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Debating whether Laker practices were intense enough

61174123With a glare, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant summed up his scathing critique of the team's poor Christmas Day effort against Miami this way: "I'm going to kick .... in practice."

The message was more than just a warning that he's going to hold his teammates accountable the next practice session to ensure proper execution. Considering Bryant had abstained from practice all season so he could rest his surgically repaired right knee, the statement also revealed the Lakers' play had become so bad that Bryant felt compelled to sacrifice the needed treatment surrounding his knee to jump-start the team.

Lakers center Andrew Bynum argued that that wasn't enough, saying the lack of "intensity" in practice proved to be the difference between the Lakers' falling in a sweep in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals to the Dallas Mavericks and the team's  back-to-back championships the previous two seasons. But frankly, the Lakers didn't have much of an alternative.

Three years ago, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson talked with Bryant about scaling back his practice time, knowing that he currently logs at 40,163 regular-season minutes and 8,163 postseason minutes would eventually take its toll. With Bryant's high odometer reading and entering the 2010-2011 season having had arthroscopic surgery, Bryant abstained from full-court scrimmages and conditioning drills, limiting his practice time mostly to weight training, individual shooting drills, half-court drills and receiving treatment on his knee. The same logic applied to other starters, such as Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol, all of whom mostly were told to restrict their practice court activity following a game because of the heavy mileage they accumulated during three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals.

Add Theo Ratliff's 74-game absence because of left knee surgery, Matt Barnes' two-month absence from January to March because of right knee surgery and Devin Ebanks' two-month absence from March to the end of the season because of a stress fracture on his left tibia, and the Lakers fielded a team split with players wearing ice bags on the sideline and others trying to compensate for the lost bodies. "I'd love to do it," Jackson said of having more intense practices. "We're not physically capable of doing it, but it would be great to do it."

61174756Still, Bynum held his ground even when I pressed him on how it was even possible for the team to have intense practices when it barely fielded a healthy roster and tried pacing itself for another long season.

"We have to practice. I can't address anyone's health. Certainly, no one can address mine. I haven't been the most healthy person," said Bynum, who, incidentally, missed all of training camp and the first 24 games of the regular season while rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee. "I do know that in order to win, we need practice and we need to be out there going through things together."

He said that issue is at the root of the Lakers' "trust issues" and the team's inconsistent defensive execution, two areas that showed players constantly expressing confusion and pointing fingers during a faulty rotation in plenty of postseason games. But the Lakers' practice on April 11 illustrated why Bynum's argument was faulty. The Lakers just soiled their 17-1 mark following the All-Star break with a five-game losing streak that eliminated their home-court advantage over the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference. Even though Bynum had argued immediately after the loss that the team needs to have a lengthy and intense practice to correct their defensive rotations, the Lakers' lack of depth proved faulty once again. In addition to Bryant remaining sidelined, Barnes was still recovering from his surgically repaired right knee, Ebanks learned his left tibia hadn't fully healed and Steve Blake was informed he had the chicken pox.

Instead, Jackson began the practice dividing the frontline and backcourt and went over the defensive rotations step by step, hoping that would prevent any miscommunication and misunderstanding. Having a full lineup would've been a better option in correcting the Lakers' 120-106 loss the previous night to Oklahoma City where they allowed the Thunder to close out the game with a 17-2 run and force nine turnovers. But the disconnect also pointed to the Lakers' unwillingness to adapt to imperfect scenarios involving their limited lineup.

"It played a part in the fact guys felt like they don’t take days off because I’m not there," Bryant said. "It’s like your big brother not being around, you feel like you can go around the house and do all these things with the toys and that kind of stuff because I’m not on the court with you. It’s upsetting to me. They knew going in what my knee situation was. We communicated that with them and me not being able to practice and them taking the responsibility with the intensity in nature because of my knee. It’s upsetting and disappointing to me because I wasn’t able to get out with them every day. But at the same time, you can’t use that as a crutch or excuse because I wasn’t out there."

