Los Angeles Lakers: Andrew Bynum

Nash living in moment more than ever

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
PHILADELPHIA -- Back in the summer of 2012, both the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers felt like winners before they even won a game because of the deals they had been able to pull off.

For the Lakers, they thought they had acquired perhaps the greatest pick-and-roll tandem of all time in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard and would pair them with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to get the team back on a championship trajectory.

[+] EnlargeSteve Nash
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty ImagesSteve Nash scored 19 points on his 40th birthday to lead the Lakers to a win, admitting he wasn't sure he could get on top of his health issues.
For the Sixers, they thought they had found the missing link in their lineage of monsters in the middle, with Andrew Bynum set to pick up where Wilt Chamberlain, Moses Malone and Dikembe Mutombo had left off in dominating the Eastern Conference.

Both plans went woefully awry, of course.

After Bynum said, "I'm really looking forward to making this my home," at his block party-like introductory news conference, he ended up not playing a single game during the season he spent in the City of Brotherly Love.

He has since found homes in Cleveland and Indiana, and whispers of Bynum's failed marriage with Philadelphia still echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, with one league source sharing how Bynum would often park one of his luxury cars in the reserved space for Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor -- the company that owns the arena where the Sixers play -- on purpose on game days. The source also passed on the story about the day Bynum showed up at the Sixers' practice facility with a police car following him into the parking lot because he had sped off from a gas station with the pump nozzle still inside of his car and the officer noticed the severed hose flapping alongside the road as Bynum merrily drove along.

Nash's Lakers legacy could have gone the way of Bynum's in Philly. After all, the team mortgaged its future by giving away four future draft picks to acquire the aging point guard, then hired Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson to maximize his talents, only to see injuries break down his body and contribute to Howard's skipping town to play with a younger backcourt in Houston.

Nash could have succumbed to the circumstances, too. He could have focused on the missed opportunity to finally capture that first championship in an 18-year career. He could have wallowed in the pain that a broken leg in only his second game as a Laker caused him over the next 16 months, as severe nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings set in and made it hard for him to live without discomfort, let alone play basketball against athletes half his age.

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Brown wishes better for D'Antoni

January, 14, 2014
Jan 14
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- After posting a winning record as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers but not even getting the chance to coach a full 82 games out of the four-year contract he signed before getting the boot, Mike Brown wants current Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni to be afforded a longer leash than he was.

"Mike D'Antoni is a good coach and it's great that they're going to give him an opportunity here because I think in time he'll get this thing headed in the right direction," said Brown, fired just five games into last season despite going 42-29 (.592) in his time pacing the sidelines for L.A. "They're going through a lot of transition right now and so it's going to make it even tougher, especially with the injuries and all that. But the Lakers, they've always been on top and they just got to keep trying to fight and figure out how to get back there. It will just be a matter of time."

Brown could relate to the challenges that D'Antoni is currently facing when he reflected on his short stint coaching the purple and gold before the Cavs played the Lakers on Tuesday.

"Even with the team that I had, guys weren't always 100 percent healthy and there was a lot of newness, so I never really had a great feel for the group," Brown said. "I'm sure Mike is feeling that now with the change, especially with the injuries and stuff like that, it's been tough for him to get a great feel for the group. Until he can get a healthy roster and get some time with that healthy roster, it's going to continue to fluctuate even though he has some veterans on the team still.

"It's a tough task. I mean, you look at the history of change. You go back, even Miami's first year [with LeBron James], everybody thought the ceiling was going to fall in and you got guys in their prime that came together when you talk about D-Wade [Dwyane Wade], LeBron and Chris Bosh and then you look at their bench and they had U.S. Olympians on their bench, too. And through the first 20-30 games, everybody thought that that thing should have been broken up. It's a matter of time before you can get things going and I think with Mike it will be a matter of time before having a roster that's stable before he can get things going."

