Laker fans don't just expect an NBA championship every season.
They expect a championship voice to narrate that journey. It's a role the late Chick Hearn filled admirably, enthusiastically and irreplaceably. But someone's had to take over and do the best they can as the Lakers' play-by-play announcer. For the past eight seasons that responsibility has fallen to Joel Meyers on TV broadcasts, but the Daily News' Tom Hoffarth reported that Meyers' contract won't be renewed at the end of the season. Meyers declined to comment on the matter to The Times' Broderick Turner but thanked him for the opportunity, and the Lakers said they won't comment until the end of the season. But Hoffarth's report indicates that Spero Dedes, the Lakers' radio play-by-play announcer, will replace Meyers on TV, while Fox Sports West's Bill MacDonald might take over radio duties.
Discussion about the situation has already taken place on the comment threads, but please vote in the poll so we can get an accurate take on where the needle is pointing. Here are a few things to consider before voting.
Meyers has 25 years of broadcast experience, including being the play-by-play announcer for the San Antonio Spurs for four years. He's also done NFL games, Big 12 college football, golf, two Olympic Games, and worked for networks such as NBC and ESPN. Meyers has an established track record in Southern California sports, including doing Angels and Raiders games in the 1980s, Dodgers games on cable in the 1990s and Los Angeles Lazers indoor soccer games for the old Prime Ticket. He replaced Paul Sunderland as the Lakers' television play-by-plan announcer in 2004 after spending his first two seasons with the Lakers in radio.
The question left some players squirming, politely declining to answer no matter if I quoted them publicly or protected their thoughts in anonymity. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson immediately expressed his disinterest in the topic saying, "We've talked about this before and I've said no. I'm not going to talk about that." And then some players immediately shifted from cliches to honest assessments when I told them their names wouldn't be attached to the answer.
We're not really dealing with state secrets here, but it may as well be in the world of sports. I simply wondered which potential first-round opponent would the Lakers consider most dangerous. Of course, some refused to participate, mentioning how the they're more worried about how the rest of the regular season shapes up than worrying about who they face in the first round of the playoffs. But Laker fans surely do.
Fortunately, some provided answers. Based on the four players who were willing to trade their honesty in exchange for anonymity, three of them equally expressed concern about Portland and Memphis, while one other believed the Grizzlies would be the toughest opponent. Meanwhile, Lakers executive Magic Johnson spoke pretty frankly before the Lakers' 102-84 victory Sunday over New Orleans about which potential first-round opponent would give the Lakers the most trouble: Portland, because of the "hate factor," he said.
"They don't like us and we don't like them," Johnson said Sunday, walking in a corridor underneath Staples Center. "That would be a very physical and tough series, even though we would win and we're better overall. But they really know how to play us; they're well-coached and they're tenacious."
The Lakers (23-11) have lost four of their last six games by double-digit margins and have gone 3-5 against playoff-caliber teams. Now, going into Tuesday's game against the Detroit Pistons at Staples Center, fans are uncertain and more than a little ticked.
In a recent unscientific survey I conducted, a significant number of those who responded (from about 800 to 1,000 people responded to each of the poll questions) felt confident the Lakers could turn it around but wondered when that would start (39.15%). Nearly a quarter of fans said they were more angry than concerned about the Lakers' poor play (24.4%).
But no Laker championship team has been immune to shortcomings, poor execution and boredom with the regular season. The Lakers' championship teams from 1999-2001 went through early-season struggles, with a 24-10 start in the 1999-2000 season and a 23-11 mark in the 2000-01 campaign. So it makes sense that only 28.35% of those surveyed worried that the Lakers would have trouble three-peating. Only a few people aren't sweating their recent troubles at all (8%).
Whether you're among the world-is-coming-to-an-end crowd or are just upset at watching bad basketball, there are plenty of things bothering Laker fans right now about the team. The two-time defending champions earned a D from 34.95% of those polled and an F from 37.48%, with 49.68% of them ticking off numerous problems ailing the team, including, in order of importance, poor defense, inconsistent offensive chemistry, Kobe Bryant's high volume of shots, Pau Gasol's inconsistency, Ron Artest's discomfort with a reduced role and never-ending confusion with the triangle offense, Phil Jackson's coaching, Derek Fisher's streaky shooting, poor leadership, Andrew Bynum's acclimation with the team after recovering from offseason surgery on his right knee and inconsistent bench support.
