Monthly Archive for May, 2011

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Mitch Kupchak: 2010-11 Exit Interview

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak met with the media to wrap up the 2010-11 season. Below are highlights from his exit interview:

- On a timetable for finding a new coach: “We’d like to be deliberate. In Los Angeles, typically we hire coaches and they stick with us for a long time, and hopefully win championships. So we’ll take our time in making that decision. I have not met with ownership, so that process has not really begun. We think this team can still win, so we’re going to get a coach that we think can help us contend for championships in the foreseeable future.” Kupchak didn’t want to get into naming names, but said L.A. would “obviously” interview a “candidate or two from existing staff.”

- Kupchak detailed how this coaching search is different from the last time Phil Jackson retired after the 2003-04 season, because of the discrepancy in players that are returning. Where as Kobe Bryant was about the only player coming back the first time around, almost the entire Lakers team, full of talent, is under contract for next season.

- When asked what went wrong with this year’s team in the playoffs, Kupchak cited L.A.’s 2003 loss to San Antonio following the three straight trips to the Finals. He explained that with that team, fatigue was clearly a factor, and suggested that it was this season as well: “Initially, I think there’s a lot of contributing factors that would lead a team that’s played over 110 games. Whether it’s fatigue or the continual challenge, distractions, the fact that other teams continue to say ‘Well they’ve been there three times now, we know them, we’re getting tired of this.’ It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but I think the contributing factor (is) would be that you’re now going onto your fourth time trying to get back to the Finals, and that’s a mountain that’s pretty hard to climb.”

- As he maintained throughout the year when we interviewed him, Kupchak said he felt this group of Lakers had earned the right to fight its way through to the end. He didn’t think there were any moves that could have been made that would have changed the outcome. He obviously looked at opportunities, but didn’t see anything enticing.

- It wasn’t about age: “We didn’t lose to Dallas because we were an older team, they were an older team than we were. Certainly our team continues to age, and veteran teams in this league contend for championships. With the core players we have in tact, we do think we can continue to contend. We may have to look to improve certain areas.”

- On losing providing motivation for next season: “I think if there’s a silver lining in losing, that’s it, you get hungry again.”

- Kupchak had some very positive things to say about Andrew Bynum, first of which being that he finished the season healthy. That couldn’t be said for any of the previous three seasons, as he entered each offseason having to either continue rehabbing or go under the knife for various knee issues. He called the steps Bynum made this season “gigantic,” talking first about health, then general maturity, a willingness to devote himself to defense and rebounding for the betterment of the team, not to mention an ability to hit face up jumpers that hadn’t been seen previously.

- On losing Phil, and what Kupchak will miss: “His impact on his return has been huge. From a personal level, he’s made my job a lot easier. We worked, I thought, very well together. I’ll miss him on a personal side and I’ll miss working with him. I’ll miss watching him conduct a practice … (joking) I’m not sure I’ll miss watching him walk across the floor. I don’t know what the future holds for him. He goes through his medical check, and hopefully everything checks out, and whatever it is he decides to do I (hope) he’s happy doing it.”

- It’s clear to Mitch that Phil’s done and is ready to move on. Kupchak was originally planning on trying to get him to stay one more year, but it was clear that Jackson’s mind was made up, so Kupchak didn’t really try to twist his arm again.

- Kupchak said he’s unsure about what Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes will do with their player options. He thinks it’s premature to say what’s going to happen until the deadline for deciding comes. He encouraged both to meet with their representatives, and said that if he does have a good idea (which he implied he does), he wouldn’t share it anyways. Very GM of him.

- When asked about the Dallas series: “They just ran us ragged. They were an exceptional jump shooting team, (extremely) energized, feeding off a Game 1 victory. My feeling is with the exception of Game 3, we just didn’t contend or defend as well as we could have, but at that point, the series started on a Monday and it was basically over on Sunday. After losing Game 1, we were on our heels.”

- Kupchak was asked how offseason acquisitions did in his mind, and while he said that only Lamar Odom (obviously not an acquisition) stood out individually, he gave brief summaries of the other signees. He said that Matt Barnes simply got injured, which was extremely frustrating for him as it really affected his production, and said that Barnes’s right knee is actually still swollen. Theo Ratliff also got injured and wasn’t able to help, and on Steve Blake he had more details: “I thought did an excellent job of defending, running the offense, being a good teammate, he was fun to play with but he just didn’t shoot the ball, open shots, as well as he has in the past and he indicated that he just never got completely comfortable with the offense. One thing he was able to do historically was to make open shots.”

- Kupchak did not see any reason to be disappointed with anyone individually from an effort standpoint: “They’ve all shown great remorse, they’re disappointed, quite frankly they look terrible. Hushed tones when they speak. I’m not thinking for a second that there’s a player who quit or doesn’t deserve to be a Laker.”

- Back on the coaching topic, Kupchak implied that running the triangle offense was not necessarily a mandatory item for the next coach.

- Kupchak on Gasol: “He was noticeably down and hurt.” Kupchak declined to share what they discussed in their meetings, though he was also asked about how he felt about Gasol playing for his Spanish National Team in the summer, and responded that with the additional time off due to the unexpected exit, it “might not be a bad thing.”

- Asked about Phil Jackson’s suggestion that the Lakers needed to get faster to get easy buckets, Kupchak responded that it’s not quite so simple. “You don’t want a guy that can run and jump and has great quickness if he can’t play the game.”

- On the four second round picks L.A. has: “We do pretty good in the second round, we think. Maybe we can get a prospect. I trust our scouts and (Assistant GM) Ronnie Lester, who’s basically in charge of the draft … but you’re probably not going to get someone in the second round that’s going to (make a major impact).”

