Roland Lazenby has written over 50 sports books, many focused on the NBA including a few popular ones about the Los Angeles Lakers. He received the 1997 Sports Book of the Year award from the Independent Publishers Association for his book Bull Run!
TH: The NBA trade deadline has passed and while the Lakers have added youth with Sessions and Hill, they did so at the cost of extracting huge amounts of their clubhouse intelligence and intangibles with Walton and most importantly Fish (another troubling "glue-guy" loss after Lamar). Overall, what are your feelings on the immediate and future impact of the trades?
RL: For the long term, the deal will allow management to better evaluate Mike Brown. Now Brown has the point guard he wants for his style of basketball, and the front office will be able to judge the effectiveness of what he's doing offensively. Plus the deal creates a good amount of confidence in fans that Jim Buss will work with Mitch Kupchak to give the franchise a chance of competing on the high level that fans are accustomed to.
Once Sessions gets adjusted, the Lakers are going to present opponents with much to occupy their minds. That frontcourt, Kobe, and Sessions will present some issues for other teams. Of course we've only had a brief look at Sessions. There will be bumps ahead. Sessions' presence will require an adjustment for the team in a short season. But I like what I see. The other thing about Sessions is that he does what he does without really posing a tug of war with Kobe. The early returns are encouraging.
Obviously the real test for Sessions will be the Thunder. Does he give LA enough athleticism to match up? He surely relishes the opportunity to find out. And it's not out of line to speculate on how the Lakers might match up with a team like the Heat or Chicago in the championship series. I'm not saying that's a given by any stretch, but it's now at least thinkable.
All of these things about Sessions add up to one important thing: Less pressure on Kobe Bryant. He has some important help now. And the Lakers have long been a ball pressure team. Blake isn't bad on the ball. Sessions will give them an added dimension. That's immediate, too.
TH: If you'll pardon me, Bill Simmons was a pompous bully for the Twitter comments he made about your Tweet regarding the possible movement of Pau Gasol. I also thoroughly enjoy the fact that he didn't have the moxie to accept your challenge of a one-on-one battle. Without naming teams or sources, did the Lakers come out ahead by the trade never taking place?
RL: Bill Simmons was far from the only person pissed off at me over that tweet. He just has the bully pulpit. As I've said, I regret the tweet. I apologized for it. I said what I was hearing were "whispers," but it was immediately reported that I was announcing Gasol was being traded. We have mounting evidence that Twitter brings great things in terms of the new age of communication. But it can also make your dumb statements much bigger and much dumber. I keep thinking of it as social media. It's not. It's media. You can't make an aside on Twitter. You have to assume that your tweets will wind up being broadcast on ESPN, which has blown me away. I mean, I've written dozens of books about basketball filled with interviews I've done with the game's greatest players and coaches and yet these tweets get huge attention. I wrote a magazine article about what Michael Jordan told me about Kobe Bryant. Nobody noticed. But I mentioned it in a tweet, and it goes viral. On ESPN, hundreds of blogs and discussion boards going nuts, the whole deal. This is def a bizarre age.
TH: The Chris Paul fiasco was troubling on various levels and amazingly, the smoke still hasn't cleared up completely. David Stern infamously said "Let's not talk too much about how the sausage was made," but we as fans aren't satisfied with such a duplicitous and condescending answer. Based on your sources, can you take us into the "slaughterhouse" and give us the real scoop?
RL: Frankly, I can't. I'm writing Michael Jordan's life story for Little, Brown and am absolutely overwhelmed. I have no time to investigate that. It's just an odd circumstance, odder than just about anything I've seen in the NBA in 30 years.
TH: Fan paranoia has always been a part of the NBA landscape:
The Tim Donaghy debacle (and the seemingly preposterous idea that he worked alone).
The refereeing of the Game 6 battle of the Lakers v. Kings in 2002
The Knick's "frozen envelope."
Should fans suspect that there is indeed a hidden "puppet master," and if the Hornets "win" the next NBA lottery, will there be a new pandemonium of suspicion?
