Are the Lakers in Danger of Being the NBA's My Space?

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SPQR
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Was listening to the Colin Cowherd show last week and the topic of analytics came up. He discussed how it affects all sports, some more than others. He also gave a rundown of the teams in all sports who use analytics the most and those who use it the least or not at all. It was striking that that the teams who use it the most have also had concomitant success while those who eschew it have been not so good. An interesting fact is the Lakers the Lakers didn't send a basketball operations representative for the first six years of the annual MIT Sloan Analytics Conference in Boston, the latest incarnation of which was held Feb. 27-28. In 2013, they were the only team without a representative.

The Lakers and GM Mitch Kupchak claim the team is using analytics at a very high level but a very interesting investigative article on ESPN indicates that the evidence shows the Lakers are severely lagging in the setup and use of top line analytics. Lagging not just in pro sports, but in the smaller realm of the NBA itself.

The article:

http://m.espn.go.com/nba/story?storyId= ... rc=desktop

The efficacy of analytics has been proven in baseball for many years now, starting with Billy Beane and the Oakland Athletics. His methods have now been widely adopted by and refined by almost all Baseball clubs and have helped small market teams achieve success in combating money giants who can spend vast amounts of dollars on star players. It has proven so well in baseball that now hockey uses it to a large degree and it is gaining more and more traction in the NFL and NBA. Is it an end- all -be all for winning? No, nothing beats a good front office, but it has proven beyond doubt a tremendous technological aid to formulate smart, money and personnel decisions that increase your chances of success.

Analytics took center stage in NBA recently when Charles Barkley disparaged in on the TNT broadcast. Barkely's remarks held some truth. In a game like basketball, unlike baseball, a singular transcendent star like Kobe, Lebron, Magic, Bird or Durant can affect the team and their game to a disproportionate ideal. But his out of hand dismissal on analytics was also myopic. Not every team has a Kobe or Lebron or Durant. What if your team has a collection of good players, like Atlanta? Or is even at a stage where they are starting from scratch, like the Lakers, and want to make the smartest decisions on who they sign, build the most effective team they can for the moment and the future and avoid overpaying a player who will not give equal return on the monetary investment, say a Swaggy Pete? Or to avoid sending first round picks for a nothing player like Ramon Sessions or an old man like Steve Nash. It always helps to have a smart GM and organization but if you don't, especially if you don't, in these cases analytics can help in making the correct decisions. And if you do have a GM with the proper acumen, analytics certainly are a good adjunct to helping the organization to making the smart decisions, the crucial decisions, especially when you don't have a superstar to carry the load and mask mistakes. To ignore analytics is to be stubborn at your own peril. Because when you don't have that star, when you are in a position where every decision is vital to your success and rebuild, you better use every tool at your disposal.

For the Lakers, the last five years have been abject proof that their organization, their GM is far from a past master in making smart decisions. In fact, over the last five years, no front office in any team sport in America has made such a series of blunders that brought a team to such a nadir as Mitch Kupchak has. So the question is asked, is he really the guy, are we really the team that can afford to rank near the bottom of team sports in their use of analytics? It is interesting to note that the two best front offices in sports, the New England Patriots and San Antonio Spurs have used analytics for years now and it is hard to argue with those teams success. In fact the 2015 Sloan Sports Conference handed out awards and the San Antonio Spurs captured the conference's Best Analytics Organization.

People and organizations that don't adapt to changing technologies and the advantages they bring are all evident. They litter the graveyards of failure, great names that missed the boat and ended up drowned. Thomas Edison, who invented the light bulb in America, planned to dominate the industry and light up New York then the country with the Edison Electric Company. It never happened because he stubbornly refused to change over to alternating electric current from his inferior direct current. Blackberry, once the undisputed monarch of cell phones now accounts for less than one percent of cell phone sales. Radio Shack, the cutting edge, erstwhile leader in retail electronics sales is no more. Bankrupt. My Space, the internet rave of social media sites more than a decade ago is wasteland of geriatrics and ghosts.

