Monthly Archive for June, 2011

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Mike Brown on “Lopez Tonight”

As a guest on “Lopez Tonight” with George Lopez, Mike Brown seemed to be having quite a bit of fun.

From his excitement to coaching “angry men,” his phone conversation with Kobe Bryant and his eldest son’s crush on the Kardashian girls, Brown touched on things all across the spectrum. Here’s a quick summary:

On taking over a team with high expectations:
Brown: It’s better. I’m excited about taking this team over because these guys are used to be playing right now. They’re not, so they’re sitting at home trying to avoid the TV. They’re angry men right now. I’d rather have a group of angry men that have a point to prove not only to themselves, but to all these lovely fans in L.A., that hey, we ended our season too early.

On his defensive philosophy, and specific players as assets:
Brown: Sometimes that ball isn’t going to go in the hole, so you gotta get it done on the defensive end of the floor. You gotta bring that effort. There’s a nice foundation in the defensive end of the floor. You have to two big seven footers, you have the versatility of Lamar Odom, you got the mean toughness in big Ron Ron, and then you have the sleekness in my man Kobe Bryant.

On his conversation with Kobe Bryant:
Brown: I texted him and said ‘Kobe, it’s Coach Brown, are you available?’ He hit me back, he was at his daughter’s recital, I said ‘Don’t drop the camcorder, I’ll call you later.’ So I ended up calling him a little later when he got back. We had a great talk. I had a chance to speak with his lovely life Vanessa. She’s from down in the area where my boys are probably going to go to school, and a young lady that we’re taking guardianship over, so she gave me the low down, the scoop of all the schools down there and the places to live and all that other stuff.

On L.A.’s success:
Brown: You gotta give credit to Dr. Buss, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak. They have a sustained level of success that not many teams have not just in basketball, but in all of sports. The Lakers have been (there) year after year after year. You see it and you feel it when you walk into their facilities and you see the championship banners and trophies. They’ve been successful time after time after time with very little downfall.

On his children:
Brown: We have two boys, and there’s a young lady whom we’re taking guardianship over. She’s 17… My oldest boy is Elijah, he’s 16 and going to be a junior. My youngest boy is Cameron, he’s 14 and going to be a freshman next year.

On his son’s Kardashian crush:
Brown: My oldest boy is excited to see Kobe, the Black Mamba and all that, hardest worker … and he said, ‘Dad, I can’t wait to meet Lamar … that’s my man, and that’s my way to the Kardashian sisters.’ I said, Elijah, I don’t know all the sister’s names, but Khloe’s taken, obviously. (Kourtney) is taken. I said, ‘you’re two million dollars short of taking Kim,’ and I said, ‘Who’s left?’ He said, ‘They’ve got some younger sisters.’ I have to apologize to (their father) Bruce (Jenner). My kid’s a good kid, and I’ll make sure he won’t act up.

L.A., Naturally, Likes Its Size

After the Lakers lost Game 3 of the Western Semi’s to Dallas, Magic Johnson suggested during ESPN’s studio show that L.A. should “blow up” the team heading into the future.

But Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, who has stated that the Lakers do not want to break up the roster, thinks Johnson’s comments were intended to be more inspirational than literal.

“Unfortunately, a well-known commentator made some comments before our fourth game in Dallas about breaking up the team,” Kupchak said. “I think that’s what fueled speculation that this team should be broken up. I think that commentator was trying to inspire our players, but a lot of the fans didn’t see it that way.”

Johnson alluded in particular to L.A. deciding between one of its two seven-footers (Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum) and trading the other, but Kupchak is well aware of the major advantage the Lakers have with the combination of length and skill between Gasol, Bynum and Lamar Odom.

“Talented big players are always at a premium,” Kupchak continued. “You can go through college rosters, and go to the Portsmouth venue, which showcases the 64 best college seniors in the country each year, and rarely do you see a player 6-10 or above there. Everybody’s between 5-11 and 6-8. The big players are just hard to come by.”

In other words, L.A.’s not outwardly looking for a trade, particularly involving its bigs. In fact, with Kupchak and his staff spending much of their time in recent weeks focusing on college and European players in advance of June 23rd’s NBA Draft, the lack of quality big men has been quite obvious.