- Finally, Kupchak was asked if he “did want to blow up the roster,” and whether or not it would be difficult to do. His response: “I think our players have pretty good value around this league. If we wanted to have a completely different look, I don’t think that would be a problem. I don’t know if we’d win many games, but I think around the league, we have several of our players — I could be mistaken — that have value around the league.”

Phil Jackson: 2010-11 Exit Interview

Phil Jackson concluded the greatest coaching career in NBA history with the most coaching championships (11), the highest regular season winning percentage (70.4 percent), the fourth most regular season wins (1,155), the most playoff wins of all-time and the highest playoff winning percentage (68.8 percent). In 20 seasons, he went to the Finals 13 times (65 percent).

Below is a summary of Jackson’s final interview with the collected media:

- Opening Statement:

I wanted to thank the L.A. fans, the Lakers fans particularly have been generous to me. When I first came here they thanked me for coming to L.A.; I hope they thank me for leaving. Members of the press have been just about 99 and a half percent good to me to, so thank you guys for all the generous comments you made over the years. It’s been a remarkable run, everybody knows that, and it was a devastating loss. We have to accept that and move forward as a team. Players these last couple of days all have resolve to come back and finish it better. I like what I saw with the players, (who were) I think humbled. They know that they have to find a way to build that chemistry back that makes a team move in the right direction as one.

- On what the Lakers need moving forward: “It’s still a good team. It needs to build speed. It needs to have some speed and they get some easy baskets as a group. I think that’s the biggest key in basketball, you have to be able to find a way to score that’s not always in a set offense, not always in the half court offense.”

- Phil was not emotional. Perhaps his players were, but not him. He was doing just fine.

- On running the triangle offense, and if L.A. should sustain the system: “There are four or five players that really know how to work it pretty well. There were players that struggled with it … but there are always going to be players that aren’t into execution. But this is something that cost us in the end result, an inability to execute when we needed to.”

Phil on how he was able to do what he did as a coach: “I’ll sum it up (by saying) talent wins. When you have talent to coach, it makes all the difference in the world. I’ve coached some of the best talent that’s ever played the game. That’s a real fact of the matter. To be able to generate momentum so it wasn’t just one trick and it was over, has a lot to do with the staff that joined me. Tex Winter, Johnny Bach, Jim Cleamons, Jimmy Rodgers, Frank Hamblen, Brian Shaw, Kurt Rambis and Chuck Person … Bill Cartwright was there for a year, and Johnny Paxon in Chicago. So there was a combination of people that came into the staff that were dedicated to what we were doing, were interested in the execution. Tex Winter was a stalwart companion of mine as a coach for 15 years of these 20, so that was real good teamwork that we had together. It was a lot of fun, and players caught on and got with it. The strengths that I have are probably are about community, about groups, about the chemistry on a team.”

- Phil mentioned that the first time he interviewed for a head coaching job he didn’t know X’s and O’s as well as he should have, and didn’t get the gig. Figuring out how to make a last second play work wasn’t always his strength, and Jackson said that strategy elements weren’t what he was best at throughout his career.

- Phil on what he wants to do in retirement:
“Some of the musings that I have always had are adventures. I was a kid that liked to read Robinson Crusoe. The last time I had a year off I traveled to the South Pacific, but I realized on that trip I was not physically capable of that kind of adventure.” He’d like to get back to that type of thing if he’s physically capable. One thing he might like to do is travel the world east to west and north to south on a motorcycle, like he said Johnny Rogers did.

- On players putting pressure on themselves to win for him: “That’s the way I anticipated it to be. I thought they played with that on their shoulders a little bit this season, but I thought that was OK for them to do that, a good challenge. But I wanted it to be about themselves, to three-peat and go out with that kind of opportunity to finish like that would have been a special occasion.”

- Phil on what he’s learned from his players: “How to be patient and generous … they’re impetuous and impulsive kids, a lot of the times that we get here, and they’re awfully strong willed, and that’s what makes them good players. They’ve taught me a lot.”

- Jackson’s ability to build a relationship with Kobe in the second stint was rewarding to him, as was re-capturing his relationship with Derek Fisher, the two players serving as his captains. One of the reasons Jeanie Buss called him to return to the team in the first place was to build those bridges again, and create the strength of character in the organization.

- Phil doesn’t think he’ll particularly miss coaching so much after retiring, and is definitely not be interested in broadcasting.

- Jackson didn’t want to use the word “love” to describe how he felt about coaching, choosing rather to say that he was “challenged by it. Essentially, it is the next best thing to actually playing basketball for a competitor, and Jackson’s an extremely competitive person.

- Jackson was asked how he could be sure that he doesn’t want to coach again when, inevitably, another team calls him down the road: “Today I’m sure.” Then he almost slipped in: “What it’s going to be like in six months, who knows?” This was the first time he’d even hinted at something like that, but we can’t be sure if he was just suggesting he can’t predict the future, or actually wasn’t sure if he’d ever want to coach again.

- Phil said he’s always thought of himself as an outsider in the coaching community. In fact, he never wanted to be a coach in the first place, when first thinking about it as his coach Red Holtzman urged, wondering why he’d want to get involved with all the coaching “knuckleheads” he had around him. He wondered why he’d want to get himself involved in anything so difficult. Once actually looking for a job in the NBA after having successes in the CBA, Jackson didn’t really have a coaching tree to cling on to, instead just blazing his own path.

Lamar Odom: 2010-11 Exit Interview

Lamar Odom’s best season as a Laker had a tangible individual reward, as he garnered the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year trophy after playing all 82 games to average 14.4 points on 53 percent field goals, with 8.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists plus 38.2 percent from three-point range.

In the playoffs, Odom averaged 12.1 points on 45.9 percent, 6.5 boards and 2.1 assists, his numbers down as were almost all of his teammates in a rough stretch of 10 games.