D'Antoni, for his part, mostly avoided commenting on Brown when he was asked about his predecessor. After Monday's practice, D'Antoni said that coaches are not usually social with one another because of the competitive nature of the field. Before Tuesday's game, D'Antoni was asked about the Princeton-style offense that Brown tried to implement last season in L.A. and similarly skirted the subject.

"I don't know," D'Antoni said. "I'm not even an expert on my offense."

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Rapid Reaction: Sixers 103, Lakers 99

January, 1, 2013
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin

LOS ANGELES -- It had the feeling of a letdown game when you saw it on the schedule. What was going to wake up the Lakers for a game on New Year's Day against a sub-.500, Andrew Bynum-less Philadelphia 76ers team that L.A. just beat in Philly about two weeks ago with relative ease?

"It’s always a tricky game on a holiday," Pau Gasol warned at practice Monday. "So it’s a game that we need, and then we’ll think about the next one when we get to it."

Turns out that road win against the Sixers was a bit misleading, because UCLA product Jrue Holiday wasn't playing. With Holiday's 26 points and 10 assists, Philadelphia was a whole different animal on Tuesday.

How it happened: After falling behind by 11 early, the Lakers let a four-point halftime deficit swell to eight headed into the fourth quarter. Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace tried to shoot the Lakers back into the game in the fourth quarter, but the closest L.A. would come was within two points after a Bryant 3-pointer, which was immediately followed by a Spencer Hawes jumper to bump it back to four points.

What it means: Consistent energy and effort have been elusive mistresses for the Lakers this season. As 2013 begins, they'll have to try to find that six-of-seven-wins momentum they had at the end of 2012.

Hits: Kobe Bryant got back on the 30-point train with 36 points on 14-for-29 shooting to lead all scorers.

Jordan Hill had 10 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes, but eight of those points and six of those boards came in the eight minutes he played in the first quarter.

Misses: It took Dwight Howard until 6:15 remained in the third quarter before he scored his first field goal after starting the game 0-for-5. He managed to chip in 14 rebounds and five blocks, but his mobility didn't seem to be there as he finished with just seven points (1-for-7 from the field and 5-for-10 from the line). Gasol had 11 points and nine rebounds, but his accuracy wasn't much better (2-for-12 overall, 0-for-2 from 3).

The Lakers shot just 3-for-22 as a team from 3-point range (13.6 percent).

Notes: Antawn Jamison received a DNP-CD for the sixth straight game. … Chris Duhon did not play because of back spasms. He said he will "definitely" be ready for the Lakers' next game Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Stat of the night: Don't blame this one on turnovers. The Lakers had just seven of them, leading to six Philly points.

What's next: The Lakers-Clippers rivalry has certainly picked up in recent seasons, with Blake Griffin making the Lakers' Staples Center cohabitants relevant again and the Chris Paul trade fiasco adding fuel to the fire. The Clippers won't be coming into Friday's game riding a long winning streak (it ended at 17 with a loss in Denver on Tuesday), but it should be a great test for the Lakers regardless. The schedule also gives the Lakers a break -- two days without a game before the Clippers matchup. The Lakers have an off day Wednesday and get a practice in Thursday before the game.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.

The Forum: Pau Gasol's future in L.A.

November, 29, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Mike D'Antoni has arrived, but Pau Gasol's game still remains largely absent. Can the Lakers' new coach meld his system with El Spaniard's skills? If not, what is Gasol's trade value? We discuss.

The Forum: The State of the Lakers

November, 16, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky

To say the least, the last seven days have been a whirlwind, even by the Lakers' high standards. With the dust now settled, does the franchise still appear on the right track?


Bynum not the Lakers' problem anymore

October, 16, 2012
Shelburne By Ramona Shelburne
ANAHEIM -- Andrew Bynum is the Philadelphia 76ers' to worry about now.

The Los Angeles Lakers have quite enough to keep them up at night as Dwight Howard continues to work his way back from offseason back surgery.

But with Monday's news out of Philadelphia that Bynum received another injection of Synvisc -- a gel-like substance that sometimes provides relief for inflamed tissue -- in his knee, it raises a larger question:

Whose problems would you rather be saddled with: Bynum's chronically painful, injured knees or Howard's still-unproven back?