“There are not a lot of really talented big players in the draft,” he explained. “Some of the players from Europe may be higher picks than people think. That’s not unusual, big guys are always hard to come by, I just thought there was a lot less size than usual.”

That said, is there any less of a need for quality post players with the rules and development of the game in recent years changing to a degree? With perimeter players benefiting from rules preventing hand checking and holding on the perimeter, with eight seconds to get the ball past half court in an attempt to speed the game up?

In a word… no.

In more (of Kupchak’s) words… “I don’t think it diminishes the need for big players that are talented at all. I think given the opportunity, all 30 NBA coaches would prefer big skilled players to small skilled players.”

Big, skilled players like those on the Lakers’ roster.

“We really like the core group and they’re likely to stay together,” Kupchak concluded. “We think it’s still a team that can contend for a championship, and it’s unlikely that we’ll look to break up this team during the offseason.”

Lakers Roster Update

What will the Lakers’ roster look like for new coach Mike Brown next season, you wonder?

Well, as of June 6, only eight spots are locked in, barring any unforeseen trades.

Wearing Purple and Gold (8):
- Kobe Bryant
- Pau Gasol
- Andrew Bynum
- Lamar Odom
- Ron Artest
- Derek Fisher
- Luke Walton
- Steve Blake
Details: All eight players, including the starting lineup and Sixth Man of the Year Odom, are on guaranteed contracts at least through the 2011-12 season.

The rest of the roster, however, is yet to be officially determined.

Player Options on 2011-12 contract (2):
- Matt Barnes
- Shannon Brown
Details: Last Tuesday, Barnes said he’s definitely going to pick up the option on his contract and stay in L.A. GM Mitch Kupchak told us on Thursday that he’s “been led to believe” that Barnes will do so, but that teams “don’t know in this business until it’s done.” Barnes has until the end of June to sign his contract. Brown has yet to reveal his plans regarding his option, which Kupchak said could affect how the Lakers approach the draft, in terms of trying to secure more guard help in the case that Brown leaves.

Non-Guaranteed Contracts (2):
- Devin Ebanks
- Derrick Caracter
Details: Both 2010 second round picks are on non-guaranteed contracts (there are no NBA parameters for second round picks, so each deal is worked out individually with the team), meaning neither player is ensured a roster spot unless they’ve not been released before all contracts become guaranteed in January. But it sounds like they’ll have a good chance: “You probably want to bring (Ebanks and Caracter) to training camp and take a good look at them,” said Kupchak. “They’re both good players, so they’d probably survive camp.”

Contract Expiring (2):
- Joe Smith
- Trey Johnson
Details: Both players were signed late in the season and guaranteed through the playoffs to shore up the roster, but their respective contracts did not go further. Kupchak said he believes that Smith wants to play at least another year, but that it’s “not a decision we’ll make now.” Johnson did spend the 2010 training camp with the Lakers.

Likely Retiring (1):
- Theo Ratliff
Details: Ratliff was not present at the team’s exit interviews and accordingly did not speak to reporters, but Kupchak said he expects Ratliff — who was on a one-year deal — to retire.

In conclusion, if both Barnes and Brown pick up their options, the Lakers will have five available roster spots, with Ebanks and Caracter getting a head start towards claiming two of the positions on potential second round picks from this season. Kupchak and his staff currently have four second round selections, with which they could do multiple things: keep all four picks and select players to compete for roster spots; take a European prospect or two and keep him in Europe; trade one or more of the picks; fill slots through free agency.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens during the June 23 draft.

Kupchak on Draft Camps

In June 23rd’s NBA Draft, the Lakers are currently slotted for four second round picks, but none in the first round.

As general manager Mitch Kupchak explained, that doesn’t mean he and his staff won’t have a good read on every player eligible.

“You have to know every player, you have to have an opinion on every player, and you have to know the likelihood that you’ll make a deal,” he said. “But the likelihood is that you’re going to end up drafting where you have your picks today, so that’s where we spend most of your time.”

Kupchak has been spending much of that time in recent weeks at various pre draft camps around the country, from Chicago to New Jersey to Minnesota, getting an updated look at players they’ve been tracking, in some cases, for years. The biggest of those camps occurred in Chicago in late May.