Below is a summary of his exit interview:

- If you took a poll amongst the media that covers the Lakers about which player is the most enjoyable to interview, Odom would win in a landslide. His first comment, while sitting down, was “With how many of you’ll are hear, I’d have thought we won. What are you guys doin’?” with the usual twinkle in his eye and smile on his face, even though he was clearly down from the playoff drop out.

- Reflecting on his time with Phil Jackson: “Amazing. History. Being a part of his championship teams, watching him win championships with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaq and Kobe … to experience that as a basketball player is a dream come true.”

- On his meeting with GM Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson: Odom relayed his appreciation for the time and the run that this group had with Phil, and how now it’s time to gear up and try to start another one. Later, Kupchak would tell the media that Odom was the only player who he thought had a “great” individual year. That said, Odom was talking to Derek Fisher about individual success he may have felt this year on the plane ride back from Dallas, but after experiencing championships, Odom said “to hell with it” to individual accomplishments. “The one year I get noticed or I get accolades, get to work with my wife and have a reality show and a fragrance happen is the year that we come up short, that we lose.” Odom said it would be “silly” to associate his off court activity with his shooting the show. While shooting, L.A. won 16-of-17 games, and the show wasn’t shot in the playoffs. Furthermore, Odom said his teammates certainly didn’t have a reality show being filmed, implying that guys didn’t play poorly because of something like that.

- Count Odom amongst the several Lakers that said they definitely wanted to stay together as a unit. He knows that the team was expected to win again, and is disappointed that they didn’t, but confident that adjustments will bring them back. He added: “When you play on a high level, three four years in a row, all the teams are gearing up for you, and (this year) they got us. Some times you get beat, sometimes you lose. We lost.”

- Odom on where it went wrong: He certainly mentioned fatigue as a big factor, as most players did, but added this: “We never got to that consistency of playing defense at a high level, from the beginning of the season to the end. You’re going to miss shots, you’re going to be tired, but you always can play team defense, be one of the best defensive teams in the league. I didn’t think we did that throughout the year, making it hard enough on teams.” It wasn’t that the team wasn’t hungry, which he said he knew because of how much it hurt when the lost, but added this: “What happened was, we got cocky and we played cat and mouse with the rest of the league. We just couldn’t recover.”

- Odom on what type of coach the team needs: “Keep us bonded, push us. This should be an easy team to coach. You’ve got veterans who know how to play.” He said that “of course” Brian Shaw would be a good candidate, and Odom would like to stay with the triangle offense. When done right, it gets everyone involved and lets people use their advantages, which is how L.O. likes to play.

- What Odom will miss most about Phil: “His sarcasm. Our weird relationship … it was fun though. How he used to push me, how it was fun for me to try and prove him wrong. But I learned so much for him. He got me into reading, which helps me learn something new every day.” Odom was also one of the few to put it in perspective with Phil, suggesting that “I think Phil will be all right,” referring indirectly to his great coaching success and general demeanor.

- Odom detailed how he’s been trying to get his mind off the playoff loss by staying at home, then joked with reporters who misunderstood by saying: “I’ve got a back yard. I’m not hiding under my bed or anything like that. I got some sun, I just wanted to stay home.” He also said he looks forward to getting back to his original home in South Jamaica, Queens, getting his kids together, and “sit on a crate at the store.”

- Odom had lamented L.A.’s inability to call upon the chemistry that had been so good within the group wasn’t there against Dallas, but thinks the loss will make it easy to find again for next season.

- Two reasons Odom cited for having his best season this late in his career were: 1) learning from the players around him throughout the years like Kobe, Fisher and Gasol, which coupled with his natural growth around talent that’s always been there* and 2) the he family element off the court that made him just “feel support,” which we wrote about in a feature back in January. He specifically cited having his wife Khloe there at home, being able to talk to Bruce Jenner (Khloe’s step father and former champion decathlete) about winning, and having beautiful women cheering for him, which always makes him play better.
*Odom had a quick anecdote about when he’d go to the park in Queens as a six or seven year old, and people would say, “That kid can play!”

- Confidence never left Odom despite how the team was playing: “I thought we were going to win four championships in a row. After getting there against Boston and losing, then winning two in a row, I’d be lying to tell you (otherwise). We were down 3-0, I thought we were going to come back and win that series (against Dallas). Honestly. I thought it was meant to be. I think we can get there again, and really push the league, do the same thing we’ve done before.”

- Odom said he’d take two weeks off from hoops, then get back to work with his personal trainer. However, he said he’d probably do some boxing tonight, just so his legs won’t die on him.

Matt Barnes: 2010-11 Exit Interview

A solid start to the season by summer acquisition Matt Barnes was stalled in January when he tore meniscus in his right knee, which kept him out of 29 games and made it more difficult to find a late-season rhythm.

Barnes averaged 6.7 points on 47 percent field goals, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists in 19.2 minutes in his 53 regular season games, and in 13.1 postseason minutes per game averaged 3.6 points, 2.8 boards and 0.7 steals on 39.5 percent field goals.

- Barnes opened by talking about the disappointment of the season: “It’s a tough way to go out. For a team to win consecutive championships and it being Phil’s last year, a lot of things were at stake, and to be swept out of the playoffs was hard to swallow.”

- On hurting his knee in January having a hugely negative impact on his season: “That was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through. To finally have an opportunity to play for a championship organization with a legitimate chance to win a championship, and the season starting off so well, to tear my knee up and never really get back into the flow of the game… Once I returned, I just never really was comfortable, never really got back in the rotation, so to speak, so I’m still beating myself up about that. It was just really, really hard to swallow to know I had a chance but I was hurt.” Barnes said every part of his game was affected, because his game is about energy, and he wasn’t able to get up and down the floor effectively. He prides himself on running lanes, offensive rebounding, knocking down jumpers, and wasn’t really able to do so.

