This article was initially published in the “Lakers Insider” on March 15. Please sign up for the “Lakers Insider” at http://www.nba.com/lakers/ under Lakers E-News.

Lakers Synergy
By: Josh Tucker

While instability is visible throughout all levels of the NBA right now, the Los Angeles Lakers have managed to remain intact in Los Angeles for over 50 years and under the same ownership for over 30 years. Playing near Hollywood, the Lakers always keep basketball fans entertained. Once again this season, they have been able to put the drama aside and produce championship caliber basketball on the court.

The 2010-2011 season has been a model of personal achievement and team realization. Five years removed from his record setting 81-point performance, Kobe Bryant has assaulted the NBA’s all-time scoring list, catapulting past Hall of Kobe BryantFamers Moses Malone (27,409), Elvin Hayes (27,313) Hakeem Olajuwon (26,946), Oscar Robertson (26,710), Dominique Wilkins (26,668) and John Havlicek (26,395). The only remaining players ahead of Bryant on the all-time list are Shaquille O’Neal (5th/28,590), Wilt Chamberlain (4th/31,419), Michael Jordan (3rd/32,292), Karl Malone (2nd/36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1st/38,387). Among the top six scorers in NBA history, all but Michael Jordan have sported Lakers purple and gold.

Despite spraining his elbow against the Charlotte Bobcats on March 4, Lakers “Iron Man” Derek Fisher, has played in 481 consecutive regular season games, the longest consecutive games streak among all active NBA players. In addition, this Lakers team has quietly amassed a league-leading nine wire-to-wire victories, bettering last season’s regular season total of seven in only 39 games. The most striking of those victories came against the Cavaliers, when the Lakers came within a basket of doubling Cleveland’s point total in a 112-57 win. The 55-point margin of victory was the third largest in Lakers franchise history as well as the largest league-wide since 1998.

After a turbulent first half of the season — which saw the Lakers open 8-0, their third best start in franchise history, and concluded with a three-game losing streak in Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland – the team has looked recharged since Kobe Phil Jackson and Derek FisherBryant’s 37-point, 14-rebound MVP performance in the All-Star Game. With a new focus and dedication to defense, the Lakers won eight straight games after the All-Star break against some of the league’s premier teams — including San Antonio, Atlanta (twice), Oklahoma City, and Portland. Their statement victory against the league leading San Antonio Spurs proved to be one of their best performances of the season. Sparked by a complete team effort, the Lakers handed the Spurs their worst home halftime deficit in franchise history (28 points).

In what is likely the final season before Phil Jackson abdicates his throne over Laker Land, the team will look to send the “Zen Master” off in an appropriate manner. Every time Phil Jackson has won two championships he has reclaimed his crown atop the basketball “court” by winning a third straight championship (with the Bulls in 1991-93 and 1996-98 and with the Lakers in 2000-02). A championship in 2011 will not only further solidify Phil Jackson’s mythical legacy, but it will also fuel the Michael Jordan – Kobe Bryant comparison. Jordan won six championships under Coach Jackson, a number Bryant will try to equal in June. The Lakers leader on the court has continued his scoring consistency, now scoring over 1,500 points in 11 Andrew Bynumconsecutive seasons, marking the longest such streak by an NBA player since Karl Malone reached that milestone in 12 straight seasons (1986-87 to 1997-98).

With Andrew Bynum healthy, the team has finally found its stride. In eleven games since the All-Star break, Bynum has averaged 11.9 points, 12.9 rebounds and 2.6 blocks, while shooting a team best 62% from the field. Bynum’s biggest impact on the game, however, is not completely visible when staring at the stat sheet. He has anchored the Lakers defense, not just clogging the middle, but also challenging outside jump shots with his dominant wingspan. In eleven games since the All-Star break, only once have the opponents passed the 100-point mark, while the opposition has been kept near 40% shooting from the field. The Lakers’ strength relies on synergy, and when five or more Lakers players score in double-figures the team is a staggering 26-3. The whole is unquestionably greater than the sum of its parts.