“In Chicago there were groupings of players, maybe eight in a group, so it’s not that hard to track eight players for 45 minutes for two days in a row,” he said. “Maybe you know a player or two pretty well, so you focus on the others in the group, and you may pay more attention to guys you think may be in the second round. It’s very little contact, a lot of skill work, some running, a lot of shooting and physical testing, including running, jumping, quickness and things like that. Unfortunately they don’t play actual games as they used to.”

As such, draft camps are often more supplementary than primary for evaluation of players, since the lack of playing competitive games takes out a major area for evaluators to judge. Other than players still playing in Europe, most potential draftees will not play competitively before June 23, but Kupchak and his still will continue to work right through the draft. Assistant GM Ronnie Lester is due to travel to Treviso, Italy, to look at several European prospects, while the Lakers will bring in several players for workouts at the team’s practice facility.

Final prep will come in the team’s war room, as each of Kupchak’s scouts and assistants will gather the Friday before the draft to get all of the draft ducks in order. And during the actual draft, having the four second picks doesn’t mean there will automatically be four new rookies on the team next season.

“It’s unlikely you’ll draft four players in the second round that are good enough, first and foremost,” said Kupchak. “Second of all, it’s unlikely you’ll draft four picks thinking that they would make your team. You may want to take a pick or two in Europe and let them develop.

“At that point in the second round, if somebody drops that you didn’t think would drop you probably just take him regardless of position.”

In conclusion, Kupchak mentioned that the team could potentially be in need of additional guards in part because they’re unsure if Shannon Brown will pick up the option year of his contract, and in part due to the age of starters Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher.

Brown Has Autonomy in Assistant Search

On Thursday afternoon, Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak met with the team’s new selection for head coach, Mike Brown, to discuss Brown’s plans for his coaching staff.

As Kupchak explained to us just before the meeting, the GM’s role in the process differs depending on the experience level of the coach.

“If it were a rookie coach, you’d sit down and spend more time, give him some guidance,” he said. “With a very veteran coach, you probably don’t get involved at all. Mike is somewhere in between, so at the end of the day, I’m going to defer to Mike.”

With an open dialogue between himself and Kupchak, Brown’s support staff will be completed sooner than later.

“He’s earned the right to put together his own staff,” Kupchak continued. “I’d like to know what he’s thinking, why he’s thinking that way, look at options and talk to him about it. He’s been around now for quite some time, and had great success as a head coach for five years, so you defer to a coach like that. He knows what he’s doing.”

During Brown’s introductory press conference, he more than once expressed eagerness to work with Kupchak, for whom he said he’s long had a great deal of respect. But Brown’s focus during his interview with Kupchak and ownership was not so much about Mike Brown as it was Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Co.

“He had very well thought out, pretty convincing ideas before he came and met with us about how to use our players and increase their effectiveness,” said Kupchak. “He wasn’t trying to sell us on him, he was trying to sell us on his vision for the team, defensively and offensively, versus trying to just say, ‘Hey, I’m your guy.’ He had strong feelings about how to use our personnel.”

Kupchak believes Brown will take equal care while assembling his assistants … thus the autonomy.

Gasol to Play for Spain in Eurobasket 11

Pau Gasol

Lakers All-Star Pau Gasol announced on his @PauGasol Twitter handle that he “will play the European Championship with my National Team.”

Eurobasket 2011, set to take place in Lithuania from August 31 to September 18, will offer automatic berths to the 2012 Olympics to the first and second place finishers.

Gasol opted to skip last year’s FIBA World Championships, won by Lamar Odom and Team USA, in order to rest up for the 2010-11 NBA season, but said during his exit interview following the season that he was leaning towards playing for Spain, particularly with an Olympic bid on the line.

Gasol led Spain to the 2009 Eurobasket title, and was named tournament MVP for his efforts.

Shaq’s Jersey Headed for Rafters

Having one’s jersey retired as a Laker is a particularly significant honor, as the franchise has traditionally reserved the accolade for players elected into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame:

While the team does not follow any specific policy regarding decisions for jersey retirement, team spokesman John Black did acknowledge that the Lakers will at some point retire the jersey of Shaquille O’Neal, who is a no-brainer first-ballot Hall selection when he becomes eligible after the five-year waiting period. The three-time Finals MVP as a Laker (2000-02) announced his retirement from the game on Wednesday, 6/1/11, after a remarkable 19-year career.

