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Catching up with Josh Powell

Former Lakers forward Josh Powell came to STAPLES Center on Tuesday evening with the Atlanta Hawks, whom he signed with after winning his second consecutive ring with the Lakers last June.

Powell, who maintains close relationships with several Lakers, chatted with us prior to receiving his ring from Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher in a pregame ceremony:

On what he misses about L.A.:
Powell: Of course the team and being part of that great, winning situation. It was like a brotherhood with everybody. We all ate together, we had fun, we laughed, we went through hard times and just had a lot of great experiences. The feeling of being a part of the Purple and Gold was special, whether at home or on the road, feeling the love from everybody no matter where you went. I’ve had most of the greatest experiences of my life with this team, and I’m very grateful and fortunate that I was able to be a part of something as special as what we had.

On his continual close relationship with Bryant and Fisher in particular:
Powell: They were like big brothers, and I’m still very close with those guys. We always keep in touch. On and off the court, they definitely helped me grow and mature as a person and as a player. Sometimes (Kobe and I) hit each other up to laugh and joke, sometimes we hit each other to catch up, sometimes we hit each other just to see what’s going on. It’s a lot of different things. I also keep in touch with Shannon (Brown), Luke (Walton) and some of the other guys as well.

On getting his ring from Kobe and Fisher:
Powell: It means a lot to get a ring, but to have guys that I looked up to present it to me is just a big thing. I’ve been asked questions (about the Lakers) since I got here, and I’m not a man who gives speeches, but I’m sure it’s going to be an emotional moment.

On taking over DJ duties in the Hawks’ weight room, as he did for the Lakers throughout his tenure in L.A.:
Powell: I guess it comes from me always being the one that’s in the weight room*. That’s kinda how it started when I was with the Lakers**. I was always the first one in, so I just put the music on. That’s how it’s been in Atlanta, because I’m always working hard on and off the court.
*That, and the fact that Powell’s iPod is now approaching 30,000 songs … literally.
**Phil Jackson actually noted prior to the game that the Lakers always appreciated Powell’s work ethic and what it brought to the team.

On one album we should be sure to catch that’s come out recently, since Powell used to instruct us on what was good in the music world on’s “J-Peezy’s Playlist.”
Powell: You gotta get that Rick Ross “Ashes to Ashes.” That’s a good one.

Steve Kerr: The Difficulty of Three-Peating

It’s certainly no secret that Phil Jackson has led three separate groups of players to three consecutive NBA championships, albeit with crucial holdovers from his first Chicago Bulls stint to his second:

One common theme amongst Jackson’s two Bulls’ teams was that the third championship (1993 and 1998) was by far the toughest to come by, particularly in the long regular season.

The 1992-93 Bulls went 57-25 a season after going 67-15, and the 1997-98 Bulls went 62-20 after a 69-13 mark the previous campaign (and an NBA record 72-10 in 1996-97). The 2001-02 Lakers managed to win two more games (58) than the 2000-01 squad, but barely survived the Western Conference Finals against the Sacramento Kings (Robert Horry’s three) where as the 2000-01 squad went an NBA record 15-1 en route to a title.

TNT broadcaster Steve Kerr was last year known as the GM of the Phoenix Suns, and perhaps best known for his clutch shooting on the second of Jackson’s three-peating teams, hitting big shots from the passes of Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen. His career shooting percentage from three-point territory is remarkable: 45.4 percent, the best in league history until Nets guard Anthony Morrow surpassed the mark this season, currently above Kerr by the closest of margins at 44.5 percent.

Over All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, we caught up with Kerr — who has been TNT’s color analyst in four games this season — to talk about the difficulty of three-peating and how it applies to Jackson and this year’s Lakers.

On the most difficult element of three-peating:
Kerr: The thing about trying to three-peat, and remember, the Lakers were in the Finals in 2008, so this is their fourth attempt at reaching the Finals, is that fatigue is a major factor. Both physical and emotional fatigue, and Phil understands that better than anybody.

