Quick-hit thoughts on Shannon Brown's re-signing, Shaquille O'Neal to the Celtics and the Lakers' schedule
After countless days at the beach, at the gym, running errands and catching up with friends, it's good to be back on the Lakers blog. It may well still be the dog days of summer for Laker fans, but if last week indicates anything, it's that the Lakers never lack for news, even on the slowest days of the NBA off-season. We'll have a chat later today at 3 p.m. to get back up to speed with everyone, but for now, here are my quick-hit thoughts on some of the Lakers-related news last week.
Shannon Brown's re-signing: Brown's re-signing with the team all but seals the Lakers' off-season movement, a chapter for which I would give the Lakers high remarks for pulling off. Much of the off-season attention has deservedly focused on Miami in assembling its so-called Super Team, but the Lakers started this off-season already with a super team and then added some utility parts. Call it a slight tuneup for an already sleek car and efficient engine.
Of course, Brown's role might change slightly because of the Lakers' other off-season moves. With Steve Blake filling in for the departed Jordan Farmar, I expect Blake will play more minutes off the bench than Farmar, both because of Blake's superior skills and his acceptance of being a pass-first guard as well as the increasing need for Derek Fisher to limit his minutes so he's fresh for the playoffs. With Matt Barnes adding a defensive presence to the backcourt, the Lakers have a player they can count on to take on a speedy guard or help the team make a defensive stop.
Those two factors may mean Brown's minutes may decrease, since Blake is a more dependable option to run the offense and Barnes is more effective on defense. But that doesn't mean Brown won't be a needed presence. The Lakers want to limit Kobe Bryant's minutes so he's not as injury-riddled as he was last season and can play at full peak during the playoffs. That gives the reserves a chance to earn the "Bench Mob" nickname back. With Blake running the offense, Brown can continue to use his high-flying athleticism to help the Lakers run the floor. With Barnes being the main option on defense, Brown doesn't have to worry as much about making a defensive stop, a responsibility that didn't bode well for Brown when he played with Fisher and Farmar, two players who aren't exactly known for their defensive prowess, though Fisher would always display a bigger effort.
It'll also be interesting to see how Brown's minutes are shared with Sasha Vujacic, who's entering his contract season and will probably be mentioned in trade talks throughout the season. Although I prefer Brown over Vujacic as far as what each brings to the team as a whole, their skill sets are different. Vujacic can draw a good defensive matchup and hit key shots, so long as he doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve. Brown can help the Lakers run the floor.
Shaquille O'Neal to the Celtics: This seems to cap the antagonistic relationship between O'Neal and the Lakers that has simmered ever since he was traded after the 2003-04 season. Some of that antagonism is understandable. As much as 20-20 hindsight has shown the Lakers made the right move in trading Shaq and keeping Kobe, neither party was exactly in the right regarding the feud. But O'Neal's actions surely haven't helped his cause, including rubbing it in after winning a title with Miami in 2006, releasing a distasteful rap song (if you can call it that) targeting Bryant after the Lakers lost the 2008 Finals and suggesting at one point that Phil Jackson intentionally tried getting Shaq and Kobe to butt heads. Shaq and Kobe have been cordial for years now, but that doesn't mean Lakers fans are as forgiving. With Shaq going to the hated Celtics, there's been some debate over whether the Lakers should retire his number. I don't think anyone should discount what he's done for the organization in being a significant piece during the Lakers' three-peat of 2000-02. Even the most ardent Lakers fan appreciates that, but the relationship between Shaq and the Lakers has deteriorated since then.
Schedule: The full schedule will be released Tuesday, but some of the Lakers' games were announced last week, including their season opener (hosting Houston) and their Christmas Day game (hosting Miami). Though the Lakers' season opener doesn't exactly feature the highest marquee opponent, there is one story line that surely few will ignore. The debate over Ron Artest versus Trevor Ariza went back and forth ad nauseam last season, and even got to the point where a column seemed to spring up about the topic after every good or bad Artest performance. But whether the two want to admit it or not, the ring ceremony will bring out strong emotions from both. Artest will participate in his first ring ceremony after sitting in the locker room during last year's festivities and Ariza will have to witness his former teammates collecting their rings.
No one is surprised that the Heat and the Lakers are squaring off on Christmas Day. As soon as LeBron James made his "Decision," plenty of fans figured they'd be spending their holidays watching the inevitable buildup to this matchup and then seeing if it will live up to the hype (my thinking is yes). I am surprised, however, that the Lakers are playing in L.A. on Christmas Day for the fourth consecutive season. I figured this would be a perfect way to excite the Miami fan base and help extend the never-ending story line about how the franchise assembled the Super Team. Surely, the Lakers aren't complaining. I'm sure that even if they have to play on Christmas Day, they'd much rather spend the holidays at home than at South Beach, as enticing as that indeed sounds. Lakers fans surely are happy they can play in the friendly confines at Staples Center (This time, keep the foam fingers to yourself if the result turns ugly). So in the end, this isn't a bad thing for the Lakers. I'm just frankly surprised it happened this way.
-- Mark Medina
Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at email@example.com
Photo: Guard Shannon Brown agreed to a two-year deal with the Lakers last week. Credit: Alex Gallardo / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Shaquille O'Neal recently joined the Boston Celtics. Credit: Jacob Langston / MCT
Photo: LeBron James and the Miami Heat will visit the Lakers on Christmas Day. Credit: Hans Dery / Reuters