Here’s the elite list that Shaq, not to mention Kobe Bryant, will one day join:

44 – Jerry West
13 – Wilt Chamberlain
22 – Elgin Baylor
25 – Gail Goodrich
32 – Magic Johnson
33 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
42 – James Worthy

If another former Laker (Jamaal Wilkes, for example) is one day elected to the Hall, the team would very likely considering retiring his jersey as well.

Mitch Kupchak on Coaching Decision

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak took questions after Mike Brown’s press conference on Tuesday afternoon. Below is a transcription of what Kupchak had to say, including his statement to introduce Brown:

Opening Statement:
Kupchak: I’d like to address the time line about the hiring of our coach. Unfortunately, in the last week or two there were a lot of inaccuracies reported about the process, so I think it’s important that I share with you exactly what took place. Our season ended on a Sunday, and that week, ownership — Jim Buss, Dr. Jerry Buss — and I decided to take a week and let things settle down a bit. Unfortunately, we were behind a little bit on the coaching search. Our season ended three weeks later than a lot of the other teams, and a lot of (those) teams had coaching vacancies. The interview process for those teams had already begun. After a week, we decided to get the process moving. During that week, I received a lot of phone calls. Our coach had announced a year ago that this would be his last year, so my phone, despite the fact our season ended on a Sunday, my phone was ringing off the hook for a week. I compiled a list of names, I interviewed several was of those people informally, and a week later, ownership (and I) sat down and decided to interview three people. Obviously, one of them was Mike Brown, the other was Brian Shaw and the third one we have not announced but I think you know who it is. Each interview with ownership lasted two to three hours, and they were done in great detail. At the end of that process, we felt no reason to delay with our announcement, and we selected Mike Brown as our coach for this team going forward. The decision was based partly on the interview, which we felt went very, very well. It was also made on (Brown’s) body of work as a coach, five years as a head coach of a high profile team with great success in Cleveland, Coach of the Year voted on by members of the media, and certainly his pedigree as a basketball coach. Being a player, working from the bottom up with coaches like Gregg Popovich, Rick Carlisle, Bernie Bickerstaff, coaches that are very well respected in this league. What I’d like to do at this time is announce and introduce the new coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mike Brown.

Q: On if he was surprised by some of the initial reaction to Brown’s hiring:
Kupchak: Nothing really surprises me. When there was a lot of media attention that didn’t look positive, I was getting messages from coaches in the NBA telling me that we had a great hire. Not that I don’t respect the opinion of the media, but a lot of times, the media is driven by other variables. For example, my office, in the morning when I come in after a series ends, my light’s on on my phone and I’ve got a bunch of mail on my desk, and it’s all negative. People that are positive don’t take the time to write a letter saying how happy they are, or call and leave a message on the phone saying how happy they are. Negative sells, to some degree. It’s also hard to follow in the footsteps of somebody like Phil Jackson. I know that myself. Our season did not end on a positive note. We lost a Hall of Famer for a coach and we bring in a coach that people on the West (coast) aren’t as familiar with as people on the East (Coast) are, so there’s gonna be some criticism. So I’m never really completely surprised. We were very aggressive with how we handled informal and formal interviews. Once we felt comfortable with a person, we moved quickly.

Q: On the timetable of Brown being hired:
Kupchak: I think everybody seems to be forgetting that we’ve been looking for a coach since last summer. It’s not like Phil Jackson decided to leave four weeks ago, and all of a sudden we had to hire a coach. From time to time during the season, I met with ownership and talked about what kind of a coach we looked to replace Phil with. Although at the very end we always hoped that we won another championship and we could talk him back into returning, it was clear to me that he was not returning. You could say the process began a year ago, and if you look at it that way, it wasn’t a very short process at all. The other thing that I mentioned is we were behind a little bit. Teams that the playoffs ended three weeks before ours, they had begun the process. We knew who we wanted to interview. We had great interest. We knew we’d have no problem finding a good coach, and when we interviewed the candidates, we were most comfortable with Mike.