On what he recalls from the 1998 Bulls three-peat:
Kerr: I know in Chicago in 1998 we ended up winning 62 games, but there were moments of that season where we were fractured, and we had bad losses, and people around us and in the media were panicking a little bit. That’s the way it goes in the NBA. You just keep fighting and getting off the mat, and you have to play your best in the spring. That’s what Phil knows, and what he tries to get out of his teams.

On if anything he saw from the Lakers prior to the All-Star break concerned him, or if it fell under the aforementioned “fatigue” factor:
Kerr: I watched them beat Boston, in Boston, 10 days ago. You can say, ‘Oh my gosh, (L.A. lost to) Cleveland,’ but Cleveland had been playing everybody tough for about two weeks prior to that and just beaten the Clippers. They were a little angry (from the 55-point loss in L.A.), it was the last game before the All-Star break, and sometimes guys check out mentally whether they know it or not before the break. I don’t put that much stock into it. To me, it’s always, in this league, about how you pick yourself up after situations like this, and I would expect the Lakers to bounce back and play well out of the All-Star break and into the playoffs.

On if he’d pick the Lakers to make it to a fourth straight Finals:
Kerr: Yes.

Lakers Trade Vujacic, Acquire Joe Smith

The Lakers have traded guard Sasha Vujacic and their 2011 first round pick to New Jersey for Joe Smith, Golden State’s second round pick in 2011, Chicago’s second round pick in 2012 and the rights to Ukraine’s Sergei Lishouk.

The deal is contingent on both Vujacic and Smith passing physicals. Lakers team spokesman John Black said that the team plans to put Smith through a physical in Philadelphia in advance of L.A.’s Friday evening game against the 76ers, and if he passes, he’ll be eligible to play in that contest.

The trade was finalized early on Wednesday morning, since Dec. 15 was the first day offseason signees like Smith could be traded. Houston was also involved in the three team trade, and principally received Terrence Williams from the Nets.

Vujacic, drafted by the Lakers back in 2004 out of his native Slovenia, won two championships with the Lakers and had his best season in 2007-08, when he played 17.8 minutes per game to score 8.8 points while shooting a still-team-record 43.7 percent from three-point territory.

Vujacic said he was given a heads up about the potential trade after L.A.’s Tuesday night victory in Washington, but said he “did not know what to say at the moment” as nothing was yet official. He had been playing only 4.9 minutes per game in the 10 games in which he appeared this season, lost in the guard rotation behind starters Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher and subs Steve Blake and Shannon Brown. Vujacic will join fellow former Laker Jordan Farmar with the Nets.

Smith, the No. 1 pick in the 1995 draft, will be joining the 13th team of his 16-year career. He appeared in four games this season for New Jersey, playing a total of 24 minutes to score two points with three rebounds, and is considered a strong locker room presence.

Lishouk, 28, was originally selected with the 44th overall pick in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies, and his rights were traded to Houston on February 21, 2008. A 6-11.5 center, Lishouk is currently playing for Valencia in Spain.

Per Lakers team policy, the terms of the trade were not disclosed.

Early Season NBA Standings

Having begun both the 2008-09 and 2010-11 seasons 17-3, the Lakers became pretty used to looking exclusively into their rear view mirror as the respective campaigns wore on.

But after last week’s four-game losing streak in which L.A. looked more than eager to have injured big men Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff back in the mix, the Lakers actually have a few teams to chase after 20 games in 2010-11:

Western Conference Standings
1) San Antonio Spurs (17-3)
2) Dallas Mavericks (16-4)
3) Utah Jazz (15-6)
4) L.A. Lakers (14-6)
5) Denver Nuggets (13-6)
6) Oklahoma City Thunder (14-7)
7) New Orleans Hornets (13-7)
8) Phoenix Suns (11-9)

Of those three teams, L.A. has seen only the Jazz, dropping a post-Thanksgiving game 102-96 despite leading by three with 1:16 to play in the fourth quarter. The Lakers don’t play the Spurs until Dec. 28 (at San Antonio), nor the Mavericks until Jan. 19 (at Dallas), while their chance for Jazz revenge comes on Jan. 25 at STAPLES Center.

