Monthly Archive for June, 2010

Derek Fisher: Iron Man

60786553It’s not that Derek Fisher wouldn’t have been interested in playing Robert Downey Jr.’s role in the “Iron Man” series … he’s just been too busy playing in 413 straight NBA games over the past six regular seasons.

The Lakers guard – set to become a free agent on July 1 – has not missed a game since April 13, 2005, when he was a Golden State Warrior.

L.A.’s co-captain then played in the final three games of that season, every single game in 2005-06 for the Warriors, and every contest between 2007 and 2010 with the Lakers.

“It means a lot to me because it symbolizes the commitment and sacrifice required to come to work every day and be available to your team every day,” said Fisher in his exit interview. “That requires a lot of sacrifice. Some of those hot days in the summer when you could be at the park with the kids or going to lunch with your kids, a lot of times I’m working out. It’s worked out well, and I’ve made an investment.”

It hasn’t been by accident, of course.

Fisher goes through a very specific process to ready his body for the rigors of an NBA season each summer.

“It definitely took some trial and error,” he shared. “I learned from things (like injuries), and every year try to keep pushing the envelope to try and keep myself in the best possible condition in the event that I need to go all the way. I’d rather be prepared to play 38 minutes and carry a heavy load in case I need to.”

Fisher averaged 27.2 minutes per game in 2009-10, his lowest since 21.5 in 2003-04, but upped his PT to 32.8 minutes in the postseason.

Kobe Visits South Africa

As reported on ESPN.com, Kobe Bryant made his first trip to Africa count on Sunday, visiting with young athletes in Soweto while “using his trilingual skills with the World Cup press corps, and displaying a keen knowledge of international soccer.”

Bryant shared that he picked Germany to win the Cup before the tournament started, cited how much he enjoys watching the team game – with ridiculous talent – played by Brazil, and offered praise for the effort of Team USA.

Before he left for South Africa last week, Bryant also told us that he’d try to check in with star Argentinean Lionel Messi, with whom he visited at the 2008 Olympics.

Furthermore, Bryant explained that he’d cheer for Spain in the Iberian Peninsula battle with Portugal on Tuesday morning out of allegiance to Lakers’ teammate Pau Gasol.

A Chat with 43rd Pick Devin Ebanks

blog_100628ebanksThe Lakers selected West Virginia underclassman Devin Ebanks with the 43rd overall pick of the 2010 NBA Draft last Thursday night.

We had a chance to speak with Ebanks over the weekend to chat about what he hopes to bring to L.A., which Lakers player he plays like, what kind of music he listens to, the fact that he played AAU ball with the Lakers’ other second round pick and more.

Below is the transcript of our call:

On being from Queens, like Ron Artest and Lamar Odom:
Ebanks: I don’t live too far from Ron, and I see Lamar around when he comes back home. I’m excited for the opportunity to play with those guys.

On what he can bring to the Lakers:
Ebanks: I bring athleticism and defense. If you want to be a rookie in this league and get time, you have to play defense, and I have some scoring ability as well.

On the reaction from his family after he was drafted:
Ebanks: Everybody was just happy that I have a chance to compete for a championship. They were just happy that I got picked.

On Artest and Kobe Bryant:
Ebanks: I love to watch Ron Artest … I like the way he plays, and his game is a little similar to how I try to play on the defensive end. And definitely being able to play with Kobe is a dream come true.

On developing at West Virginia:
Ebanks: I have to give all the credit to my coach, Bob Huggins, as far as expanding my game when I got there. He got me playing the right way and ready for the NBA both defensively and offensively. Coach Huggins especially brought out my defense and rebounding.

On the depth of L.A.’s frontcourt:
Ebanks: Especially with guys that have won championships, been in tough situations, have veterans there, it’s just a great spot for me to come in and learn how to win at an early age.

On being a teammate:
Ebanks: I’m a big believer in being close with your teammates. You have to have a good relationship off the court to have the best relationship on the court, and what better team to join than the Lakers who seem like they gel so well right now.

On what music he listens to:
Ebanks: Drake, Young Jeezy … lots of (artists). Mostly hip hop, but some R&B too. I let someone put the music on my iPod for me so I’ll have to advance with that.