That's a lot of ground to cover. But most Laker fans aren't saying that the organization needs to reinvent the wheel, although 11.65% argue that a trade wouldn't hurt. They just want the Lakers to begin changing their habits. Plenty of fans (28.19%) want the Lakers to establish more of a defensive identity, after yielding so many points in transition, drives off screen-and-rolls and open perimeter shots that have resulted in the Lakers giving up a 16th-ranked 97.68 points per game. Of those surveyed, 14.87% say the Lakers need to utilize their size more in 7-footers Bynum and Gasol, as well as versatile 6-foot-10 forward Lamar Odom, who's considered by most fans to be the team's best player. And there are 12.99% of fans who believe it'd be nice if the Lakers actually ran the triangle instead of isolation sets.
Some fans supported having Jackson scale back minutes for players who didn't perform (5.88%). Others advocated more practice time (4.66%); Jackson traditionally has given the team plenty of rest so that the veteran group remains fresh and healthy, but Thursday he had a 2 1/2-hour practice with plenty of running drills. And some believe a team meeting to air out all the grievances would help the Lakers collectively problem solve (4.66%). But there are more Laker fans who believe the team's simply not playing up to its capability and just needs to change its habits (13.54%). Most say that begins with Lakers forward Ron Artest, who apparently has lost some of his luster gained from his Game 7 performance in the 32010 NBA Finals, his advocacy for mental-health issues and his overall good-natured goofiness. Lately, more fans are just simply agitated with him because he's averaging a career-low 7.5 points per game, including a scoreless performance Sunday against Memphis.
With the Lakers reaching three consecutive NBA Finals, plenty believe the Lakers are simply bored. But Laker fans aren't taking that for an excuse. Ask Laker fans if there's anything that could be done to motivate the team, and they simply don't buy it. The vast majority (82.79%) say the team should just feel compelled to play better, period. After all, they're the Lakers and the defending champs. Their motivation should just be the desire to win, which is something the Lakers aren't doing enough of these days.
So, yeah things aren't going well for the Lakers and everyone here has been pretty vocal about it. But to get the exact gauge of fan sentiment, I thought it'd be appropriate to run a series of poll questions. I'll then run an analysis piece in a post Tuesday based on the results.
It's only two games into the regular season, and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has already assigned the team's bench a nickname. They're "Renegades."
"I gave it to them," Jackson said Saturday after practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "They're getting a sense of how to play together."
That includes Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes, a trio KCAL-9's Stu Lantz and a few L.A. Times Lakers blog readers described as "Killer B's." Beyond this settling a long debate or perhaps furthering it within this corner of the blogosphere, it's not so much important what nickname Jackson has assigned the reserves so much as that his willingness to do it so early in the season shows his satisfaction with the team's overall play. Jackson limited Saturday's practice solely to the reserves, a unit he says will feature more unspecified playing time from Devin Ebanks and Sasha Vujacic possibly as early as Sunday against the Golden State Warriors.
Dictionary.com defines "renegade" as a "person who deserts a party or cause for another," hardly a quality trait you'd want to have in a teammate. But the Lakers see it differently.
"When you think of renegade, you think of someone who's almost mean, but going out there and getting the job done," Brown said. "They're fierce. They don't play many games, but they're close knit together. They won't let nobody mess with them."
The reactions among the bench struck a perfect balance between amusement ("I'm liking all these names," said Brown) and professionalism ("We're not going to worry about nicknames," Blake said. We're just going to go out there and keep doing what we're doing").
The bench so far has been doing the right things. In the Lakers' 112-110 season-opening victory Tuesday against the Houston Rockets, Blake hit the game-winning three-pointer and shut off Aaron Brooks in the lane on the final play. Meanwhile, Brown provided an energy boost in both season opener and in the Lakers' 114-106 victory Friday over the Phoenix Suns, showing a solid mid-range game and ability to run the break. And Barnes has scrapped on the boards as well as going three-of-four from three-point range against the Suns.
"Seeing that ring for the first time, I'm happy for those guys but I'm definitely jealous," Barnes said. "It makes me hungrier to get my own. I'm thinking about how it's going to feel to get my own."
For now, the Lakers' bench can be comforted to know they've at least earned enough respect for a nickname. They realize they've earned it.
"Renegades are people that are out there reckless and taking care of business," Barnes added. "Killer B's is self explanatory. It's us three taking care of business and having fun."
