Monthly Archive for May, 2011

New Coach Brown to be Introduced Tuesday

The Lakers released a media advisory on Monday afternoon to announce an introductory press conference for new head coach Mike Brown on Tuesday afternoon at 3:00 p.m.

You’ll be able to watch the press conference live on Lakers.com, and we’ll add coverage on Twitter via the @Lakers and @LakersReporter handles.

The team initially announced last Wednesday that Brown would very likely be the new coach, and Brown took questions during halftime of Thursday’s Western Conference Finals matchup.

Brown saw considerable success in his previous head coaching position with the Cleveland Cavaliers (2005-2010), averaging 54.4 wins per season for a collective 66.3 percent winning percentage, the fifth highest in NBA history. The league’s Coach of the Year after a 66-win season (2008-09), Brown led his Cavs to the Finals in 2007, and made it to at least the second round of the playoffs in all five of his years in the top seat.

Trainer Gary Vitti on Kobe’s Knee

Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti joined us for an extended interview about several topics on Thursday, among the more interesting his detailed overview of Kobe Bryant’s current health situation with his right knee, and what we might expect heading into next season.

The discussion went back to the summer of 2010, when Bryant had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in July to clean things up, after he had problems with the knee in the playoffs in particular. It was the third time upon which that knee was operated, and as a result, it wasn’t until training camp that Bryant was really able to do much. Training camp was in Europe, which made things more difficult from a preparation standpoint, L.A. simply not having as much practice time as it would at home. Alas, when the regular season opened on Oct. 26, Bryant wasn’t really close to full strength.

“Kobe was behind all the time and could never really catch up, which has something to do with the surgery, something to do with the sheer miles of wear and tear and the attrition the game has on him,” said Vitti, who as a result was central in the decision to hold Bryant out of practices for much of the season, preferring that Bryant use what he had in games instead of on the practice floor.

The downside, in addition to a negative impact on team chemistry developed in the gym, was that Bryant was playing catch up all season, not able to build up strength in his knee and legs so much as just maintain a high enough level to play.

That said, in his exit interview after this past season, Bryant noted that there is “another level” he can reach physically. Vitti?

“We have to do some things so that he feels more comfortable and explosive with that right knee,” said the 27-year LAL trainer. “Once we get to that place, then we’d like to see him practice more, but we don’t want the time that he spends on the court being spent on frivolous things. You gotta get him out there when he needs to be out there, and get him off the floor when he doesn’t.”

With such a philosophy, we asked Vitti if he agreed with Kobe that Bryant would be stronger next season.

“Yes, I do think he has more progression there, but structurally there are some issues that cannot be reversed, but can be dealt with,” he explained. “There are a couple of cards we have up our sleeve that we plan on playing, and he and I have been in daily communication about that.”

Makes sense. However, to understand what’s really going on with Bryant’s knee, we needed more details from Vitti:

What happens with older players — and this isn’t Kobe’s situation – is that tendinitis turns into tendinosis, and the tendon doesn’t have the same properties that it used to have. As a result it slows them down, and once you become a step slow in this league, it’s very, very difficult to compete. That’s not Kobe’s problem, however. His is an articulating cartilage problem. The way I describe that to people is that if you look at the end of chicken bone where it’s nice and white, well, that’s not bone, it’s cartilage. Sort of like a Teflon surface that when two bones come together, that cartilage is there so that bones don’t rub on each other. Now, the fact that it’s nice and white tells you it doesn’t have a good blood flow to it, and that means it cannot heal or regenerate. So, over time, as that cartilage wears away, you end up with osteoarthritis. Kobe doesn’t have an arthritic knee, but he has a knee that has some joint degeneration to it. His issues and his age are such that it eliminates some procedures, like microfracture and that type of things. But he is a candidate for certain other things, and we know all the procedures all around the world that are available to him, and the appropriate decisions will be made, he’ll have the best care.

 
In conclusion, Vitti cleared up a New York Post report from January in which Peter Vescey quoted Kobe as saying his right knee was “almost bone on bone.”

“He does have cartilage left, so it was an inappropriate line,” Vitti said. “It’s just a question of preserving what is still there.”

