Jul 25, 2014 1:39 PM EDT
On the surface, the Los Angeles Lakers' acquisition of Carlos Boozer doesn't make a lot of sense. At 32 and going into his 13th season in the NBA, Boozer is on his last legs. He's going from starter on a good team to starter on a bad team and there’s little chance he makes it back. If he plays on a contender again, it will be as a reserve. The Lakers are signing Boozer to put up empty numbers while blocking the development of Julius Randle, the No. 7 overall pick in the draft.
However, as weird as it might seem at first glance, Boozer could be the perfect veteran mentor for a young PF like Randle. His steep decline with the Chicago Bulls, as well as his hefty contract, has masked how good a player he was in his prime. Boozer is a two-time All-Star with a gold medal on his resume who has made over $125 million dollars in the NBA. Not many guys taken at No. 7 end up with that type of career, much less ones who fall all the way to No. 34.
For all his flaws, it's hard to consider Boozer's career anything but a resounding success. Once you get out of the first round, NBA teams are just hoping to find guys who can stick in the league and possibly crack a rotation. Glen Davis, the No. 35 overall pick in 2007, has had an excellent career for a second round pick and he's never been able to hold down a starting job. Boozer was a starter on two teams who made the Conference Finals - the 2007 Jazz and the 2011 Bulls.
Despite averaging 18 points and 9 rebounds a game on 66% shooting as a junior at Duke, Boozer fell in the 2002 draft because of concerns about his tools. At 6’9 260, he had only average size for an NBA PF and he didn’t have the type of exceptional athleticism that would allow him to make up for it. The odds were stacked against him - he entered the league without a guaranteed contract and had to earn his way onto the roster, much less the starting line-up.
After two seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Boozer signed with the Utah Jazz in fairly controversial fashion and immediately became one of the building blocks for an up-and-coming team. In his first season with the Jazz, he averaged 18 points and 9 rebounds on 52% shooting. From 2006-2010, Utah was one of the best teams in the NBA. They won an average of 51 games a year, got out of the first round three times and advanced to the Western Conference Finals in 2007.
The Jazz were one of the main reasons why Tracy McGrady never made it out of the first round, as they knocked a 50+ win Rockets team out of the playoffs in 2006 and 2007. With Boozer and Mehmet Okur, Utah had two big men who could make it rain 20+ feet from the basket and drag Yao Ming out of the paint. Since they ran so much of their offense through the post, it negated Houston's ability to defend on the perimeter with McGrady, Shane Battier and Ron Artest.
Those Jazz teams aren't remembered that well because they had a stumbling block of their own - the Lakers. As effective as Boozer was when matched up with a slower defender like Yao, there was little he could do against a frontcourt duo as long, skilled and athletic as Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol. L.A. beat Utah in the playoffs three years in a row - they gave the Jazz problems upfront with the power game (Bynum and Gasol) and with the speed game (Gasol and Odom).
Against elite competition, Boozer's physical limitations were exposed. The same happened in 2011, when the Bulls were the No. 1 seed and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Boozer wasn't quite big or athletic enough to dominate the Heat's undersized front-line. If Derrick Rose had stayed healthy and they had gotten another chance at the Big Three, the Bulls likely would have closed games with Taj Gibson, a much better defender than Boozer.
Boozer never had Randle's physical tools - he was only as successful as he was because he was a fundamentally sound player, at least on the offensive side of the ball. In his prime, Boozer was automatic from mid-range and was very effective with his back to the basket. He didn't make the game any harder on himself than necessary and he knew how to leverage his strength to create good looks at the basket. These are things Randle will need to learn as he tries to navigate the NBA paint.
Like most college big men, Randle will have a big adjustment process at the next level. He goes from big fish in a small pond to a medium sized fish in an ocean. For the first time in his life, he will no longer be one of the biggest players on the floor. He might have seen a half-dozen NBA caliber big men at Kentucky - he will see that many in a weekend in the NBA. He needs a more consistent jumper and he needs to learn how to finish with his right hand around the basket.
