My blog has moved! Redirecting…

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit and update your bookmarks.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Fisher Has Always Understood The Simple Truths

Where is Derek Fisher when you need him?
The Los Angeles Lakers displayed an alarming fragility in their Christmas showdown with Miami. Worse, it was the kind of performance that blindsided a lot of their fans, because it came just as the Lakers seemed on the verge of finding their stride without Lamar Odom, who is out with a knee injury.
Odom has come to be the foundation of Phil Jackson’s Lakers team, much as Scottie Pippen provided the base for Jackson’s Chicago Bulls teams.
Whenever Pippen was out, those Bulls of yore turned wobbly and inconsistent.
Jackson’s Lakers are the same way.
That’s a fact, not an excuse. Jackson mentor Tex Winter predicted the situation about three weeks ago when Odom went out.
Now the Lakers face a huge test, a moment of truth, in their efforts to rebuild into a championship contender. Are they going to fall apart? Or will they find the toughness and leadership to hang together during hard times?
“What happens in these next two games is pretty important,” Winter told me Tuesday, the day after L.A.’s fiasco against the Miami Heat. “You have to see how they respond, how they come back.”
Sensing the situation on the horizon, I had recently gone looking for the steadiest Laker I’ve ever known, Derek Fisher, only he’s not a Laker anymore but a Utah Jazz, whatever that is.
I’ve always said that Fisher has a rich, abiding character and an innate honesty. When I got to know him a decade ago, he immediately reminded me of a young Joe Dumars, not his style of play but his deep commitment and unimpeachable professionalism.
Usually pro basketball players get $33 million contracts because they can dunk and run and shoot. Derek Fisher got his contract because of his character and professionalism and leadership. The day that he got his deal in 2004 I knew the NBA was going to be all right, because it was still a league that rewarded special people like Derek Fisher.
Utah coach Jerry Sloan had had his eye on Fisher for more than a decade. When Fisher was a late first-round pick of the Lakers out of Arkansas-Little Rock in 1996, the Jazz had harbored secret hopes of getting him.
Sloan has always operated by a basic credo: Basketball is not a complicated game— if you just lay your heart on the line every night.
As Laker fans well know, that describes “Fish” to a T.
Heart on the line. Every night.
That’s why Sloan and the Jazz went after Fisher over the summer when they saw the opportunity. As Sloan told me last week, they haven’t been disappointed. Sloan even has him starting at 2 guard, just because he’s so tough, so professional.
“I’ll play wherever they want me to play, even out of position, if it helps the team,” Fish told me. “I like being on the floor.”
Another old Laker, Jazz broadcaster Hot Rod Hundley, is a huge Fisher fan. “He’s been great. Been absolutely great,” Hundley told me. “He has a lot of respect coming his way because he won three world championships with the Lakers. People have all seen him hit those shots at the buzzer. He’s been a great pickup for this team. In fact, he was coming off the bench, but he was playing so well they put him in the starting line up. He’s got a great locker room presence. Good leader. He plays hard. He’s a tough guy. He doesn’t back off of anybody. You’ve got to like him. It was a great move for us.”
After a sizzling start to the season, the Jazz have slipped to playing around .500 ball. It’s just the reason they wanted Fisher in the first place, for times like these.
“This is a part of this business,” Fisher said after a lackluster Utah loss in Charlotte recently. “You have to be able to respond to situations when things aren’t going your way. In games sometimes, when things aren’t going your way, you have to keep fighting back. And over the course of a season, you have stretches where the team is just not playing good basketball and things just don’t seem to be going right. You have to be able to hold it together and keep trying to win games.”
That Fisher toughness is just what the Lakers themselves need right now as they face their first major challenges of the season. Fans will recall his quiet strength that held things together during that hellish 2004 season, which he capped with the 0.04 shot that sent the team back to the league championship series.