It was a question Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak had to answer over the summer before he made the trade that sent Bynum to Philadelphia in a four-team deal that brought Howard to Los Angeles from Orlando.

"Whatever concern we had (with Bynum's knees) was offset by Dwight coming off offseason back surgery," Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Tuesday. "Our doctors were able to look at (Howard's medical records) but not until after the trade, which was conditional on him passing a physical."

Howard has been cleared to participate in full-contact scrimmages but has yet to play in any of the Lakers' first four exhibition games.

Bynum was able to participate in 60 of the Lakers' 66 games last season, but he took the entire summer to rest and recuperate from the increased workload, skipping the Olympics in the process.

You'd think after a summer off, he'd be ready to go at the start of training camp. But he has yet to participate in training camp with his new team as he continues to recover from a cutting-edge treatment on his knee he received in Germany, and a bone bruise on his knee.

As 76ers CEO Adam Aron tweeted: "If all goes to plan, he's back Oct 24. But we won't know how the knee feels for sure until, no surprise, Oct 24. While conditioning in Sept, unrelated to German procedure, he got a bone bruise which we transparently announced. From there, he has to get into game shape. That is everything Sixers know. The rest of the loose talk is guessing."

Bynum's former teammate Metta World Peace seconded that sentiment:

"I think he's going to be amazing this year," World Peace said. "He's tough. That year we won the championship (2010), he was playing through a lot of pain. A lot of pain. But we needed him. I don't think we could've won without him.

"Last year he played in a lot of games. The last couple years he's been dominant. And he's still young. You need him on your team."

Dwight and Shaq are not besties (and other practice notes)

October, 4, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Not that friction between the two big men is a government secret, of course. Shaquille O'Neal was the first big man drafted No. 1 overall by the Orlando Magic and the first to adopt a Superman persona. He's also made perfectly clear the notion of a "2.0" doesn't sit well with him, and well before another Orlando-based Superman decided to join the Lakers.

Thus, Shaq has taken many a shot at Dwight Howard over the years, the most recent coming last week during a TNT roundtable discussion for NBA.com. During the segment, Shaq claims that because Howard is more of a "pick-and-roll" center rather than one who "plays inside" (huh?) and O'Neal is "old school," he'd place back-to-the-basket centers Andrew Bynum and Brook Lopez ahead of Dwight.

OK, you wanna make an argument Bynum is better than Howard? Fine. I don't agree, but Drew's at least good enough to present a worthy, if ultimately losing, case. Brook Lopez, however, is nothing short of crazy talk. Asked for his reaction to Shaq's opinion, Howard treated the comments as such:

"I don't care what Shaq says. Shaq played the game. He's done. He's gone. It's time to move on. He hated the fact, you know, that when he played, the older guys were talking about him and how he played, and now he's doing the exact same thing. Just let it go. There's no sense for him to be talking trash at me. He did his thing in the league. He's one of the most dominant players that ever played the game. Just sit back and relax. You did your thing. Your time is up.

"I don't really care. I don't really care. He can say whatever he wanna say."

Dwight was equally dismissive of the idea of eventually getting on "the same page" as Shaq.

"What do we need to get on the same page for? I have respect for him and what he did for basketball. That's it. Like I said, he's already did his thing. He played. And when my time is up, there's gonna be somebody else who can do everything that I can do. Probably do it better. And instead of me talking about him, I'll do my job to try to help him get to where I'm at. I think that's what guys who've done it before us should do."

On a few levels, good for Dwight.