These aren't things that will happen for him overnight, which isn’t a huge deal. Randle is only 19 - if he had stayed four years in school, he would have been in the 2017 draft. The Lakers don't need to put a ton of pressure on him in the first few months of his career. Playing him behind an established veteran like Boozer will force him to earn his way on the floor and it will give his coach the leeway to bench him if he's not doing the right things or developing good habits.
Unless the Lakers are contending for a playoff spot in March and April, Randle will eventually get as much floor time as he can handle as a rookie. There's no need to force-feed him minutes on a bad team in November and December. Boozer is 32 and Randle is 19 - Randle was in first grade when Boozer entered the league. There's a lot he could learn from him, both on and off the court. And if Randle learns a few things, this season won't be a total waste for the Lakers.
May 05, 2014 6:27 PM EDT
With the reluctance of coaching next season as a lame duck, Mike D’Antoni abruptly stepped down—while still making $4 million in salary next season. Consequently, this meant the next head coach hire would count for the price of three (Lakers still owe Mike Brown up to $5 million).
Jim Buss knows he has been on thin ice with the fan base and the media ever since the mishandling of the Phil Jackson fiasco. Recently, Buss informed his family that he would step down in three or four years time if the Lakers were not contenders by then. Buss finally understands that the next coaching hire will likely define his tenure as the chief of Lakers management.
During the process of hiring the Lakers last head coach, Buss opted for the team to abandon the slow system triangle players and focus more on bringing the ‘Showtime Lakers’ back. Obviously, we all know how that turned out. While we have no idea to the mindset of direction that Buss plans to take this franchise, we can get a good idea from the list of candidates that have surfaced the past couple of days.
Hard-Nose, Half-Court, Scrappy Defensive Style
- Byron Scott
With 13 years as head coach experience and having led the New Jersey Nets to back-to-back trips to the NBA Finals over a decade ago, former Showtime member Byron Scott has already made it known publicly that he is interested in the head coaching vacancy of the Lakers. Scott brings an old school, no-nonsense approach that would definitely appease the mind of Kobe Bryant. The combination of a Scott hiring for the Lakers and the uncertainty of Kyrie Irving’s willingness to sign an extension this summer will definitely generate speculation of a possible Kyrie-Scott reunion in Hollywood. At least one source told Bleacher Report Ric Bucher that this was a legitimate direction that management are currently mulling over.
- Jeff Van Gundy
It would take quite a bit to lure Jeff Van Gundy from the comforting television commentating seats of ESPN; nevertheless the Lakers have always had Van Gundy high on their head-coaching list. Up and coming Bobcats coach Steve Clifford and defensive guru Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau were both assistants with Van Gundy during the early 2000 Knick years. Both Clifford and Thibodeau reciprocate the scrappy physical defensive mindset that Van Gundy was known for as head coach.
- Lionel Hollins
Fresh off leading the Grizzles to the Western Conference Finals last season, Hollins has been a name that has floated with any available NBA head coaching vacancy since he was fired. Hollins would bring a tough-minded, grit and grind approach, but it also could come at a cost. Hollins was fired by Memphis because he had butted heads with Grizzles executives on multiple of occasions. With Hollins’ limited offensive creativity, it would be difficult to see the Buss family hiring Hollins, especially given what happened when offensive incompetent Mike Brown coached the Lakers.
- Ettore Messina
The four-time Euroleague champion Ettore Messina would provide the glamour hire that the Lakers have always been known for. Having worked with the Lakers as recently as the 2012 season, Messina served as an assistant/consultant to Mike Brown. Bryant and Lakers management share the same affinity for Euroleague legend Messina. He demands a slow tempo, half-court system style of play on both sides of the ball. His stubborn coaching mentality may clash with personalities like Bryant, but Messina is known as coaching his best in the fourth quarter.