Brown suggested there should be a poll on this topic, so I told him I'd be more than willing to oblige and then report the results. Feel free to vote in some of the polls below after the jump. Of course, if you don't like these nicknames, pitch a few others and I'll see if it resonates with the bench.
The wait has nearly ended, but there's still one more day of excitement, analysis and speculation before the actual games begin.
If fans on the L.A. Times Lakers blog are correct, the Lakers' road to three-peat begins Tuesday when they host their season opener against the Houston Rockets. Those thinking it's way too early to think ahead of June will be marginalized, considering the Lakers' ring ceremony will inevitably conjure up memories of the 2010 championship and what they need to reach that point again.
The majority of fans on this blog already predicted before training camp that the Lakers will three-peat, and I don't suspect a 4-4 preseason will damper that enthusiasm much. Still, the exhibition season featured many developing storylines that could have great significance on how the 2010-11 season unfolds, leading me to think that it's time for another series of poll questions below the jump.
Within the last week, both Lakers reserve guards Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic showed they're going to compete for coverage in the celebrity gossip pages as well as try to crack the shooting guard spot behind Kobe Bryant. Brown got engaged to pop singer Monica last weekend, while Vujacic on Thursday confirmed his engagement to tennis star Maria Sharapova. At the rate things are going, I wouldn't be surprised if another Laker gets engaged this week, giving Lamar Odom plenty of responsibility to share his advice on what he's done to manage his high-profile marriage with reality TV star Khloe Kardashian.
So who will be the next Laker to tie the knot? Coach Phil Jackson already has plenty of rings -- 11 championships, to be exact -- but will he add a wedding band to his collection after proposing to Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss? Will the next celebrity marriage include forward Pau Gasol and Spanish reality TV star Silvia Lopez Castro? Or perhaps rookies Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter will soon find a significant other in Tinseltown?
One thing is for certain: A television executive needs to pitch this as a reality show. After all, Ron Artest has postponed filming his show because he wants to concentrate on the season, so there has to be something to fill the void.
It was only a few weeks ago that Lakers Coach Phil Jackson thought Kobe Bryant would be limited in his play at the opening of training camp. After Bryant underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right knee this off-season, Jackson said Chip Schaefer, the team's director of athletic performance and player development and its strength coach, informed him he thought Bryant would have to sit out all the exhibition games as he rehabbed.
Because, as Jackson put it, Bryant had been "working hard the past month," Jackson expressed confidence during his preseason press conference that Bryant would play when the Lakers began their preseason schedule with stops in London on Oct. 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves and in Spain on Oct. 7 against Regal FC Barcelona. But Bryant has only appeared in one practice in the six sessions of training camp thus far, and Jackson has expressed uncertainty whether he'll actually play when the Lakers leave for Europe.
"Yes, you want the fans that have paid ... to have an opportunity to see remarkable players," Jackson said, regarding the two sold-out games in Europe. "But if he's not well enough to do so, obviously we won't do that. It would be what I called 'Beckham payback time.' "
Jackson, of course, was humorously referring to English soccer player David Beckham, who joined the Galaxy in 2007, appeared in limited fashion for his Major League Soccer debut and remained sidelined for most of the season because of an ankle injury. In Beckham's case, the Galaxy felt pressured to play him because of his marketing potential as well as all the hyperbole from the organization about what Beckham could do for the MLS. In Bryant's case, the Lakers are on, essentially, an ambassador's tour, and the European fans want to see the league's best player.
The cases are different, however, since this is the Lakers' exhibition season we're talking about. Bryant said, on just the third day of training camp, that he wouldn't be talking about his knee anymore. His manner was serious but lighthearted, and he seems fairly relaxed in interviews and on the sidelines thus far. Bryant obviously wants to play, but he's not in a frustrated mood, as he was at times last season, when he was continually overcoming assorted injuries and fielding questions about them. Additionally, Bryant's current rehab process doesn't have the same long-term prognosis as Andrew Bynum's. Bynum is expected to miss all of the pre-season and, in Jackson's estimation, at least two to three weeks of the regular season. In Bryant's case, he participated Wednesday in a non-basketball workout, and Jackson said it was possible he would practice Thursday. "Just taking it step by step," Bryant said after Sunday's practice. "Just continue to try to progress every day, that's all."