On his meal plan at college:
Ebanks: Well you’re talking to a college kid, so I didn’t eat that good, man. Just Burger King and McDonalds and stuff … that was my meal plan at college, I didn’t really eat good.

On himself:
Ebanks: I’m a really laid back, low key kind of guy. I’m fun to be around. I’m also a gym rat, just got back from the gym about an hour ago.

On playing with Derrick Caracter in AAU:
Ebanks: Yeah, me and DC actually played together in AAU basketball, so it’s great to have him out there as well. To have somebody I knew growing up is definitely key.

2010 Exit Interviews: Josh Powell

blog_100625joshpowellLakers reserve forward Josh Powell, stuck behind the NBA’s deepest and most talented front court, saw limited duty in 2009-10, averaging 9.2 minutes per game in 63 regular season appearances, and 3.1 minutes in 13 postseason showings.

Powell managed 2.7 points and 1.8 rebounds in the regular season, with his best stretch coming with Pau Gasol out with a hamstring injury in early November, when Powell scored 13 points with four boards in a win over Memphis, then put up 14 points and seven rebounds in a win over Phoenix.

Powell, a free agent, spoke to media members after his exit interview. Below are the highlights:

- (On his meeting with Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak): “It was very informative. It went pretty good. He gave me what he thought about how the season went for me. There were some notes from coaches about me. He was understanding of the fact that the opportunities were less.” Powell said that Kupchak shared how much the team appreciated Powell’s hard work throughout the season, and that the meeting was overall positive.

- Powell worked very hard to ensure that he was ready to play if called upon by Phil Jackson, both at practice and in the weight room. In fact, trainer Chip Schaefer said that no one put more work into the team’s off court strengthening program.

- While he’s a free agent, Powell revealed that he would prefer to stay in L.A. if given the opportunity: “Of course I love it here. The relationships that I’ve built, and be able to accomplish a lot.”

- Powell was the rare younger player to have the ear of team leaders Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, which he said he felt came through his work ethic and drive, which is the best way to earn respect from the vets.

- (On how hard it is to stay ready without minutes): “It’s extremely hard because the amount of work that you have to put in more so when you don’t play versus when you do when it comes to conditioning, and those things, you have to put in way more to stay with it. When your number is called, you might get 30 second, you might get 10-15 minutes, you never know.”

- (On how he weighs staying with a winner vs. potentially earning more minutes): “You don’t. I just deal with it as it comes. Everybody wants to win, but everybody can’t win.”

- (On his basketball journey, not the easiest of paths, resulting in two championships): “It’s worth it. I don’t know how to put it into the best answer. For me emotionally and other things that I felt. It’s been worth the ups and downs. It’s been worth everything. I couldn’t really tell you the meaning, I’m just very happy to have gotten to this point.”

Lakers Select Derrick Caracter at No. 58

After selecting forward Devin Ebanks with the 43rd pick of the second round, the Lakers picked UTEP big man Derrick Caracter at No. 58.

Caracter was named to the All-Conference USA Second Team after averaging 14 points and eight rebounds as a junior, and ranked 16th in the country in field goal percentage (56.7 percent).

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak said that the team wasn’t expecting Caracter to be available as late as No. 58,

“We had him going a little bit earlier in the draft,” said Kupchak. “Of the two or three guys that were on (our draft board), we felt most comfortable with (Caracter).”

Caracter spent two seasons at Louisville before transfering to UTEP, a move that mandated his sitting out the 2008-09 school year, before claiming the seventh most rebounds in his conference at El Paso.

“He got into much better shape (at UTEP),” said Kupchak. “He still has to work on his conditioning, but he’s lively and he can shoot the ball a little bit with some range (12-15 feet). Good rebounder.”

Kupchak is hopeful that either Ebanks, Caracter or both can make the Lakers roster for the 2010-11 season, though both will first have the chance to prove their worth at the Las Vegas Summer League in July.

Lakers Select Devin Ebanks at No. 43


With the 43rd pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, the Lakers selected Devin Ebanks, a 6-9, 215-pound sophomore out of West Virgina.

“I’m so happy right now, you don’t understand,” said Ebanks to L.A. media members over the phone. “The world champions … I get to play with the best player in the world, Kobe Bryant … I don’t really have too many words to say, I’m just happy.”