- The most difficult part of learning L.A.’s system for Barnes wasn’t so much the triangle offense, but learning all the counters that the players like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom instinctively do after years in the system. More time with the offense and those players would breed improvement, of course, as nothing can replicate time spent on the actual floor.

- Barnes made the point that you can’t really look at L.A.’s bench and compare it scoring wise to a Dallas bench that simply gets more minutes and is supposed to score (Jason Terry almost plays more minutes himself than Blake and Barnes together). The intention of their unit, with such skilled bigs and Kobe Bryant on the floor, is to change the rhythm and tempo of the game, and create things on the defensive end. The Mavs bench is a strict scoring bench, Barnes said, which “we saw in Game 4.”

- Barnes, who has a player option on his contract with L.A., said that he and his agent know what they’re going to do, though he said they’d keep to themselves. He did say this: “I want to win, and I still think this is the best team in the NBA.”

- Barnes was asked what it’s like not to live up to the championship expectations of the team and the city: “When you bust, it’s trouble. But it’s great to be in an organization where nothing but winning is accepted, that’s a great standard to live by on and off the court. To be here and to bust, you see the repercussions.” Barnes, who said he’s still mad, hurt and shocked, said he’s heard reports about breaking the team up, that they’re old, and the new guys need to get out and so on … but he said he realizes that goes with the territory when expectations are deservedly high.

- On next year, with his health back: “I know I’m going to bounce back strong. I just look at this as a missed opportunity, not that I would have made the difference, but I know would have helped.”

On what he saw from Kobe Bryant this season: “Just what makes him him, what makes him the best player in the game. His attention to detail, his hunger, his will to win. You can kind of see it as an opponent, but as a teammate, it’s second to none. I’ve played with a lot of great players, but he’s the one.”

- Finally, Barnes said he joked with Phil that he’s “like the (beer commercial) of the “Most Interesting Man in the World.’ His approach to things, the meditation, the trust he has in his players, the buttons he knows how to push to get the best out of each guy. And with a team like this with Hall of Famers, superstars, all-stars, there’s a lot of different egos and personalities, and I think he did a great job of juggling those and keeping us all on the same page.”

Kobe Bryant: 2010-11 Exit Interview

In his 15th season as a Laker, Kobe Bryant made another All-Star team and was elected to the All-Defensive First Team for the ninth time by NBA coaches, but will likely remember only the fact that he wasn’t able to win a sixth NBA title. Bryant played in all 82 regular season games for the third time in four years, rarely practicing to keep his legs for games and save some juice for the playoffs.

He averaged 25.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 1.2 steals in 33.9 minutes, the fewest he played since 1997-98, and shot 45.1 percent from the field and 32.3 percent from three. In 10 playoff games, Bryant averaged 22.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists with 1.6 steals on 44.6 percent from the field and 29.3 percent from three.

Below is a summary of his exit interview:

- Bryant identified fatigue as the biggest factor in L.A.’s fall: “It’s been a long run, a great run but a long run. I’m sure that had something to do with it. I think the biggest thing was the fatigue factor. Guys were tired. A lot of times when you get tired, you get burdened by things that you’re normally not burdened by. I love quoting Tex (Winter), who always used to say “Fatigue makes cowards of all men.” It’s definitely true.

- On Phil Jackson going out in such fashion: I’m very disappointed. I just had a chance to spend some time with him before coming down here, and it’s sad because of the way it ended. But still we gotta remember the good old times, last year and how that ended and the year before that even.” Bryant went on to discuss what he learned from Jackson, which includes just a general life philosophy that Bryant said he adopted and carries with him. Obviously, he affected Bryant a great deal in terms of basketball as well.

- Bryant discussed how different his first (1999-2004) and second stretches (2005-2011) were with Jackson: “The first time around I learned a lot from him … the second time around even more so, because he was more open around me. I trusted him more, and the first time around I really didn’t. The second time around, we could have conversations and they just stayed between us. We talked about a great deal of things, and because of that, I learned so much more. I understood the first time around that it was a different dynamic. He had to appease the big fella (Shaq). In doing that, a lot of times I was road kill. The second time around we didn’t have that issue, it was pretty easy for us to just stay with just the two of us.”

- Bryant does not think Phil Jackson will ever coach again.

- Bryant’s simple answer to what LAL need to do in the offseason: “Just refocus. Some guys will rest, some will train, some will get healthy. Re-focus, and come back next year with a good sense of purpose.”

- Kobe spent some time discussing his health, an ever-interesting topic: “I’m actually all right. My foot’s still a little swollen, but other than that I’m OK. This is a good summer for me to train and get strong.” Kobe said that he hasn’t really had that chance in the past two summers, with surgery last year and playing deep into June the season before, so he couldn’t strength train as he’d have liked. Much of this revolves around Kobe’s knee, which is why he didn’t practice much, trying to save himself more for games. But without being able to come into the season strong, and then not practicing, he just wasn’t able to reach his peak, physically. He could do everything, but not quite at the level he thinks he can when physically stronger. “There’s a difference between feeling healthy and feeling as strong as I know I can be … there’s another level I can get to.”

- Does Kobe think L.A. can win again next season? “I absolutely believe that.”

- One challenge for LAL to grasp onto is just trying to do it without Phil: “I think we have a challenge right in front of ourselves … you have a coach that’s different from Phil at the helm. That’s a challenge right there. And then the window closing theory, us being done, that kinda stuff. We can latch onto that pretty easily.”

- Kobe on what Brian Shaw could bring as a coaching candidate: “Familiarity. He communicates with all of us very well. You’re very clear about your role on the team.” Bryant said later that no matter who the coach is, the players will have to realize that things are going to be different, that they can’t lean on what Phil did.