The Lakers, once the ne plus ultra of front offices in all of sports has fallen a long way since the departure of Jerry West and the senescence and death of Doctor Jerry Buss. Mitch Kupchak has still not won a title with a team that did not have a Jerry West player on it. He rode the coattails of the great Kobe Bryant his entire tenure and since age and injury have obviated King Kobe's ability to dominate the league and secure Mitch wins and rings he has shown nothing to make one envision a great new era of smart and capable moves being executed by this front office. For a team that once excelled at making the smart trade, the good signings, the correct draft picks- Bryon Scott, Michael Thompson, Bob Mcadoo, the moves that brought the Johnson and Worthy picks to LA- we have devolved into a team whose only answer always seem to be to take another teams star- Steve Nash, Dwight Howard. Splash moves that are shiny bricks thrown to hungry fans, built without the crucial mortar that puts a winning team together. In the era of the new salary cap, when star players seem to have no problem playing in small market cities, when the lure of LA and other large markets seems less and less important, is it smart to stick to that old strategy as your rebuild plan in lieu of smart drafting, smart trades and analytics?

To have a bad GM, a bad front office is a bane many teams suffer through. Bad decisions naturally follow. That can only be improved through the process of firing and hiring anew. But to not use all the technology available, to not see ahead of the curve, to not use every means available to help make the smart moves is something even more stultifying to an organizations success. It can literally turn a once cutting edge product into an anachronism. Just ask Edison Electric, Blackberry, Radio Shack or My Space. If the Lakers are indeed ignoring analytic as the ESPN article contends, will they too join that list of fading memories of what once was great?

Dave
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Great blog Randy! The organization is in the doldrums right now, but I think once the cap clears things will be much better. If Kobe chooses to retire and forgo his salary for next season, that will help speed up the process. Also if the team is sold to a new, energetic owner who makes great hires in the F.O., then that would help tremendously as well.

But you're right Randy about the diminishing, but I think once the valley is reached, there is only upside ahead. LA is too big, too attractive of a market for that not to happen.

Tempy
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Mitch took over as GM in 2000.

Jerry West was with the Grizz circa 2002 and resigned after the grizz went a league worst 22-60 in the 2006-2007 season. (But West can do no wrong)

Mitch traded for Gasol in 2008. (West had no part in the deal), from the 99/00 roster to the 2008-09 roster which won a championship with zero West influence Kobe and Fisher were the only 2 players that remained. To say Mitch rode Wests coattails to those championships is a stretch by any means. What team/GM does not ride their superstar player for a Decade. That's like saying Buford rode Tim Duncan to all the championships the spurs have won.

I am a firm believer that analytics are an important piece for any FO but to compare the Lakers to a business model like Radio Shack is a little absurd. What do you think is going to happen to a business model that charges insane prices and carries a lot of terrible products. Blackberry are still in business and are making moderate strides back into relevance. People bought into the ecosystems of apple and google and EVERY phone manufacturer that does not rely on the bottom end of the market has been struggling. HTC for example make some of the best phones on the market yet are struggling to stay afloat as they can not compete with the marketing of apple and samsung. I don't get the Edison reference and as for MySpace that's what happens when you get caught up in corporate buyouts and stuck in red tape bureaucracy.

From the articles I have read (and posted in the ARE THE LAKERS METHODS OUTDATED thread) Scott has almost no interest in analytics. What is the point in creating an analytic department if no one is going to be using them? Fire Scott and start over again? Firing Mitch is only going to lead to Scott also being terminated. We are going to get worse before we get better no matter which direction you think the FO should be heading.

