Talking with Chris Mihm, Part II
The last 18 months have been anything but a picnic for Chris Mihm, who's ready to resume his playing career after suffering a brutal ankle injury in March 2006. In Part 1 of our interview, Mihm detailed what it's taken for him to get back on the court. The second half focuses on the offseason madness, why things went bad for the Lakers down the 2007 stretch, and Mihm's predictions for himself and the Lakers for 2008. Here's what he had to say:
Andrew Kamenetzky: What do you see as your role this season? Having been out for a while, do you have expectations for playing time?
Chris Mihm: As far as I'm concerned, we're going into training camp and there's maybe one or two positions, starting-wise, that are filled. Other than that, it's going to be a competitive training camp. I'm going in there just like I did the first two years I was here, before I got hurt. Just like I did my four years before that. Come in and earn that starting spot. That's where I want to be. I definitely want to start, but at the same time I want this team to be a winner. I want to win. I want this team to be successful. I think it can. I'm not one to be a cancer on a team, but I'm certainly not going to relegate myself without a fight.
AK: One of the guys you'll be competing with is Andrew Bynum. There's always a lot of talk surrounding him, both with his potential and, especially during this offseason, as a guy to possibly move for help. How do you see Andrew, in terms of his strengths, his potential, what he's still learning?
CM: I think Andrew's a phenomenally talented kid. He's still a young kid, though. People have to understand. He's the youngest kid to ever come in and play in the NBA, and the two hardest positions to come in and play in this league are point guard and center. Center, the physicality. Point guard, understanding how to run a team. I think Andrew's still growing into his body in some ways. I think he's still learning how strong he is. How to use his body. How to make things easier on him. And that will come in time. He just needs time to figure it out. But there's no doubt in my mind that the kid is going to have a great career, and he's a really good talent.
AK: Obviously, there were also plenty of offseason headlines about the issues between Kobe and the front office. Did that concern you at all as you were deciding to re-sign?
CM: I think I know Kobe over these last three years, and I know that Kobe wants to win. He doesn't want to settle for anything other than winning. I think, in his mind, he was just trying to show concern, that he wanted to make sure that we changed some things up on this team to try to make this a better squad and have the pieces that we do have mesh better. That's the way I always looked at it, and I honestly don't foresee a lot of problems with it. I think Kobe's always been a professional. I think we'll come in, go through training camp and it'll be another one of these things that will be forgotten in time.
AK: When all of this is happening, is it hard not to get caught up in it? Do you ignore it? Do you try to find out more information?
CM: Well, obviously, I tried to find out what was going on. But luckily for me, after the season ended and we lost to Phoenix, I stayed here for about three and a half weeks and continued my rehab intensely until I felt I could go home and take a little time. I went home and took about two and a half weeks to see my family, and luckily that was right around the time when all this stuff came out and the whirlwind was going on out here in L.A. I wasn't in L.A. at the time, so it was kind of a good thing. I wasn't getting hounded with questions and all that. But at the same time, I was making phone calls and trying to find out what was going on, because it was obviously a media storm for a while.
AK: Plus, you're debating if you're comfortable stepping back into this situation.
CM: Yeah, I know. Obviously, when I realized I was going from looking at signing a long-term deal to probably signing a short-term deal after this ankle injury, I really wanted to try to find a team that I was going to be a good fit. A team that I was really gonna have a chance to mesh playing styles and have the best chance to succeed and show people what I could do. I love this team that we have here. I agree, there were some pieces that needed to be moved around, but I love this team. I love the coaching staff that we have. This organization wants to win. I have no doubt about that.
At this point, Sasha Vujacic emerged from the weight room, saw Mihm and I talking and stopped by to say hello. He then attempted a shot specifically for me, but bricked both tries. Before anyone gets too discouraged, they were hook shots from around half court at the sideline. Not exactly a gimme. Sasha's still sporting the self-described "Cali-style" long hair he grew out this summer. I wouldn't have dreamed it was possible for him to look even younger, but the kid managed to step up to a challenge and knock it out of the park.
AK: You were with the team last season, but to some degree you were also on the outside looking in when it came to your direct involvement. Everyone from Mitch Kupchak to Phil Jackson to Kobe talked during their exit interviews about eroding chemistry in the locker room and on the court as the season wore down. From your perspective, was there anything noticeable you could put your finger on, in terms of why things went bad?
CM: It's tough to say. I just know that I've seen a little bit of everything since I've been in the league. I've had terrible seasons in Cleveland. I was there the "Lose for LeBron" year where it was just a constant revolving door of 10-day contracts that they brought in. We had no chemistry, no nothing. An 82-game regular season, that's a lot of games to play when you're losing. It's real easy for tempers to start flaring. It's real easy for little things to start coming to a head. We had so many injuries last year, it was to the point of ridiculous. Just when things look like they were clicking, one guy goes down. Then when he gets back, another goes down. At one point, myself, Luke (Walton), Lamar (Odom) and Kwame (Brown) were out.