- Kobe on what he’ll miss about Phil: “Just talking to him.” He cited all the long conversations he had with Jackson on the team plane, as Kobe sat right across the aisle. He also alluded to how they were able to get over the first stint, including Phil’s famously calling him “uncoachable.” Kobe said he doesn’t like to get, or give, apologies, and that they both just grew past it. He didn’t make it seem like it was all that difficult. Furthermore, Kobe said he will always talk to Phil, and will probably chat with him in a couple of weeks.

- On rumors of Kobe and Pau having personal issues: “It didn’t anger me so much as it made me laugh. People will angle for anything when we struggle. It was ridiculous.”

- An issue for L.A. all season was Kobe’s not practicing, as Bryant described: “I think it played a part in that fact that guys felt like they could take days off ’cause I’m not there. It’s like if your big brother’s not around, you feel like you can go around the house and (mess with) toys and stuff, because I’m not on the court with you. It’s upsetting to me. They knew going in what my knee situation was, and we communicated that with them. Me not being able to practice, and them having to pick up some of that responsibility in practice because of my knee. So, it’s upsetting, it’s disappointing to me, because I wasn’t able to be out there with them every day. But at the same time, you can’t use it as a crutch or an excuse because I wasn’t out there, (and not) work as hard as they should have.” The gist of what we heard from other players about Kobe not practicing was that it made it difficult to find a rhythm in games, for example, when they couldn’t fully run things in practice, as opposed to it being about a lack of hard work.

- Kobe believes that will change for next season, however. With a full offseason to get strong, as referred to in the health paragraph above, Kobe thinks he’ll be able to get on the practice floor more often.

- On changing his game in recent years, which he says means he won’t have to do much differently moving forward: “I’ve adjusted by being in the post a lot more, the mid post, the elbow area, which conserves a lot more energy. That adjustments already been made.”

Ebanks, Caracter & Johnson: 2010-11 Exit Interviews

Lakers second round picks Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, along with late-season acquisition Trey Johnson, went through their respective exit interviews on Tuesday afternoon.

Ebanks appeared in 20 games to average 3.1 points and 1.4 rebounds before hurting his foot in February; Caracter saw some early-season minutes with Andrew Bynum recovering from injury, averaging 5.2 minutes per game towards 2.0 points and 1.0 rebounds; Johnson joined the team prior to the final regular season game, playing 13 minutes to score six points against Sacramento.

Below is a summary of their exit interviews:

On the stress fracture of his left tibia: I actually have a couple more weeks left to keep rehabbing and resting it, and we’ll get another MRI and see where we’ll take it from there. Hopefully then I can start summer work outs and get ready.” Ebanks suffered a set back in his initial rehab, as he was originally supposed to be out about three weeks from March 4.

- Among the things GM Mitch Kupchak would like Ebanks to improve upon is his shooting, as if he were able to improve significantly from the perimeter, he’d have a better chance of playing at the 2 or 3 in the NBA. They’d also like him to get stronger, and particularly like his athletic ability.

- On what he learned from Phil Jackson: “Just mind preparation, the things you have to know on and off the court. It’s crazy. It’s much more in depth than college was. He just taught me about the game and how to play it.”

- Among several interesting stories on this Lakers team was that Ebanks happened to grow up just a few blocks away from both Ron Artest and Lamar Odom in Queens. “It was a good experience especially my first year looking up to those guys. They definitely looked out for me the whole year, and (hopefully) for years to come.”

- Ebanks pointed out how beneficial it was for him to speak with Kobe Bryant, especially early in the season, about offense and where he likes to score within the offense. On defense, he spent the most time talking to Ron Artest, whom Ebanks said looked out the most for him and Caracter during games.

Ebanks on being fellow rookies with Derrick Caracter on a veteran team: “It was great. Just being great teammates for our vets out there. We’re about to be sophomores next year, and ready to play.”

- What he got out of his meeting: “Basically that I just need to work, stay in shape, be ready. Just some fine tuning, being confident out there, being myself, playing my game. With the amount of weight that I lost, playing with this new body.” Caracter dropped between 30 and 40 pounds from college, getting down to about 280 pounds, and wants to continue to eat healthy, boost up his cardio, and perhaps start some boxing and ballet to work on his flexibility. He said he wished he could have made a bigger impact.

- What he took out of his rookie season: “Just knowing what it takes to come in day in and day out and work hard, be able to perform at the same time … There’s a lot of things I felt I could have done a lot better. Just being prepared earlier in the season when I had those early opportunities, but that’s just something I have to get better at, locking in mentally and being able to perform like I know I can.” Among the things he’d like to do better: finish strong at the rim.

- On learning from Phil Jackson: “Just what it takes to be a champion, really. Everything he does, gets the team ready, is just one of a kind. I’ve never seen it, and the way he does it is amazing. A lot of things that we may think or want to say, sometimes he just says it. It benefits most of the guys on the team, and allows a player to develop.”

- Finally, Caracter said he expects to have to earn his way back onto the team by showing he’s improved his body and his game; he beat Ebanks more often in 1-on-1 contests; and he cited Derek Fisher’s in-game leadership and Lamar Odom’s key role in keeping the players loose.

- Reflecting on the sudden end to the season: The experience for me personally was definitely a blessing and well worth it, but of course you would have liked to end on a higher note. To start here in the preseason and come back, it was bittersweet the way it ended.

- Johnson said Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson said they were appreciative of what he brought to the team this year when called upon late, but was given no indication of whether he’ll have a chance to make the team for next season. Nonetheless, he felt that for the two-time defending champs to say “We can use him” legitimized Johnson to other teams. He’s looking for a commitment to be a full member of a team, as has been his dream and goal.

- On what he learned basketball wise: “Oh a lot. The preparation level is tremendous, especially dealing with Phil. I really, really enjoyed the way he prepares, not just himself but the entire staff and the players for a game. That’s something I’ll probably take with me for the rest of my playing career, and my coaching career. I’d love to get into coaching after basketball, and I like the approach to the game.” Johnson would love to play for another 10 years if he can, before getting into coaching.