SPQR
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Dave, Thanks for the nice words and the rep. I agree that there is no place to go but up and it would benefit the organization for certain things to happen. One of them would be for Kobe to retire after this season. It would make the Lakers more attractive to free agents and also free up lots of salary. Unfortunately I don't think that will happen. As for selling the team? I wonder at what point Jim and Jeanie would make that move, if ever? That is a very interesting scenario. I never in a million years would have thought about the Buss family selling the team when Doctor Buss was at the height of his powers. But watching what has happened the last five years and listening to some of the comments made by Jeanie Buss and Jim Buss certainly puts severe doubt in my mind as the mental capabilities of the Buss kids now in charge. The real test will be the next five years without Kobe and how this team does the rebuild. They better make much smarter decisions than they have the last half decade. I was pleased the the Lakers turned down the Phoenix offer to wave the top five protection on this year's pick in order to trade Dragic to us. It seems like Mitch and organization finally got tired of getting ripped off. Better late than never I guess but man what damage has already been done. By the way, I am excited to see Randle and this year's (if we get it) pick on the squad next season. Finally after a very long drought something for Lakers fans to look forward to. Tempy, I understand some of the points you are making but certainly take issue with some others you brought up. First off, I....

AChad92
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I believe we can turn it around. Let's be honest here, 2016 is the free agency that we will be able to turn it all around. If we don't get anyone big from that FA then we best hope our rookies turn out to be stars.

Tempy
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SPQR wrote:
As for your question about Scott and implementing anyalyics? And I would extend this to Mitch as well. If neither of those too gents are able to understand, adapt and use analytics then yes, you certainly fire both of them. Why on earth would you let a single person in an important position hand cuffs your team's effectiveness because they can't take to new technology? That would be like having some old CEO of a company stay even though he refuses to use cell phones or computers or any vital, new technology and it his hindering your organization. As for your....

gemfow
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I don't think the RC Buford and Poppovich example is a good one. Why? Popp was the GM before he decided to be the interim coach after firing the coach in place. He then became the head coach and RC Buford stepped in who happened to be the lead scout. Those guys have worked together for quite a long while and RC Buford and Popp surely get the types of players Popp wants.

Mitch received keys to a Ferrari in 2000. He received a 28 year old Shaq and a 22 year old Kobe. A nucleus that has really made him look competent. Even when Shaq was traded that left him a 24 or maybe 25 year old Kobe. If it wasn't for Pau Gasol falling in his laps, Mitch would have watched Kobe force his way out of LA. Why? Mitch was trying to emulate the center and sg tandem that brought him two rings as a GM, a gift from West. No wonder Kobe said he'd request a trade unless West was brought back in as the GM and who can blame him? Mitch was sitting around waiting to throw money at Yao Ming in hopes that he'd leave Houston for LA. Wow! That sounds so familiar doesn't it?

I'm not saying Mitch hasn't made any decent moves but when compared to the bad ones and him sitting pat while role players age then it's evidence that he's a subpar GM and he could barely keep the Ferrari running in peak condition.

Tempy
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gemfow wrote:
I don't think the RC Buford and Poppovich example is a good one. Why? Popp was the GM before he decided to be the interim coach after firing the coach in place. He then became the head coach and RC Buford stepped in who happened to be the lead scout. Those guys have worked together for quite a long while and RC Buford and Popp surely get the types of players Popp wants.

Mitch received keys to a Ferrari in 2000. He received a 28 year old Shaq and a 22 year old Kobe. A nucleus that has really made him look competent. Even when Shaq was traded that left him a 24 or maybe 25 year old Kobe. If it wasn't for Pau Gasol falling in his laps, Mitch would have watched Kobe force his way out of LA. Why? Mitch was trying to emulate the center and sg tandem that brought him two rings as a GM, a gift from West. No wonder Kobe said he'd request a trade unless West was brought back in as the GM and who can blame him? Mitch was sitting around waiting to throw money at Yao Ming in hopes that he'd leave Houston for LA. Wow! That sounds so familiar doesn't it?

I'm not saying Mitch hasn't made any decent moves but when compared to the bad ones and him sitting pat while role players age then it's evidence that he's a subpar GM and he could barely keep the Ferrari running in peak condition.

That is not my argument. The original post is that Mitch rode West/Kobe for the championships in 2009/2010 almost a decade after West had quit. Gasol may have fell in our laps but Bynum didn't, Odom didn't, Ariza didn't, world peace didn't. Although not great players Farmar and Sasha contributed and West had jack sh!t to do with those signings either.

