Lakers Officially Hit The Panic Switch

Judging by Kobe Bryant’s sudden desire to engage in public feud’s with former players — see the weird and pointless Smush Parker back-and-forth for details — it might not be too long before we hear about Mike Brown’s deficiencies as a head coach. As of this afternoon, that’s former Lakers coach Mike Brown, of course. Like a mafia boss giving someone the kiss of death, Jim Buss’ assurances just a day ago, that Brown was safe, were no more than empty rhetoric.

The Lakers officially flipped the panic switch by firing Brown after just five games — albeit after a dismal 1-4 start to the season, with the only victory coming against the winless, and absolutely atrocious, Detroit Pistons. The four Lakers losses haven’t even been close. They’ve turned the ball over far too much, let opposing teams dominate them on the glass—with a Pau Gasol-Dwight Howard frontline, no less!—and have generally seemed disinterested on defense.

Defense, of course, was supposed to be Mike Brown’s forte, which was probably a large reason why he was fired. The much-criticized Princeton offense, which was actually Bryant’s idea, although not fully utilizing the potential of their team, is not really the issue. Bryant is shooting well over 50% from the field, and over 40% from downtown, while Gasol hasn’t looked terrible on offense either.

The writing was probably on the wall after the recent Jazz defeat—contrary to what Howard and Bryant said to the media post-game. Bryant’s ‘death-stare’, which Brown could probably feel burning through his tailored suit, was surely a strong visual sign that he’d had enough of a coach who, let’s face it, always seemed like a strange fit in Los Angeles.

Let’s not forget, LeBron James got a little sick of Brown in Cleveland, too.

That being said, the timing of Brown’s firing is puzzling. They could’ve given him the boot last year, and brought in a new face who would’ve been better suited to handle the inevitable chemistry issues the Lakers were going to face. Without making too many excuses for Brown, it hasn’t helped that Nash got hurt—Steve Blake is not a starting point-guard—and Howard hasn’t been himself coming off of back surgery. The Lakers are going to turn things around regardless, they’re too good not to, and they likely would’ve turned things around with Brown in charge.

Think back to the rocky moments of another coach of a stacked super-team: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. It took Spoelstra over a year to get things right in Miami. Remember when the Heat were 9-8 and LeBron James was ‘accidentally’ bumping into Spoelstra while returning to the bench, or when Dwayne Wade looked on the verge of punching him in last season’s Indiana series? Those were rough times, but the Heat stuck with their man. I’m not saying that Mike Brown is the best coach for this team, but the Lakers’ move appears even more rash when compared with the ‘keep put’ approach of Pat Riley and the Heat.

One thing’s for sure, there are plenty of names being thrown about as potential replacements—Mike D’Antoni being one of the favourites because of the Steve Nash Phoenix connection, and the fact that Bryant loved working with him during his Team USA stints. Other potential names included Jerry Sloan, Nate McMillan, and Brian Shaw. Stan Van Gundy, for obvious Dwight Howard-related reasons, won’t be up for consideration—although that would be an amazing hiring for comedic purposes.

The Lakers have made their move. Fairly or unfairly, Mike Brown was the sacrificial lamb, and now they have to go out and perform on the court. They’re running out of excuses.

Stoudemire Should Come Off The Bench

Of the many questions surrounding the New York Knicks coming into this season, perhaps the biggest was whether Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire could function together in the frontcourt. The evidence up until this point doesn’t make for pretty reading for those dreaming of a cohesive Anthony-Stoudemire-Tyson Chandler frontline.

The Knicks played some of their best basketball last year when Stoudemire was hurt—with Anthony taking full control of the offense—and it seems like no coincidence that Stoudemire was at his best in a Knicks uniform before the trade that brought Anthony to MSG.

As much as the players and management have waxed lyrical about Stoudemire’s importance to the team’s offense, many Knicks fans won’t have been too devastated with the news that Stoudemire was going to miss the first 6-8 weeks of the season. And the fact that the Knicks have looked fantastic in their victories over Miami and Philadelphia won’t have changed many people’s perceptions about the Knicks looking better without Stoudemire in the starting line-up.

Granted, we’re only a few games into the season—a ridiculously small sample size with which to make sweeping judgments about any team—and the Knicks won’t always hit as many shots from downtown as they’ve done in their first two games, but the Knicks’ frontcourt issues have been evident for more than a year now. It’s obvious to anyone watching , unless you bet on NFL football, that Anthony is best suited to the power forward position. At the 3-spot he gets exposed on defense, trying to chase down quicker, more agile, small forwards. At the power forward position he’s far more comfortable defending his opposite number. He’s strong enough to post-up on offense, and possesses a speed advantage over most opposing players at the 4-spot.

To put it simply: Anthony’s a better power forward than Stoudemire. The Knicks benefit on offense from having their best player function in his preferred spot—whatever he says publicly—while on defense, they’re far more solid with Anthony at the 4. It’s well known that Stoudemire is a frequent proponent of matador-style defense, and with Anthony getting exposed at small forward, the pressure on Tyson Chandler to bail the team out is huge. While accepting his Defensive Player of the Year Award last season, Chandler jokingly (but somewhat truthfully) acknowledged Anthony and Stoudemire’s role in his success—having to bail them out numerous times can’t help but make you look like a hero.