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A lot can happen over five years

September, 30, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
With Lakers Media Day approaching Monday, it dawned on me how Oct. 1, 2012, doesn't just mark the official launch of training camp and the 2012-2013 season. It also marks the five-year anniversary of the Media Day following Kobe Bryant's "radio tour." To say the least, Oct. 1, 2007 provided a surreal atmosphere. As Lakers fans remember, after missing the playoffs in 2005, then consecutive first round exits against the Suns, the Mamba appeared on a number of radio shows expressing a desire to be traded -- Pluto was cited as an option -- and was recorded blasting the front office for their unwillingness to trade Andrew Bynum for Jason Kidd. (If we learned one thing from that summer, Kobe Bryant the player is a first ballot Hall of Fame lock, but his credentials as a general manager leave something to be desired.)

Save bringing point guard/Kobe confidant Derek Fisher back into the fold, Mitch Kupchak and Dr. Buss responded to the outburst by presenting Bryant a roster essentially untouched. Thus, speculation swirled as to whether 24 would actually report to camp. Lest anybody assume this was simply the media churning the waters to create drama, think again. After 15-20 minutes with no sign of Kobe, I vividly remember Kwame Brown asking me if I'd seen the superstar, and if I knew whether he was gonna show up. This was truly the $1,000,000 question, and nobody was quite sure how the day would shake out.

Eventually, Kobe did emerge, palpably unenthusiastic, but committed to remaining professional. The season turned out considerably better than expected, even before Pau Gasol trade. Since then, Kobe has collected his fourth and fifth rings, and despite this offseason presenting seemingly few avenues for upgrading a team stuck in good-but-not-great purgatory, we're now looking at a starting five of Steve Nash, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Dwight Howard.

And Oct. 1, 2007 feels about 100 years in the rear view mirror.

It reminds me of this exchange between Glen (Sam McMurray) and H.I. (Nicolas Cage) in Raising Arizona:

Glen: It's a crazy world.
H.I.: Someone oughta sell tickets.
Glen: Sure, I'd buy one.

Enjoy the season.

Dorell Wright believes Andrew Bynum is better than Dwight Howard

September, 26, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
In related news, Dorell Wright and Andrew Bynum are new teammates on the Sixers. That said, here's what he told John Mitchell of the Philly Inquirer:
“He’s going to need two defenders to stop him; I would say he’s the best big man in the NBA right now, hands down,” said Wright, speaking at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “He’s a guy that can give you baskets with his back to the basket; a guy who makes free throws at 7-feet. You’ve just got to respect him.”

At that point I interjected, asking him if he calls Bynum the best big man in the league because they are now on the same team. Or could it be because Howard is on the mend from back surgery?

“No way, I’d say it any day. It’s because I know he can put his back to the basket and give us a basket and request a double team and make free throws,” Wright continued. “It’s his all-around game. Hopefully he can stay healthy and we can ride, he can put us on his back and he can take us as far as we can go.”

Like most, I believe a healthy Dwight Howard is unquestionably better than Bynum, and more importantly is a better fit with a Steve Nash-directed offense. Still, you'd expect Wright to pump up his guy, just like Metta World Peace called Bynum the best center in basketball until the Lakers flipped him for Howard.

While there are likely to be some growing pains as Bynum adjusts to being a true first option offensively -- remember, playing that role over seven games last season for an injured Kobe Bryant, Bynum shot under 50 percent -- overall he should thrive if he can stay healthy. He'll be energized by the increased responsibility in ways he never would or could have in L.A. Hopefully, too, he'll begin to understand all the ancillary stuff that goes along with being a franchise player, and his more nonsensical moments on and off the floor won't recur.

And if he does all that, despite the backflips most Lakers fans turned when the trade was announced, Bynum exists as a massive reminder, literally and figuratively, of the risk absorbed by the Buss family and Mitch Kupchak in making the deal. Meaning until all the boxes are ticked -- Howard returns from injury, Howard returns to dominant form, Howard looks like a great fit now and going forward, Howard re-signs with the Lakers at the end of the year -- that little hint of nervousness won't go away.