Mike Brown: ESPN Interview

Earlier on Wednesday, the Lakers released a statement about Mike Brown:

“In response to rampant speculation and reports about our head coaching position and Mike Brown, we’ve met with Mike and are very impressed with him. In addition, we have an outline for an agreement in place and hope to sign a contract within the next few days.”

On Wednesday evening, Brown joined ESPN’s NBA crew to respond to a few questions at halftime of the Mavs – Thunder Western Conference Finals matchup:

Opening Statement:
Brown: First of all, I want to say thank you to the Buss (family), to Dr. Buss, Jim (Buss) and also (Lakers GM) Mitch Kupchak for giving me this opportunity. This is a special situation for me, and I’m extremely excited. No disrespect to Phil (Jackson) at all, I respect everything that he’s done, but I’m here to continue to try to help this organization carve a championship path that has already been laid. I’m excited about that opportunity, I know I’m not going to fill his, like (Jon Barry) said, his Ronald McDonald Shoes, but I am excited to carve my own path with this team going forward.

Q: On if he’s spoken to Kobe Bryant, and what to expect from Brown:
Brown: Kobe and I have exchanged texts tonight. I imagine we will get on the phone at one point or another. He was busy with his family at one point and so was I, so we weren’t able to hook up by phone. I’m a big family guy, so what you can expect from a Coach Brown team is a family atmosphere, a defensive-minded team. As you all know, I thrive and I love that end of the floor, because I believe that’s what can help you win championships. I want a hard-working team, but yet and still, I want a team-first team. So those are the types of things that you will see from my group of guys.

Q: On what he learned from coaching LeBron James in Cleveland that he can apply to coaching Bryant:
Brown: There is a lot that I learned, not only from LeBron but from other players that I was fortunate enough to work with and coach in Cleveland. But they’re both great competitors … but I’m not going to compare the two because they’re two different guys. Obviously I don’t know Kobe as well, but I’m looking forward to getting to know Kobe, and being able to work with him to go get us a championship, because that’s the level of expectation that you have being a Laker. Kobe’s a Hall of Famer, we all know that. We all know the amount of rings that he has. To me, that’s special, and that just adds to the chemistry when you’re trying to forge and go after another one.

Q: On people in Los Angeles expecting an exciting team:
Brown: I believe we can be exciting, and I say that because I thought we were exciting in Cleveland. My first few years, if you go back and take a look at it, we laid a foundation defensively because I thought that team needed to have an identity. I didn’t think that that identity was laid, so that’s the direction we went in terms of how much time we spent in practice on that end of the floor. But as the years went along, we did open it up to a certain degree, and in my last two years, we were a top five defensive team, but not a lot of people took a look at the other side of the ball. But if you do, we were a top five offensive team in field goal percentage, and we were up there in points per game. So I’m excited about getting to L.A., and starting the process with the guys. I’m going to sit back and listen to what they have to say, because I do have a plan, and I feel confident about the plan that I have on that end of the floor.

Up Next for Kobe on the Scoring List: Shaq

In the 2010-11 season, Kobe Bryant’s 25.3 points per game — also his career average — allowed him to shoot past several legends on the NBA’s all-time scoring list that doubles as a Hall of Fame gallery: John Havlicek, Dominique Wilkins, Oscar Robertson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone.

Malone was the most recent victim, his No. 6 spot on the chart overtaken by Bryant on March 8 in Atlanta. Bryant concluded the 2010-11 season with 27,868 points in his 15-year career.

Up next? Shaq.

Last year, Bryant didn’t hide the fact that he was pretty pleased at having one more championship than O’Neal after the Lakers beat Boston in Game 7, and he probably isn’t going to mind surpassing his former teammate on the scoring charts, either.

Shaq’s 28,590 points are just 722 ahead of Bryant, which at the 25.3 ppg rate would take Kobe between 28 and 29 games to pass in 2011-12.

Further up the list are three former Lakers, plus MJ: Wilt Chamberlain (4th, 31,419), whom Bryant wouldn’t catch until 2012-13 at the earliest; Michael Jordan (3rd/32,292); Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387).

Fisher’s Iron Man Streak: 495 Games

If you have a better moniker than “Iron Man” for the player that has taken the court in the most consecutive professional games, let us know, but it’s worked pretty well from a self-explanatory sense over the years.

