When it comes to the world of basketball, specifically the NBA, there are more than a few great basketball writers and minds. However, of the plethora of basketball writers and basketball minds that I’m familiar with, Roland Lazenby stands out among the rest in his own way.
Lazenby, the author of more than five dozen sports books, has covered the NBA for many years and has written numerous books on the Los Angeles Lakers, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Jerry West and Phil Jackson. Lazenby also was also given the 1997 Sports Book of the Year for his work in “Bull Run!”, the story of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls. Also a current staff member at the Virginia Tech Department of Communication, Lazenby is a writer that knows the ins and outs of the sport of basketball.
While there are plenty of basketball pundits to give you opinions and feed you information, none may be more interesting or intelligent than that of Lazenby.
With the 2012 NBA playoffs set to begin this coming Sunday, April 29, there’s no better time than now to gain some insight and perspective on the current hot topics in the NBA with one of the wittiest minds around. Lazenby’s knowledge and insight on the sport of basketball is something that every basketball fan should be aware of.
The following interview took place on Saturday, April 21.
The Carroll News: It’s been a season full of drama for the Lakers, from losing head coach Phil Jackson, hiring Mike Brown, the failed Chris Paul deal, Lamar Odom being traded, Pau Gasol trade rumors and Derek Fisher being traded and all of the hoopla that surrounds the LA circus. Despite all of that drama, is this still a team that can contend for a title?
Roland Lazenby: Yes, I think so. I don’t think they’re favored to any great degree, but they certainly have a recent history of playoff success. I think they’re at least a viable contender. Things change so dramatically when you get into the playoffs. The rotation shortens, so some of their problems with depth and some of the things that plagued them, the turmoil and certainly all of the transition from the things you mentioned – all of those things are less of a factor now. I think the coaches have a little more experience with this set of players. I thought there would be a little more adjustment with the change at point guard, but it’s worked well.
CN: With Kobe having missed seven games with injury before recently returning to the lineup, Andrew Bynum had to take more of a leadership role on the team and his maturity is something that has been a hot topic this season. Do you think that Bynum’s maturity is crucial to the Lakers’ playoff run?
RL: Yes, but I think that’s an instrumental thing. He’s making progress, he has relapses, but that’s why it’s maturity. Sometimes it takes time. Some people are more mature than others and he did come into the league at an awfully young age. A lot of players have come into the league at a young age and sort of gotten lost. That didn’t happen with him. He’s had a lot of support with the Lakers and he’s survived being a young, young player coming into the league. I think he’ll have a good playoff [run].
CN: The dealing of Lamar Odom to the Dallas Mavericks is also something that has been a popular topic this season. He’s had a disastrous season there after winning the Sixth Man of the Year award just a year ago with the Lakers. With Odom now deactivated from the team, who’s to blame in this situation between him and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban?
RL: I think that probably the Mavericks did what they had to do to move forward. They took time with him, obviously he has a big upside. I think he has a number of issues, some on the court, a lot of them off the court, and he just wasn’t able to make the transition after the trade. It’s difficult because Odom has been a player that a lot of people have admired for a long time. Whether you’re a Lakers fan or not, considering all of the difficult things over the course of the years that Lamar has been through, you have to hope that he finds some peace of mind and is able to move forward and maybe keep playing basketball.
CN: Odom’s team, the Mavericks, are the defending champions, but have struggled at times this season, as they are currently only the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference with a record of 36-28 right now. Despite not having the same regular season success they did a year ago, can the Mavericks still contend for a title this year?
RL: I don’t think so. I think the loss of Tyson Chandler was a big loss for them, and I was really surprised at that. Maybe they can. You never know when injuries or other things will occur with other teams, but I don’t really see the Mavericks as a team that can win it all.
CN: What are your thoughts on the drama between Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic this season, considering the latest reports that he’s receiving back surgery and refusing to play for head coach Stan Van Gundy?
RL: It’s a player’s game. He has a lot of power. Some of that power is legitimate, some of it is the power of being in the tour and being so important to [Orlando’s] hopes. Unfortunately, whether his back is bad or not, backs are always areas that are difficult to diagnose. It does seem to me that this diagnosis is pretty clear. He has a herniated disk and there’s not much he can do. In some ways, I think the circumstances have become so insufferable, it brought a reprieve for NBA fans. They’ve sort of grown weary of all the noise out in Orlando.
CN: Do you expect Dwight Howard to be in Orlando come the start of next NBA season?
