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Category: D.J. Mbenga

Lakers fans believe Phil Jackson will return as head coach


Lakers Coach Phil Jackson contended during his exit interview that he was leaning toward retirement because of health concerns. He reiterated that sentiment over the weekend in Montana at the Western Governors' Assn. annual meeting, pointing to George Karl's situation in which throat cancer prompted the Denver coach to miss the last part of the 2009-10 season as a reason why he wouldn't come back another year unless he knows he can last an entire season. Jackson also brought up the grind of the NBA season and how it becomes increasingly difficult each year to go through it.

Despite all those concerns, Lakers fans revealed in a series of polls that 79% many of them believe Jackson will still return as the team's head coach. There are plenty of reasons beyond wishful thinking why Lakers fans believe this will happen. Jackson still made it clear he hadn't made up his mind, saying he'd decide sometime later this week after getting the results of various medical tests he took following the Lakers' championship. Though he's had two hip replacements, a sore knee and kidney stones, Jackson suggested that those tests could sway him back into the coaching fold. That's why 20% of fans believe Jackson will come back.

Then there's 12% of fans who argue that the allure of capturing his fourth three-peat will be too enticing for Jackson to pass up. As of right now, the Lakers main core --- Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest -- are locked into long-term deals, and it appears likely veteran guard Derek Fisher will stay (68% of voters believe he will stay because of his playoff performances and his leadership). So even if the attempt to three-peat will present numerous challenges with facing an opponent's best performance and the exhaustion that's come with three consecutive Finals appearances, Jackson returning would help keep the continuity intact and give the Lakers a best chance to win the title again.

That sentiment is shared by Fisher, who recently told ESPN Los Angeles' Ramona Shelburne that "not even just the Lakers, but the NBA as a whole, would lose a big part of what this game has been about the last 20 years if he's not back. If he's not back, it changes the whole landscape." Lakers fans agree, with 58.2% saying keeping Jackson serves as the Lakers' most urgent need this off-season. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak recently said solidifying the Lakers' backcourt remains the team's highest priority, but only 20.4% agree with that sentiment, while Toronto forward Chris Bosh remains the top choice in a trade among Laker fans (27.4%).

That's because Jackson's future indirectly affects other variables, such as who among the Lakers' six free agents will come back and who the Lakers would get as Jackson's successor if he decides to retire. There's 41% of fans who believe Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw would take the vacant position, but The Times' Broderick Turner reported this morning that Shaw is probably going to agree to a deal that will make him Cleveland's head coach. There's 46% of fans who believe former Laker Byron Scott would succeed Jackson, but Scott recently told Yahoo! Sports' Marc Spears that he's not going to just wait for Jackson to make his decision. If either of those two candidates aren't available, Lakers fans lack definitive consensus on who else could fill the position.

In fairness, there are other issues the Lakers must tackle. If the fans are accurate, Jordan Farmar will leave (92% of the vote), as will Shannon Brown (50.8%), who recently opted out of his contract. All of the team's reserves on the front line -- Adam Morrison (95%), D.J. Mbenga (64.4%) and Josh Powell (55%) -- will be gone. And the possibility that the Lakers would dump Odom's salary? There's 70% of fans who don't think that will happen, with 47% saying the Lakers only floated that report out there to grab Odom's attention and make him aware he needs to play better.

But very little of that has concerned Lakers fans. Heck, 64% of them insist they don't care whatsoever about where LeBron James lands. That's because all eyes are on Jackson. Even though Lakers fans are optimistic he'll return, they know deep down inside what the consequences will entail if that doesn't happen.

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times' Lakers blog on Twitter: E-mail the Lakers blog at

Photo: Despite Phil Jackson's health concerns, the majority of Lakers fans believe he will remain the team's head coach. Credit: Lucy Nicholson / Reuters.