“His value in the locker room, the way he handles his teammates, the way he looks at the whole game, is exceptional,” Tex Winter says of Fisher. “We’re (the Lakers) lacking it right now. And we could really use it. Kobe (Bryant) has really blossomed as a leader, but Kobe doesn’t look at the game quite like Fisher does. Not many do.”
When he speaks about the Lakers, Fisher’s voice still turns a bit pensive, like a man speaking about an old, irretrievably lost love. After eight seasons, he left the team as a free agent after that 2004 season for a huge paycheck with Golden State, where he spent two lost years.
“I’ve tried to watch them when I get the opportunity,” he says of the Lakers. “They’re playing good basketball. They got a solid team. Kobe is leading those young guys. He’s grown up a great deal. I’m very happy for him and I’m proud of him.”
Fisher and Bryant share more than a bit of history, having come in as rookies together in 1996. Leery of all the team’s veterans then, the young Bryant slowly came to trust Fisher as someone willing to work as hard as he.
Today, that means that the two remain close.
“We talk a lot, actually,” Fisher said. “He’s really taken to the role of big brother, to the guy that everybody has to look to, not only for statistically carrying the team, but really the rock of the organization and of the team. It’s a role that he’s always felt like he was capable of handling. And now he’s getting an opportunity, and he’s relishing it, and he’s doing a great job.”
The irony, of course, is now that he has the mantle of leadership, Bryant continues to struggle in returning from off-season knee surgery. Winter says he still has yet to see Bryant’s old explosiveness and quickness, or his defensive ability return.
“He can’t do some of the things he used to do and get away with it,” Winter said. “Right now, he can’t go into a crowd (of defenders) and make the plays that he used to make. I don’t know what he’s thinking. But he’s not playing the kind of game that he ought to be playing.”
Strangely, Winter thinks Bryant needs to do more. “He wants to involve his teammates,” Winter explained. “Perhaps he’s trying to do that too much. He needs to be more selective, but — you almost hate to say it — he also needs to be more aggressive. He can’t be so passive. It’s gonna be very hard for us, the way he’s playing right now.”
The problem is even more pronounced defensively, Winter said. “Kobe’s defense is not what it used to be. He’s kind of a roamer and he’s getting burned quite a bit.”
The thing that shelters Bryant in these circumstances is his trademark confidence. Always unwavering, always a bit chippy, Bryant irritated some fans by seemingly minimizing the play of Washington’s Gilbert Arenas after he lit up the Lakers and Bryant recently. But that’s just his signature expression of confidence, something that in the past has fortified both himself and the team.
“One thing we know, he doesn’t make excuses and he doesn’t offer alibis,” Winter said of Bryant. “Somebody ought to make excuses for him. He’s not in the playing condition he needs to be in.”
This is an issue that has concerned Winter since what he saw as Bryant’s premature return in November.
Even with the current turbulence, Winter sees plenty that is encouraging. The Lakers lost a road game in Chicago they should have won, but recovered quickly with wins over Minnesota and New Jersey.
“That victory against New Jersey was really good,” Winter said.
The two wins highlighted a previously suspect Laker bench. “That second unit has been playing better basketball than the first unit,” Winter said.
That might have continued against Miami, except that the first unit struggled so much that the coaching staff started searching for answers. That search interrupted the substitution patterns. The Lakers never found a footing in the game, with Miami’s Dwyane Wade breaking down the defense at will.
The emergence of the second unit is the sign that Fisher looks for in the hard casing of a team. Tough times can do that for a team, if they’re negotiated with a lot a starch and a little patience.
Kobe Bryant may want to get on the phone with his old friend this week to get a refresher course on that important element of leadership.
Fisher will tell him it’s all about pulling together as a team. The good news for both Bryant and Fisher is that it’s always been about hard work. That remains a simple truth for the Lakers now. “With the work that I’ve always had to put in to try to compete at this level, it feels great when everybody on the team competes that way and everybody’s giving their best effort,” Fisher says. “It’s a great feeling. It really is.”