With the Lakers firing on all cylinders, the team once again seems primed for a deep playoff push. With a healthy roster, experienced leadership and a renewed focus on defense, the Lakers faithful once again hope to see a celebration in Downtown Los Angeles this June.

The rights of this post belong to the Los Angeles Lakers and was first published in the Lakers Insider February 2011

From Brentwood to Brentwood
By: Josh Tucker

Mitch Kupchak moves through the NBA like a phantom. In fact, little is known outside of LakerLand about the General Manager of one of the most storied franchises in professional sports. In 2000, the Lakers asked Mitch Kupchak to fill the shoes of “The Logo,” Jerry West, and he has done so with ease. Sure, he has had his fair share of criticism, but all Kupchak does is win.

He is humble and unassuming; in fact he even put a disclaimer on this interview. MItch Kupchak, Jim Buss and Dr. Buss“I’m not a great interview so don’t get your hopes up,” Kupchak said. His seat during Lakers home games is not in camera view behind the Lakers bench or in an executive suite, but instead is out of the Hollywood spotlight.

Kupchak epitomizes an organization that, from the top down, trusts and believes in each other and themselves. “I have immense support from Jim Buss and Jerry Buss. I have always felt that they are looking out for me, and they have always felt I am looking out for them, in terms of what is best for the organization,” said Kupchak. “I think between the three of us, our decisions are based primarily on ‘What can we do to help this team win?'”

It requires collaboration, but even more so unity to sustain a winning franchise. “I never feel alone and always feel there are three of us on the same page making decisions.” Kupchak believes part of being able to maintain the Lakers status as a perennial powerhouse has been the Lakers’ “energy” in the head coach position. “We have an incredibly qualified coach that’s out front. It’s tough to question Phil Jackson.”

Kupchak is quick to assign praise to his predecessor Jerry West — who will be honored with a statue outside of STAPLES Center during All-Star weekend later this month.

“It was an incredible advantage and experience for me because I got to work with him for 14 years. I’m very thankful to have had him as my mentor and he’s been Jerry West and Mitch  Kupchakridiculously supportive. To this day he continues to be a resource to the organization.”

“We’ve been pretty lucky to have had a guy like that at the helm, and then after he leaves to continue to be an elite team. If it didn’t turn out that way I’m sure I would have taken a lot of heat, because it is tough to follow a guy like that – like it is to follow a guy like Dean Smith or John Wooden.”

Sometimes success takes a little luck. “We’re qualified but you do need a little bit of gold dust now and then,” said Kupchak. While Kupchak implies a hint of purple and gold dust gilds STAPLES Center, he has become the Frank Gehry of basketball. Kupchak has meticulously engineered four NBA Championships since West handed over the reins after winning the 2000 NBA Championship. Sure, Jerry West left a solid foundation in the early 2000’s but Kupchak is responsible for assembling the pieces that have led to this current quest for a three-peat.

Kupchak’s tenure as Lakers General Manager is not without blemish and he is the first to remind you that it has not always been sunny in Los Angeles. “When you’re winning it’s tough to be overly criticized. We had a couple of rough years here. I wouldn’t exactly say I was under the radar, in fact, I was right out on the firing range,” said Kupchak.

“I know [Dr. Buss and Jim Buss] trust me and support me, but I would hope the public and the media have some more trust now than they did ten years ago. I’m no longer the new guy, and certainly winning and the performance of the organization has a lot to do with it.”

The opening chapter to Kupchak’s Lakers career began as a player almost 30 Derek Fisher and Mitch Kupchakyears ago in 1981. Despite a career plagued by injury, Kupchak was able to win three championships as a player – two as a Laker. Thirty years later, Kupchak still remains a true fan.