When to ratchet up the intensity became a balancing act and had mixed results. The Lakers had longer sessions before the Heat game and they yielded very little, as did Bryant's intense practice session immediately following the Christmas Day loss. But when Jackson held a 2-1/2 hour practice in early January to go over the team's new defensive scheme, the extra time helped plant the seeds of what became a 17-1 start.

The Lakers lacked any sort of foundation, however, with Derek Fisher noticing that their shortened training camp because of the team's trip to Europe marked just the beginning of an ongoing saga in which the team lacked good habits. Whenever they did make progress, such as in their 17-1 mark following the All-Star break, the Lakers immediately floundered once complacency settled in. As much as increased practice time may have helped, particularly because the Lakers had newcomers Blake, Barnes, Ebanks and Derrick Caracter didn't have those issues last season. When Bryant and Bynum sat out a whole week last year to rest their knees leading up to the Western Conference Finals against Phoenix, the Lakers used that as a rallying cry to push harder, knowing they may need to fill in for Bryant and Bynum. This time around, Lakers forward Luke Walton acknowledged the difficultly of intense practices, noting that the coaching staff made up for it by offering extensive film study and walk-throughs. But the Lakers didn't adapt.

"I don't like to make excuses," Lakers forward Ron Artest said when asked if the lack of intense practices led to the team's downfall. "If I said that was the reason we lost, that's an excuse. We got swept."

-- Mark Medina

mgmedin@gmail.com

Top photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant sat out most practices during the 2010-2011 season so he could rest his surgically repaired right knee. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Bottom photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum argued that the Lakers' lack of intensity in practice was led to the team's short playoff run in 2011 after championship runs the previous two seasons. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (44)

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Setting aside the specifics of this issue, I really hope that a rift is not growing between Kobe and Bynum. The team does not need that kind of problem.

practice...smactice. They blew a 16pt lead in gm 1 and a 8pt lead in the last 5 minutes in gm 3. I'll go with what Ron said...They got swept. No excuse.

Article by BT said Rick Fox and Steve Kerr thinks BShaw would be the best fit....interesting!

@ DJ – congrats on the Friedman. A tad harsh on Kobe’s mates but I understand your sentiment.

@Lew – congrats on your daughters graduation.

@Fever - I’ll be rooting for OKC, but I think Dallas will advance. I thinks the Mavs execute better in crunch time.

@mclyne – I think you shorted Kobe one year…he’s been doing work for 15 yrs :-)

@Edwin – I read that article on Pop as well. Interesting that he thinks Sloan will coach again.

Doesn't sound to me like there were even enough starters to even have a meaningful practice. The fact that Jackson is so predicable in how he coaches a game mandates that Kobe racks up unwarranted game minutes. I've suggested that basketball coach treat their aging superstars just like a baseball manager would and give them scheduled days off. Is there any reason to play Kobe in both games of a back to back? If we don't have a player that can get us through a single game without him then what does that say about the depth of the team. If Pau is given a day off, oh my Bynum might have to play 35-40 minutes, what a concept. Of course this might actually require some coaching as you would have to change the game plan and not just roll the ball out there.

There is no reason why the team shouldn't have been practicing on the off days as their individual defensive skills are laughable (even Kobe's) so they must rely on quality team defense.

@teamn
I am worried as well about this. It seems like when there are quotes coming from Kobe and Drew regarding how the team should be run, they are diametrically opposed to each other.

I do hope it's not going to be Shaq vs. Kobe all over again, but this time, Kobe is the wiley vet who won't give a little respect to his up and coming star. This one is very tricky because Kobe has brought us 5 RINGS and all Drew has brought us is a few bright spots in an otherwise dissapointing career.

Maybe the possibility of a "rift" brewing between the two could be the deciding factor of wether to offer Drew for Howard?

@LRob
My bad- won't happen again.

LRob,

They laid down like dogs and got beat... by the Mavs.

Pathetic.

One of the lowest points in the history of the franchise.

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!!