Poll questions surrounding the Lakers' off-season


There's no such thing as an NBA off-season, especially when the Lakers' title run immediately follows with a championship parade in downtown L.A., exit interviews, the NBA draft and soon enough, free agency. The Lakers' likely won't produce another memorable off-season, such as Kobe Bryant's radio tour or Lamar Odom's prolonged negotiations. And it likely won't catch the nation's attention, as say, where LeBron James ends up. Still, there are plenty of things the team must deal with once free agency begins Thursday.

The first order of business involves Coach Phil Jackson, who said during his exit interview that he's leaning toward retirement, a sentiment he reiterated in Montana on Sunday after giving the keynote speech at the Western Governors' Assn. annual meeting. Still, he's not expected to officially make a decision until later in the week after he receives results from the medical tests he took last week that caused him to miss the championship parade. 

Although the Lakers' core -- Bryant, Odom, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Ron Artest -- are locked into long-term deals, they have several free-agents, including guard Derek Fisher. It appears the team unanimously wants Fisher back. Lakers guard Shannon Brown recently opted out of his contract, though the Lakers own his "early-bird" rights. Guard Jordan Farmar made it abundantly clear he wants out of L.A. And if it were up to D.J. Mbenga, Adam Morrison and Josh Powell, they'd remain Lakers, though The Times' Broderick Turner recently talked to an NBA executive who said the team doesn't plan to keep any of those three players. There's the interesting revelation, as reported by The Times' Mark Heisler, that said the Lakers are considering dumping Odom's salary a season after re-signing him to a four-year deal worth $34 million with a player option in the final season. And there's the contention from General Manager Mitch Kupchak that the team's most urgent need involves the backcourt.

The Lakers will answer at least some of these questions this week, but in the meantime, it's best to hear what fans of the L.A. Times' Lakers blog think will happen. After all, they live and breathe this team. And they'll be the first to attest that there is no such thing as a Lakers' off-season. Based on the poll results below, I'll then follow up with an analysis piece assessing how Lakers fans think everything will transpire once free agency begins.

Continue reading »

Audio of D.J. Mbenga's exit interview

Among the highlights from D.J. Mbenga's exit interview:

-- How he dealt with his eye and head injuries

-- His future with the Los Angeles Lakers

-- His desire to become president of the Democratic Republic of Congo

D.J. Mbenga exit interview

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: E-mail the Lakers blog at

Tweetable items from Phil Jackson's news conference

Tweetable items from Lakers Coach Phil Jackson's news conference:

--Jackson doesn't know the playing status of Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who missed most of the second half of L.A.'s Game 4 loss Thursday to Boston because the swelling in the torn cartilage of his right knee felt too painful. Bynum is visiting a doctor Friday, but Jackson hadn't talked to him by the time he addressed reporters.

Regarding how Jackson determines if Bynum will play in Game 5 Sunday: "We'll use him if he's available and able, but we're certainly not going to put him in a situation that's either going to hurt himself or the team."

--Jackson hopes Lamar Odom and Ron Artest to have big performances in Game 5. When asked if there's anything that can be done to jump-start Odom, Jackson joked, "I was thinking of an electrode."

--When asked if D.J. Mbenga would get more minutes because of Bynum's injury, Jackson responded, "Sure, if his head is into it."

--He attributed the team's lack of ball movement to the Celtics defense, and added that the Lakers reserves don't have the skills to drive.

--The starters have the day off Friday for rest, while the limited-role players have individual workouts. The team plans to have a brief meeting later in the day.

--Jackson described the NBA Finals series with Boston as "a lot of teeter-totter here, despair and elation."

---Jackson made fun of the Celtics' emotions from Game 4, saying, "You can be provocative and get out there and act kind of like they do if you want to, and get in people's faces and do that. But that's not the way I like to coach a team."

--Jackson reluctantly praised Doc Rivers' coaching, crediting him with determining match-ups, developing his bench and pacing the team during the regular season. Said Jackson: "Is that enough for you? I'll give him a gold star."