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, a comprehensive oral history of the Lakers published by McGraw-Hill.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

You Better Have Some Zen

The epiphanies are special for Tex Winter. And that’s not just because he’ll be 85 in February.
He’s always looked harder at the game, always pushed himself to see more. Anyone who’s ever spent any time at a basketball game knows what a challenge that is.
It’s a four-act opera played at hyperspeed.
Yet Winter tries to take it all in, filling his notebooks with the 50-caliber observations that challenge convention, challenge his associates, challenge everything about the game.
The epiphany came somewhere during the Lakers’ recent double-overtime win over Houston, at the crest of a maddening week.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in all my life,” Winter said. “It’s got me wondering about the game of basketball. What’s happening to it?”
The Lakers have a 27 point lead in the fourth quarter in Houston, then watch the Rockets furiously whittle it down to 2 and still the Lakers wind up winning on a series of missed Rockets free throws and a no-call (yes, Winter said it looked to him like Kwame Brown goal-tended on that late shot attempt).
Then, the Lakes are down by 21 in a rematch with the Rockets at home in Staples Center and somehow end up winning in double-overtime.
“Unbelievable,” Winter said.
So is the epiphany.
Which came at the tail end of all the fury.
That’s when Winter saw the truth that had been sitting under his own nose for years now.
“In this coaching business, you have to be a Zen master,” he realized.
It’s not that Winter, who was hired years ago in Chicago to be the “coach’s coach,” didn’t believe in Phil Jackson and his quirky ways.
In fact, when Jackson moved the Bulls into heavy meditation sessions during his Chicago days, Winter was right there with them, sitting cross-legged on the floor
“Oh, yeah, with the Bulls we ALL did a lot of meditating. I liked it. It helped me deal with things that were going on in my life,” Winter said. “We don’t do that as much as we used to.”
That’s partly because psychologist/meditation guide George Mumford hasn’t been used regularly by the team since 2002, the last year the Lakers won a championship. That’s apparently because management/ownership did not want to bring Mumford back.
The Lakers still meditate occasionally, and Kwame Brown recently told a reporter he thought it was helping him.
The epiphany to Winter, however, regarded coaching. He suddenly realized that Jackson’s Zen approach to the game has almost become essential for coaching success.
The game has become that crazy.
And Jackson’s Zen is that strong.
Don’t be surprised if the revised edition of Winter’s classic book, The Triple Post Offense, ( doesn’t soon include a new chapter, Zen And The Art Of Team Maintenance.
“It’s gotten to the point in this coaching business, things are so crazy, that you have to be a Zen master,” Winter said.
The coach’s coach suggested that Jackson has done things well for years, yet he’s moved it to a new level and gotten substantially better as a coach later in his career.
“The way he handles a team is really something,” Winter explained. “He can sit there in the midst of chaos, see things happening and then calmly do something to change the course of events.
“He really is a Zen master with these players. You’ve got to be a great psychologist, you’ve got to be that because of the game’s speed and complexity and the pressure on the players.”
That became apparent during the double-overtime with Houston.
“We were really out of the ball game,” Winter said. “A lot of teams would have folded their tent.”
Houston center Yao Ming was killing the Lakers inside with eight blocked shots. And when Ming rested veteran backup Dikembe Mutombo blocked another three and punctuated each with the trademark wag of his finger. Unable to attack the basket effectively, the Lakers were dying.
Then Jackson started running screen and rolls with whomever Ming was guarding. Ming was forced to step out and defend, which moved him away from the basket.
The Houston center was reluctant to do that, which produced some open looks and helped convince him to step out more.
“We had to get him out from under that basket. He was destroying us,” Winter said.
Yet this is not the story of a simple in-game adjustment.
It’s about Jackson’s entire approach, which has been developing for years.
“He pulls some strange things out of the hat,” Winter admitted.
Jackson’s approach, however, resonates with the one public that really matters — his players. “It’s just his mannerisms, his conduct, the way he handles the team. Over the years, his teams have just responded to him more and more,” Winter said.
Long known for eschewing timeouts, Jackson has still somehow managed to become the master of managing them, making the most of a 20 or a full. “He stays calm, but he’s very firm and hard with his players. He gets in their faces at times,” Winter explained.
This face work is always done for effect and seldom is it the result of unrestrained anger or frustration.
Part of that comes from the way Jackson spends most of the timeout conferring with his assistants, then steps back with the team and delivers strong, clear messages for everyone.
“They seem to accept everything he says,” Winter added.
Even, as in the turbulence of the recent week, when Jackson offered particularly pointed remarks and criticism.
Jackson delivers his message without demeaning his players, Winter said. “The important thing is that he doesn’t destroy their confidence. So many coaches do that. It’s his demeanor, the way he handles people, the way he communicates what he wants done. He does this in a very positive manner, even in very stressful situations. Like I say, you have to be a Zen master in today’s game.”