Regarding the importance of practice, I believe that to operate at peak effectiveness, as a team, ALL members of the team have to consistently practice together. I fully understand how banged up Kobe has been, and the need to not aggravate his injuries, but the truth is that practices build (or destroy) team sharpness and cohesion. Regardless of the reasons for Kobe's not practicing, there is no question in my mind that this contributed to the team's listless and sloppy play throughout the year. Was it the only reason? Of course not. But it was a significant contributing factor.

You want "team ball"? Then practice team ball.

NEXT YEAR!!! Watch Kobe's best games here

Is that the best cleamons can do really? Really? Guess its officially buy low time for all phil clones right now! Shouldve left last year! On the flipside if lakers are dismantling their asst coaches then its a good sign that shaw is well on his way out of town!

And @edwin... I don't think buss can be serious about dunleavy.. I think its has to be some type of negotiation ploy to get adelman... I watched for many years dunleavy burn the clipper team to the ground and kill the confidence of all their young players with so many boneheaded moves it made me sick.. Dunleavy as our HC not over my dead body!!!

As much as I agree that the lack of practices don't help, the Lakers were in this situation before and were fine. Bottom line is that having Kobe on the floor gave them the best chance to win a game, as did the other starters. Having them be susceptible to additional wear and tear in practice would've made them vulnerable. Had Kobe suffered a major injury because of the increased mileage from practice, everyone would've faulted Phil for practicing him too much. I think the team should've compensated better for that just like they did when Kobe and Andrew rested during the playoffs last year

Wow, the RF comes my way, very unexpected, but honored in RF's memory! Now could some one please help my Yankees, ha, ha! Go Lakers!

Is it about "practice" or "practice season"? I'm confused.

i will let the Practice Season Police to make the judgment.

I'm sure the defense lawyers will rest or will defer to …

Jon K we don't play for rings. We got swept.

The practice ISSUE was just another excuse brought up by Gasol.

Why would he take "responsibility" as a #2, when he can blame it on Kobe?

Wondering why Mbenga left!
Maybe he was banging Gasol to hard in practice and PJ made sure that "Gasol's practice" is light.

Please, pass the mustard… or just fell off.

if brian shaw is the new head coach, who will be the assistants?

rick fox
robert horry
steve kerr
ac green

who? i don't think the current assistants will be interested in backing up shaw.

any thoughts?

@LakerTom: Thanks for the generous offer! Makes my mouth start watering like Pavlov's dogs............... lol

Love the Wharf! Don't get up there much anymore, but get to San Diego once a year for doctor specialist visits.......and to see my kids in SoCal.


Kobe seems to be slamming the team on this one. He seems to be saying that the rest of the team slacked off in practice because he wasn't there to police them. I think that's a different topic altogether and that they were just weakened by not having their full team out there.

The teammates biggest problems usually seemed to be that they didn't know how to respond when Kobe was aggressive and looked for his shots so they just stood around and acted passive. I don't know if that is something they can correct in practices without him.

One reason I'd consider cheering for Oklahoma City...

I was an undergrad at UCI when Scott Brooks was playing there. I went to a few games... nothing like UCLA, but they were in the upper echelon of the Big West (or whatever it was called back then) conference... which made them a mediocre college team.

>>>The practice ISSUE was just another excuse brought up by Gasol.


Actually, it was brought up by Bynum.

(darn lost my other posts due to getting signed off somehow.)


I have been commenting about the lack of practice hurting the Lakers since about December. The lazy team that this year was evident was insufficient to overcome lack of practice with Kobe.

It should not have happened, but I believe that PJ making his last stand announcement killed the drive of most of these Lakers who are without the drive and focus of Kobe. So, I lay it at PJs feet, but even more at the feet of those spoiled brat players who don't leave it all on the court every night and day! They know who they are!

I truly believe that Kobe has downplayed his anger at many of his teammates for not picking up the ball when he couldn't this year. I believe his exit comments about getting his legs right are for one final heroic push next year. Hops. Shooting. Defense. Practice.......all have to do with having his legs/ankles 100%. He has seen that he cannot rely upon the majority of this team, so he is doing whatever he can this summer to get back to a level he can carry them until 2012 when the FO has some room to make some FA moves and trades to help him out, then. IMO.......