Ebanks was named to the All-Big East Third Team as a sophomore after making the Big East All-Rookie and All-Tournament teams as a freshman.

He developed a reputation as a defensive stopper on the wing, and played some of his best basketball in the NCAA Tournament while helping West Virginia to the Final Four. He posted a 12-point, seven-rebound effort against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, a team that had five players selected in the first round.

“We did project (Ebanks) higher in the draft, we thought he’d be drafted much higher,” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak. “We’re pleased. He’s an athletic small forward, a good defensive player (who) has potential to grow … really good upside.”

Kupchak explained that the Lakers wanted to get someone to back up Ron Artest as they’re unsure how Luke Walton’s back will be heading into the 2010-11 campaign, though neither Ebanks nor No. 58 overall pick Derrick Caracter is guaranteed to make L.A.’s roster.

They’ll get their first chance to show what they can do in the Las Vegas Summer League, and if they play respectively well, both will be invited to Lakers training camp in the fall.

Like Lakers forwards Lamar Odom and Ron Artest, Ebanks is originally from Queens, N.Y.; he attended the St. Thomas More School in Oakdale, Conn.

“Lamar Odom, my uncle grew up with him,” said Ebanks. “He’s from my neighborhood, Ron Artest (too). I live two minutes from Ron Artest and 10 minutes from Lamar. I see those guys all the time. Being able to play with them is a great opportunity.”

Ebanks, who was named Big East Player of the Week after totaling 22 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists at Seton Hall, explained that he’s ready to work.

“I’m willing to learn,” he said. “They just won the NBA championship, so I have a whole bunch of stuff to learn about the NBA and what better team than the Lakers?”

He was asked about what he might offer to the team from a defensive standpoint.

“Toughness, my length,” Ebanks responded. “I don’t have a problem guarding the (other team’s) best player. I take defense very seriously and I take it personally.”

Kupchak added that Ebanks has a “lively bounce to his step,” and is “very active and versatile” on the perimeter. A younger guy at just 20, the Lakers think Ebanks has a chance to grow, which is also the player’s hope.

“Just getting better,” he said of his expectations. “I’m playing for the best team in the world. I want to go in there and try to learn from the veterans, and hopefully my career can take off from there.”

Lakers Pre-Draft Podcast: Mitch Kupchak

Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak joined us on Wednesday afternoon to discuss the team’s plans heading into Thursday’s NBA Draft, during which the Lakers are slotted to pick at No.’s 43 (from Memphis) and 58 in Round 2.

Kupchak explained that it’s difficult for a team like the Lakers to bring in a starter or even a role player with a pick as low as No. 43, but the team has certainly done its due diligence and hopes for a stroke of luck in terms of a coveted player still being available.

To listen to Kupchak’s observations heading into the 2010 Draft, click “play” below:

2010 Exit Interviews: Mitch Kupchak

mitchLakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak put together quite a team in Los Angeles, as witnessed by three straight trips to the NBA Finals, two straight championships and a core group in place to contend into the near future.

He shared his thoughts about the 2009-10 season, Phil Jackson, some of the team’s players and more with the media:

- (On the season): “Suffice to say we had a story book ending to a season that started out very promising. It was a wonderful run during the playoffs. I think the Oklahoma City series, to a degree, woke up a team that wasn’t ready to play their best basketball. I thought our team responded and played our best basketball going forward.”

- (On optimism for the next few years): “Extending Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol pretty much ensures our core group of players will be intact going forward.”

- (On Phil Jackson suggesting that he’s leaning towards retirement): “It’s come up (in player exit interviews). My understand was that (Jackson) was contemplating continuing or contemplate retiring. I think he’s still going to do that. I am aware that he used that phrase down here about 15-20 minutes ago, but until he makes his mind up, there really isn’t much more for an organization to do. I’ve expressed to him personally that I want him to return. He has a process that he has to go through. He knows he’s wanted here with this team, I think he’s been reassured of that throughout the exit meetings with the players.

- Kupchak said he would be “very surprised” if Jackson doesn’t coach, and said that he has not yet received any type of decision, which he expects at the end of next week.