Q: On hiring Mike Brown as the coach:
Kupchak: First and foremost, we judged him on his body of work, which you could look back on his five years as a coach in Cleveland. He was a Coach of the Year, which my understanding is the media members voted on that. We felt his pedigree as a coach, no disrespect to anybody else, but he put in his time in Denver, he put in time in San Antonio, he put in time in Indiana, he put in time in Washington. And then he was a very successful head coach in Cleveland. And then lastly, as mentioned, the interview went really, really, well. Based on that information, we decided to hire Mike Brown.

Q: On being aware that other teams were hiring head coaches, and if that could have impacted the timetable:
Kupchak: We were aware of the other openings. It took three weeks to come to who we wanted to hire as a coach and we had the people on our radar that we felt were people that we wanted to interview. We didn’t want to interview anybody more. I had several informal interviews. Certainly, the process could have gone on for another two to three weeks. But if you find your guy and we all agreed on him as our guy, we made a decision to move quickly.

Q: On whether Brown was on the team’s radar last offseason when Phil Jackson said he wasn’t sure about returning:
Kupchak: Well, first of all, I always felt like Phil was going to come back, so we didn’t have a year jump on it like we did this year. And we’re obviously very aware of Mike’s success in Cleveland. Five years, averaged 55 wins, that’s great success. I look at our roster and I look at the roster in Cleveland, I like our roster better. I’m biased. So I think he did a heck of a job, (and) I think our roster is better. So we knew he did a good job in Cleveland, but when you look at another team’s coach, you don’t normally say, “I want to steal that coach.” Because he was still employed at the time.

On whether Brown’s relationship with Kobe Bryant?
Kupchak: I think that’s incredibly important to have a really solid relationship with your best player. I do. I think that’s a very important distinction. I think (Brown is) about winning and I think Kobe’s about winning. If we win, I don’t think there’s gonna be a problem. And they may not always see eye-to-eye. They may not get along greatly. But if we win, Kobe’s gonna be happy. We’re gonna be happy. And Mike’s gonna be happy. It sounds like our coach is going to hold players accountable. Quite frankly, I think it’s a breath of fresh of air to have a change like this. There are natural tendencies when you have a coach for 11 years. You kind of get set in your ways a little bit and I think although they may have a great relationship, I think it’s gonna be different. But I know Mike wants to get along with (Kobe). Kobe’s most important thing is to win.

Barnes Attends Brown Presser, Pledges Return

During his exit interview on May 11, Matt Barnes hinted that he’d be picking up the player option on his contract in order to return to the Lakers.

“I want to win, and I still think this is the best team in the NBA,” he said.

After attending Tuesday’s press conference to introduce new head coach Mike Brown, Barnes was a bit more explicit: “I’ll be a Laker next year.”

Watching the presser for his new coach alongside owner Dr. Jerry Buss and executive VP of player personnel Jim Buss in the front row, Barnes came away impressed with what Brown had to say.

“He’s an open-minded coach, which is good,” said Barnes. “We have a very veteran driven team, and I’m sure guys are going to have their opinions on this and that, and as long as he listens to them and decides what’s best for the team I think he’ll be great.”

Among Brown’s many points in a 40-minute give-and-take session with the media was that he’s coming into the job with a great deal of energy and motivation, thinks he’ll have a very hungry team coming off the loss to Dallas and hopes to have “15 angry men” in training camp.

“Angry” is one way to describe how Barnes has been feeling.

“I’m still sick,” he said. “I haven’t watched a second of basketball, no “SportsCenter” because I know basketball would be on there. I’m still hurt thinking about it: one, the way we exited; and two, not being able to help.”

Yet, Barnes felt a bit better on Tuesday.

“I was energized just coming to (Brown’s) press conference,” he said. “Even thought we’re a long way out, you just get that feeling back that it’s time to go to work. I have no question, no doubt that everyone will come to training camp ready to roll.”

“This Lakers team will have its own way of playing now. We just have to play as hard as we can for him.”

Barnes, who just returned to L.A. from vacation, moved on to discuss the knee he had surgically repaired in January, saying that it “doesn’t hurt” anymore, but still swells up. He doesn’t expect to be able to run or jump for about another month, and had been at the team’s practice facility that morning to get treatment from the Lakers training staff. Fortunately for Barnes, he expects to be back at full speed well before the summer even ends, allowing him to do the thing on the court he says he was unable to upon his initial return from the injury.