In the NBA, it’s L.A.’s Derek Fisher.

By completing his sixth-straight 82-game season, the Lakers point guard has his games played streak all the way up to 495, currently the longest in basketball, dating back to April 15, 2005 (point of reference: the Sonics still had three more seasons to play in Seattle). Fisher moved into pole position this past December when Portland’s Andre Miller missed a game due to an NBA suspension, stopping his run at 632 contests. Historically, former Laker A.C. Green dominates with a remarkable mark of 1,192 (11/19/86 – 4/18/01).

And how do the NBA streaks compare with those in other professional leagues?

BASEBALL: Over on the diamond, the most notable of Iron Men, Cal Ripken Jr. seemed to play forever, not stopping for 16 years until his streak reached 2,632 games. Currently, baseball’s leader is, like Fisher, in Los Angeles, Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp going strong at 252 games.

FOOTBALL: In football, most starts seems to take precedence over most straight games played (otherwise, we’d be talking about kickers). So with (finally retired?) QB Brett Favre’s impressive feat of 297 consecutive starts in a sport rife with debilitating injuries ending this past fall, fellow quarterback Peyton Manning takes the reigns with his 208 consecutive starts for the Indianapolis Colts. No small feat.

HOCKEY:: Representing the hockey players from an all-time perspective is Doug Jarvis, who played for 12 consecutive seasons (for Montreal, Washington, and Hartford) between 1975 and 1987 without missing a game. Currently, Florida Panthers defenseman Jay Bouwmeester holds the mark for hockey tough guys at 506 games, dating back before hockey’s lock out in the 2004-05 season. As such, Bouwmeester (and his cool name) edges Fisher out by 11 games for the overall lead in North America’s four major sports.

Barnes, Blake Soon Back to LAL Gym?

Steve Blake and Matt Barnes had such high hopes coming to the twice defending champion Lakers last offseason, the prospect of joining Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Co. so enticing for two veterans in search of an elusive ring.

The season ended suddenly and in collective disappointment for the Lakers 10 months later, and Barnes and Blake took the Round 2 loss to Dallas particularly hard, as neither were satisfied with what they were able to provide individually despite wanting so badly to contribute. Barnes was most frustrated about not being able to find his way back from knee surgery in January, while Blake struggled to find a rhythm within the offense, or hit the perimeter shots he’s made throughout his career.

A week past exit interviews, no Lakers player has returned to the building to start working out again (as is customary), but Director of Athletic Performance/Player Development Chip Schaefer, also in charge of strength and conditioning for the team, said he expects “gym rats like Barnes and Blake” to be among the first to come back to the gym.

Where better to start attacking all that pent up frustration?

Podcast: All About Phil

What was Phil Jackson like during his first championship run in Chicago? What characterized his interaction with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, or Kobe and Shaq? How did he play a critical role in MJ’s return from baseball? What was the 72-10 season like? How about Jackson’s transition to Los Angeles? Kobe and Shaq? Phil off the court? His legacy? What don’t people understand about Jackson?

To weigh in on such questions, we enlisted Chip Schaefer, the only person to literally be in the locker room with Jackson for each of his 11 championships. Schaefer, the head trainer with the Bulls from 1990-98, and a key member of Gary Vitti’s training staff in Los Angeles from 1999-present (currently, his title is Director of Athletic Performance/Player Development) Schaefer spent an hour with us on our Popcorn Machine podcast to relay many of his memories with Jackson.

For 20 NBA seasons, 13 ending up in the NBA Finals, Schaefer was often the first person to speak with Jackson at either the Bulls or Lakers’ facilities, and the topic of conversation could have been just about anything.

“The interesting thing, getting back to the point of there being so much more about Phil than just basketball, (is that) before you even touch on basketball you may walk in and there’s something in current events, politics or life in general that you might discuss for five minutes,” said Schaefer. “That’s one of the things that I found uniquely refreshing about him.”

There are plenty of personal memories of Jackson from many years as the coach’s trainer, as well as Schaefer’s reflections and observations of Jackson’s relationship with players like Jordan.