- (On being aware that Jackson could retire): “You knew he might not come back anyway. His contract runs out on June 30. It’s not news to me that he might not (return).”

- Kupchak doesn’t think there is anything further the organization can do to get Phil to come back.

- There was a quip about Phil and sandals, since Jackson had told Kupchak that he was having trouble bending over to tie his shoes in the morning. Kupchak responded: “If you retire or don’t retire you still have to bend over to put your shoes on.” Jackson replied that he wouldn’t if he wore sandals, and Kupchak said that was OK with him.

- (On the team being capable of playing more than one way, as far as being entrenched into a system: “It’s not like we’re stuck with players that can only play one way.”

- Mitch on Ron Artest: “I think he was great. He was delightfully different in so many ways, ending with that nine-minute postgame press conference. Throughout the year he always worked hard. I think he’ll be better next year. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself by talking about how he was the one to blame … that part worked out but it might make it easier for him next year. You always wonder when you sign a free agent because you don’t know that person, but I will say that from the beginning, there were no problems on the court or off the court. It was all good. I think he struggled a little bit with the offense from time to time, but all is well that ends well.”

- “We have a lot of uncertainty in the back court” was how Kupchak addressed a question about what players L.A. might look to bring in.

- Kupchak said that the 2nd round of the draft is “probably not” the way to fill out L.A.’s roster, but he hopes the team gets lucky.

- (On going to the Finals in each of Pau Gasol’s years with the team): “Three straight Finals is just incredible. I remember sitting back and thinking I can’t believe we’re in the Finals three years in a row. It’s just unusual. Pau’s participation … certainly … you can also point to Derek and say he had a lot to do with it. You could argue that Pau is at the top (of his position in the league). We’re biased, but we might say he’s the best big man in the league. Even (if you disagreed), you’d have to say that he’s (at least) in the top five. Certainly we’re pleased, and he seems to be getting better, too.

Phil Jackson “Leaning Towards Retiring”

philNearly a week after Phil Jackson won his record 11th NBA coaching championship, he revealed that Game 7 against Boston may have been his last as coach of the Lakers.

“I’m leaning towards retiring but I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said.

In his season-ending interview with the press after completing all but one of the organization’s exit interviews with players, Jackson said that he’d make a final decision by the end of next week.

Here’s a summary of his comments:

- (On reasons to retire): “Some of it is about health. That’s just the way I’m feeling right now. It’s just something I’m going to sit with.”

- (On the team being set up to win again): “This team is in a good place to (win again). If I’m not here, someone else is going to come in and do the job.”

- (On the meetings with his players): “It’s always fun to have an exit meeting when you’re the final team standing. Those meetings went great. I’m very grateful to these players. They put a lot of energy in. The fans gave them a great feeling and a wonderful parade.”

- Jackson said part of the decision is about what he wants to do and how he wants to live the remaining years of his life, and some of that has to do with the physical toll an NBA season takes on his body.

- (On if he’d coach anywhere else): “I’m not going to rule that out … I can’t say I’d never coach again.”

- (On what he’d do if not coaching): “I don’t know. Write a book, go on a grand lecture tour, those are things people tell me I should think about doing. Of course it’s something I’d consider. But I think I have some things to lend to this game without doing the extensive travel and things I have to do to coach … I’ll wait and see what those opportunities would be.”

- (On if it’s harder to leave a team in place to win again): “I think it’s actually easier to leave (a team that’s in tact). I’d be happy if they could go on and win without me. I think they have enough leadership on the floor and in the coaching staff.”

- Jackson mentioned throughout the season that one thing that would likely encourage him to retire would be if his players were no longer receiving his message. His comments on the topic: “To be a coach you have to be very strong willed … (because the players by nature are very strong willed, that’s how they got there). It’s always constantly working with them where they’re not only in line but also pulling together. It’s one of the things that makes coaching a great thing to do. It gives you a lot of satisfaction. This group … there were guys that were contentious. To get them in line and stay in line, the leadership of Kobe and Derek helped out a lot and my staff was very good. We have six or seven guys that were out there without contracts looking for extended carers in the NBA and sometimes that breaks through the team spirit, but fortunately enough, we were able to keep that going in the right direction.”