Whatever Jackson’s special sauce, he’s going to have to spread it thickly over the coming weeks with Lamar Odom out with a strained knee.
“It’s gonna be tough without Odom,” Winter offered. “We’re not the same ball club without Lamar.”
Specifically, the Lakers will miss Odom’s rebounding the defensive board and powering out to start the fast break. That means less running and more use of the half-court offense.
Slowing down is going to put more pressure on the team to execute, more pressure on Kobe Bryant to produce.
“We’re still looking for early offensive opportunity,” Winter said. “If we don’t get good shots on the break, then we’ve gotta rely on our sets.”
That could be problematic, he said, because “our execution has not been good on our sets. Too many turnovers.”
Luke Walton’s role as the team’s organizer in the offense will have added importance. And like Odom, Walton can control the defensive rebound and power out to initiate the break. Walton just can’t do that as well and as fast as Odom, so the Lakers slow down.
Which begs the question, how long will Odom be out? “He’s on the training table all day long, every day,” Winter said. “They’re working on him. But it’s going to take some time.”


The double-overtime win emphasized another importance — defense in general and Smush Parker in particular.
“The defense did it for us,” Winter said. “Smush is really the guy who got us back in it with his steals and quickness.”
It was a turbulent night for the second-year guard.
“He got mad about a call in the first half,” Winter said. “Then Phil took him out of the ball game and he got really upset. When he came back in the game he was a man possessed.”
The turn of events points to the fact that, despite his critics, Parker plays a crucial role in the Lakers’ mix at guard.
Parker’s critics have seized on comments that he often pouts and have cited that as good reason for his benching. Parker, though, is an emotional player, feeds on that emotion and seems to be finding his way.
“With his speed, if he could just develop a consistent shot, he’d be really effective,” Winter said. “If he can just get confidence taking it to the basket and finishing….”

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It, published earlier this year by McGraw-Hill. Booklist called it “the best book about the NBA since The Jordan Rules.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Where The Dinosaurs Roam