When Bynum talks about "trust issues" whatever that is...........he's usually the main culprit. I noticed how Bynum particularly when Kobe makes the initial pass to him in the post..........refused to throw it back to Kobe so he could re-post. So Bynum would just pound the ball and try to back his guy to the basket because in his mind he feared he wouldn't get the ball back. This usually resulted in a very poor shot from Bynum and a lack of smart ball movement.

He would usually do this only when Kobe was on his side of the floor which tells me..........Bynum is the one with the "issues". Ironically this behavior only hurts Bynum as it will probably wind up with him getting his azz shipped out for Howard. As my Grandmother used to say......"Don't bite your nose off to spite your face"

As far as intense practices go.................that is usually the coaching staffs responsibility. If the coach isn't intense, your practice sessions will not be intense...........unless your blessed to have a Jordan or Kobe in the sessions.

In review Phil Jackson set the tone with these powder puff practices that aired on NBA TV.............I remember Norm Nixon interviewing Kobe and Norm was ASTONISHED that the practices or training camp was so light and how much emphasis Phil Jackson placed on "fundamentals" that most players learned in Jr. Highschool............That was the first time I saw a Laker practice myself and I remember thinking................what the hell kind of practice is that? You call that practice?

Kobe just sat there deadpanned and said.............."that's the way Phil has been doing it ever since he came here"

Well this lackadaisacal practice scheme finally caught up to Phil jackson and the Lakers as the tone was set early.

Below is a link to these early practices as Norm Nixon interviews Mitch Kupchek with the team "practicing in the background"................if you go to about the 7 minute mark you will see the team practicing 2-hand chest passes and overhead practices along with stepping around a make believe defender with a one hand bounce pass. This is unbelievable in retrospect that grown men would waste valuable practice time working on this stuff.


This is tantamount to going into an advanced calculus class and the instructor warms you up by having you practice doing long division...............in other words............a monumental waste of time and energy

http://www.nba.com/video/nbatv/

>>>The practice ISSUE was just another excuse brought up by Gasol.


Actually, it was brought up by Bynum.

Posted by: LongTimeLakerFan | May 17, 2011 at 12:21 PM

actually it was brought up by Gasol before Bynum started practicing. Bynum wanted more PRACTICE before playoffs.

go Dallas! :-)

first if this doesn't work, too bad. i'll never base my participation in society with some "social networking" site.

second, it's more disgusting watching the trolls, crybabies and know-it-alls debate what went wrong. it's simple. as the old aphorism states, "you can't win them all". that's what makes winning so special.

mclyne,

Good question. I saw that the K bros brought that up in a blog post about Howard. I'm not advocating one way or another here, just agreeing with you that any issues between the two could play into the decision.

It's interesting how few transitions there are from one superstar to another. Usually the team just falls apart. Look at Boston in the 80s, the 90s Bulls. Other than Kareem to Magic I can't really come up with a great example of one superstar smoothly giving up the lead role to another one. Anyone else? Maybe that was just so unique given Kareem and Magic.

P.S.

If the Mitch Kupchak interview doesn't come up with the link........just put "Norm Nixon" in the search menu and it will come right up

If Trading Kobe and Pau Gasol and Artest or Shannon Brown and Fisher (LOL) FOR Dwight Howard, CP3, Kevin Love, and Kevin Durant, and Blake Griffin

......I'll do it in a heart beat!!! If only....

And supporting cast: Steve Nash, Yao Ming (for Veterans minimum)

pfunk36

A few days ago, reading the Land'oLakers ???? blog, I enjoyed how you and Korey totally ostracized the K Bros and ex-.

Also this morning, "ex-" had some silly comment about "Kobe being able to break some psychological limits and to change his game" of course for Gasol and Bynum. I do not have enough eyes to roll anymore.

This NBA play off showed us who were and is the greatest player of all time and there is no doubt that Michael Jordan was and is the Goat,there is no one like him,there is no one that can even come close to him,he was the best.I am sure that Phil Jackson and his coaching staff can attest to this,there is no way that Jordan and Pippen under Phil Jackson guidance would have allow their team to collapse and get sweep in an Nba player off in the second round.I am a Laker fan but i can attest that Jordan Bulls were so much better than any of the Laker Nba championship teams.It didnt matter what situations that the Bulls were in they were able to conquer all.There was no team ever as good as these bulls led by MJ and Pippen.