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson June 11

-- Mark Medina in Boston

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Phil Jackson stresses ability to react to Phoenix's tendencies

The Lakers huddled up at the end of practice Sunday with Coach Phil Jackson detailing the final game plan for the team's upcoming Western Conference finals series against the Phoenix Suns. Lakers forward Lamar Odom described the contents of Jackson's discussion as "nothing different than he usually says," with forward Pau Gasol adding the conversation entailed a "little bit of both" stragegy as well as how to mentally prepare for the Game 1 showdown on Monday.

"We have a report and we talk about making sure you understand that," Jackson said. "But the reality is reaction. It's about getting yourself ready to react and play. You can do all the strategizing you want to do. If you can't make the appropriate reactions, then you're going to have trouble. We hope they feel that impulse tomorrow."

Even if Jackson's message didn't deviate from what he might have already emphasized, as Odom said, the speech on adjusting to unpredictable events comes at an appropriate time when the Lakers feel a lot of uncertainty.

Continue reading »

D.J. Mbenga views bleached look as appreciative gesture toward Ron Artest

Lakers forward Ron Artest had been down this path before, thinking a dye job would lighten the team mood and spark a turnaround. Instead, the bleached look in March only cast more attention on the Lakers' loss to Orlando as well as on Artest's poor offensive and defensive performance. It prompted him to shave his head the following day.

As  the postseason approached, Artest considered bleaching his hair again but immediately changed his mind. He didn't exactly say why, but it's safe to assume part of the thinking involved concerns that it would only raise questions about his priorities and how he constantly seeks the spotlight. But Artest quickly changed his mind once reserve center D.J. Mbenga approached him about coloring their hair together.

"It makes it easier for me to get a haircut," said Artest, who currently has purple and gold asymmetrical waves and a gold-dyed soul patch. "I was not going to get a haircut because I wanted to focus on the game. But since D.J. wanted to do it, I felt more comfortable doing it. "

For those who see this as all just a sideshow for pregame fodder, also consider this angle: Although the gesture is small in nature, Mbenga's plea for Artest to bleach their hair together speaks volumes to locker room dynamics. That doesn't necessarily mean Artest or the team will suddenly experience a postseason resurgence. But finding any small way to further team unity can surely measure up for the better, particularly during a playoff run. It can lighten the mood in practice. It can become a conversation starter among teammates. And for Artest and Mbenga, it's now a common thread the two share together.

That's what makes the dye job Artest did in March different than the one he just did toward the end of the regular season. What was once something that created individual attention and possible alienation from the locker room is now something that can make Artest feel more comfortable.

"Ron, we know he's kind of a different person," said Mbenga, who has C$ (Congo Cash) bleached in purple. "We've got to go this way, accept the way he does [things], and he'll feel comfortable. If he has to do it, and whatever we have to do for him to play better, we're going to support him. That's what it is. That's how we all understand and know each other. That's why we came out together."

--Mark Medina

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Caught in the Web: Reactions to Lakers' 95-92 victory over Oklahoma City


Game stories

--The Times' Mike Bresnahan notes Kobe Bryant's late-game theatrics in the Lakers' 95-92 Game 2 victory Tuesday over Oklahoma City, but believes there are many serious issues the team needs to iron out.

--The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding argues Oklahoma City has proved it belongs in the playoffs.

--It may not have been pretty, but the Riverside Press Enterprise's David Lassen says the Lakers have a comfortable 2-0 lead over the Thunder.

--The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry explains why OKC has a good shot to win the series even if it trails 2-0.

---The Daily News' Elliott Teaford details how Oklahoma City gave the Lakers a difficult time in Game 2.


--The Times' Bresnahan details the unveiling of Chick Hearn's statue outside Staples Center.

--The Orange County Register has a photo gallery of all the sights and sounds regarding Hearn's dedication.

--The Times' Broderick Turner explains the dichotomy that is Ron Artest's impressive defense and deplorable offense. 

--The Riverside Press Enterprise's Lassen explains what's up with D.J. Mbenga's hair.