- Perhaps the biggest thing Johnson wants to work on is to become a more consistent three-point shooter.

- The highlight of Johnson’s time with the Lakers was having his family drive over to both New Orleans and Dallas from their home in Jackson, MS, in the playoffs to see him in person. “My family got a chance to share this with me, and I think that was great for them. It really brought us together in a sense, of being able to enjoy something that I’ve always dreamed of, so I think that’s probably what I remember the most.”

Joe Smith: 2010-11 Exit Interviews

The No. 1 overall pick in 1995, Joe Smith’s just about seen it all in the NBA, having played on so many teams that the Lakers were actually his 12th. He appeared in 12 games for the Lakers via a trade with New Jersey, and scoring a total of six points with 18 rebounds, and played just over 10 total minutes in the playoffs.

He was hoping for the chance at his first NBA title, but in his exit interview said he really valued his time in Los Angeles:

- Summing up his exit interview with GM Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson: Pretty much just what went wrong down the stretch, nothing too much in particular. Just my thoughts about what happened down the stretch, and any issues I thought needed to be addressed going forward.

- Smith tried to put his finger on what happened to L.A. in the playoffs: “When you have a team that’s won back-to-back championships with so much talent and veteran leadership, it’s kinda tough to put a finger on what happened. This team has been through a lot of wars together as a group, and with the nucleus that they have, you kinda almost feel that you’re invincible when you step out there on the floor. I don’t know if you we got a little too overconfident or not with that situation, but it’s just a tough pill to swallow to be sitting at home right now. You figure that no matter what situations they face on the floor, they’d figure out a way to get things going in their direction again. From the outside looking in, that was always my thought even when the situations weren’t in my favor. I always figured we have enough talent, we have the coaches, we have the ability to get out of this funk and over this hump and get things going in our favor again.”

On Phil Jackson: “He’s an incredible coach. A lot of people look at the rings, and from the outside looking in, think he had to do it with a lot of talent, but just being here a long … I’ve learned a lot from him in this short time. I’ve learned a whole different basketball terminology from him, and it’s been a pleasure for me to play for him.

On what stands out about Jackson: He still teaches the fundamentals about the game of basketball, and that’s something you kind of get away from if you don’t practice it. One of the practices (after) I got here we were doing chest passes, over head passes, things like that. He teaches you different pivots to get you out of danger, just small things like that that you kind of forget about it you don’t practice it.

- On Andrew Bynum, from a guy who’s played with and against the league’s best centers for years: “23? That’s incredible. The size that he has, the ability that he has at the age of 23 … the sky is the limit for him. I’ve seen him go against some of the top centers in the league and pretty much dominate. Like I said, the age of 23 with still a lot to learn about the game, a lot to learn about his position and he’s willing to put the work in. He definitely has the potential to be the best center in this league one day.

- Smith said he’s definitely going to try and still play in the league: “I’m going to keep the wheels rolling. I feel pretty good. I take care of my body, and it held up all season long for me. I still love to play the game, still enjoy being in the locker room, the bus rides, the plane trips. If I’m fortunate enough to get back on a team next year, I’m gonna keep rolling. They’re going to have to drag me out of here.”

Pau Gasol: 2010-11 Exit Interview

Pau Gasol made his third consecutive All-Star team behind averages of 18.8 points, 10.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.6 blocks on 52.9 percent shooting from the field. In 10 playoff games, however, the Spaniard struggled for the first extended stretch of his time with the Lakers. He averaged 13.1 points, 7.8 boards, 3.8 assists and 1.7 blocks on 42.0 percent field goals.

Below is a summary of Gasol’s exit interview:

- Summing up his feelings: “The thing that makes me the angriest is me not playing at my best, & not (fully) helping my team accomplish its goals. I’m not happy, I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to perform at my usual high level, but obviously I’m not playing alone. It’s time to analyze, to sit back and see what actually happened out there, not just through this last stretch but throughout the year. I think we have to really look deep into how we started, the ups and downs, the meaning of them and what we could have done better individually and as a team to be able to get stronger at certain times when we needed to. It’s unfortunate the way we ended it up; anything short of winning the championship would have been very tough.”

- On the playoff struggles of the team: “It started in the Hornets series, the way we played, our ups and downs there. Then with Dallas in Game 1, by letting that game get away from us, that lead that we had and the position we put ourselves into. That was pretty significant. Every game was kind of a different story until the point that Dallas got so extra confident that they were able to finish us off.”

- On his exit interview conversations with GM Mitch Kupchak and Phil Jackson: “Point of emphasis was to try and understand and also embrace this moment, you know? Through the rough times, you appreciate more the good times you might of had and how hard it is to get there. (I’m excited) to start off next season fresh and be full of hunger again.”

- Gasol said that reports about his personal life, including his relationship with his girlfriend, were “absolutely false,” and were upsetting to him and those around him.

- The Spaniard understood that expectations of his game were rightfully high, and when he didn’t meet those standards, criticism was sure to come. It’s part of the deal, he relayed, and is his responsibility to deal with individually. Any outside criticism wasn’t going to hurt as much as his own feelings about his game, which he said he’d channel into motivation for the next season.

- Gasol on Phil Jackson retiring: “That’s a very emotional side of this whole picture, because Phil is such a special coach and such a special person, to me dearly. It hurts me that it had to end this way for him. Obviously it just happened that way, and I wish it could have ended a lot differently. It’s tough. It’s been stunning for most of us.”

- Gasol called the season “very emotional,” which ended up taking its toll in the end. He pointed to the number of losing streaks in the regular season as warning signs, as even three-game streaks never used to happen prior to the 2009-10 season. That was alarming to him, and made him question what was really going on, particularly with some of the road losses. He thought some teams had lost fear and respect in relation to the Lakers.

