For our next installment in ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series we head out West, to La La Land. After falling to the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals Lakers fans were understandably disappointed. However, the season was still a tremendous success for The Lake Show as they vaulted back into the NBA’s elite. Kurt from always solid Forum Blue and Gold was along for the ride, blogging the rollercoaster season from start to finish.
We asked Kurt to answer a few questions about the past and upcoming seasons, and he was nice enough to make time to oblige. Over the course of ten questions we weave our way through Andrew Bynum’s health, that Ron Artest-for-Lamar Odom trade chatter, Kobe’s competitiveness, the future of Jordan Farmar, handicap a potential Kyle Korver vs. Sasha Vujacic catfight and more. Enjoy.
Empty the Bench: Talk a little about Phil Jackson’s rotations and substitutions in the Finals. There are a few choices that boggled my mind, but what stood out to you?
Kurt: Phil Jackson was a desperate man, and that led to experiments at a time when your rotation should be pretty set. But he had no real choice, what had worked so well for the last couple months of the season and all through the Western Conference playoffs was now failing. A lot of that was due to matchups — Boston posed some serious matchup issues, starting with stopping Pierce — but part of the problem was that outside of Kobe or Fisher this was the first time Lakers players had seen the Finals, and they were a little taken aback by the Celtics desire. So Phil tried just about anything, even throwing Chris Mihm out there even though he hadn’t played a serious NBA game in nearly two years. Desperate times call for desperate measures. It didn’t work, so people were left scratching their heads, questioning his coaching.
ETB: Who would win the catfight between Sasha Vujacic and Kyle Korver?
Kurt: Does Korver have all those Salt Lake tweens in his corner, ready to jump on that Euro with the bad hair if he hurts their precious pretty boy Korver? If he’s got those girls, you have to lean Korver, never underestimate an angry teenager. Straight up, I’ll take The Machine.
We talk Ron Artest, Jordan Farmar, Kevin Martin and more after the jump…
Kobe Bryant and The Los Angeles Lakers Photo Credit: Icon SMI
ETB: Will the return of a healthy Andrew Bynum be enough to win a title? Is this drawn-out healing process giving you second thoughts about the young man?
Kurt: First, Bynum’s health. I wouldn’t say there are second thoughts, but another injury this year would be reason to give pause. I’m not about to consign a guy not old enough to drink to the often “injured/slow healing” pile. Part of the reason for his slow return was a disagreement between various doctors (his and the Lakers) on what was the best way to heal. Now he’s cleared to play and I’m willing to take that at face value.
As for title aspirations, Bynum alone is not enough, although he would be a big part of it. It’s not his offense that was missed most, it was his defense. Paul Pierce would not have had so many easy trips to the rim; when Ray Allen blows past Farmar another defender would have been their to protect the paint. Bynum would have brought an inside toughness the Lakers missed.
But two other things matter. The little one is a healthy Trevor Ariza – when right he is the wing defender the Lakers lacked in the Finals. For about five minutes in one Finals game we saw a flash of him being able to bother Pierce (nobody stops him, he’s too good) but after missing all those games his conditioning could not hold up. Healthy he plays a much bigger role.
The biggest issue is experience. Remember, the Lakers had one of the youngest rosters in the NBA and outside of three people (Phil, Fisher and Kobe) they did not have deep playoff experience. Teams need to learn how to win. Remember, even Jordan’s Bulls lost to the Bad Boy Pistons three years running in the playoffs before they got over the hump to the Finals and became THE BULLS. This year’s Celtics were sort of an aberration along those lines. Hopefully the taste of the Finals — both reaching it and looking bad there — fuels the off-season workouts and growth of the team. Experience matters.
ETB: Do you think acquiring Ron Artest in some type of Lamar Odom swap would have been enough to put the Lakers over the championship hump?
Kurt: I was against the Lakers trading for Artest from day one. I think Odom is a much better fit for the Lakers and what they want to do. Odom is a better rebounder, key for a team that wants to get out and run. While Artest is better shooting from beyond the arc, overall Odom’s shooting percentage last year was 7% higher than Artest. I think a front line of Odom, Gasol and Bynum will be just fine defensively. And finally, and most importantly, Odom is comfortable in the role as the number four option in the offense. He thrives getting his points without plays run for him. Artest is not and has never been that guy — last year he hogged the shots down the stretch, taking them away from the better offensive player in Kevin Martin. I thought any gain in defense from Artest would have been offset by so many other factors. The Lakers had great chemistry last season and reached the Finals, why risk that with a true wild card like Artest?