Talk about a reversal of karma, it wasn't even two years ago that NBA insiders were describing Kwame Brown as a head case and one of those eternal basketball blights, a number one overall draft pick who didn't pan out.
Back when he was with the Washington Wizards, Brown seemed to fit what former Bulls GM Jerry Krause used to call a recipe for the perfect asshole: Take a young player out of high school or college with a high pick in the draft, put him on a struggling team with suspect leadership, heap tons of pressure and expectations on him, and watch him turn into your worst nightmare.
Yes, Brown seemed destined to sully not only his own reputation but that of Michael Jordan, who selected him with the top pick in the 2001 NBA draft. Kwame Brown was the second coming of LaRue Martin.
Until he got traded to the Lakers in 2005.
It's not like Brown has become a beast in his 18 months in Los Angeles. Fans in Washington still smirk when you mention his name.
But Brown is quietly and steadily impressing the only person who really matters, his boss, Lakers coach Phil Jackson.
"Phil really likes Kwame," Lakers consultant/guru Tex Winter offered recently. "He thinks he's one of the best defensive centers in the league, with his quickness and strength."
Yes, Kwame Brown is quite a reclamation project.
And he's not Jackson's first.
Bulls fans and old NBA hands will recall the raised eyebrows when Jackson's Chicago team acquired 7-foot-2 Luc Longley from the Minnesota Timberwolves in February 1994. Longley had been considered pretty much a wasted draft pick after the T-Wolves took him with the seventh overall pick in 1991. The first Australian in the NBA, Longley had languished on Minnesota's bench, watching what little self esteem he had as a player melt away.
Jackson, though, liked Longley's big body (the better to counter Orlando's Shaquille O'Neal) and his soft touch on a face up jumper.
"There are only so many dinosaurs," Jackson said privately of the move.
Dinosaurs are those big NBA monsters, those 7-footers who can actually play, who can defend a little and can contribute on offense. Longley never became dominant with the Bulls. That wasn't the plan. But he used his size well on defense. Shot his face-up jumper that worked well in Chicago's scheme. And he worked well in the pinch post in the triangle offense.
Basically, Jackson helped Longley regain his self-respect. Even on those nights when Tex Winter would light the big guy up for lackadaisical play.
For his efforts, Jackson made a lifelong friend of Luc Longley. When the coach was on his forced sabbitical during the 2004-05 NBA season, when he needed to travel and sort out why he had been fired by the Lakers, Jackson made a journey to New Zealand/Australia, to visit with Longley.
His time playing around with Longley in the Pacific Ocean seems to have been the perfect balm for Jackson.
The coach, after all, has long known what it felt like to be an undervalued big man in the NBA.
A second round draft pick of the New York Knicks out of the University of North Dakota, Jackson had a suspect future in pro basketball until Red Holzman replaced Dick McGuire as coach of the Knicks. Then Jackson suffered a back injury and surgery that sidelined him for more than a season. To many, his future seemed over before it happened.
Holzman's Knicks, though, became the first pro team to rely heavily on the press. In practice, Holzman would stand courtside, dressed in shorts and a windbreaker, urging his players to "see the ball." On the press, he wanted them anticipating where the offense was going to throw it in attempting to escape the trap. Holzman wanted his players feeding off those passes. That would become their trademark, creating turnovers and converting them into points in easy bunches. "Any game we're down even 10 points going into the fourth quarter we can still win," Willis Reed explained at the time.
It was the press that would provide Jackson a reason for his NBA existence. In short time, Jackson would find a role coming off the bench with Holzman's pressing unit in the second period, where his long arms and mobility were not just an advantage but a weapon.
If the game slowed down into the halfcourt during Jackson's first years in the league, the crowds in Madison Square Garden would groan and hiss about his ineptitude. "I remember him coming in and lighting a spark," the late Dave DeBusschere would say of Jackson during the period. "I also remember Red yelling at him, 'Don't dribble it!' And Phil would dribble it off his knee, and the ball would go two rows deep into the stands."
But when the pace was high, Phil Jackson was a difference maker in the Knick press.
His role allowed him to find his teammates' confidence and respect. "Whenever Phil got out there, you knew he was going to get physical and make something happen," DeBusschere once recalled. "People talk about what a free spirit he was, but he always worked hard and always played within the structure of the team."
"Jackson's style as a player developed in accordance with his build, which reminds me of a clothes hanger turned upside down," teammate and friend Bill Bradley later explained. "He surprised big men by his defensive skill and made them feel they were being guarded by a man with three sets of arms."
By the time the glory years rolled around in the 1970s, Holzman's teams had transformed the Garden crowd into a loud, silly horde. The upper deck screamed "dee-fense," and the city-hardened fans seemed to lose a little of their gaming edge and actually softened into something resembling cheerleaders. Over the next several seasons, they would even find it in the kindness of their hearts to drop the murmur of despair when Jackson produced a miscue on the floor. Finally, they would go so far as to give up some love for Jackson and his mad-scramble ways. They would even take to calling him by his college nickname, "Action Jackson."
Red Holzman had shown him the path away from ridicule.
"Red was a big influence on my basketball philosophy," Jackson would explain later. "Everyone on those teams had their own sphere, but Red knew how to let everyone find their own niche."
Jackson admired Holzman's "tender touch," the ability to compromise, to reconcile differences. "He never overloaded you with advice. He doled it out in small packets and in a variety of ways," Jackson explained. "He had a featherweight punch that hit you like a knockout blow."
And Jackson's knack for instigating a change of pace as a coach, giving his players books or taking a sidetrip through the countryside instead of pushing his team through another practice, those things stemmed from the appreciation for the other, finer things in life that Holzman showed his players. Years later, as they watched Jackson at work, the former Knicks would note how much he was like Holzman.
That has been Jackson's approach with the Longleys and Browns that have happened onto his roster. Like Holzman once did for him, he's helped them find their niche.
It's not that Kwame Brown exactly fits the dinosaur mold. He's big, to be sure, but quickness and strength are his main assets. On the other hand, Andrew Bynum, the Lakers' 19-year-old center, is still growing his way toward 7-feet-2, a baby dinosaur if you will, one who will surely find a big role as he matures.
"Phil has always understood his players," Tex Winter once told me. "He's been where they've been. He remembers it, too."
Coming off a shoulder injury, Brown is averaging 9.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and an outstanding 2.4 assists this season. He's beginning to learn how to use his strength and quickness offensively as well.
And while Bynum began the season as a starter and now comes off the bench, Winter says the coaches are also pleased with the young guy's progress.
Rebounding, however, remains a team weakness, and if the Laker frontcourt is to get any true respect around the league, those numbers are going to have to increase. Plus, both Brown and Bynum will have to step up their pace, now that Lamar Odom is out indefinitely with a knee injury.
It seems a safe bet to say that Brown will relish the opportunity to step up. The NBA life that Phil Jackson has helped him find is so much more than what he had before.