I am not Mitch's biggest fan, but to say Kobe and Kobe only won the lakers those championships (the same kobe who went 6/24 in the crucial game 7) is just being stupid. Does Mitch deserve some credit for those championships, absolutely, was he lucky to have Kobe? Absolutely, just like Jackson was lucky to have Jordan and Kobe, does that take anything away from Jackson?

gemfow
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IMO Mitch did ride the Kobe and Shaq train to respectability. He has done very little to show he is a good GM. The one move that I really felt was his best was Ariza. Ariza's agent tried to get the team for well more than what he was worth but you clearly saw there were no negotiations made because well, there was a bigger name out there, Artest. My problem with Mitch is he's starstruck. I know no one man wins by himself but my point for a while about Mitch is he was gifted two legendary players starting off and he has had plenty of blunders that would have cost other GMs their jobs. Like I said before, Mitch has made some decent moves but compared to the bad, it's not a good look. He has never had to really build a team from the ground up. He's had the benefit of two legendary players to just try and build around. That's not his fault that he was given those players but to see his patterns pop up again like in 2004 is NOT boding well for our team going forward. By the way Mitch didn't want Bynum, luckily for the Lakers at the time Lester and I can't remember the other guy's name convinced Jim that they had to take him. If not for Lester who was given his walking papers some years afterwards, we would have seen Mitch draft another forward to add to the mix. The 6'7" power forward Sean May from UNC. Dude doesn't seem to be good at talent evaluation and loves to have an unbalanced team. Buford and Popp may not have been your argument but I said I just didn't like....

SPQR
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Tempy, As for your question about R. C. Bufford. That gent has proven his worth over many years by drafts and trades to keep that team going and winning rings and being in contention. Contrast that with Mitch, who let both Threepeat and the Kobe-Pau teams both age and disintegrate. See the difference? Did you see Bufford make all kinds of stupid moves as Duncan aged to drive the Spurs to the bottom as Mitch did here? Just the opposite, he kept reloading and building a better team even as Duncan and Ginobilli aged and abilities dissipated. Once again contrast that with what Mitch did, or I should say, didn't do, as Kobe and Pau aged or before that as Threepeat aged. The difference in the performances of both GMs is striking in the results. One can't even compare superb results that Bufford achieved over the years and what Mitch wrought. The are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Bufford has proven he has the smarts to keep things going even as Duncan aged and became a supplementary player instead of the star. There is another difference between the two. Duncan was not the best player on the last two Spurs title teams. It was because Bufford had put in other players, like Leonard and Parker, who won the finals MVPs, who took over from Duncan, that carried that team to those titles. Kobe, the West player, was still the best player on our last two title teams. Once again, a big difference in the comparison you are trying to make. If Mitch had built up a post Kobe-Pau team, had populated it with a Parker or Leonard or some other who took the lead in winning titles, became the best player, then I would certainly say Mitch had won outside....

Tempy
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The spurs have made many mistakes, Jefferson, Roger Mason, trading luis scola for the great Vassilis Spanoulis and cash, T.J Ford, McDyess to name but a few.

My point here is West drafted Kobe, West resigned in 2000 and the Lakers won championships in 2009 and 2010. Mitch should be credited for those championships.

Bufford didn't draft Duncan, over a decade later they win another championship with Duncan playing a critical part yet he gets credit?

I am not disputing Bufford is a better GM or has made better moves, my point is simply you can not take credit away from Mitch because Kobe was still on the roster a decade later. The early titles absolutely, rode the **** out of Kobe and Shaq (West's team), but sorry not the later ones.

Parker didn't carry the spurs to a title, for one in 2007 the cavs were swept meaning they were dominated. Duncan was still putting up almost 20 points and 11 boards per game averages. Leonard played well in the finals yes but was averaging 14ppg and 6 rebounds and played some stellar defense but Duncan was still putting up 16 and 9 and could have quite easily been named mvp himself. If the MVP award was for the actual playoffs and not just the finals Duncan would have took the award both times. To say Duncan was not a driving force is not correct, he is very much still the core of the spurs, just as Kobe is the Lakers.


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