“There’s no feeling to match the feeling after Game 7 last year. To say that I sat there and enjoyed sitting and watching seven games of that series wouldn’t be true at all. I wish there was a way you could go hide somewhere and after ten days someone says, ‘Guess what? You won the thing,’ but you can’t, you have to sit there and watch.”

“Believe me, they’re painstaking games. Our fans in L.A. are on the edge of their seat, they’re going crazy, and so you can imagine what it feels like for someone who works for the organization.”

Kupchak was born in Brentwood, Long Island, New York and now resides in Brentwood, Los Angeles, California. He admits that other than a name the two cities have essentially nothing in common. He finds humor in the fact that he graduated from Brentwood High School and eventually his two children will graduate from a very different Brentwood High School.

As our interview came to an end the legendary Bill Sharman – one of only three people to be inducted into the NBA Hall-of-Fame as a player and coach – walked into Kupchak’s office, which overlooks the Lakers practice court. The immortal Sharman walked over, shook my hand and asked, “Do you know this guy?” in reference to Kupchak. I know one thing for sure, whether it be Brentwood, NY or Brentwood, CA, Mitch Kupchak has definitely found a home.

Recently Steelers linebacker James Harrison, one of the most ferocious players in the NFL and former Defensive Player of the Year said he does not want to injure anyone. “There’s a big difference between being hurt and being injured. You get hurt; you shake it off and come back the next series or the next game. I try to hurt people,” said Harrison. In his mind there is a distinct difference between trying to hurt people and actually putting an opponent on the injured reserve list. If he was trying to injure players it would be inherently evil but Harrison maintains he was merely “geeking things up.”

Harrison "Geeking" Massaquoi

The fundamental problem with Harrisons’ argument is so much is still unknown about the lasting affects of concussions. While a concussion today may leave you with feelings of “dizziness” and “general fogginess” as Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler described, the verdict is still out on the future impact and implications of concussions; it is however, becoming apparent that concussions may be more dangerous than expected.  A study conducted in 2007 by the University of North Carolina’s Center for the Study of Retired Athletes found that football related concussions are linked to depression, dementia, memory loss, and the early onset of Alzheimer’s disease. So when Mohamed Massaquoi is 45, slurring his words while reading a bedtime story to his daughter, taking pain killers to manage the pain in his back and neck, suffering from memory loss and contemplating suicide should James Harrison be held accountable?  No, because evil supposes intent. Just as premeditated murder is nothing short of evil; vehicular manslaughter, while awful and tragic, is bad, not evil. Harrison’s claim draws a $75,000 fine line between evil and badness.  In a sport where each play develops so fast and each action is fueled by instinct it is impossible to say Harrison’s hits are premeditated.


On concussions alone, a reader at deadspin.com, compiled the following list of players who have been diagnosed concussions in 2010:

PRESEASON: Ryan Grant, Hunter Hillenmeyer, Joseph Addai, Mark Clayton, Nick Sorensen, Aaron Curry, DJ Ware, Louis Murphy, Scott Sicko, Mike Furrey, Darnell Bing, Freddy Keiaho

WEEK 1: Kevin Kolb, Stewart Bradley, Matt Moore, Kevin Boss, Charly Martin

WEEK 2: Clifton Ryan, Jason Witten, Randall Gay, Craig Dahl, Zack Follett, Evan Moore

WEEK 3: Anthony Bryant, Cory Redding, Jason Trusnik

WEEK 4: Jordan Shipley, Willis McGahee, Jay Cutler, Asante Samuel, Riley Cooper, Sherrod Martin

WEEK 5: Aaron Rodgers, Darcy Johnson, Jacob Bell, Landon Johnson, Demaryius Thomas, Rocky McIntosh

WEEK 6: Josh Cribbs, Desean Jackson, Mohamed Massaquoi, Zack Follett, Chris Cooley

What unifies this group? Individually, they all make at least $300,000 to $16 million more than I do a year.  So while critical of Harrison’s performance Cleveland Browns’ Tight end Benjamin Watson hits the nail on the head. “At the end of the day it’s football and it’s what people want to see,” Watson said. “It’s why the game is so popular, it’s why we get paid great salaries to play this game, because there’s a desire in the American public to see this type of violence.” The same reasons that MMA has knocked out NASCAR as the world’s fastest growing sport are the exact reasons football is so beloved– violence, brutality, and unpredictability.


