Why the Lakers need Kidd, an Isiah puzzler and more
Posted: Tuesday February 20, 2007 12:17PM; Updated: Tuesday February 20, 2007 6:11PM
Many observers have attributed the Lakers' recent slump (they've lost 11 of their last 15 games) to the absence of do-it-all forward Luke Walton, and they're partially right. Walton's versatile play and ability to think on his feet in the triangle offense usually make life easy for both superstar and role player alike. The offense has taken a dive with Walton out -- the spacing isn't the same, the open looks aren't there as much and Walton's own long-range shooting touch (40 percent on threes this year) has been missed -- but these issues will likely resolve themselves once Walton returns sometime this month.
Even with sharpshooter Vladimir Radmanovic out for two months with a separated shoulder, the offense (currently seventh in the NBA in overall efficiency) should perk back up. It's the other end of the court that should have Lakers fans worried.
Los Angeles' defense is among the league's worst, with perimeter stops a mere pipe dream at this point, and no real interior threat to scare penetrating guards or forwards out of the paint. The team is 23rd in defensive efficiency, giving up 109.5 points per 100 possessions, just a percentage point ahead of Don Nelson's Golden State team. And Walton's return doesn't figure to change things all that much: The Lakers have stunk from the outset of the season getting stops, and though Walton has his moments defensively, there are some personnel issues that just aren't going to right themselves until this roster is shaken up.
Which is another reason why the Lakers are going after Jason Kidd. Smush Parker has all the tools to be a fine defensive guard (long arms, quick feet and a headband in place in case he perspires), but he's among the league's worst at his position, continually putting the Lakers' defense on its heels after letting his own man get by him. Kidd had a horrible start to the season defensively, but he's come on like gangbusters as of late -- to these eyes, he's gone from one of the worst (or, at least, most passive) defensive guards in the game to one of the best in just a few months. Really, Kidd's offense is only part of what the Lakers are after.
And yet, this is a trade that may have to wait until summer. Involving a third team this close to the trade deadline is pretty complicated, and there just aren't that many expiring deals resting with trading partners that would be willing to do either team a favor. That Portland rumor may have legs, but the Nets have no interest in Jamaal Magloire as a player or as a locker-room participant -- he'd be on board only for his expiring contract. Chicago and Orlando also have large expiring deals that would help things go smoother, but it's hard to fathom what Lakers or Nets (two teams with limited depth beyond the well-paid superstars) could send them to grease the wheels. And what's the point, no pun intended, for the Lakers to send Lamar Odom to New Jersey? Kidd has had a better year, but you make those talent-for-talent deals only if you're close to a championship.
Trade or not, coach Phil Jackson has a real issue on his hands defensively, and he's got to be hoping that his team's nadir came when it let the Cleveland Cavaliers (who average 96.4 points per game) throw up 114 points in the last game before the All-Star break. Big men like Chris Mihm, Kwame Brown and Radmanovic may not be sterling defenders, but their injuries hurt (OK, Radmanovic's probably helps), with only second-year bigs Ronny Turiaf and Andrew Bynum left to patrol the paint.
If Kobe Bryant truly wants to wrest the league's MVP trophy away from Dirk Nowitzki or Steve Nash (Him? Again?), this is his chance. Playing through a balky knee, Bryant could truly push his team to among the league's elite by offering a superhuman effort on the defensive end. After years of taking in All-Defensive honors that were hardly earned, I figure Kobe's about due for some make-up D.
With David Lee (14-of-14 shooting) looking like a man among, well, rookies in last Friday's Rookie Challenge, the seasonlong question about why this second-year forward hasn't earned a starting nod took to the national airwaves. Lee has been New York's best player all season (Eddy Curry scores quite well, doesn't rebound, hurts the team defensively, can't pass out of a double team to save his life -- save your e-mails), averaging 11.2 points and 10.6 rebounds in just 30.8 minutes per game.
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