But the Knicks can’t just rely on Chandler if they’re serious about contending for a championship, which is why having Stoudemire and Anthony start together is a risky proposition. The Knicks just have too many players who coast/are generally horrible on defense—the likes of J.R. Smith, Raymond Felton and Steve Novak—so allowing Anthony to play with defensively solid frontcourt players enables him to do what he does best, and limits the damage defensively. So far this season they’ve started Ronnie Brewer at small forward, an elite perimeter defender who has given them the stability they need on defense, and has allowed Anthony to concentrate on offense, and defend slower power forwards.

It’s difficult to imagine Mike Woodson benching Stoudemire for long when he does return. He was moved back into the starting line-up fairly quickly last year after returning from injury. However, if the Knicks are still looking cohesive by the time he’s ready to return, Woodson should give serious consideration to playing Stoudemire in a 6th man role. Stoudemire won’t like it, of course, but for the good of the team, it would be the correct decision.

Stoudemire is still above average on offense, despite his alarming decline over the past two seasons, and he can offer the Knicks that scoring punch off the bench. If Woodson wants to continue getting the best out of Anthony, on offense and defense, keeping him at the 4-spot is essential.

Like the old adage goes: if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

Boom Or Bust Season For 76ers

The revamped Philadelphia 76ers are an intriguing enigma for those compiling their preseason previews and power-rankings. No team seems to have a higher ceiling—some have predicted that they’ll win the Atlantic division—or a lower floor, as others predict that they’ll fall out of the playoff picture altogether.

Many people, myself included, while wanting to believe that the 76ers are going to be a major contender, see a team with the potential to self-destruct.

The reasons for believing that the 76ers are going to be a major player in the East are clear—and they begin and end with Andrew Bynum. Bynum, the NBA’s second best centre, is now the best centre in the Eastern Conference—it’s not even close. With Dwight Howard shipped off to the West, there is no one that opposing big-men, and coaches, should fear more.

Last season, an injury-free Bynum showed what he could do at both ends of the floor. His footwork and low-post game was the best it’s ever been, while his play down the stretch in games was extremely impressive—check out his percentages in the final minutes of close games.

Recently there’s been talk of teams like the Miami Heat opting for small-ball lineups—not needing to play a genuine centre— but Bynum’s presence on the 76ers may put a wrench in that idea. I love that LeBron James can guard all 5 positions, and sure, he may be able to guard makeshift centres like Kevin Garnett, but he isn’t guarding Bynum down low. No chance.

As well as the potential 25-12 monster that is Bynum, the 76ers should also be better at the point-guard position this year. Jrue Holiday had somewhat of a coming-out party last season, particularly against the Celtics in the playoffs. He should continue that upward trajectory this year.

And then there’s Evan Turner. The uber-talented former 2nd overall pick showed flashes of brilliance last season, and he presents numerous match-up problems at the 2-spot, with his size, quickness, and rebounding abilities. Doug Collins will be hoping that he takes his game to the next level this season.

Given the factors just listed, it’s entirely logical to assume that Philadelphia are a solid playoff team, however, there are an equal number of reasons why they might also unravel. Although the signing of Bynum undoubtedly improves them in the frontcourt, the loss of Andre Iguodala in that same trade makes the 76ers substantially weaker on the perimeter. Having just praised the attributes of Turner, it’s worth mentioning that at this stage of his career, he’s no Iguodala when it comes to perimeter defense.

Iguodala was a huge part of Philadelphia’s highly ranked defense last season, and his loss means that much of the onus will be placed on Turner. Turner’s expected to play minutes at the 3-spot this year; mitigating much of the match-up problems he poses playing at the 2. At the same time, new additions Jason Richardson and Nick Young, while adding an outside shooting presence for Philadelphia, aren’t exactly shutdown defenders—Young being a particular liability at that end of the floor.

Then there’s the issue of locker-room cohesion and harmony. Fairly or unfairly, Turner has a reputation for being a difficult player to deal with, while we all know about Nick Young’s history as a member of a Washington Wizard’s team that took dysfunction to a whole new level. But the biggest problem could be Bynum’s tendency to act like a petulant child.

Bynum may have put up monster stat-lines last year in L.A., but he was also a monster pain in the behind. Just ask Mike Brown. He sulked his way through games, refused to sit with teammates during timeouts, got ejected from games, and of course, jacked up that ill-advised three that resulted in his benching. With all that baggage, Doug Collins, a highly-strung individual, with a tendency to self-destruct when pushed by a volatile superstar, might not be the ideal coach for Bynum. Just read about Collins’ checkered history with Michael Jordan for a potential precedent.

Of course, there’s also the small issue that Bynum hasn’t even suited up for the 76ers yet in preseason. It might be hard to clash with Collins if he doesn’t even get on the court. Remember, last year was also unique in that Bynum managed to play a full season—something rare in his injury-riddled career. Bynum has struggled with knee problems all summer and underwent a platelet enrichment procedure in Germany. I would be a little nervous if I was a fan in Philly.

That the 76ers are talented is not in doubt. They have enough potential scoring in Bynum, Holiday, Turner, and Thaddeus Young, while also possessing a top-15 NBA player, in the aforementioned Bynum. But there are big question marks on defense, as well as major injury and personality concerns with their star big man.

If everything comes together, you’re looking at a genuine threat in the Eastern Conference, but if the 76ers’ weaknesses on and off the court are exposed, the wheels could come off this team very quickly.