Over in the Eastern Conference, two teams have managed a better start than the Lakers thus far, with three others not too far behind:

Eastern Conference Standings
1) Boston Celtics (16-4)
2) Orlando Magic (15-5)
3) Miami Heat (13-8)
4) Chicago Bulls (10-8)
5) Atlanta Hawks (13-8)
6) New York Knicks (12-9)
7) Indiana Pacers (9-9)
8) Toronto Raptors (8-12)

Lakers (Early) League Ranks

62370097With L.A.’s 7-0 start, predictably, comes a bunch of superlative statistics when compared to the rest of the NBA’s teams.

Here’s a breakdown of pertinent categories, with the disclaimer that it’s only seven games into the 82-game season, and the Lakers have played a relatively easy schedule:

Scoring: No. 1
The Lakers are averaging a healthy 114 points per game to lead the NBA. With Pau Gasol (24.1) and Kobe Bryant (22.9) leading the way, L.A. is also getting a healthy 15.9 poings from Lamar Odom, while four other players are averaging at least 9.1 points: Derek Fisher; Shannon Brown; Ron Artest; and Matt Barnes.

Three-Point Field Goal Percentage: No. 1
Behind four players that are shooting at least 50 percent from three-point range, the Lakers lead the league with a connection rate of 45.0 percent. Last season, the Lakers ranked just 24th in the NBA from three, connecting on 34.1 percent and boasting not a single player at the 40 percent mark. But Lamar Odom (69 percent), Derek Fisher (67), Shannon Brown (52) and Steve Blake (50) have all been hot.

Turnovers: No. 1
When shooting that well from distance and scoring so efficiently (see below), to also lead the league in fewest turnovers per game is telling. The Lakers were actually tied with Sacramento heading into Sunday evening’s games in the turnover category, and after a 15-turnover game against Portland L.A. was averaging 13.6 per game.

Rebounding: No. 3
The Lakers have grabbed the third most rebounds per game in the NBA at 46.71 per contest, and rank fourth in rebounding differential at +4.28 per game more than their seven opponents. Odom ranks ninth in the league with 11.1 boards per game, while Gasol is 12th at 10.9. The team’s offensive and defensive rebounding has been equally effective.

Free Throw Percentage: No. 5
The Lakers are making 81.7 percent of their free throws, good for fifth in the league. Eight of the 11 players who have attempted a free throw are making more than 80 percent, led by Kobe Bryant’s 87.9 percent success rate (51-for-58).

Assists: No. 5
The Lakers have shared the ball very well to start the season, ranking fifth in assists with an average of 24 per game. Current starting center Gasol actually leads the Lakers in assists with 5.0 per game after his 10-dime performance in his triple-double against Portland, while Bryant has added 4.6 in six fewer minutes of playing time than Gasol.

Field Goal Percentage: No. 6
It’s not just from distance that the Lakers are shooting well, as they come in ranked sixth from the field at 47.8 percent. In 2009-10, they ranked 18th at 45.7 percent. Odom’s 62.7 percent is good for fifth in the NBA, while Gasol’s 54.4 percent ranks 21st. Both are significant due to the collectively high volume of shots taken as Bryant eases into the season.

Steals: No. 9
With an average of 8.4 swipes per game, the Lakers come in ninth in the NBA. Ron Artest leads the way with 1.87 steals per game, while both Fisher and Brown have nabbed 1.29 per contest.

Lamar Odom: Team USA Update

61292324Forward Lamar Odom has been wearing a different colored jersey for the past month or so, trading in Lakers purple and gold for the red, white and blue of Team USA.

Having essentially locked up a spot on the roster as well as in coach Mike Krzyzewski’s rotation, Odom played a total of 32 minutes in last weekend’s scrimmage against China and exhibition game against France.

He totaled nine points, eight boards, two assists, two steals and two turnovers on 4-of-5 shooting, playing well against France (eight points on put-backs) but showing little in 14 minutes against China (one point, one rebound).

To go over Odom’s play thus far and to look ahead at three coming exhibitions (Lithuania, Spain and Greece) as well as the World Championships, we dialed up’s John Schuhmann, who’s been covering the team throughout.