It was nice of the Boston Globe's Peter May to follow up on my Brian Shaw interview comparing Larry Bird and Kobe Bryant. May reported that Bird was "fascinated" when he read my blog online.
"Shaw, now a Lakers assistant coach, was asked by veteran scribe Roland Lazenby to compare and contrast the Bird-McHale relationship with that of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal," May wrote.
"'The difference was, they respected each other and what they did on the court,' Shaw said of Bird and McHale. 'So when they stepped between the lines, all that other peripheral stuff, it was on the outside. They said, 'We're going for the same goal between these lines. I'm gonna help you achieve what you want to achieve. You're gonna help me. I'm gonna help you. Then when the game is over, you're gonna go your separate way and I'm gonna go mine. And that's OK.'
"Shaw said Shaq and Kobe seemed to have that kind of respect only occasionally, and they allowed 'trivial stuff' to mushroom into bigger things. Bird's take was that he simply was playing basketball the way he knew how, and it didn't matter whether the other guy was his best buddy.
"'In my three years in Boston, I don't remember Kevin McHale and Larry Bird hanging out together,' Shaw said.
"They might have done so earlier in their careers," May continued, "but by the time Shaw got there in 1988, Bird and McHale had grown even more distant."

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It, published earlier this year by McGraw-Hill.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Trust The Laker Media?

Anonymous responded to my blog yesterday in which I acknowledged the work of many reporters and media figures covering the Lakers:

"Are you kidding me that Bresnahan doing any good covering the Lakers/Kobe? He tried to undermine Kobe as a player and a person starting from about the 2nd half of 2004-2005. Remember that so-called Atkins' GM comment?

"Brad Turner sided with Shaq and after the trade he was biased against the Lakers/Kobe. I remember his Malone incident witness stuff and all the Kobe selfish "stories."

"No need to sugarcoat some spinning and twisting of your peers or even making stuff up. They villified Kobe and looked down the Lakers, Buss, Mitch, etc.

"Some of them may jump back on the bandwagon, but they lost any credibility to us fans."

Atkins made the GM comment. The reality is that it reflected the attitude of elements on the team, at that time. I think it was good reporting on Bresnahan's part. It's not a reporter's job to tell fans what they want to hear but what he observes.
I myself quoted Tex as saying that Kobe had tried too hard to be a leader in that season after Shaq left, and as a result, Kobe lost some of his teammates.
There is no question that following the breakup of the team, Bryant, Buss, Kupchak and other figures came under intense criticism, perhaps quite a bit of it unwarranted. But it's not hard to understand the frustration of both reporters and the public at the breakup of a championship-caliber team.

Do reporters get overdue influence from Phil?

You bet. It's incredibly difficult not to be influenced by Phil (or any coach), but especially Phil. That's where reporters get the bulk of their information. Phil's success makes him a powerful factor in terms of information.
There was a time when most of the reporters in L.A. were turned against Kobe. Kobe played a part in this himself. But I've reported these issues.
I guess I don't view the situation so severely now (I did then, and reported those facts with some indignation), because I know firsthand how seductive Phil's manipulation can be. Anyone who reads my work knows I keep Phil on a short leash. He's a very fine coach, but extremely manipulative in terms of the media.

So I tend not to hold grudges against reporters. It was a story they had to cover. They did the best job with the information available at the time and with Phil manipulating the information as he did. The reporters have moved on from that story and so have I.
Phil has even acknowledged some of his shortcomings in regard to the entire period. He hasn't come clean on everything, but he's done enough perhaps to heal the Lakers. He's come back to the job and dealt with Kobe Bryant in a straight-forward manner. I've documented how Phil did not do that during his first five years with the team, how he left Bryant out of the equation.

I tend not to blame the messengers when the primary figures — Phil, Shaq and Kobe — all share blame for the breakup.

On the other hand, I respect your right as a member of the reading public to hold all reporters, including me, to a high standard.
In fact, I think you, the reader, are the critical, most important, element in the equation. As reader and fan, you're the final judge of all of our actions.
In the end, you set the standards, and we all must meet them, or attempt to.
So, my response to your comments is, Thank you for making them. You have a valid point. And thank you for commenting on my blog. Your comments raise an interesting point of debate. And I'm not going to spend too much time defending certain reporters you've criticized. They need to answer for themselves. That's because you've raised valid issues.