- Jackson said he has to sit on it and do what’s best for himself. He’s not sure if he’s 95 percent certain or 50 percent certain that he will officially retire. It’s just how he feels today.

- (Not about $$): “It’s certainly not about money. They do a tremendous job, the staff and support staff that we have.”

- Phil mentioned how much greater a toll going on long playoff runs can take on teams and a coach. One of the things that has helped him bridge the gap between seasons is his lake home in Montana. He noted that other coaches have other ways to get away, such as Boston’s Doc Rivers playing golf.

- If Phil does retire, he said it’s the organization’s decision regarding how to replace him, though he would offer his opinion.

- Phil said that his kids have been hoping he’d retire for the last couple of seasons. He added that it’d be tough to walk away from another three-peat, which remains as the “fly in the ointment” for him to retire.

- Jackson concluded by saying that he’s essentially on a course to retirement, but if something changes his mind in the next week, he’ll be happy to return.

2010 Exit Interviews: Kobe Bryant

kobeIt wasn’t a bad 2009-10 for Kobe Bryant, who capped another All-Star and All-NBA First Team (not to mention All Defensive First Team) campaign with his second Finals MVP award and fifth championship.

Bryant averaged 27 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.55 steals in the regular season, and 29.2 points, 6.0 rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.35 steals in the postseason.

Below is a summary of his exit interview comments:

- Some World Cup banter to open: “I missed the (Landon Donovan of Team USA) goal in the 90th minute because I was coming down here. But I watched it.”

- (On if the team can win it again): “I would think so.”

- (On his leadership role with the team: “I still put my foot in their (butts).” Bryant is the bad cop, Fisher the good cop, in terms of motivation.

- (On the team, potentially, without Phil Jackson): “Drastically different. Our personality of our team is made up of his thought process, his philosophies. I don’t even want to think about that right now. It’s killing my buzz.”

- (On his priority in the offseason): “It’s getting healthy. We’ve been in the Finals three year
For this summer it’s about getting healthy. I think that gives us the best shot. It’s the same thing for Pau.” Bryant had worked on various specific elements of his game each offseason, including his post game last offseason, but will stick to getting his body right. His injuries that need attending include his index finger, knee (which he said is “fine”), ankle and even his pinkie.

- Bryant said that the avulsion fracture in his finger was the No. 1 health problem for him this year. After he got his knee drained following Game 4 of Round 1, he said it was fine.

- Kobe quipped that he turned his phone off during the playoffs and negelected around 500 messages, and is just now “getting back to civilization.”

- Bryant used the word “epic” to describe the season when asked to sum it up in one word.

- The word “three-peat” is quite appealing to Bryant. That’s of course now his focus heading into next season.

- Bryant smiled widely when asked about beating Boston. Obviously.

- Kobe called Ron Artest a “sweet heart” of a guy whom he and all of his teammates rooted for throughout the season. He added that he and Artest really bonded over hard work, as Kobe would often see Artest working out in the middle of the night while on the road, time usually restricted only to Kobe.

- (On Ron’s comment about Kobe not always passing him the ball, referring to his Game 7 fourth quarter bomb): “He knows my rules … but
I felt like he was going to make that shot. He’s hit big shots before. He got his feet set.”

- (On the pressure of Game 7 when he wasn’t shooting well): “I’ve felt that way before. It wasn’t something that was unfamiliar to me. Even going back to high school … but no matter what, the game is still the game. You just try to figure out what you can do to help us win this game.”

- On having Fisher come back: “It’s crucial. I don’t think that’s much of an option for him to go anywhere else.” Bryant added that yes, he does think Fisher will return.

- (On what makes Phil Phil): “He has a great knack for bringing guys together. He’s not a rah-rah coach. I think they lose attention because they’re always trying to pump guys up. He focuses on execution, the triangle offense, and a consistent message every single day.”

- (On letting Phil know that he wants him back): “I just wanted to make sure he knew.”

- Kobe said he was able to exorcise some demons this postseason, from Utah (the air balls and losing early in his career), then Phoenix (losing in 2006 and 07), then Boston.

- Bryant’s going to “take some time” this summer to let everything heal.

- En route to South Africa, Kobe said he’s definitely pulling first for Team USA at the World Cup, but is “definitely” going to check out his guy Lionel Messi of Argentina.