, but remains on the team. Lue got fired after playing veterans.

“It’s not easy,” Larry Drew, Lue’s replacement, said of managing competing goals.

The Cavs should have traded Korver, a sharpshooter on a reasonable contract who’d return value. But these are mostly understandable problems in the aftermath of LeBron.

The Cavaliers repeatedly mortgaged their future during the last four years, and they got a championship and three other NBA Finals appearances out of it. It was worth it, even as the bill now comes due.

Still, many of Cleveland’s problems are self-inflicted. Lue told the veterans they’d get benched before suddenly reversing course. The Cavs named Drew interim coach while he resisted that title. A former assistant coach is suing the team for age discrimination.

And the Cavaliers talked big before the season about competing, even making their slogan the now-widely mocked “Be The Fight.”

Instead, the Cavaliers are challenging for the worst-ever record for a team following a playoff season (*reached NBA Finals):

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***

In his infamous letter after LeBron signed with the Heat in 2010, Cavs owner Dan Gilbert wrote:

“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”

Gilbert was wrong. LeBron won two titles in Miami. In the meantime, the Cavaliers tried to win, but mostly just accumulated the high draft picks used to fuel their contending run upon LeBron’s return.

But it seems Gilbert’s sentiment remains.

So does perception Cleveland needs LeBron to win.

In the last 20 years, the Cavs have played 11 seasons with LeBron and nine without him. Their worst season with LeBron (35-47 his rookie year) was better than the best season without him (33-49 in 2013-14).

There’s a belief Gilbert holds an urgency to prove he can win sans LeBron.

“I don’t think it’s urgent, because if it’s urgent, then we’d put more emphasis on winning,” Cavaliers guard George Hill said.

Hill said he believed the franchise – despite its public statements – had no designs on competing once this season began. How long will Hill, 32, remain patient?

“It depends on the goal of the organization,” Hill said. “If the goal of the organization is doing the right thing – how I said, if we want to develop, develop in the right way and things like that – then you’ve got to be patient.

“But who knows what the goals are? We don’t know.”

It’s easy to see how that’d rankle veterans. See Smith. For his part, Hill said he’s focused on his job as a player and feels blessed just to play in the NBA. Korver also said he’s OK with helping a team build.

And then there’s Love.

***

Love is out with a foot injury he expects to keep him sidelined at least another six weeks. He’s staying busy promoting a campaign with Schick on mental health, including a series of videos speaking with other athletes about those issues. In one episode of Locker Room Talk, Love and teammate Channing Frye discuss grieving the loss of family members:

Compared to that, the Cavs’ losing is small potatoes. It’s important to keep perspective.

Yet, Love’s prominence to be heard on these issues comes from the public’s NBA fanaticism. Post-LeBron, Love is the Cavaliers’ biggest star and franchise player.

That’s because they signed him to a four-year extension this summer worth more than $120 million. Love is very good, but that’s a huge bet on a sub-superstar on the wrong side of 30 with repeated injury issues.

A similar case was made with Blake Griffin, whom the Clippers traded for value shortly after he signed last year. But at least Griffin helped L.A. win a little before he got shipped to the Pistons.

The Cavaliers aren’t getting much present value from locking up Love. He’s hurt, and the team was lousy with him earlier in the season.

Love has – by far – the most guaranteed money (including this season’s full salary) of anyone over age 30 on a losing team:

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Only John Wall is guaranteed more money than Love among players older than even age 23 on losing teams, and Wall’s contract is regarded as one of the NBA worst.

This isn’t what Love expected when he signed his extension.

“We had high hopes for this year, that we were going to be able to compete and maybe slip into the playoffs,” Love said. “But, now we kind of have to look at this season as we’re going to have to have a growth mindset.”

That starts with Collin Sexton.

***

Sexton settled in front of his locker for a snack before Cavs’ loss to the Pistons on Monday. He took one bite of his chicken, got up and tossed his plate into the trash.