Posted by: ninja | May 17, 2011 at 12:26 PM


NINJA,

As a laker fan myself, I 100,000,000% AGREE WITH YOU!!!


Commentary:

Hell, I will go with "the ditto triangle with BS" than go with a forever nightmare under Mike Dunleavy. Let Brian coach this oldie group until 2012 when team may go on engine and transmission overhaul. PJ gone, here comes Jim Buss. Kobe will be gone too by 2014, I wonder how do the Lakers look like in 5 years? Are we going with Drew as the phenomenal Center and Fisher as the everlasting PG w/ Gasol and Lamar as their forward and Luke Walton and Shannon Brown as the bench support? is that all we can do? Who will be the next Coach, Dunleavy or Brian Shaw and our youth movement will rely on Drew, Ebanks, Caracter, Johnson....is that all? Tell me who among these guys could bring back the Laker dynasty, a shirtless Drew bullying everyone will be the face of this franchise together with his soul mate afraid-to-box-out/broken-hearted POW while we are all just contented with the ever improving but disappearing Lamar Show. Lakers with 16 rings and bragging throughout the season that 3 more rings before Kobe retires, got a terrible beating of 4-0 from the Mavericks. is that all we can do?

Bring us a Coach and a group of players who are courageous enough to gain mastery of themselves while playing in front of fans who have been humbled, now honest enough to admit the excellence of others.

During the very first Laker three peat attempt, the Lakers practiced and practiced HARD.

They were so refined that they utterly crushed opponents. We're talking massively destroyed them. When the playoffs came around, the Lakers were in such good shape that they swept their way into the NBA Finals just decimating any team that dared take the court with them.

Then, during their long week awaiting the Eastern Conference Finals to finally finish, the excessive practice began to take its toll. Byron Scott went down before the series even started. Magic Johnson wasn't far behind.

The rest is history.

I'm all for practice, and it looks like this was certainly a problem with the Lakers, but if you're not mindful of things, it won't matter if you can win on the court if all your players are hurt.

Now that u mention it "Debating whether Laker practices were intense enough" ; I do always remember hearing postgame interviews with Bynum after Lakers had lost a game and he almost always brought up practice. He would say stuff like we just need to have a good INTENSE practice. He would say it repeatidly like Lakers never did have a good and intense practice. Also I do remember Kobe saying he will kick some serious *** after Lakers got blown out by Miami at home. So that may have played a part in the Lakers questionable playoff meltdown. They looked totally lost in the Dallas series and they werent even doing the fundemental things on defense and offense. Like running out to the 3-point shooters to contest shots (many basketball players learn that in middle school). Like in Game 4 against DAL when Jason Terry and Peja was SOOOOOO WIDE OPEN, IT WAS LIKE IN WARM UPS OR SHOOTAROUNDS!! So that sounds like a result of lazy practices. Whatever u do in practice normally translates to wat u do in a game. I think it was just time for Phil Jackson to go becuz he was getting out coached in the Dallas series and New Orleans series. Lakers won the Hornets series off of pure talent adn size because Lakers just could not slow down CP3 and he would be going to the basket with ease. Monty Williams always had answers for Lakers the next game. I was worried about LAL from the start of the postseason because they were just too predictable and that part is not the players' fault that's the coach's fault. Every team knew that Lakers would start off the game going inside to Drew and Pau and at the end of games no matter the situation every team knew that Kobe would get the ball; whether it was catch n shoot, or isolate at the top of the key or a pick and roll. Teams would just bring an extra man so he could not catch the ball or they would contest his shot with 2-3 people in his face. Sometimes Lakers should have went to Lamar Odom 1 or 2 times against Dallas becuz he always had a speed advantage over who was guarding him.