Up-Tempo, Free Flowing, Efficient Offensive Style
- George Karl
If the front office enjoyed the offensive flow and up-tempo style that D’Antoni bought to Staples Center, then Karl would be an ideal fit. Like his disciple Terry Scotts—who is flourishing as coach with the Blazers—Karl runs a high efficiency, equal opportunity offense that would be entertaining to watch. He could create a strong cohesive bond amongst the younger players similar to what he did with the young players on Denver. Given Karl’s track record of demanding ample control of the team roster, the Lakers do not seem like a likely fit.
- John Calipari
On the day of the NCAA Championship, former Kentucky legend Rex Chapman tweeted that Kentucky insiders told him that Calipari was headed to the Lakers, which caused a media frenzy. Since then, Calipari has asserted his intentions to stay at Kentucky, but we have seen this act before. Akin to how Calipari’s last NBA stint turned out, a Calipari-Lakers marriage could end with a messy divorce. Calipari commands complete control of the roster, and we know that the Lakers front office will not tolerate that.
- Kevin Ollie
As inexperienced as Ollie is, he managed to guide his UConn squad to a national championship. The Lakers have already publicly announced that they would be checking in to see Ollie’s interest. Ollie’s stock will never be as high as it currently is, yet Ollie has expressed his desire to remain at his alma mater UConn. Unlike Calipari, Ollie is still considered inexperienced as a coach and would be a much better fit than Calipari for someone to jump into the professional ranks.
- Derek Fisher
Considering that Fisher is still playing in the league and without any coaching experience, he should be considered a long shot. Adrian Wojnarowski threw out Fisher as someone the Lakers should seriously consider, and it seems like a perfect fit to the puzzle. With the current state of the roster and the instability of the Laker front office, Fisher could provide the Lakers with a cheap coaching option and the willingness to go through the growing pains with a young roster next season. Furthermore, it does not hurt that Kobe’s must trusted basketball ally is Fisher—as they won five titles together.
May 01, 2014 4:26 PM EDT
Rather than restoring the Los Angeles Lakers to their Showtime style of the 1980s, Mike D'Antoni was head coach during the bodily betrayal of both Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, while also severely alienating Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
From his first day on the job, D'Antoni was destined to disappoint since he wasn't Phil Jackson.
While replacing Mike Brown, D'Antoni had a quartet of Howard-Bryant-Gasol-Nash to work with that we expected be a perfect match for his system. But that Big Four saw only 22 games together, and most, if not all, of those games saw none of them simultaneously healthy. Even still, the team's chemistry and cohesion was upended almost immediately in 12-13 with an early injury to Nash.
That Lakers' roster was incredibly thin and could not withstand extended absences of any of those players, though they still managed to sneak into the playoffs.
Both the Lakers and D'Antoni have lost considerable luster since 2010.
The Lakers have just nine playoff wins since their 2010 title and their anticipated franchise player of the future walked from the franchise last July.
There aren't many proven, big name coaches readily available to replace D'Antoni. Stan Van Gundy hasn't shown an interest in coaching soon, and the likes of Lionel Hollins or George Karl could be too impatient to come to the Lakers in this transitional phase.
The Lakers' trouble isn't finding a coach, but committing to a direction. The worst thing a front can do in the NBA is mire between title contention and being a lottery team, simply being mediocre and without an identity. While the Lakers' endured a team-record 54 losses, there is the expectation they can immediately contend.
That expectation is enabled by front office decisions like investing $48 million on an extension for Bryant, who has been unable to stay healthy over the past year. It is difficult to see how they can be anything more than a fringe playoff team as their best case scenario given the coaching instability, rash spending and a lack of assets beyond this June's lottery pick, along with 2015 cap room that isn't guaranteed to net their next superstar centerpiece.