“It wasn’t done,” Sexton said.

The No. 8 pick in last year’s draft, Sexton is the big remaining prize from the Kyrie Irving trade. The 19-year-old who’s just starting his rookie-scale contract is the centerpiece of Cleveland’s rebuild.

The Cavaliers aren’t dumping him, no matter how raw he is.

When veteran teammates grumbled about Sexton, Drew told them to show more patience. Sexton said it was the “right thing” to say, but insisted he had no issues with the older players.

Still, some awkwardness is natural.

Sexton has started the last five games at point guard in pace of an injured Hill. The rookie said starting made a “big difference” in his development, as he had to learn even more on the fly. But will he stay starting when Hill returns? No word yet.

“With our young guys, in order to develop, they do have to play,” Drew said. “But I’m not going to play guys that continue to make mistakes and where I see things are not moving in the right direction. I’ve been very fortunate that our young guys have been getting minutes. Our young guys have been producing.”

Sexton has done well to get to his spots and knock down shots. The Cavs can definitely play him without losing credibility. But he also appears to be in way over his head as a distributor, and his defense is lacking.

The upside: The Cavaliers keep losing, and they head toward a high draft pick. More than anything, they need an influx of high-end talent, and the best way to get it is drafting and developing it. Sexton, Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr., Jordan Clarkson, Cedi Osman and Rodney Hood aren’t nearly enough to build around.

That the Cavs acquired Nance, Clarkson, Osman and Hood last year in an attempt to win with LeBron and pivot into a brighter future if LeBron left makes the situation even sadder. Cleveland still lost in the Finals. Again. And there’s little reason for optimism about the future and even less about the present.

LeBron’s return will provide reason to reminisce joyfully. Four conference titles and an NBA title in four years is a tremendous accomplishment.

But then he’ll return to Los Angeles, and Cleveland will have to try to do something it hasn’t done in Sexton’s lifetime – win steadily without LeBron. No matter what the Cavaliers said, it will be a long build back up.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on Kidd vs. Budenholzer: “With Coach Bud, it’s always coming from a good place”

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The Milwaukee Bucks are 12-4 to start the season with the best net rating in the NBA, outscoring opponents by 10.4 points per 100 possessions. They have the second best offense in the league (5.8 per 100 better than last season) and fifth best defense (5.1 per 100 better) and look like a team ready to threaten Boston/Toronto/Philadelphia at the top of the East.

New coach Mike Budenholzer gets a lot of credit for that, he modernized what the Bucks did under Jason Kidd. Budenholzer has got the Bucks playing much faster (more than seven possessions a game), has put in an open offense with floor spacing and encouraged his players to shoot from three (last season 29.7 percent of their shots were from three, this season it’s 43.7 percent), and put in a simplified defense focused on protecting the rim and taking away easy buckets. It’s all worked.

How he handles the players mentally is different, too, and that’s what Giannis Antetokounmpo said when media members asked him about it, with quotes via Eric Nehm of The Athletic.

He makes a great point. Not every player responds to the same motivational tactic. Jimmy Butler may love the way Tom Thibodeau yells and pushes but plenty of players (not just KAT) don’t respond as well to the old-school ways. The best coaches — from high school through Mike Krzyzewski, up to Budenholzer and the elite of the NBA — realize that, read the player and the room, then adjust. It does not need to be a one size fits all model.

Everything Budenholzer is doing so far is working. Adversity will hit this team at some point and that will be the next test, but so far he’s aced it.

Aaron Gordon trash talks Raptors’ bench after three, they laugh at him (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon is not exactly intimidating the Toronto Raptors.

The Orlando Magic forward and star of “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” drained a corner three in front of the Toronto bench Tuesday night, then turned around and talked a little trash.

Toronto’s bench reaction was perfect.

Toronto also got the last laugh on Danny Green‘s game winner.