It will be interesting to see how Artest blends in Houston when the games start.
ETB: Kobe Bryant was frustrated and appeared to come undone in the NBA Finals at points. Did his performance change your opinion of him in any way?
Kurt: No, that’s Kobe. He is ultra competitive, the most fiercely competitive guy in a league of competitive guys. When he got that close to the promised land again and realized he wasn’t going to enter it, he grew frustrated and tried to take on more (which is what he always does in these situations). If he wasn’t the most driven player since Jordan, he wouldn’t be who he is. Lakers fans can live with that.
ETB: Will Jordan Farmar ever be anything other than a journeyman back-up?
Kurt: Not to sound like the Magic 8 Ball, but “ask again later.” Like at the end of this season. Farmar has an amazing work ethic, he improved his game a lot from his rookie to sophomore campaigns. Can he make another big leap? We’ll see. There are two years left on Derek Fisher’s deal and Farmar needs to grab the starting spot from him with his play, or the Lakers need to find an alternative. I’m not sure what the answer is yet.
ETB: We’re trying to get a lot of opinions on this: Who is the most underrated player in the NBA today? Feel free to mention any others that come to mind.
My pat answer to this used to be David West, but since his coach put him on the All Star team last year he gets disqualified. That said, I don’t think most people really appreciate how good he is or what a great fit he is alongside CP3.
So I’ll chose one guy who gets a fair amount of love from NBA bloggers but not the mainstream (yet): Kevin Martin from Sacramento. The guy can flat out shoot the rock. I think he will have a Reggie Miller level career, maybe a little better (if the Kings put the guys around him to get a title).
Calderon out of Toronto would be another good choice.
ETB: How is the Pacific Division shaping up this year? Should Phoenix still be taken seriously? Are you checking your rearviews for the Clippers and Warriors?
Kurt: I think the Lakers are still the class of the Pacific, not only do they have great stars but they are legitimately 11 deep with guys who can play. That matters over 82 games. Phoenix can be very good in spurts but how healthy will Shaq and Nash be for 82 games and the playoffs? They don’t have depth and nobody is quite sure what the offense and style will look like with a new coach (but their will be an adjustment period). The Clippers are going to be far more entertaining with Baron, and they’ll win more games than last year and fight for the 8 seed, but they are not a real threat over the course of a season. Golden State is sort of the same — some good young players and an entertaining style, but they don’t have enough defense to be a real threat. Sacramento is rebuilding, some nice young players but this will be a tough year for their fans.
The Lakers have some real challengers in the West, but not the Pacific. Unless Shaq comes back motivated and in shape – so I feel safe.
ETB: The off-season is still in full swing, but if you had to pick the 2008-09 NBA Champ right now who would it be and why?
Kurt: Right now, if everyone remains healthy (always a question), I think it could well be a rematch of last year. Boston should be about the same, I don’t know that Detroit or Cleveland improved dramatically, and Philly may be a year or so away from that level (same with Chicago, maybe). Out West it is more open and health will be an issue. The Lakers, Spurs, Hornets and Rockets are all serious threats if healthy, but for obvious reasons I’ll take the Lakers.
ETB: Which Laker do you think would be most fun to kick back and get a beer with?
Kurt: Since they let Turiaf walk, the answer to that question changed. I think it would be Lamar Odom, so he can give me the scoop on his Entourage cameo, plus he just seems like a good, grounded guy who has learned a lot from some tragedies at a young age.
Recommended Reading at Forum Blue & Gold:
More ETB’s Scribes of the NBA Interview Series:
– J.E. Skeets of Yahoo!’s Ball Don’t Lie
– David Friedman of 20 Second Timeout
– Ron Hitley of Hornets 24/7
– Ryne “Odenized” Nelson of SLAMonline
– Tom Ziller of Sactown Royalty and FanHouse
– Brett Hainline of Queen City Hoops
– Dave Deckard of Blazer’s Edge
– Kurt of Forum Blue and Gold
– Brian Powell of Awful Announcing
– Lee Grammier of The Dream Shake
– Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead
– Scott Carefoot of Raptor Blog
– Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Part 1
– Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Part 2
– Matt Watson of AOL FanHouse and Detroit Bad Boys
– Natalie Sitto of Need4Sheed.com