After wanting the team to exercise his contract option for the 2016 season, D'Antoni decided it was better to leave the franchise. His 67-87 record is the worst among coaches who oversaw at least 100 games for the Lakers, but that tells only so much, evidenced by 16 players starting at least five games this past season.
It is extremely difficult for a franchise to completely avoid periods of rebuilding, even one as storied as the Lakers. The issues facing Mitch Kupchak and the Buss Family didn't begin with D'Antoni, and they certainly won't end because he's gone.
Mar 29, 2014
With a likely top-6 pick and an ever-competitive West, the Lakers must adjust to their reality: they’re rebuilding. But their resources and history will allot a chance to eventually return among the NBA elite.
Feb 21, 2014
The Western Conference is highly competitive this season, but that didn't carry over to a deadline in which Steve Blake was the most important acquisition after the Rockets were unable to cash in their Omer Asik chip.
Feb 06, 2014
The Lakers rarely have high picks and this draft will prove extremely important for Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss to select a potential superstar as a successor to Kobe Bryant.
Jan 29, 2014
Kendall Marshall became a free agent before the start of his second season in the NBA, but injuries created a huge opportunity for him with Mike D'Antoni and the Lakers.
Dec 04, 2013
The Western Conference is nine degrees warmer on average than the Eastern Conference, which must be considered as a factor in why it has been a far deeper conference over the past two decades.
Dec 02, 2013
The category of points in the paint is clearly important enough to be on the box score. You could argue that it should be at the top of the box score instead of the bottom. It’s the one stat that can determine how dominate a team can be either offensively or defensively or both.
Nov 25, 2013
Strangely, none of the major market teams have the competitive advantage of their location and a top-flight organizational reputation. History and money are still (largely) on their sides but players have become more conscious of organizational quality in recent years.
Oct 29, 2013
The following 30 questions are the biggest issues facing each NBA front office as the 13-14 regular season begins.
Aug 16, 2013
Great drafts for the Rockets, 76ers, Nets, Warriors, Hawks and Grizzlies headline this complete rundown of the 2013 offseason.
Jul 08, 2013
If the owners want to make it harder for superstars to switch teams, they have to increase the financial incentives for them to stay. Otherwise, franchises with one All-Star will forever be looking over their shoulder. To paraphrase Sean Parker, having two stars isn’t cool. Having three is.
Jun 28, 2013
Breaking down all 30 teams by category of how they fared in the often surprising, never disappointing 2013 NBA Draft.
May 24, 2013
Pundits like Bill Simmons can look at a year Dwight Howard was hurt and a year where he played in a system that minimized his strengths and magnified his weaknesses to write him off using pithy garbage like personality, but analyzing production and talent over conjecture will always win out.
May 23, 2013
Getting Dwight Howard sits within the realm of possibility for the Warriors, but it would come at a steep, steep cost unless the Lakers are more generous than expected. Wasting their amnesty on Charlie Bell and using 2013 cap space to acquire a pick last season is again continuing to hurt them.
May 20, 2013
One fun component of the Amnesty rule is that we know exactly which players are eligible for it and that number can only decrease over time since the players had to have been under contract with the same team before the new CBA.
Apr 30, 2013
An unrestricted free agent for the first time in his nine-year career, Dwight Howard will have to choose the franchise that best positions him to grow as a player and compete for championships. The time has come for Howard to decide whether he wants to be an all-time great player, or just a player that was good for his time.
Mar 31, 2013
In the past, a player could easily be swayed to come to play for the Lakers. Who wouldn't want to play for a franchise with such a rich history and strong fanbase? Who wouldn't want to play for the Buss family and add to the tradition? But the NBA has changed and so has the perception.
Feb 25, 2013
Not much has gone right for either the Lakers or Mavericks this season, but both remain worth watching, if only for the presence of Dirk Nowitzki and Kobe Bryant. Both players will hopefully continue adapting to playing at a near-MVP level in their thirties for many more seasons.
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