To help wile away the long hours until the Hawks and Lakers tip-off at 10:30pm Eastern Standard Time tonight, I traded some questions and answers with Andy Kamenetzky, one half of the Land O'Lakers blog on ESPN Los Angeles and on Twitter at @ESPNLandOLakers. You can head over there to read my responses to Andy's questions.
Bret LaGree: Mike Brown was put in a tough position: replace an all-time great coach following a bad playoff loss, have almost no practice time thanks to the lockout, and no quality additions to the roster. How well has he coped with circumstance?
Andy Kamenetzky: It's been a mixed bag. On one hand, the obstacles you cited are legitimately difficult to overcome. And beyond not adding an impact player, the Lakers lost one in Lamar Odom, and this "Trade Exception" fella they got in exchange has brought little to the table. The roster holes are big. Having said that, Brown's not without fault. His rotations have been unpredictable, which has prevented the second unit from jelling as much as possible. (I also get a sense players have grown annoyed.) And those who questioned his offensive creativity upon getting hired (like me) are gaining ammo. He's made adjustments with Kobe and Pau's spots on the floor, but in terms of what's being run, the offense remains a mess. The players at his disposal are problematic, but he's also paid to figure out a way to maximize what he has. I'm not convinced he has.
BL: Kobe Bryant is having a great season. Given his age, is there a sense that this might be his last hurrah? If so, does that make watching him this season any different an experience from watching him during his past great seasons?
AK: To some degree, sure. This is Kobe's 16th season and when you include playoff games, he's played roughly the equivalent of 19 campaigns. With all sincere respect to Bryant's conditioning, his German doctor's handiwork and a skill set still envied by 95 percent of the NBA, the mileage is the mileage. And the overwhelming amount of responsibilities this season increases that toll even more. Truth be told, Kobe's already slowed down this season. He's only shot above 40 percent once since February began and fourth quarters have treated him increasingly worse. Bryant's opening 15-20 games were amazing and fun, but anybody moderately realistic knew this wasn't sustainable. At some point, a trip back to Earth had to be expected.
Of course, Bryant's still performing at a very high level, and I expect he will next season as well. But there's only so much sand in the hour glass. I'd be lying if I claimed not to have contemplated the end. In that sense, I am conscious of appreciating Kobe while I can, even if I don't suspect the end is literally around the corner.
BL: Since so many players aren't trade eligible until March 1st, it's almost as if we're waiting for the transfer window to open. Once it becomes simpler to make trades on March 1, what do the Lakers need and how realistic are chances of acquiring what they need?
AK: The biggest needs are two-fold. First, a perimeter player capable of creating his own shot and/or someone else's. This roster is desperately low on wing players not named "Kobe" or "Bryant" with either skill set, much less both. From there, a reliable outside shooter. The Lakers aren't just the worst outside shooting team in the NBA. They're possibly the worst outside shooting team I've ever seen. Beyond the empty possessions, opponents regularly pack the lanes to force action away from the action. The Lakers rarely make them pay, which reduces the effectiveness of a formidable inside game.
Oh, and Dwight Howard... right?
As for the odds of filling these needs, easier said than done. The Lakers aren't steeped in trade assets, unless Metta World Peace's market value is deceptively high. And the players potentially drawing the most interest (Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol) are in theory being saved until D12 is off the market. The trade exception from the Odom deal could be handy, but who knows when/if they want to use it. It appears the Lakers are in a holding pattern until Orlando figures out what to do with Howard, save a move around the margins.
BL: The Western Conference is far more open than the Eastern Conference. For example, John Hollinger's playoff odds give the Lakers almost equal chances of winning the division and missing the playoffs. Is the compressed schedule amplifying the excitement of the playoff race or making you lament the quality of play during what could be a historically competitive battle for playoff spots and seeding out West?
AK: Considering the Western Conference is always exciting and competitive, the weaker on-court product stands out more to me. Scoring is down. Fluidity is down. Sloppiness is on the rise. A dog fight is expected in the west, but typically the play matches the superior competition. This season, not so much, and that's a shame.