(H/T: Ball Don't Lie)

How the new Lakers might have helped

August, 30, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Aug. 23, otherwise known as "the day Kobe Bryant turned 34," recently came and went with NBA TV airing a slew of games featuring #24. Among those chosen was Lakers-Thunder, Game 4 of the 2012 Western Conference semifinals, the second of two games in that series marred by epic Lakers collapses down the stretch. (This odd way of celebrating The Mamba's birthday undoubtedly will serve to Kobe zealots as Example No. 1,374,810 of the world conspiring against him.)

This particular game saw the Lakers up nine points to begin the fourth quarter, 13 with 8:02 remaining, then back down to nine with half of the quarter to go. The bottom eventually fell out with a series of clumsy and/or empty possessions, capped by the mother of all unforced turnovers from Pau Gasol.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Westbrook shredded the Lakers as they fell apart down the stretch.

I was able to DVR only the final seven minutes of the loss, but during that time noted plenty of occasions where Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Antawn Jamison and even Jodie Meeks could have contributed to possibly prevent a loss. In a general sense, all four could have improved the collective scoring punch.

Nash and Howard are among the best pick-and-roll players in the league, which could have provided cohesion desperately missing during this stretch. Beyond his proven resume at getting buckets, Jamison can create his own shot, a skill set in short supply last season. And while the odds of Meeks on the floor down the stretch are dicier, there were a few occasions where a credible outside shooter was glaringly absent.

More specifically, here are some possessions where Nash and Howard especially seemed capable of making a difference.

6:31: Russell Westbrook uses a screen to reach the right elbow, is met with a hesitant challenge from Andrew Bynum, then drains a jumper before Steve Blake recovers. Nash might not have defended the possession any better, but Westbrook took over this game down the stretch, in part because less energy is sapped checking Blake or Ramon Sessions than Nash. Granted, Westbrook's elbow J is often deadly, but who knows how much gas would have been left in the tank after guarding Nash all game? (LAL 92, OKC 85)

6:03: This point above is ironically demonstrated as Blake (of all people) takes the ball to the rim for a layup. Blake was able to take Westbrook off the dribble because the Lakers point went completely ignored on a backdoor baseline cut, then Russ got caught on his heels in scramble mode. For that matter, Blake's game-winning 3-ball attempt in Game 2 came after Westbrook fell asleep guarding him. Call me crazy, but I don't think he'd treat Nash with the same ambivalence. (LAL 94, OKC 85)

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An open letter to Dwight Howard

August, 27, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Hey Dwight:

How's it going? We haven't formally met, yet, but I'm Andy Kamenetzky. You'll be seeing a lot of me, as I cover the Lakers for ESPN LA and 710 ESPN. And I'm looking forward to you being part of the Lakers. Not only will your presence improve the defense, offense and collective psyche of a fan base newly electrified at the legitimate prospect of a title next season, but you also can improve the long-term health of the franchise as the guy slated to receive the baton from Kobe Bryant as the franchise's next face.

Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images
Nip it in the bud, Dwight.

Of course, "slated" isn't the same thing as "set," and therein lies the sum of all fears for Lakers fans. Let's be blunt, Dwight. Your exit from Orlando was steeped in chaos and drama, in no small part because Superman handled the situation rather poorly. Let's be honest, you waffled like a politician trying to win re-election, and the general consensus is you warmed to the prospect of purple and gold only after other options (namely playing alongside Deron Williams in Brooklyn) dried up. That's not to say you didn't seem genuinely happy at your introductory press conference, nor do I have any doubts about you remaining a Laker. Frankly, I'd be pretty surprised if you left.

However, the possibility of an exit will linger until an extension is signed, and it seems unlikely that you'll sign early, for a variety of reasons. Thus, we're left with fans not just worried about the possibility of you bolting, but also with the possibility of a three-ring circus in the process. You deflected this topic during that presser, but it will undoubtedly resurface the next time you step in front of a microphone. And then the next time. And the time after that. No doubt, this could become a tedious, consuming, never-ending storyline, unless you take control of the situation. And this is where I'd like to help!