RL: It could well be. With something like a back injury or back surgery, it’s always a questionable thing. With the situation he’s in, depending on what Orlando wants for him, he’s going to have to play some to establish that he’s ready to go. If they don’t want a lot, that may not be a case. Someone will take a flyer on him without him having to play first. But I think he’ll play for Orlando more next fall unless they get a fabulous deal this summer.
CN: So Dwight will be in Orlando unless a team really blows away the Magic with a deal on the table?
RL: Yes, I don’t think they’ll be in a rush to trade him. I think they will probably trade him unless they find another coach, which is not out of the question. It’s a players game.
CN: Do you think there is any way that both Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard are with the Orlando Magic come the start of next season?
RL: They have some history. People have mended their ways before. This is not the Middle East, it’s not something that goes back a thousand years. It can be resolved, I think.
CN: Since March 1, the Heat are only 17-10 after getting off to a 28-7 start. As of late, they’ve been playing more mediocre basketball, if you will. Should there be a cause for concern in Miami as we get closer and closer to the postseason?
RL: Oh, sure. I think not just a cause for concern, there’s plenty of the real stuff itself. [LeBron James and Dwyane Wade] still have not done enough work convincing people that they know how to play together. These things are complicated because they involve personalities, and as [former NBA coach] Chuck Daly told me many years ago, “the games are simple, the people are complicated.” It certainly looks like the Heat are carrying their share of complications.
CN: Anyone that reads your Twitter feed, even occasionally, would know that [longtime Bulls and Lakers assistant coach] Tex Winter was an influential person in your life. What was the best piece of advice that Tex gave you?
RL: He just gave me 1,000 daily lessons about things. I think there was sort of an open-mindedness about every aspect of the game. What’s best about Tex Winter is he was a guy who was long used to living with the results. You have to see what happens to be a realist. Hopes are things that are pretty cumbersome in basketball. You have to just rely on what happens on the floor, and a lot of people are unwilling to do that. The best of basketball has always come from people who embrace that kind of honesty. Tex had no agenda but competing. It wasn’t about anyone’s reputation, even his own reputation, and that’s hard to achieve, to get to that state of mind. He was an older coach and he certainly never ran from the truth as long as I’ve known him. He would turn his assessments on himself, too. He had players that he liked as people, but he was always very frank about what they were able to do.
CN: Referencing back to the Lakers, give me an overall assessment of how head coach Mike Brown has done this season in his first year in Los Angeles, while having to deal with all of the complications that come with being the coach of the Lakers.
RL: Well, there are all of those complications as they’re Hollywood’s team. There’s no football team in town, so you have all of these people obsessed with the Lakers. They’ve had huge amounts of success. He’s following Phil Jackson, the most unconventional but successful coach in NBA history, who had been brought to the Lakers because they knew he possessed huge amounts of charm towards the public. Mike Brown has the prospects of an aging star, a transition in ownership and all kinds of conflict. He also had his own demons to deal with in terms of offensive basketball and organization. So if you stack all of that up, it seems like a huge mountain to climb, but I think you have to be fair. I think Mike Brown has made huge progress this season. It hasn’t been pretty at times, but I’d have to rate it as a success. Obviously, what happens in the playoffs will color this first year to a large degree, but in advance of that, all things considered, he’s done a pretty good job.
CN: Who is your regular season MVP and what’s your NBA Finals prediction?
RL: It’s tough, I think the whole thing is up in the air. There are a couple of teams that can win it, and I think that the team that probably will win it is Oklahoma City. They’re a young team, they’re not tremendously solid defensively, but they really have some decent depth and I think Derek Fisher helps a lot. It’s so much a guess with a year like this, the shortened season and so many other things, but they seem as solid as anyone to come out of the West. Chicago has a chance, but I still think that Miami will probably survive them and meet Oklahoma City in the championship. That match-up is a toss-up for me, but I would give the edge to Oklahoma. [As far as MVP], I think probably Kevin Durant, who, in my mind, has been the most consistent factor. I think what Kobe has done is pretty remarkable, so I’d probably bring him in there at No. 2.
With another regular season of NBA playoff basketball officially in the books, now comes the beginning of the 2012 NBA playoffs. Many questions surround each team, some more than others, but there’s no doubt that this year’s 2012 NBA playoffs is a wide open race for the championship.
After a shortened, 66-game NBA regular season following a lengthy lockout towards the end of 2011, the 2012 NBA playoffs are finally here. In a matter of only a few short weeks, another NBA champion will be crowned.
For more basketball insight and knowledge from Roland Lazenby, you can follow him on Twitter @lazenby.