--The Oklahoman's Mayberry and Barry Tramel note why asking Durant about Jackson doesn't exactly put him in the best mood.

--The Daily News' Teaford notes Jackson's analysis on Bryant's injuries.


--The Times' Bill Plaschke believes the Lakers are suffering an identity crisis.

--The Times' T.J. Simers expresses amusement over Bryant's and Phil Jackson's non-communicative relationship.'s J.A. Adande highlights how Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant believes his son still has what it takes to stay on top of the game.

--The Daily News' Vincent Bonsignore argues Bryant's 39-point performance in Game 2 served as a response to Jackson's challenge for him to fix up his game.'s Scott Howard-Cooper argues the Thunder will have a tough time scraping out of a 2-0 series deficit.

--The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding explains why the Lakers aren't shooting well.

--It never ceases to amaze Fox Sports' Mark Kriegal when he witnesses Bryant bailing out his team again.

--Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix gives a nuts-and-bolts rundown of the game.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi explains difficulty the Thunder had in stopping the Lakers.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin chalks up Bryant's fourth-quarter resurgence to going back to the basics.

--The Orange County Register's Jeff Miller is impressed with Bryant's fourth-quarter heroics, but not the rest of his game.

--The Riverside Press Enterprise's Gregg Patton is impressed with how the Thunder is playing.

--The Oklahoman's Tramel believes the Thunder has become a much better team, despite these two losses to the Lakers.


--The Times' Lisa Dillman recounts her conversation with Joe "Jelly Bean" Bryant in the Fabulous Forum blog.

--The Daily Thunder details how Oklahoma City folded in the final minutes.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Andy and Brian Kamenetzky break down the key parts of the game along with video interviews.

--Forum Blue and Gold gives credit to Lakers forward Pau Gasol for also being instrumental in the victory.

--Hoopsworld's Eric Pincus has a detailed rundown of the game.

--Pro Basketball Talk's John Krolik explains how the Lakers managed a win even after scrapping their initial game plan.

--Silver Screen and Roll can't help but notice how the Lakers are aging.'s Mike Trudell details Bryant's statement game.

Tweet of the Day: "Walked with Kid Rock after Lakers win turns to me and says "F***, Whooo, Whooo" -- DuranLA (710 ESPN's Beto Duran).

Reader Comment of the Day: "OK, it wasn't pretty but the thing I like about both games is that the Lakers might not play well for the whole 48, but they're playing hard for the whole 48. That's a big deal. OKC is probably the best lower seed in the playoffs, experience or not, and you have to give them credit for playing well. I don't remember seeing a game with that many blocks. That was a legit block party." -- Mark G

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant tries to finish his shot after getting fouled on a drive against Oklahoma City's Jeff Green (22) and Nick Collison (lower right) in the fourth quarter Tuesday night. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times

Caught in the Web: Previewing Game 2 of Lakers-Thunder series


Lakers links

--The Times' Mike Bresnahan details the Lakers' varied moods after Monday's practice.

--The Times' Mark Heisler expresses concern about Kobe Bryant's assorted injuries.

--The Times' Broderick Turner details the adjustments Lakers assistant coach Jim Cleamons wants to see the team make in Game 2 against Oklahoma City.

--The Daily News' Vincent Bonsignore highlights how Oklahoma City guard and former UCLA standout Russell Westbrook gave the Lakers fits in Game 1.

--The Orange County Register's Janis Carr highlights the media circus surrounding the Lakers. She also lays out some possibilities on why Bryant has been struggling lately.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Andy Kamenetzky highlights how Shannon Brown's patience in Game 1 paid off in a few sequences.

--The Riverside Press-Enterprise's David Lassen details the Lakers' struggle in playing a complete game.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Doug Mann does some number crunching from Game 1.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Arash Markazi reports that Lakers froward Ron Artest considers defense to be his drug. It's unlikely in this case the Lakers will stage an intervention and force him into rehab.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin details Bryant's grumpy mood after Monday's practice. To McMenamin's credit, he was the lone reporter to get Bryant to smile after asking him about D.J. Mbenga's glasses.