- On responding after losing in the 2008 Finals: “I just kept that feeling of frustration and a certain anger inside of me all next season long. It helped me just push through things and get myself working even harder, and being 100 percent devoted and tuned into what I needed to do to (help) this team win a championship.” He thinks that’s what will carry him through next season as well.

– Gasol said he’s leaning towards playing for the Spanish National Team this summer, in hopes of aiding its qualifying for the 2012 Olympics in London. That L.A. Lost this early increases the likelihood that he’ll be play, and still have his legs ready to go for the next NBA season.

- And in conclusion: “We seemed like we barely knew each other at the last game. It’s just another sign of how hard of a moment that it was, but it’s an experience that we all should learn from … I think this will help us be stronger, appreciate things more, understand things better as a team.”

Derek Fisher: 2010-11 Exit Interview

As has been the case in recent years, Derek Fisher’s numbers went up as his playing time increased in the postseason, his 10 games bringing averages of 8.2 points on 42.7 percent shooting, 41.2 percent from three, with 3.6 assists, 2.7 boards and 1.4 steals in 32.5 minutes. In starting all 82 regular season games for the sixth consecutive season, Fisher averaged 28 minutes to score 6.8 points with 2.7 assists, 1.9 boards and 1.2 steals while shooting 38.9 percent and 39.6 percent from three to lead the team.

Below is a summary of his exit interview:

- Intro: “My thoughts are plenty, most of them not good. I just really never imagined being in this situation, speaking to you guys under these circumstances. It definitely hurts. This one will be with us a while.” While other losses hurt, like 2008 in the Finals, Fisher said it particularly hurts to go out this early with such a talented team that believed it would win it all again. He’s hoping that it ultimately becomes a positive with everyone really being forced to look into the mirror.

- On if the team’s capable of getting back to the Finals: Yes. I’d take the same exact group of guys and line them up, lace them up again. We’d get the job done, that’s what I believe can and will happen. It’s no disrespect to Dallas or any of the other teams still (playing), but with the same group of guys — obviously our coach would be different — there are some things that we can do as players to be better.

- On where it went wrong: “This wasn’t an overnight thing. It happened over time. To try and sum it up, some of it is a part of making the run that we’ve made for the last three or four seasons, playing 400-plus basketball games in four years, and just how difficult that task alone is to try and bring the focus, the energy, the effort, the concentration and the intensity to all those games in such a short period of time. In a sense, we were set up to have a fall at some point, but I don’t think anybody imagined or envisions us falling in this way. It was a tough year from the beginning, starting in Europe for training camp. Without making any excuses, I think Phil touched on it even then. It was very difficult to have a training camp, to lay down the foundation that it takes to be a championship team, (especially) with so many new guys (on the bench).”

- And a key quote that hints at how L.A. may have faltered: “I don’t think we were really able to build and grow as a team.There was a point where we just weren’t getting better, we were just the same, and you have to get better in this league.”

- On finishing on this sour note with Phil Jackson: “That probably bothers guys more than anything. That probably hurts more than our own individual circumstances. He deserved to go out much better than this.”

- Fisher was asked if he considered retirement at all, and was very quick to say no: “There’s not a question about whether I’m coming back or not. There isn’t anything tangible that I measure my success by that tells me that today is the day I’m not supposed to be playing basketball. I’m not even close to that. Every bit of me is excited and looking forward to the future. Great things are born out of defeat, adversity and struggle.”

- Fisher’s fully behind assistant coach Brian Shaw, while acknowledging that it’s Mitch Kupchak and Dr. Buss’s decision about whom to hire as the next coach: “I support Brian 100 percent.”

Fisher on what he will remember most about his time with Phil Jackson: In a very, very short version, that basketball is only a metaphor for life. As bad as this hurts, and as much as we like to talk about the game and the stories and the articles and all the attention that goes to NBA basketball and the Lakers, at the end of the day this is a very, very small part of real life. That’s what I’ll take from my relationship with him more than anything, is keeping those things in perspective and being able to emotionally balance the things that come with this job, but realizing that it is a job. At the end of the day, it’s the health, safety and security of your loved ones and your friends, the people that you care about that really mean the most. The money, the contracts, the championships, it’ll eventually run out, get dusty, rusty, dry up and go away, but the memories that you have with close friends and family and teammates … those don’t ever go away.”

- Fisher was very forceful with his words defending Pau Gasol, whom he said took way, way too much blame and criticism: “If anything, I regret the fact that I wasn’t able to fully understand it and speak up sooner on his behalf, to say that I think it was ridiculously wrong to assume some of the things that were being assumed and place the burden of how successful we were or were not on his shoulders. That just wasn’t the case. Sometimes it’s comical the idea of how statistics determine whether a guy is really doing his job or not, and I think it was quite unfair for Pau’s statistical output compared to last year or some other time to be stacked up to this year and now, and then say that somehow we didn’t win because he didn’t play well statistically. If you asked the other teams we played against this year, he was there. He was still Pau Gasol. But he, like all of us, just as a team weren’t able to operate as efficiently at that max level the way we’ve become accustomed to.” In short, Fisher wishes he could have done something to make it better for Gasol from a mental/support standpoint, so that all of it could have “just shut up.” Had the Lakers kept winning, Fisher continued, no one would have been blaming someone statistically, citing as an example that Jason Kidd’s shooting percentage from Round 2 won’t be remembered.

- Fisher said it was very much in Andrew Bynum’s character to apologize for his flagrant foul in Game 4 against Dallas: “Andrew is a bright, smart, very intelligent man, and that particular play doesn’t symbolize who he is on whole. He just had that moment of frustration and anger and weakness that got the best of him. We’ve all been in that situation in life sometimes, where you make a decision and it’s too late to take it back, but Andrew’s a guy of high character, and he’ll be OK.” Fisher’s hopeful that he can just let it go now, having apologized, with knowledge that J.J. Barea didn’t suffer any injuries.