Instead, it is the actions of the players off the field that should have the attention of National Football League Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson: Brett Favre waving his dick out of his Wranglers, Junior Seau driving his car off of 30-foot cliffs after a brief stint in jail for domestic abuse, and Jerramy Stevens recently arrested for felony marijuana possession.

Haynesworth Stomping A Defenseless Cowboy

Let us not forget that Michael Vick is now the starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, Pacman Jones will be welcomed back by the Bengals when he returns from surgery, and Albert Haynesworth is the highest paid face stomper in history (7-year, $100 million deal).  Dog fighting, gun fighting, and face stomping were all blatant acts of evil. Lewd pictures, domestic abuse, and intent to sell are premeditated acts of immorality; James Harrison going 100 mph and taking off a few receivers’ heads while bad is forgivable, and for a fan of big hits much is appreciated.

By Josh Tucker

http://www.nba.com/lakers/community/1011fitforlife_features.html

What does it take in the offseason in order to complete a three-peat? For any other organization, coaching staff or team this would be a unique experience, but Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant, and Derek Fisher have been here before. In fact, this is the fourth time that Phil Jackson will attempt this implausible “three-feat” and whenever Phil Jackson wins two championships he unequivocally turns it into three. They have grown accustomed to short offseasons after playing well into June for three consecutive seasons. Long seasons with a short recovery period can place a lot of wear and tear on athletes’ bodies. Naturally, the importance of physical fitness in the offseason is paramount to this Lakers team’s chances of three-peating.

Some Lakers spent this summer touring the world. Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum took time to heal from a grueling post season by watching the FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Over in Europe, Pau Gasol acted as an ambassador for UNICEF and Lamar Odom played a pivotal role in the US national team’s Gold medal win in Turkey. To manage the truncated offseason, Lakers forward Ron Artest was in the gym early and often.

Artest, former Defensive Player of the Year, said he balanced weeks where he rested with weeks where he was going to the gym four times a day. “You need to rest but still push yourself during the summer. I work harder and prepare my body for physical activity even tougher than an NBA game,” said Artest. Artest is the Renaissance man of fitness, partaking in yoga, swimming, weightlifting, and running. “I couldn’t take as many trips this offseason. I had to refocus sooner,” said Artest when asked about the sacrifices of getting back into shape.

Balancing rest and relaxation with focus and fitness was a sentiment echoed by other Lakers. Shannon Brown, who re-signed with the back-to-back champions this offseason sounds like a seasoned veteran.

“I let my body rest a little bit. I was lifting weights, but nothing with a basketball. I always focus on basketball, and on the task at hand. I don’t let too many outside influences get involved in what I’m trying to do on the basketball court. I’m a little bit older, a little bit smarter, a little bit wiser, not only in life but in the game of basketball. I’m trying to tune in to what is really going on, on the court.”

With the quiet additions of rookies Derrick Caracter and Devin Ebanks, and free agent signings Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Theo Ratliff, the Lakers have revamped their roster and are focused on the season ahead.

The rookies are also dedicated to making an immediate impact this year. They aim to contribute whether it is minutes in games or hustle in practice. Rookie forward, Caracter, said that he changed his college lifestyle to prepare for the NBA.

“I’m grinding, working, working. I got with a nutritionist and cut down on what I was eating and dropped my college diet,” Caracter said. “I’m eating more efficient meals and found out through different research the proper way to train. I’m doing sprints instead of longer runs. Shorter, harder, and increasing the intensity of my workouts. It is a whole different type of conditioning to get ready for this level; physically and mentally preparing for the new situation, while keeping my confidence up. I’m leaner and meaner than ever before.”