One story he tells is how Jackson reacted to Jordan’s abrupt retirement prior to the 1993-94 season, and how Jackson having Jordan’s best interest at heart (Schaefer said His Airness could sniff out B.S. in a second) helped create the environment in which Jordan could return to the team. When Jordan actually returned, Schaefer remembers the first conversation between the two, before most had arrived at the Bulls’ facility, when Jordan expressed his sorrow for Schaefer’s father having passed away shortly prior to that day.

To describe Jackson’s influence on players, Schaefer told an anecdote about how Jackson, fiery in his first few years in Chicago in particular, would get thrown out of at least a few games a season. Schaefer at some point asked former Bull John Paxson why the Bulls generally played so poorly when Jackson got tossed, as such an act can often spur better effort out of players.

“There’s just something about him, whether it’s the size, the voice, the command presence that he has,” Paxson told Schaefer, explaining that there was just a belief, a confidence that players picked up from Jackson that soothed or inspired during tough moments. Whatever “it” was, Schaefer said it grew and grew with each championship. Even so, Schaefer said the season that impressed him the most may have been 1994-95, when Jordan was playing baseball, and the Bulls still won 55 games.

Schaefer talks about how after the 1998 Bulls championship, he took a job with Oakley that board member Jordan helped set up, and subsequently what Jackson said to him on the phone to bring him onto his new Lakers staff. He described the differences between the first Lakers three-peat team and the current version that went to three straight Finals, remembered the Kobe-Shaq relationship more for success on the court than any personality differences off it, detailed the importance of Jackson empowering his assistant coaches in part so that the players didn’t drown out his voice as the season wore on, and more.

You can listen to the full interview by clicking here, or download the podcast from iTunes under “The Popcorn Machine on Lakers.com.”

Lakers Surprised by Kareem’s Comments

Like Magic Johnson or Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has long been held in the highest esteem by the Lakers organization, celebrated as one of the greatest players in the game’s history, and as a critical piece of the franchise’s championship legacy.

Team spokesman John Black told Lakers.com that the franchise was very surprised to hear of Abdul-Jabbar’s comments in the past few days, which emphasized his feeling of being slighted in part for not yet receiving a statue at STAPLES Center, and also addressed his current relationship with the organization.

Black said that the Lakers have, for a while, relayed to Abdul-Jabbar that the next statue to be erected would be of Kareem. Furthermore, Black said if the Lakers had thought Abdul-Jabbar would have felt slighted in any way, perhaps they would have done his statue before that of West, which occurred on Feb. 17. In other words, to the Lakers, there’s no way to separate the greatness of Magic, West or Kareem.

“Those three guys are all on the highest level you could get,” Black explained. “But somebody had to be first, someone had to be second and someone third.”

Black concluded that the team has nothing but positive things to say about the league’s all-time leading scorer, and are hopeful to move past any issues Abdul-Jabbar may harbor.

Andrew Bynum’s (Healthy) Offseason

For the first time since 2007, Andrew Bynum is heading into an offseason with a clean bill of health.

This is no small victory for Bynum, or for the Lakers, who could consider their 7-foot center’s current medical report the best news going after being unexpectedly swept out of the second round of the playoffs.

In the summers of 2008, 2009 and 2010, Bynum was either recovering from surgery, or about to head under the knife, but as he detailed in his exit interview, the word “rehabilitation” is no longer an essential part of his offseason vocabulary:

It’s going to change greatly how I approach the summer because I’m going to be able to work on my own. I don’t have to go through rehab, I don’t have to sit down for four months … physically I feel great, I have no injuries going into the summer. On that note, I’m definitely looking forward to becoming a better player.

In other words, it’s easier to work on one’s game when exercises can include back-to-the-basket moves instead of impact-free leg lifts in a tub of water.

One caveat: Bynum won’t have a chance to show just how strong and healthy he is until the sixth game of the coming season, due to the five-game suspension levied upon him for his dangerous shove of Mavs guard J.J. Barea in Game 4 of the Western Semi’s. The New Jersey native shared his regret about that play in his previously linked exit interview, but aside from that negative, Bynum was feeling quite good individually due in large part to his healthy-feeling body.