*With all that said, I think Lakers still need to make moves over the offseason. If they dont get Dwight Howard then they should get rid of Gasol and get some young athletes to surround Kobe and Bynum. Also a point guard upgrade which is obvious. The kind of league the NBA is turning into having 2 7 footers in the starting lineup is a disadvantage because the NBA is too athletic. The Bulls are an example that have lots of big bodies but all of their 7 footers are athletic and active. Pau Gasol be looking dead sometimes and Andrew Bynum is too slow because he weighs 290 lbs.

teamn,

The transition from MJ to Pippen was also fairly well done. Pippen had that chair throwing incident, but other than that, his team was very close to making the finals. Of course, MJ taking it back was also somewhat flawless (once MJ actually played the whole season)

Magic to Shaq also worked pretty well, LOL

Truly though, when a star goes down, it usually means the team is too weak to continue winning. Magic finally got back to the finals, but not with enough weapons to beat the Bulls (plus Dunleavy left the game plans lying around)

Part of the reason they couldn't practice is Bynum always hurt. Where was this stupid article when LA was going to three straight finals?

Tim-4-Show,

Yes, MJ to Pippen worked, but what a strange sequence of events. And, as you say, MJ came back and things were pretty flawless.

I remember Magic's return to the finals so vividly -- that was a great western conference finals. So great to see him get that team back, but I will always wonder what would have happened if the Lakers had won game 3.

And please no more Dunleavy!

Speaking of Bynum, he missed the first 24 games last year and now the thug will miss the first five because of suspension. He needs to shut up and play basketball. Overrated Jim Buss looking piece of crap.

I hate to believe there is no solution, just like the John Nash in A Beautiful Mind and Anthony Hopkins character in The Edge, but sometimes one's goals are unachievable.

You take a chance when you let guys out of practice just like you take a chance if you push them hard while they're injured.

Given our injuries, wear and tear I think the best gamble was to limit practice time for our starters. It didn't work out well, but that's not to say any other course of action would have worked out better. I suspect it was just not our time. Teams don't really get to the Finals 4 consecutive years...

I think you also have to consider that as bad as the Lakers finished this season, scenarios could've panned out A LOT WORSE if the practices were even more intense. I understand the whole team chemistry issue, but Bryant was one injury away from severely crippling this team. You saw how quickly his ankle turned against New Orleans. Imagine if something that severe happened in practice. Or he collided knees.

@ mary chandler
I will never understand why...in all the things to post about...why you can almost go to any Article anywhere that is written about Kobe or the Lakers and Kobe....there will "Inevitably" be someone who posts that the Bulls were Better or Jordan was better and this NOW PROVES that Kobe doesn't amount to Jordan and the Lakers can not amount to the Bulls.
I find it quite childish. And if your one of these people who feel the need to post this pointless jibberish than please read this: "Get your head out of your @$$"
Yes, the Bulls team back in the days was great, but not as great as the Celtics back in the day. Yes Jordan was Phenominal, but the league has changed in a lot of ways and No Jordan didn't do it on his own. And whether Jordan is the GOAT...that's debatable. I think he is the most influential Player in Basketball history...no doubt. No one will EVER effect the game more EVER. But that was half part of his skill/talent and half being at the right place at the right time. I'm not downlplaying Jordan or the Bulls, but if your going to downplay Kobe and the Lakers whenever there is an article about them then I will defend their Honor against cheap shots to my Home Team and Star player. So I say this with all my heart - Please grow up and have some respect next time.

ShaneFm,

I am not implying that Jordan did it on his own, I am saying MJ as a team player as well as an individual player.....Kobe is nowhere near compare to Jordan, on court and off court.

FYI, I am a lakers fan and I am still growing up, I just turned 14 last month you know....

~MaryAM

ShaneFM: I agree with you, def feel you!!!!!!

ShaneFM,

Stop whining, you sound like a little girl..... stop justifying things... it will not get you nowhere in life.....ACT LIKE A MAN & STOP WHINING LIKE A LITTLE BOY.

Jon K,
A follow-up from Erik's comment.... We don't play for Rings we're not playing anymore they all GONE FISHING with Phil a week ago.

I like kobe, I like Laker!


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