Keep all of this in mind as you consider this poll question: Should Bryant play in the European exhibition games? My answer comes with a qualifier. The Lakers should play him only if he's healthy enough to do so. As much as it would disappoint the Europeans that he'd sit out, there's absolutely no benefit for the Lakers in leaving him vulnerable. This also isn't the playoffs, where Bryant seemingly received treatment every waking minute to keep the knee going. In his rehab, I'd expect Bryant to be striving for improvement but not just for the sake of play in Europe, and his comments seem to support that. Nonetheless, Bryant's well aware of his world-wide popularity and has indicated in the past that part of his wanting to play points to the fact that some fans may only have one chance ever to see him on the floor. So in that respect, it'd be ideal to give Bryant a token appearance but nothing that will put him in harm's way.
No doubt, the Lakers would prefer to have Bryant on the court. Even if it is just the preseason, it never hurts to solidify the chemistry early among the players who will most likely see the floor. For the newcomers, it also gives them a chance to get used to playing alongside Bryant. He's matured tremendously over the years, but there's no doubt an adjustment process for those joining him on court. The perfect combo is Bryant fully utilizing his tremendous talent and his teammates fully understanding how to provide a supporting role. On the other hand, if there's a time for the bench reserves and newcomers to get some run, it's during the preseason.
There's still plenty of time for Jackson to decide and for Bryant to make progress on his knee. The team practices Thursday, flies to London on Thursday night and then doesn't play until Monday. But it's not like the Lakers are on a mini-vacation. There' are several practices as well as team, league and sponsorship events scheduled during the trip. But if I had to vote today, I'd say it's better to sit Bryant out. If he makes progress and he's done rehabbing by Monday, by all means, allow the Black Mamba to put on a show. If not, just take a rest. Consider it a return on investment for, you know, when the games actually matter.
Photos, from top: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant elevates for a pull-up jumper over Boston guard Ray Allen in the second quarter of Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals. Bryant powers his way to a layup past Allen in the first half of Game 7. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
By now I have analyzed a litany of preseason topics: Andrew Bynum's knee, Kobe Bryant's right index finger, Pau Gasol and Bryant's off-season rest, Lamar Odom's experience with Team USA, the Lakers' off-season acquisition and whether this will actually be Phil Jackson's last season. I also talked to some experts, including former Lakers Magic Johnson and Michael Cooper, about the team's chances of three-peating. But now it's time to hear from you in a series of polls after the jump. I will then analyze the results in an upcoming post.
Talk about perfect timing. With eight days left before training camp begins for the Lakers, today marks Phil Jackson's 65th birthday, meaning it's more likely he'll celebrate it. It also serves as a tangible reminder of how fortunate Jackson has managed to overcome his health issues. Beyond the constant stress and fatigue that's worn on Jackson during the long and treacherous NBA season, he has had to monitor two hip replacements, withstand a chronically sore knee and periodically feeling bothered with kidney stones. As much as it's been a blessing for him to stay healthy, Jackson's competitive spirits surely is making him excited for the 2009-10 season. After all, that's what triggered him to reconsider his initial thought about retirement and come back for another season.
Below are a few ideas on what he might be doing
1. Jeanie Buss, the Lakers executive vice president and Jackson's girlfriend, tweeted him a Happy Birthday, and it's conceivable that the two are spending it together over a dinner and a movie. I can imagine after Buss buys Jackson dinner, he remarks, "I'm glad you're treating me to dinner. With the paycut your father made me take, I don't know if I could afford it."
2. Buss tweeted something else that the two might be enjoying on a relaxing day: "NBA TV having a Phil Jackson marathon. Check out 2002 Lakers vs. Nets final. Shaq free throws still kill me." This will prompt some mixed feelings. Jackson will wax nostalgia about the Lakers' three-peat and perhaps help him see applicable examples next season's team could follow to ensure another three-peat. But he'll also feel regret for how everything ended in the 2004 season, with both Shaq and Jackson leaving the team.
3. Birthdays are supposed to be a relaxing day, and there's no better coach that preaches that concept than Jackson. He goes through numerous sessions, involving meditation, massages, yoga and Pilates. It'll serve two purposes. It will relieve any worries from the external world, and it'll get him mentally prepared for the upcoming season.
4. Jackson customarily goes to Montana for the summer off-season. With eight days still away from training camp, there's no reason Jackson needs to ditch the quiet and picturesque confines of Montana for traffic congested and land deprived Los Angeles. It's going to be another day of hiking, swimming and fishing.
5. Jackson's already back to work. As much as he maintains an even keel and light-hearted attitude during the season, the Zen Master is insanely competitive.