Click below to listen to what Schuhmann had to offer about Odom and Team USA:

NBA Announces Marquee Games

blog_100803marqueegames1Lakers vs. Heat, on Christmas Day in Los Angeles.

That’ll be fun.

We learned of that game, likely the most anticipated of the regular season, and a few others when the NBA announced the schedule for selected nationally televised games on Monday. Below are the four contests in which the Lakers will play a part:

Season Opener: 10/26 – Lakers vs. Rockets, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
- The Lakers will accept their 2010 championship rings. You know it as “Ring Night.”

NBA Tip-Off Week: 10/29 – Lakers @ Suns, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
- A rematch of the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers head to the Valley of the Sun.

Christmas Day: 12/25 – Lakers vs. Heat, 2 p.m. on ABC
- Kobe, Wade, Gasol, LeBron, Bynum, Bosh, Artest, Miller, Odom, Haslem. The shiny new toy in the East heads to the left coast to see where they stand against the two-time defending champs.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day: 1/17 – Lakers vs. Thunder, 7:30 p.m. on TNT
- Lakers go against their first round opponent from the 2010 playoffs, with OKC looking to firmly establish themselves as a Western power.

Below is the complete schedule released by the NBA:
Continue reading ‘NBA Announces Marquee Games’

By The Numbers: Gasol vs. NBA’s Best Bigs

59605319Pau Gasol is a better basketball player than his statistics, impressive as they are, show.

When one is competing with talents like Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom, certain stat production – namely scoring, field goal attempts and rebounds – are going to take a hit. On the other hand, assists and field goal percentage can receive a boost, all things we saw with the Spaniard’s statistical 2009-10.

Here’s how Gasol’s regular and postseason numbers compared with some of the league’s other elite bigs, whose teams made the playoffs with the exception of Chris Bosh and Andrew Bogut:

Regular Season Numbers Points Rebounds Assists Blocks FG%
Pau Gasol 18.3 11.3 3.4 1.74 53.6
Dwight Howard 18.3 13.2 1.8 2.8 61.2
Tim Duncan 17.9 10.1 3.2 1.5 51.8
Amare Stoudemire 23.1 8.9 1.0 1.0 55.7
Dirk Nowitzki 25.0 7.7 2.7 1.0 48.1
Chris Bosh 24.0 10.8 2.4 1.0 51.8
Carlos Boozer 19.5 11.2 3.2 0.5 56.2
Kevin Garnett 14.3 7.3 2.7 0.8 52.1
Andrew Bogut 15.9 10.2 1.8 2.5 52.0
Al Horford 14.2 9.9 2.3 1.1 55.1

Playoffs Numbers Points Rebounds Assists Blocks FG%
Pau Gasol 19.6 11.1 3.5 2.1 53.9
Dwight Howard 18.1 11.1 1.4 3.5 61.4
Tim Duncan 19.0 9.9 2.6 1.7 52.0
Amare Stoudemire 22.2 6.6 1.1 1.5 51.9
Dirk Nowitzki 26.7 8.2 3.0 0.7 54.7
Carlos Boozer 19.7 13.2 3.0 0.7 53.0
Kevin Garnett 15.0 7.4 2.5 0.9 49.5
Al Horford 14.6 9.0 1.8 1.7 52.3
Chris Bosh N/A*
Andrew Bogut N/A**

*Team did not make playoffs
**Due to injury

In Summation
By these measures, it’s pretty clear that Gasol belongs at the forefront of the argument for the NBA’s best all-around big man* from 2009-10, particularly in the playoffs.

Numbers, however, never tell the whole story. For example, Garnett’s or especially Howard’s defensive impact can’t be shown statistically; Duncan’s intangibles and Gasol’s mastery of Phil Jackson’s offense help team flow immeasurably; Nowitzki’s or Bosh’s game is often on the perimeter, which can be easier on a defense than a low-post threat;

But the statistics also don’t lie.

For the regular season, Gasol tied for fifth in points with the other elite bigs, ranked second in rebounding and assists, came in third in blocks and fifth in field goal percentage.