--The Daily News' Elliott Teaford has medical updates on Lakers centers Andrew Bynum and D.J. Mbenga.'s Mike Trudell catches up Lakers reserve guard Jordan Farmar.

--The Orange County Register's Randy Youngman explains why the first round of the NBA playoffs puts him to sleep.

--Silver Screen and Roll anticipates the necessary Game 2 adjustments.

Thunder links

--The Daily Thunder has a detailed video breakdown on how Artest limited Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant in Game 1.

--Though Durant shot only seven-of-24 in Game 1, his teammates express confidence to The Oklahoman's Darnell Mayberry that Durant will have a much better outing in Game 2. Mayberry also explains what makes Thunder forward Jeff Green such a versatile defender.

--The Oklahoman's Barry Tramel argues Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook, given his Game 1 success against the Lakers, should try to take over the series. has details on Chick Hearn's statue unveiling.

National links's Scott Howard-Cooper explains why Durant loves Oklahoma City so much, even if he's not offered a long-term contract.

--NBA Fanhouse's Sam Amick details the difficulties Bryant must overcome with his various injuries.'s John Hollinger gives his take on what adjustments the Lakers and Thunder need to make in Game 2.

Don't have an insider subscription? No worries. Sports Illustrated's Britt Robson breaks down the adjustments he anticipates in Game 2.

--Sports Illustrated has a nice collection of Bryant pictures from his storied career. My, how much he has grown.

--Fox Sports' Randy Hill wonders whether Durant will bounce back from his poor performance.

Tweet of the Day: "if Kobe isn't looking to dominate - which he shouldn't since the bigs should win this series - he makes Sefolosha a non-factor" -- EricPincus (Hoopsworld's Eric Pincus).

Reader Comment of the Day: "Silence runs deep on the part of Kobe. A man who is injured cannot continue to be a miracle worker. He's there in the court with the guys, I think that is enough courage to be applauded by others. Don't expect too much from Kobe. Help Kobe and Kobe's presence on the court will help everyone get their scores. Without Kobe there, other players will have a hard time get their scores especially Bynum and Gasol because they will surely be doubled and fouled hard until they get hurt. It is the Odom, the Farmar, the Artest, the Brown who should contribute more. Kobe will get his score but he cannot be continue to be the workhorse at this time." -- Edwin Gueco.

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at

Photo: Kobe Bryant goes for a reverse layup after gliding past Thunder center Nick Collison on Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

Kobe Bryant's subdued attitude reveals his increased determination to overcome injuries

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant stood surrounded by a pack of reporters with cameras, tape recorders and questions. He stared back offering a subdued demeanor, quiet and clipped answers and barely let out a smile. The only time he let one out was when he was asked about D.J. Mbenga's orange-tinted glasses after the reserve center's recent eye surgery, before offering a simple "They're nice" response.

Usually there's nothing to read into these types of sessions, other than that Bryant doesn't like interviews and we have an endless amount of questions. But it was hard not to notice he carried the same aura as he did days leading up to the 2009 NBA Finals. He didn't buy into that notion when a reporter said it seemed he had his game face on, saying that he's "just moody today." But you can judge for yourself. The video below offers nothing really of substance, and many of his answers are mumbled and barely audible, and it's not because of my camera. But it clearly showcases his stoic demeanor.

Of course, it's unfair to try to discern  someone's personality and vibe based only on how he or she interacts with reporters. But Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said he noticed Bryant having a similar personality when he saw him Monday in the training room and when the team broke down film of the Lakers' 87-79 Game 1 victory Sunday over the Oklahoma City Thunder. Jackson found Bryant so unapproachable that "I didn't initiate a conversation but once with him, and that's it."