Below is a prepared statement I've created for the first moment when one of us in the media asks about your future. These thoughts will help calm fans' nerves and diffuse a potentially messy situation. (And a word of advice: This may be a prepared statement, but the trick is making the words feel like they're coming naturally from the gut and heart. Therefore, you'll need to not only practice reciting the statement, but I'd even recommend memorization. It'll require extra work but will be worth the time.)

At any rate, here's what you'd say:

I'm actually glad you asked that question about my contract, because it allows me to address a big concern of mine heading into this season. I'm well aware my situation could easily take on a life bigger than the Lakers' season itself, and that's something I'd like to prevent. Therefore, I'd like to make the following point crystal clear, without any hesitation or qualifiers.

From this point forward until the end of this season, I will not answer any questions about my future with the Lakers. I will not answer any questions about free agency. I will not answer any questions about a contract extension. When we're on the road, I will not answer any questions about whether I could picture myself playing for "Team X" hosting the Lakers that particular night.

In a nutshell, I will not answer any questions even tangentially related to my future as a Laker.

Why? Because I don't want to say anything that might contribute to a season-long distraction as we make a serious run at a title.

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How the Lakers match up: San Antonio Spurs

August, 16, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
For the past several seasons, the San Antonio Spurs have served as basketball's version of Jason Voorhees: They cannot be killed. Since about 2008, fans and media (I've been as guilty as anybody) have cited their long teeth, declining athleticism and rising competition as reasons to declare the end of an era. But the Spurs refused to fade into the sunset, having finished consecutive regular seasons with the West's best record. Yes, the ensuing postseasons were anti-climactic, but either way, the message was made clear: The Spurs are still formidable. The Lakers learned that lesson as well as any team last season, losing twice to San Antonio -- home and away, with and without Kobe Bryant -- by 20+ points.

D. Clarke Evans/NBAE/Getty Images
With Howard in L.A., the game just changed between the Lakers and Spurs.

But this off-season it appears the scales have been tilted towards Los Angeles. For some perspective on how the new-look Lakers appear from San Antonio, we talked via email with Tim Varner from the True Hoop network's 48 Minutes of Hell blog.

Land O' Lakers: What was the general reaction in the 48 Minutes of Hell-osphere when word broke that Howard was heading to the Lakers?

Timothy Varner: In general, we recognize that it puts the Spurs behind the Thunder and the Lakers in the West. Even worse, the Nuggets improved themselves as well. The Spurs could be fourth in the West.

LOL: But aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln . . .

TV: The worst part about the Howard trade is the Spurs' weaknesses along the front line. The Lakers not only improved themselves, they did so in a way that exploits one of San Antonio's roster deficiencies.

LOL: How much can someone like a (theoretically) improved Tiago Splitter help? And I guess this might actually keep DeJuan Blair in town.

TV: I don't think either player helps, unfortunately. Splitter does not do well against Howard, and Blair will be traded as soon as the Spurs find a good partner. He's an especially awful matchup against Howard and Gasol. Splitter, I should also note, is an expiring contract with good value whom San Antonio may not be able to afford next season. So, somewhat counter-intuitively, Howard could force the Spurs to move Splitter for a roster upgrade at another position.

LOL: On the plus side, nobody will mind if Boris Diaw packs those pounds back on. It might be necessary.

TV: True, but within the Spurs' offense, Diaw is more of a passer for the p-and-r than a post player. So even his re-signing tilts away from bolstering the frontcourt in the sense of matching bodies with bodies.

LOL: That's too bad, because there's always a 50/50 chance Diaw will be wearing a "bro" to begin the season. The weight might as well provide some utility.

TV: I suspect the Spurs understand they can't match Howard and Gasol, so they will look to beat the Lakers in other ways.

LOL: Run them off the court, I assume? Or pick-and-roll them to death? Last season, Manu Ginobli and especially Tony Parker dizzied the Lakers with multiple pick-and-roll sets, often within the same possession.

