1. LA has one of the most dramatic home/road splits in the NBA. Why is that and do you expect it to continue going forward?
The disparity between the Lakers performances at home vs. on the road has left many of us at a loss for words. The Lakers have outscored their opposition at home by roughly 10 points per game but have been outscored on the road by 5 points per game, a 15 point swing. The biggest culprit has been the defense. At home they are a juggernaut giving up only 86 points per game, but on the road they concede 96. They allow the opposition to shoot four percent better from the field and beyond the arc, while giving up six more free throws and forcing three fewer turnovers. The whole defense regresses.
Offensively it has been the shooting. The Lakers shoot 47% from the field at home but only 43% on the road. They connect on a respectable 34% of threes in Staples Center but an anemic 27% in other arenas. It's like they forget to pack their shooting touch when they leave town. The only player who doesn't show a precipitous drop in field goal percentage is Pau Gasol. It is a wide-spread concern.
We don't really know what underlies the poor performance on the road. It could be that the back-to-backs really take a toll on this older roster but other older teams, such as the Mavs, are coping much better. It has really been a frustrating and baffling part of the Lakers disappointing season so far. I think it will improve slightly as the field goal percentage disparity won't remain that large all season, but I doubt this team will be an above .500 road team.
2. Kobe takes 24 shots a game, one fewer than Gasol and Bynum get combined. Is that really the best formula for the Lakers to win?
Long term, no it is not. The shots need to be more evenly distributed with the Lakers looking inside first. However Kobe is only partly to blame. One of the biggest issues plaguing the Lakers has been outside shooting, or lack there of. The Lakers were recently last in the league at three-point shooting. Teams have sagged off of our small forwards, clogging the paint, and leaving little room for Bynum or Gasol to go to work. When the defense is packed in it is difficult to get the ball inside and it usually results in Kobe having to take a shot as the rest of the perimeter players can't generate their own. Spacing is the key ingredient to getting more shots for Bynum and Gasol.
3. At times, Bynum can look absolutely dominant in the low post. What do you think his ceiling is in the NBA? Any way he passes Dwight Howard at some point in the next 5 years?
Bynum's ceiling is as high as he wants it to be. He was blessed with size and length but has quickly developed his skill set in his short career. One could easily argue his is the most skilled pure center in the league when it comes to scoring on the block. If his motivation and work ethic continue he could become the best center in the league, passing Howard. The one place that Howard stands head and shoulders above Bynum is his ability to pass out of double teams. Bynum has not handled double teams well but this is the first year where he has seen a heavy dose of them. It took Howard a few years to learn how to handle them and Bynum should be able to do the same. If he does then he will possess the same skills as Howard, but in a body that is a couple inches taller and 45 pounds bigger. He just needs to continue to stay focused, motivated, and above all healthy.
4. Where do Lakers fans stand on Pau Gasol these days and do you expect him to get dealt before the trade deadline?
There is no consensus feeling on Pau Gasol these days. Some feel the Lakers biggest advantage is their size and they should not do anything to alter that. Others feel that the Lakers have too many other holes and Gasol is one of the only tradable assets to acquire the players to fill them. I have no idea if he will be traded or not. The Lakers front office is a mess right now (for a better understanding of just how bad it is read this article: http://www.cbssports.com/nba/
story/17362549/kobes- frustration-a-reflection-on- lakers-deteriorating-front- office).
If the Lakers want to make major moves at the deadline then Gasol would likely have to go. If the Lakers feel they are just a minor piece or two away then they could use the Lamar Odom exception to bring a player (Michael Beasley and Ramon Sessions are two names being discussed). Complicating matters is the new collective bargaining agreement which increases the tax burden on teams that are repeatedly over the cap. Keeping the trio of Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum guarantees they will be over and the Lakers management has not indicated if it is willing to pay increased price.
5. Is LA still a legitimate contender in the West?
The Lakers are still a contender to come out of the West. The Lakers have an elite level defense which will always make them competitive and the trio of Bryant, Bynum, and Gasol are enough to win any game. But there is a big difference between winning a single game and winning a series. The latter takes great play from role players at the right time. The Mavs wouldn't be the defending champions right now if not for key contributions of the supporting cast at crucial moments. The Lakers do have players capable of filling those roles, but so far they have failed to do so consistently. A well timed run of great bench play could push them through the wide open Western Conference. It would probably take more than that though to beat Chicago or Miami four times, especially without home court advantage.
One another note, as a Lakers fan I have been spoiled by what I consider the greatest franchise in sports, led by the greatest owner Jerry Buss. However, if I had to pick a favorite team and owner outside of the Lakers, it would be the Mavericks and Mark Cuban. I had the pleasure of attending a Mavs game four years ago when I was in Dallas on a business trip. The atmosphere and experience of attending a Mavericks game is something I will never forget. It provided a stark contrast to the Hollywood "too cool to chear" crowd that usually dominates the Lakers lower bowl seating. In a league filled with owners who care more about the bottomline than the product on the court, the Mavs are blessed to have an owner who truly cares about the team and its fans. If the Lakers weren't going to win a title last year, I was happy to see the Mavs win as it was well deserved. May tonight's contest be entertaining, competitive, and injury free.