RL: Americans love their conspiracy theories. And there are plenty of them in a sport like basketball where the officiating is so subjective and open to debate. Humans are humans. Some of them are real shits. Most people are pretty decent. The same goes for people in and around the NBA, from players and team personnel to fans and media. Basketball has always had its scandals, its point-shaving and other corruption. In writing the history of the NBA Finals, guys on losing teams would sometimes whisper about one guy or another. Most of it seems to me to be jealousy. But some of it isn't. I'm not going to try to tell people how paranoid they should be about the game they love. They wouldn't listen to me anyway. I will say that I'm writing this independent book about MJ, and there was all this suspicion about his father's murder. People today still believe he was killed for MJ's gambling debts, which is a joke. There were some red herrings, but that's all they were. His death had nothing to do with MJ's golf gambling. But does that mean people shouldn't have suspicions about other things? Nah. It all has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. I do think it's important not to jump to conclusions, just because you hear the "whispers" of paranoid people. My Pau Gasol tweet is prima facie evidence of that. I still have the shit on my shoe to prove it.
TH: Before the season, Kobe Bean Bryant traveled to Germany to receive Orthokine therapy on his right knee. The results thus far have been amazing and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see many other aging stars like Alex Rodriguez continue to line up to book their trip on Lufthansa. My issue is that when we have scientists delving into altering blood, is that not a slippery slope that leads us to putting the procedure on the same level as performance enhancing drugs? Also, Rashard Lewis' suspension with the over-the-counter DHEA was swept under the carpet so quickly, but are we to truly believe he's the only player who blurred the edges to get a competitive advantage?
RL: The answers are easy there. Yes, it seems a valid question, although it's a medical treatment not a performance enhancer per se. No, obviously others are likely using DHEA.
TH: Given his physical gifts, I believe Shaquille O'Neal should have been arguably the greatest player of all time. His off-court distractions are well chronicled and physically, I've never seen a player take more physical abuse from other players, but he lacked the killer instinct that made Jordan and currently Kobe, unsurpassed competitors. Would you agree that if you extracted Shaq's mental makeup and inserted Michael Jordan's in its place, would we be discussing the true g.o.a.t?
RL: Maybe, but that's why we watch the games. GMs often say, you can't read players' hearts. Well, you can when they play the big games. That's why we watch. Shaq was plenty great, yet he could have been even greater. They said the same about Wilt. So it goes.
TH: Speaking of Michael Jordan, what can you share with us regarding your upcoming book on MJ?
RL: It will appear in April 2013, a couple of months after he turns 50.
TH: Phil Jackson to the Knicks seems predestined, but how is Phil going to produce results from a cantankerous Anthony and a banged-up Amar'e Stoudemire? Is Lin, no pun intended, his saving grace?
RL: I don't think it's a done deal for Phil and the Knicks. It will be an intense curiosity until a new replacement is hired in NY. If he does coach, Phil has the push to settle just about all issues. That's why he usually wins.
TH: The NBA players can opt out of the current CBA in 2017 and I can't imagine any scenario in which they wouldn't do just that. What, if anything, do you think the players will be able to wrestle back and should we expect another cringe-inducing dance that results in another shortened or completely locked out season?
RL: Honestly, we don't know much at all about the CBA until we get a good look at it. It'll take time. I don't think it's healthy for basketball costs to spiral out of control. Too bad our federal government can't just get a new CBA and look at it for a few years. Although it was bloody, the new CBA is evidence that basketball can manage itself. And now we have time to evaluate it.
TH: In closing, I'll let you finish this sentence: Kobe Bryant never won a Championship without Derek Fisher, and when Fisher was traded away ...
RL: There were legit and illegit reasons Fish was traded. I'll let the LA media tell that story. People and fans around the Lakers have received well the books I've written about the team. The Lakers. Mad Game, the NBA Education of Kobe Bryant. Mindgames, about Phil Jackson. The Show, the oral history of the franchise. And the new vault book, The Lakers Basketball Vault, History of a Proud Franchise. But I'm not a reporter covering the team on a daily basis. I'm waiting to see if they'll tell the Fish story. I think they will. Perhaps Eric Pincus might do something. I'll hold off on that and see what happens.