One thing a lot of people (including myself) didn't immediately take into account when picking the Lakers as the NBA's team to beat
this year is their coach.
No, Mike Brown is not a great one.
A lot of observers felt when Brown took the Lakers job after Phil Jackson's retirement in 2011 that he would soon be in over his head, and that the success he had with a one-man (LeBron James) show in Cleveland couldn't be mirrored with Kobe Bryant in the league's glamour market.
While Bryant has defended Brown in the wake of the team's 1-3 start going into Wednesday, the coach's shortcomings have nothing to do with his relationship with Kobe - at least not yet, anyway.
Bryant shot down Jackson rebirth rumours by saying Brown's Princeton offence philosophy is similar to Jackson's triangle in the sense that they both challenge league convention. For those not aware, the Princeton offence is a strategy rooted in motion and back-door cuts, popularized by longtime Princeton University coach Pete Carril. The fruit of it's labours? Twenty-six Ivy League titles.
But forget for a moment that nobody has ever confused the NBA with the Ivy League, and consider this: For Bryant, the Princeton offence is working right now. He's shooting almost 60 per cent from the field in the first four games because the system opens up the floor and gets him the ball on the move.
The odd man out in the system? One of the greatest point guards of all-time - Steve Nash. It's vexing and it really makes you wonder - what was the point at all of signing Nash, a classic pick-and-roll point, if you are going to play him off the ball (in other words, make him utterly useless) half the time? ESPN's J.A. Adande wrote Tuesday that Nash's leg injury - which is expected to keep him out another week
- could be seen as a blessing in disguise for L.A.
If that's the case, and the Lakers start clicking, then Nash will find himself in a scenario he never wanted to be in. Adande also ominously mentioned another great failed Laker point guard experiment - Gary Payton, who spent most of the 2004 playoffs on the bench (Jackson's Triangle offence never had much use for pure point guards either - it's why Ron Harper was a longtime backcourt mate of Bryant and Michael Jordan).
Of course, if the Lakers don't start winning, then Brown's job should be on the line regardless of whether he's running the Princeton or asking guys to hit two-handed set shots. Two years ago, we were having a similar discussion about Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat. The LeBron-Wade-Bosh combo hadn't really gelled yet, and Pat Riley's name kept popping up. But Miami still had a winning record, and they got it together and reached the Finals. Perhaps the Lakers can do the same. It would be nice, however, if Nash could play a role if they do.Fields fruitless in Toronto
With the 38-year-old Nash hurt and somewhat displaced, I hope the last bits of idiotic rancor heard in Toronto when he passed on the Raptors last summer have disintegrated.
In three games, Kyle Lowry has demonstrated what knowledgeable basketball people knew all along - that he's a much better fit as the point guard in Toronto than a near-40 jersey-seller ever would be.
Lowry has been an absolute beast on both ends for the Raps. Heading into Tuesday's game, he was leading the team in scoring, rebounding (which is a somewhat disturbing stat from the team's perspective), assists and steals. He's also in the top five in the league in Player Efficiency Rating.
The same cannot be said for the man used as a tool in the failed attempt to get Nash to Toronto - Landry Fields.
To be clear, nobody expected a lot of statistical production from Fields in the first place. However, what has been on display through the first three games has been laughable. Fields has shot 3-for-14 on the season going into Tuesday night. One of his strong points, rebounding, has been sub-par. The equalizer with Fields has always been his abilities off the ball (the opposite of Steve Nash, oddly enough), but Raps coach Dwane Casey alluded to the media on Sunday that more of that is needed from him. After all, what do you want for $19 million?
On the topic of bad Raptor contracts, time will tell how much the $38 million over four years given to DeMar DeRozan pooches the organization. There's a school of thought out there that says somebody would have offered him $40 million as a free agent anyways. Then again, the rebuttal from many is, "So?"
One thing you can say about Bryan Colangelo and the Raptors is that they are loyal to the players they believe in, perhaps to a fault. Believing in DeRozan's work ethic enough to justify that kind of money is a risk. For a little while, things had evened out. The horrible contract given to Fields was neutralized somewhat by the fact that Lowry is presently underpaid. Then this.
DeRozan's production will be the tiebreaker - and Colangelo is running out of chances.
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