AK: Maybe even Vlad (Radmanovic) during that time, too.
CM: Yeah. We had a walking-wounded crew. We went from really jelling at the beginning of the year, which was cool for me to see. I really felt we were getting that chemistry, that feel. Then we had so many injuries like that. We started losing games, dropping games we shouldn't have dropped. I think that's when certain guys started butting heads. It was tough for me to watch the end point of the year. The wheels kind of came off at the end, right before the playoffs. The playoffs were tough to watch, too.
AK: Did you try at all to smooth that mood over with certain people? Is there a limit to what you can do, since you're not playing?
CM: A little bit of both. When you're not out there on the court, there's (only so much). I tried talking to our bigs, especially. Kwame, Andrew. All the guys that I could when I had some one on one time with them. Just to keep them positive. Keep them upbeat. Tell them what I saw that they were doing good, bad. Just try to convince guys to stay positive and find a way to keep things together. But like you said, when you're not playing out there, when you're out a whole season like that, technically I was on the team, but I was in (the weight room) every day. I would come out and watch practice, but I was on my own schedule. I was on my own rehab schedule. I wasn't traveling with the team. I took one long road trip with the guys just to be with them and support them, but it's a tough situation when you're not playing. You kind of feel a little bit like an outsider.
AK: How tough is it to feel like, "I'm on the team, but for all intents and purposes, I might as well not be?"
CM: Like you said, there's only so much I can do. I tried to just be a positive guy in the locker room when I was around. I tried to be around as much as I could. I was in here rehabbing seven days a week, and I just tried to be a positive influence when things weren't going so well. That seemed to be my way to help the team, because obviously, on the floor, I wasn't able to do anything. I just tried to watch games and work with Andrew, tell him where he could make things easier on himself. That kind of stuff. But it's different. In my career, I'd always seen guys like ('05-'06 Laker) Laron Profit, who sat out the year before with the Achilles injury. I'd seen guys sitting out for that kind of period of time. And you realize that it's tough on them, but until you go through it, you don't really realize the whole scope of it and what it takes to keep yourself in the right frame of mind.
AK: There's been a lot of media speculation that from the moment training camp opens until the end of the season, it's just going to be a tension-filled season. Not much success. A mess in the making. Can lowered expectations like that ever help a team in terms of providing focus? Unity? Motivation?
CM: If we don't have motivation already with what's happened in the playoffs the last two years, motivation to try to come out and take this team in a different direction, then yeah, it's gonna be a long season. I think we have the right pieces. People can look at our lineup and say this and that, they're not going to be very good. But with the style that we play, the triangle offense, a lot of it is a mental game. Understanding how to play the game. Where to move. How to get open. How to get other guys open. Our biggest deal, if we can just play as a unit, play as a team, not be concerned with who's scoring what or what's doing what on a given night. If one guy scores 20 one night and another 20 the next night, that's the way it should be. That's the way this offense works. If we do that, we're gonna be a good team. We're gonna surprise a lot of people. That's what I anticipate. We've got some new guys coming in. We've got some guys with more experience, that understand a little bit better. I foresee good things this season. I think we can once again surprise a lot of people. Put us where you want. The preseason ratings, all that kind of stuff, it's never meant anything to me. It's where you end up in the end. And like I said, if we don't have some motivation to make some changes here and make some noise in the playoffs this season, then we're starting off on a bad foot.
AK: Do you expect any butterflies when you take the court for the first time this season?
CM: Maybe. Not as much butterflies, but I'm gonna be so excited the first time that I get out there in those preseason games, I kind of anticipate being in what I call "fast forward." The NBA game is funny. There's nothing quite like playing in game-time situations, and when you haven't had it in a little while, even with injuries in the past where I sat out even three weeks, the first game or two when you come back, you feel like you're going a million miles per hour. You feel like everything's moving real fast. Then gradually, everything slows down again and you get that feel, that groove. I anticipate being excited, being amped up, jacked, ready to go. I'm sure I'll have some moments in the preseason, the butterflies. But I've played for so long, I'm just excited and anxious to put on a uniform and play.
AK: Is there a certain amount of reassurance that will come from just finally being on the court? Even feeling confident about your health, do you still need to go against an actual opponent in a non-practice situation?
CM: Without a doubt. And I'm ready for that. When you're out here practicing, I work on everything. I visualize everything. I try to put myself mentally in game situations when I'm training, but until I can get out there and really do it against someone, really feel that feeling, feel that success again, that's what really gets your inner confidence and your inner game going.