TV: That's right. Pace and p-and-r are better options for San Antonio than adding more (seemingly useless) bodies to the front court. Look at what the Spurs have done this off-season. They added Nado De Colo, re-signed Patty Mills (high pace point with range) re-signed Danny Green, and concentrated on the development of Kawhi Leonard and Cory Joseph. Those are all moves with San Antonio's offensive attack in mind, especially as it originates from the back court.

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How the Lakers match up: Oklahoma City Thunder

August, 15, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
On the off chance there was still any question after the 2010-11 season, the Oklahoma City Thunder proved unequivocally they'd passed the Lakers in the Western Conference pecking order. Whipped past, like Russell Westbrook on the break. Six more wins in the regular season (no small figure in a 66-game schedule, and bigger than the gap between L.A. as the W.C.'s third best team and Utah in the eight spot). Then came the playoffs, when OKC romped in five games.

Don't give me any of that "Yeah, but the Lakers could have won!" stuff, either. In the NBA, when a team beats another 4-1 over a seven-game series, it's better, and usually by a lot. Period.

Of course, that Lakers team didn't have Dwight Howard. Or Steve Nash. Or bench scoring in the form of Antawn Jamison. Needless to say, the Summer of Jitch (Jim and Mitch -- feel free to go with Miim if you'd like) has changed the conversation significantly. With that in mind, how do the new-look Lakers match up with other contenders around the NBA? In an effort to froth up some preseason debate, we're chatting up bloggers around the Association, starting in OKC with our man Royce Young, proprietor of the outstanding Daily Thunder:

Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’Lakers: So what was the reaction in Oklahoma City to the Dwight trade?

Royce Young, Daily Thunder: I'm not going to go all Kevin Durant and pretend it didn't catch my attention. Because it's huge. It's unavoidable to act like this doesn't shift the balance of power toward Los Angeles. The Thunder very likely had a fairly wide open road back to the Finals next season, but now there is a legitimate road block in the way. I wouldn't say it was complete fear. Oklahoma City didn't start shaking or anything. But it was definitely attention-grabbing. The Thunder are still very good, match up well and have weapons to combat what the Lakers have, but to try and ignore what L.A. has done is silly.

LOL: Yeah, he's very McKayla Moroney about it all. (Note: Joke stolen from J.A. Adande.)

RY: Jimmy Fallon asked KD and Harden about it Monday night and that was the exact thing they did.

LOL: I can see why they'd be annoyed. They're young, and don't want to look like they're concerned about anything other than themselves and their team. But how do you think Howard impacts the matchup? This is even before we get to Nash, and an improving bench for L.A.

RY: See, I thought the Nash signing was maybe a bigger deal, at least in terms of impacting the Thunder. Because nothing really changes too much for OKC. Kendrick Perkins was on the roster to defend Andrew Bynum and now he just moves to defending Dwight Howard. But Nash, he makes everybody more threatening. Pau Gasol is a fourth option, but with Nash running the controls, he's a monster, massive threat. Howard improves the Lakers defensively, no doubt. He makes them a little more versatile. But I don't think too much has changed in the way the Thunder will approach playing the Lakers. Not to say there's an advantage there now for L.A., but OKC won't have to adjust too much to match up.

Perkins has to be thankful, too. Mitch Kupchak just kept him relevant.

LOL: Mitch is a giver, there's no question.

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The 2013 Lakers aren't the 2004 Lakers

August, 14, 2012
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
Before a "big three" became a requisite for NBA teams establishing credentials as serious contenders, it wasn't too long ago that a splashy big four graced the Association. It was assembled during the summer of 2003, when Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal were joined by free agents Karl Malone and Gary Payton to create a genuine super-team. And ever since Dwight Howard's arrival in Los Angeles last Friday, I've heard fans and media likening Kobe-Pau Gasol-Steve Nash-Howard to the 2004 Lakers, and more often than not, that's a negative. That 2004 foursome is remembered as the last hurrah for the Kobe-Shaq-Phil Jackson three-peat era, a modern-day dynasty that nonetheless left potential on the table because of in-fighting. Those Lakers, beaten by the Detroit Pistons in five games during the Finals, are remembered as a failed experiment, the cautionary tale for front offices utilizing the formula of "instant championship: just add superstars."

