Posts Tagged ‘Los Angeles Lakers’

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.

Advertisements

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.