Michael Jordan returns home, meets with hurricane victims

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WILMINGTON, N.C. (AP) — Stephanie Parker isn’t quite sure how her family of six would have managed the last two months without the help of Michael Jordan and the American Red Cross following Hurricane Florence.

So when Parker met Jordan on Tuesday she couldn’t hold back giving the owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets a big hug and a thank you.

“It means he hasn’t forgotten,” Parker told The Associated Press about Jordan’s visit to Wilmington, North Carolina. “It means we are important.”

Jordan returned to his hometown wearing North Carolina Tar Heels blue and met with some hurricane victims, many of whom have benefited from his $2 million donation in September. Jordan gave $1 million each to the Red Cross and the Foundation for the Carolinas Hurricane Florence Response Fund.

“I can give money all day long, but at some point you want them to understand you’re human,” Jordan told AP.

Jordan handed out Thanksgiving dinners at a home improvement store and gave away Jordan Brand shoes at a Boys & Girls Club Tuesday where he once played as a child.

Parker has lived the nightmare that’s become all too familiar for hurricane victims around the country.

She, her husband, and their four children ages 3 to 8 heeded the warnings to evacuate the area. They took refuge in a Red Cross shelter, but when they returned, their apartment was flooded with two feet of water and their minivan crushed by a fallen tree. They spent nearly two months in shelters until recently being placed in a hotel while they await permanent housing.

“It’s been stressful,” she said, taking a long, deep breath. “At first it was really, really hard to realize that you lost everything. But people like Michael Jordan donating to the Red Cross and donating to people who have gone through what we’ve gone through is an incredible blessing. We are so very, very thankful.”

Jordan broke into a wide smile when asked about his meeting with Parker.

“You really want to trust that money goes to the right people,” Jordan said. “And when you see it goes to the right people, it makes me feel good that I did the right thing.”

Jordan said he’ll continue to monitor the hurricane recovery efforts and would consider partnering with others to continue to help improve living conditions.

American Red Cross executive director James Jarvis said at the height of the storm the Red Cross sheltered more than 20,000 people in 172 locations. They provided 1.3 million meals and snacks. They’ve also distributed money to more than 6,500 families, doling out more than $3.8 million to help families get on the road to recovery.

“I wanted to be an igniter to the process,” Jordan said of his initial donation. “But it’s going to take a long time before things get back to normal. Whatever way I can contribute I will.”

He also hopes that Charlotte hosting the All-Star game in February will provide an impetus for more financial aid to the region.

“I am pretty sure that the league will have some support systems that will reach out to this community,” Jordan said. “And we are going to do a lot in Charlotte, too. But the overall game is about helping other people, so I can see it reaching all the way down to this area.”

Natalie English, the president and CEO of the Wilmington Chamber of Commerce, said it’s still too early to estimate the financial damage to the area.

But she said Jordan’s donations resonated in the community.

“I think it means a lot to people here that Michael remembers his home and that he cares about where he was for his formative years and he is giving back to help restore the community,” English said.

This is not a one-time deal for Jordan.

Fred Lynch coached Jordan when he was 15-year-old freshman playing on the junior high school basketball team at Laney High School in Wilmington. He sustained minor damage to his nearby home, but said several neighbors only a block away suffered total destruction as a result of flooding and wind damage to Hurricane Florence.

Lynch said Jordan has visited Wilmington periodically since leaving to play college basketball at North Carolina and embarking on an NBA career that included six NBA championships with the Chicago Bulls, five league MVP honors and 14 All-Star game appearances.

The 55-year-old Jordan still has an aunt, cousins and friends here and his nephew who attends college at UNC Wilmington. Jordan was most recently here in April at his high school filming a Gatorade commercial.

Lynch said he wasn’t surprised when Jordan stepped up to help the people of Wilmington and the surrounding areas – donating money and his time.

“From the time I coached him as a ninth grade, he was always looking out for people,” Lynch said. “He’s always trying to do the right thing and always trying to better himself and his community. That’s pretty much what he’s been about his entire career.”