Bryant didn't offer much of an explanation for his demeanor, and neither did his teammates, most notably Lakers forward Ron Artest, who believes Bryant has had the same focused approach throughout the season. Though Jackson didn't share much on what's making Bryant tick these days, he's seen this mood plenty of times after a poor performance or a loss. 

If Jackson's contention is correct, it doesn't take much to connect the dots. Bryant scored 21 points on six for 19 shooting against Oklahoma City in his first game since missing four of the previous five contests. In the three games before his injury, Bryant shot only 21 for 70 from the field (30%). Yet, Jackson noted Bryant "isn't going to offer any excuses," observing that Bryant came in early Monday to work on shooting. Though Bryant acknowledged Sunday that his fractured right index finger bothered him, he struck a different tone after practice Monday, saying "I'm fine" when asked how his body was feeling, which also includes his sprained left ankle and sore right knee.

That left others to make excuses for him. Jackson cited Bryant's lack of elevation. Lakers guard Derek Fisher argued Bryant just needs to play more games before returning to full form. And forward Lamar Odom remained amused by it all, saying no one should worry about Bryant's shooting numbers. I share Odom's perspective that the Lakers will be fine, but for different reasons.

Although there's plenty of indisputable evidence that shows injuries and his age (31) have limited Bryant, relatively speaking, he still played with full speed and aggressiveness against Oklahoma City. He commanded double teams.  He worked the offense. And he would've had more than three assists had Artest and Fisher shot better than a combined seven for 23  from the field. So even though Bryant's shooting performance left a lot to be desired, he was largely responsible for why the offense moved effectively, with that attention helping Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum combine for 32 points mostly inside. The data below, courtesy of, charts each player's impact in the Lakers' Game 1 victory over the Thunder, with Bryant's stats colored blue on the immediate left.


This role isn't anything new for Bryant. After reacting poorly in January to his fractured index finger by shooting more and making less, he started directing the offense in February and March, resulting in a better post presence inside. But in fairness to Bryant, he should be given a few more games to build a rhythm rather than to immediately pigeonhole him as a facilitator. Case in point, it took him three games to build his offensive rhythm after missing five contests this season because of a sprained left ankle.

If there's anything most defining about Bryant's play this season, it's that he's mostly taken an even-handed approach in refusing to allow his injuries to deter him  while also looking for other ways to remain a dominating force in the game. It's why he's continued to tinker with the splint on his index finger to ensure maximum comfort and effectiveness. It's why he consulted with former Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon so he could have a more effective post game. And it explains why he remained flexible with his role, sometimes moving to the forward spot during Bynum's 13-game absence because of a strained left Achilles' tendon.

Bryant has come to a crossroads, and it's something Jackson acknowledged to the media Monday after practice. Jackson downplayed a reporter's assessment that Bryant is shooting too many shots, but he also said that given Bryant's decreased elevation, he'll have to be selective with what are normally considered good shots. As I noted in an earlier post, there were a few instances in Game 1 where Bryant encountered that challenge. But for now, Bryant's teammates showed plenty of signs of support. 

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at

D.J. Mbenga wearing protective goggles while recovering from eye injury

It initially appeared the Lakers somehow acquired Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire with the postseason just underway. But the man shooting at the Lakers' practice facility Monday with the orange-tinted glasses was actually reserve center D.J. Mbenga, who had laser surgery Saturday to repair a retinal hole.

It has been an adversarial turn of events for Mbenga lately, who had two visits to seek medical attention regarding two different incidents. On Friday, he consulted a neurologist Friday after getting elbowed in practice. The following day he had laser surgery after getting poked in the eye. In addition to missing Game 1 of the first round against Oklahoma City Sunday, Mbenga relied on text messages from teammates to keep him informed regarding the Lakers' eventual 87-79 victory over the Thunder. Doctors didn't want Mbenga to watch the game on television because of concerns involving his eyes constantly following sudden movement.

"All day yesterday, I had to stay in bed," said Mbenga, who plans to get reevaluated Tuesday. "It was really really bad."

--Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at



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