In the playoffs, the three-time All-Star ranked third in scoring, tied for second on the glass, came in second with blocked shots, third in field goal percentage and led all bigs in assists.

And his team, of course, won the championship.

*We considered including a few other players like Chris Kaman and Zach Randolph (whose teams didn’t make the playoffs), David Lee (team missed playoffs, doesn’t spend as much time on the block), but ultimately settled on the 10 players listed.

Has the West Been Weakened?

51546479In the last week, the Western Conference lost free agent big men Amare Stoudemire (from PHO to NYK) and Carlos Boozer (UTA to CHI), and saw Chris Bosh (TOR to MIA), Dwyane Wade (MIA) and (check anywhere at 6:00 Eastern to confirm) LeBron James (?) stay in the East.

In fact, nearly every major move in free agency has had a far greater impact on the right than the left Coast.

Other than a few players re-signing with their current teams, (see: Dirk Nowitzki/Brendan Haywood in Dallas, Rudy Gay in Memphis and Channing Frye in Phoenix), it’s been mostly quiet on the Western front.

Among the only actual free agent additions out West include L.A.’s signing of point guard Steve Blake and the presence of Hakim Warrick in Phoenix.

60787695As such, while the Lakers return their core players (including Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest), hope to re-sign Derek Fisher and have added Blake, has their road to winning the West for a fourth straight season gotten any more difficult?

Let’s take a snap shot:

The Lakers’ opponent in the Western Conference Finals, Phoenix, brings back Steve Nash and most of his crew, and while re-signing Frye and adding of Warrick could help, losing Stoudemire is a big blow.

L.A.’s second round opponent, Utah, lost Boozer to the Bulls, leaving the starting power forward slot for the capable Paul Millsap. That could hurt weaken Utah’s bench, but the Jazz did add No. 9 overall pick Gordon Hayward out of Butler.

The West’s best young team, Oklahoma City, locked up Kevin Durant for the foreseeable future and traded for the rights to rookie center Cole Aldrich out of Kansas, and promises to be a threat.

The veteran teams – Denver, Dallas and San Antonio – remain almost fully intact (S.A.’s Richard Jefferson opted out of his deal and is a free agent), and can’t be counted out.

Three teams expect key injured big men back. Houston gets Yao Ming, Portland returns Greg Oden, and the Clippers debut last year’s No. 1 pick Blake Griffin. The Hornets, meanwhile, look forward to a full season of oft-injured-last-year Chris Paul.

Memphis gets Gay back, and has some nice talent (Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, O.J. Mayo) now joined by No. 12 pick Xavier Henry.

Finally come the teams full of young talent but likely far away from contending: Golden State (traded Maggette to Milwaukee, but boast Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry); Sacramento (building around R.O.Y. Tyreke Evans and No. 5 pick DeMarcus Cousins); and Minnesota (No. 4 pick Wesley Johnson, rights to Ricky Rubio, Love/Jefferson).

And of course, things could change with a Western team’s potential acquisition of a player like David Lee, formerly of the Knicks, and still unsigned.

But what does it all mean to the Lakers?

Perhaps not much at all.

For the third straight season, it’s very clear that the path to the NBA Finals goes directly through Los Angeles.

NBA Sets Salary Cap

The NBA released the following information on Wednesday afternoon, highlighted by the news that the Salary Cap for the 2010-11 season is set at $58.044 million.

Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak called that amount “Higher than we anticipated.”

Here’s the release:

NEW YORK, July 7, 2010 – The National Basketball Association today
announced that the Salary Cap for the 2010-11 season will be $58.044
million. The tax level for the 2010-11 season has been set at $70.307
million. Any team whose team salary exceeds that figure will pay a $1 tax
for each $1 by which it exceeds $70.307 million.

The 2009-10 Salary Cap was $57.70 million and the tax level was $69.92

The new Salary Cap and tax level go into effect at 12:01 a.m. ET on
Thursday, July 8, when the league’s “moratorium period” ends and teams can
begin signing free agents and making trades.

The mid-level exception is $5.765 million for the 2010-11 season and the
minimum team salary, which is set at 75% of the Salary Cap, is $43.533