Caracter has already cut down from almost 315 pounds to around 270. Devin Ebanks shared a similar sentiment.

“I’m doing a lot of running, calisthenics, and ab workouts, along with eating right,” Ebanks said. “I’m eating a lot of pastas and potatoes, and have cut down on fast foods. The coaches have me trying to keep my body fat count down.”

Ebanks, who turns 21 at the end of this month, has great admiration for the Lakers veterans.

“It’s amazing how they keep their work ethic. They are in their early 30s, yet continue to work. The way they still work and the drive they have keeps me motivated.”

Steve Blake and Matt Barnes find themselves in new colors, and in new cities, but neither have found the transition to be too difficult. Blake, whose last championship came with the University of Maryland Terrapins in 2002, spent the summer doing a variety of workouts. “I worked as hard this summer as I have always worked. I started my mornings in the weight room doing plyometrics. Then I would take a break, eat lunch then get back to basketball; two-a-days pretty much every day.”

Blake said it has not taken him long to adapt the triangle offense or Los Angeles lifestyle.

“It has been a pretty smooth transition. I appreciate the focus on the team and the offense rather than individual skills,” he said.

Matt Barnes, who is notorious for his passion, saw his 2009-2010 season extend longer than ever before. “I went to the Eastern Conference Finals [with the Magic] last year, which went to the end of May. This year I took a little more time off to let my body heal. In years past I got to work a little sooner. I’m thrilled to be part of great team that has won two championships in a row, so I’m just trying to fit in.”

While Pat Riley patented the term three-peat, Phil Jackson owns it. This year the Lakers embark on a journey to make history and reclaim their title with a rejuvenated roster and a focus on fitness.

Lebron James is showing that he never had childhood. Is he immature, naïve or insecure? James has never been picked on. He has been on a pedestal and on the proverbial throne since he was 13 years young. Touted as the heir to “His Airness” since 2000, Lebron James has always been in a fish bowl.


James’ current reaction to critics and “haters” is comparable to a 5-year-old Timmy tattling on his sister Sara after Timmy called Sara a gooey booger. It is pathetic, but ultimately depressing. While we were standing on the fence waiting to be picked, James was always the one doing the picking. In Ohio, James was arguably the most beloved sports icon ever; more than Chicago loved Jordan and Persians love Kobe. And was without ever having won a game in the NBA Finals.
Lebron, I have a piece of advice: sack up, shut up and play. We have all been teased and bullied at some point in our lives. Well except for you and Ray Lewis. Actually, one time someone made fun of Ray Lewis’ mom. This is the aftermath:

Lebron, you are a professional athlete. You signed up for this backlash when you abandoned Cleveland and inked a $110 million contract with the Miami Heat.
I know your ego may not be able to handle this but there are more important issues going on in the world than Lebron James. Asher Brown was just 13 when he killed himself last month. So was Seth Walsh. Both were allegedly targets of anti-gay bullying. According to gay activists, so were recent suicide victims Justin Aaberg, 15, Tyler Clementi, 18, and Billy Lucas, 15.
After being criticized by fans for the first time, you have resorted to retweeting a few disparaging posts. The fact that you have made this an issue is again, pathetic. Moronic. Idiotic! You continue to damage your image and continue to lose fans that admire your unparalleled athletic prowess and ability to play basketball. To cap it all off you played the race card? Be more insecure.
Grow up. Let us hope that Lebron will not always suffer from “Gary Coleman/Michael Jackson Syndrome” so I never have to consider the comparison between “Bron Bron” and Peter Pan ever again – thank God he did not go to Boston. (Side note – Justin Bieber’s future is looking grim.)

Please Lebron James King of the Universe, for your sake and ours stick to playing basketball and like you keep implying you are going to do use this for motivation, but stop creating this bad soap opera.