- Fisher concluded with a line about Phil Jackson:
“The biggest void regardless of who is coaching next year, what players are back, the biggest void of all will be Phil Jackson not sitting in the high chair. It’s that simple.”

Luke Walton: 2010-11 Exit Interview

Luke Walton appeared in 54 games for the Lakers, averaging 9.0 minutes in such contests for 1.7 points, 1.3 boards and 1.1 assists. He played only four total minutes in the postseason.

Below is a summary of his exit interview:

- On what was a tough season for him individually due mostly to being out of the rotation: “It was very hard. I worked extremely hard this summer to get my back to a level that I could compete and play and help this team, and obviously getting hurt in training camp didn’t help, but I still felt like once I was healthy again and coach knowing what I could do, I’d be able to contribute a lot more than he let me. But he told me that his game plan was to have the second unit play at a much faster speed than the first unit. I’m more of a let’s bring it up, run the offense and execute, and it kinda left me out of the rotation a little bit, which hurt a lot. But the team was winning, so as long as the team was winning, that’s all that really matters … So with the sudden loss in the playoffs, now it looks even a little worse.”

- On Phil Jackson going out the way he did: “That sucks. He’s a great coach, a great man. I’ve learned so much from him over my eight years as far as basketball, but then just growing as a person and a man and the way I live my life just from watching him and talking to him. Seeing all his kids at the game and knowing it was his last run is tough to not send a guy like that out on top.”

- More on talking with Jackson: “I talked with coach for a while, I felt like I had to get some stuff off my chest that had been bothering me, but all in a very respectful way. I told him he means the world to me.” The gist of Jackson’s response to Walton’s wish that he could have helped the team on the court is that Jackson wanted the second unit to be able to run, to get up and down the floor, not Walton’s skill set. That was very hard for Walton, but he wanted to get everything off his chest because of his respect level for Jackson, and for the sake of their relationship moving forward. Jackson told Walton that he was proud of him for working so hard to rehabilitate his back.

- On thinking assistant Brian Shaw should be the coach next season: “If we keep the triangle, I don’t see where we’d go other than Coach Shaw. No one else knows it but this staff. I think it kind of depends on that.”

Walton later described why he thinks Shaw would make a good head coach: “He’s hungry, he’s young, he knows this team. He’s going to be a head coach somewhere, I’m pretty sure of that, and I just think he has a unique ability to relate to players. He’s almost a new style coach, where he likes to mix it up with the players. He’s out there playing 1-on-1 and shooting with us and talking trash. It’s a different style, but it works. He knows how to challenge you, and loves the idea of a challenge. He uses that as a mental game to keep everything intense and sharp.” Walton shared that Jackson used to yell at Shaw as such: ‘You’re a coach. You’re not that friend.’ But, said Walton, “Brian has a unique way of being your friend, but at the same time challenging you all the time to improve and get better and win.”

- On being confident about the team coming back strong if it stays in tact for next season: “I know if you bring back this same team with the pain that we have right now that we haven’t felt in a few years, the hunger that we’re going to have to get back on top, we’re going to be a lot better next season than we were this season. There’s no reason to break us up. We’ve been to the Finals three years in a row before this year. Do we feel we should have been there? Absolutely. Did we underachieve this year? One-hundred percent. I think there’s no reason that whoever comes out of the West this year is going to be better than us next year with this same team. The first thing that came to me when I heard Magic (Johnson) talking about blowing up the team. They won in ’85, lost in the Western Conference in ’86, and then kicked butt again in ’87 and ’88 and won more titles. So, I don’t really see how it’s any different from that, other than we’ve been there three straight years right now. We had a bad year, we’re all upset about it, it’s a deep hole right now. Unfortunately it’s going to be a long summer of dealing with that, but I don’t see any reason why this team can’t come back next year and win another championship.”

- One health bit: Walton’s back really, really bothered him throughout 2009-10, but it felt much better throughout this past season, an item he feels good about.

- Walton broke down what may have gone wrong with the offense and defense in detail, as you can see: “As much as the defense we were trying this year was a lot of positives about it, I don’t think this team was ready for all that adjustment. I think we were just too inconsistent on the defensive end, teams were getting too many open shots. I think our execution of the triangle was not at the same level its been over the past few years, as far as picking teams apart. It was basic this year, a lot of simple aspects of the offense, not the second and third and counter options that make it so hard to guard especially in a playoffs series, when everyone else runs sets and we know what sets they’re running, where they’re going to go. With us, no matter what you do defensively, there’s always a counter to counter that. We never got into that too much this year. I think with just being a little more sharp offensively, and if we do keep the same defense, having that much more time starting it in training camp. It was a complex defense, and it took all five people (being) on the same page. I think just being more aware of that and offensively (paying) more attention to the details .. there’s no reason this team can’t win another championship if not two.”

- Another potential problem for L.A., according to Walton: Thinking that they were the best, that they’d win again, and not being quite as willing to really get in and sacrifice. It was easier to just give the ball to Kobe, Gasol and Bynum and let them score because “they’re the best out there and no one can stop them” instead of really running the offense the right way, which makes L.A. “nearly impossible to stop.” That frustrated him because that’s what he loves about basketball and the triangle, how “you can just pick other teams apart and make them look helpless out there,” which L.A. “didn’t do that down the stretch this year.” He also said it was simply difficult for L.A. to practice without a lot of bodies, with various players getting treatment or ice on their knees regularly. “We didn’t have the bodies to go as hard as we usually go.”

- Walton does not expect the offseason to be dull in the least, with potential player movement, a new coach, the potential circumstances with the league and so on. He has no idea what he’s going to do, as he never makes plans until July, always expecting to be in the Finals.