To understand why, we traced his previous four offseasons:

2007: After playing all 82 games in 2006-07, starting 53, Bynum had his last clean bill of health, and was able to do whatever he wanted to prep for 2007-08, when Pau Gasol was still in Memphis.

2008: Just when he began to play the best basketball of his career, Bynum suffered a subluxated patella on 1/13 against Memphis, causing him to miss the remaining 46 regular season games and the entire postseason, in which L.A. ultimately lost to Boston in the Finals. Bynum didn’t actually have the surgery until May 21, as he and the team first wanted to see if he were able to play on it in the postseason. As such, he spent the summer rehabilitating his left knee.

2009: For the second straight season, Bynum hurt a knee against Memphis in January, this time tearing his right MCL on 1/31. He did return for the final four games of the regular season, however, and then played in all 23 playoff games, starting 18, to average 6.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg and 0.91 bpg in 17.4 min, as L.A. ultimately beat Orlando in the Finals. In his exit interview heading into that offseason, Bynum relayed the difference between his two knee injuries: “Last year I had the surgery and rehab went smooth, this one was a tear and just takes a lot more time. I wanted to make it back, so I took it to the court maybe a little sooner than my trainer wanted me to,” he said. “Even though I didn’t play my best ball, I got to understand the next level. The intensity was (so much higher), it was (great to experience).”

Bynum showed that his knee was not at 100 percent when he elected not to participate in Team USA workouts that summer, focusing instead upon rehabilitation.

2010: After a mostly-health regular season in which Bynum did miss 13 games due to a left Achilles strain suffered on 3/19, he tore part of the lateral meniscus in his right knee in Game 6 of L.A.’s Round 1 victory over Oklahoma City. Opting to play through the pain for the rest of the playoffs, Bynum averaged 8.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, and 1.57 bpg while playing 24.4 mpg in 23 games, helping L.A. to a second-straight title. He wasn’t quite himself, however, and underwent surgery following a trip to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup that would end up keeping him out of the first part of the following season.

2011: Indeed, surgery to correct the meniscus tear of his right knee ended up being more complicated than originally expected, causing Bynum to miss the first 24 games of the 2010-11 regular season. He also suffered a bone bruise against Boston on 1/31, causing him to miss one game, and a separate bone bruise to his right knee suffered on 4/12 against San Antonio that cause him to miss only the regular season finale. Yet Bynum looked strong throughout the playoffs, averaging postseason bests 14.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.4 bpg in 32.0 mpg, his best and most healthy individual postseason of his career.

It’s the 23-year-old’s hope that health going into the offseason healthy will allow him to build up the strength of his muscles, particularly those surrounding his knee, to better prevent potential injuries once the 2011-12 season begins.

And so, on a Monday in May, we can imagine Bynum in a gym somewhere shooting jumpers, lifting weights, working on his left-handed hook, or really doing anything other than rehabilitating a knee.

Bryant’s All-NBA Selection: No. 13

In 13 of his 15 seasons in the NBA, Kobe Bryant has been voted onto the league’s All-NBA team, including nine straight appearances on the first team after 2011′s teams were announced on Thursday.

With five players selected to a first, second and third team each year, Bryant made the third team in his third year (1999), and again in 2005, the second team in 2000 and 2001, and the first team from 2002-11, minus 2005.

To further translate, Bryant has been selected by a panel of selected media members as a top two guard in the NBA for 60 percent of his career, and as one of the top six for 86.7 percent of his years.

Shaquille O’Neal used to join him as the center on the first team in the early portion of Bryant’s career, while Pau Gasol has now been there alongside him for the past three seasons, in 2009 and 2010 on the third team, and now the second team in 2011.

Yet another selection brings Bryant still further into elite status, just two behind record holder Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (15). Karl Malone and Shaq are next with 14 total honors, with Kobe and Tim Duncan next with their 13. Duncan was a third-team selection in 2010, but did not make the cut this season. Malone’s 11 selections to the All-NBA first team are the most, with Abdul-Jabbar, Bob Pettit, Bob Cousy, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Michael Jordan next with 10 apiece.

Bryant would have to continue his torrid pace for two more seasons to catch Malone on the first team, no easy task with players like Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose in their primes, but would catch Abdul-Jabbar’s 15 with a place on any of the three teams in the next two seasons.