As for me, I enjoy the media coverage of the Lakers. Like you, when I sense something out of line, I speak up.

That's the great thing about free speech. It works for all of us.

If you can find it.

Roland Lazenby is the author of The Show, The Inside Story of the Spectacular Los Angeles Lakers in the Words of Those Who Lived It, published by McGraw-Hill.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Wow. Learning To Ride The Bike

Gatinho said...

I noticed in the picture in the Times today that Tex gave Kobe a standing ovation when he checked out of the game and couldn't help but wonder if his applause was of the sardonic sort. I have read that he charts shots and decides what was "forced" and I know a couple of Kobe's third quarter shots were of that variety and a performance like that might tend to drive a purist like Tex nuts.

That being said, I also thought that he might be applauding Kobe's fourth quarter play, where he had 2 assists and no shot attempts.

Any thoughts would be appreciated and thanks for your continuing insightful info on the Lakers. Your site and book, my copy is ratty and dog eared, have really served to flesh out the Lakers and their intricacies and motivations rather than making us rely on unconventional media wisdom.


A lot of coaches are filled with sarcasm, but Tex isn't one of them. He's as direct a person as you can find. He's standing and applauding all the things he admires about Kobe. Tex especially prizes "efficiency." And Kobe's 30-point third quarter against Utah is about as efficient as a player can be. Only a select few have ever displayed such efficiency. Jerry West, Bill Walton and MJ come to mind. Kobe scored 52 points on a "mere" 26 shots?
Tex has been in Kobe's corner since I first gave Kobe Tex's phone number in 1999. Kobe was lost as a young Laker, and Tex was a Chicago Bulls assistant. Kobe had dreamed that Tex would one day coach him and wanted to talk with him.
Tex assured Kobe when, as a young player, he was stricken by self doubt. They've been close ever since. "I love Tex," Kobe has told me many times. Those aren't words Kobe tosses around lightly. Does that mean they don't have their heated moments. Kobe told me that people misinterpret those moments. They are simply displays of passion from two men who are among basketball's most passionate.
When Phil said at the start of the season he wanted to Kobe to hold his game to 22 or 23 shots, Tex said the number of shots wasn't the issue. It was the quality of shots.
Of course, the tricky part of the equation comes with the "bad" shots that Kobe suddenly turns into good ones.
I suggest that the coaches of the Lakers and the team are adjusting better with each incident to Kobe's offensive outbursts, and those outbursts are no longer uncontrolled ravenous urges on Kobe's part. There's no question that those outbursts can affect the team, positively and negatively. So it's a balancing act, like learning to ride a bicycle.
I think we're having a lot of fun watching this team grow up, learning to ride the bike.
An excellent detail that you picked up, by the way, was Kobe's assists in the fourth.
As for your comments about my work, well, you made my day. Thank you.
However, I must point out that the "conventional" media in Los Angeles do what I think is a very fine job covering the Lakers. Mike Bresnahan with the Times has his hand on the pulse of the team, and how can you get a better view of the Lakers than Steve Springer's long take?
Kevin Ding over at the OC does his lion's share as do Ross at the Daily News and my buddy Brad at the Press Enterprise.
And I haven't even mentioned all the broadcast work in the market.
Having said that about the conventional media, I have to admit the internet sites focused on the team are amazing. The LATimes Blog is a rowdy riot, filled with passion and insight, and Kurt's thing with Forum Blue and Gold is astonishingly bright, and I'm just scraping the surface there. How about the absolutely crazy Lakers board? And let me count the ways you can feed your habit: Lakers Ground, Lakers Web, Show Time Blog, Club Lakers, Lakers Topbuzz, Real GM - Lakers, and Laker Dynasty 2K? Yikes.
You can say what you want about the drawbacks of the modern age, but you can't complain about the coverage of this team. Somebody is always throwing something up on the hump that gets the rest of us buzzin'.
That's especially true of you and all the other posters who make these blogs come alive.
Without you and your comments, we'd all be whistling in the dark. Thanks to each and every one of you.
If you can find it.