With the Lakers now boasting among the splashiest starting fives in league history, naysayers are quick to cite the 2004 Lakers as a worst-case scenario.

AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Three members of the last big four in L.A.

The comparison is inevitable, but also lazy. Yes, there are commonalities. Both teams featured four big names, each of which is a lock or near-lock for the Hall of Fame. Both teams were built by Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family with the blueprint of "championship or bust." But a deeper look makes it pretty obvious that there are massive differences. Most negatives surrounding the 2004 squad were part of a specific backstory, one not shared by the 2012 team. Below are four huge factors favoring the 2012 big four.

1. The coach and players are on better terms.
The discord between Kobe and Phil has been documented to death by now, most famously in "The Last Season," Jackson's diary of the tumultuous 2004 season. (Ironically, Phil was prompted to return in part to amend his largely negative portrayal of Kobe.) But the Mamba wasn't the only player failing to see eye to eye with The Zen Master. Payton sulked over his role in the triangle, and The Glove was often a tough customer when happy as a clam, never mind when he was surly. Those misgivings spilled onto the court and resulted in a watered-down version of Payton.

This year's incarnation, however, features no such conflicts. That's not to say everyone has bought into Mike Brown, no questions asked. Some prominent holdovers, notably Kobe, Gasol and Metta World Peace, expressed skepticism about their new coach throughout 2012, and I imagine Brown still hasn't truly proven himself. However, there's a difference between disenchantment and defiance, and the player who openly chafed most at Brown's authority -- Andrew Bynum -- is now the starting center in Philadelphia. Players and coach may still be feeling each other out, but outright hostility doesn't appear to be looming.

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Mitch Kupchak: Quotes from Friday's press conference

August, 11, 2012
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- After months (and months and months and months) of speculation, the trade finally bringing Dwight Howard to Los Angeles came together quickly. So, too, did the press conference. Howard and Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak met the media Friday afternoon, and to say the least there was a buzz at the team facility in El Segundo.

For what it's worth, Howard seemed genuinely excited not just about the end of the Dwightmare, but more specifically to be in Los Angeles. And seated next to him, Kupchak looked equally satisfied. Given the challenges facing them heading into the offseason -- zero cap space, no draft picks of value, only a mini-mid level and veteran's minimum contracts to offer, trade chips difficult to turn into superior talent since they're already very good (Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol) -- this becomes one of the most impressive offseasons in modern league history.

After the big Howard show ended, Kupchak answered more questions for the assembled writerly hordes and delivered some interesting comments on the evolution of the deal, Bynum, Mike Brown's reaction to getting Howard while keeping Gasol, and the willingness of the Buss family to spend what's required to win.

The transcript is below...

Going forward, having Dwight, your payroll is huge. Any concern about that?
“Absolutely. Sure, it’s a concern, and if you’re familiar with the collective bargaining agreement, there have been some significant changes made for teams that exceed certain thresholds.

"But once again, over the last year there has been some criticism. When we traded Lamar, that it was just a way to save money, and I think this proves when it comes down to it, and I’ve always said it, certainly nobody who owns a family owned business doesn’t want to make a profit so their business can survive and prosper. But when it comes down to it, Dr. Buss is a very competitive owner, and his family is also very competitive. And when it comes down to making a decision about a couple dollars or a million dollars or 10 million dollars or putting another banner up? He can’t help himself. He chooses to go for the banner."

LOL: If ever there was a quote summarizing why Lakers fans should raise a monument to Dr. Buss, that's it. "He can't help himself. He chooses to go for the banner."

Based on your conversations with team Dwight, how much of a risk is it he’ll walk?

“You know something, we’ve had no discussions? The press conference started at four o’clock. They came into my office at about a quarter to four, and I had a little private chat with Dwight that maybe lasted four or five minutes, and that was it.”

So no point, you never had anything in there to measure his interest in staying here?
“No, in fact our decision was independent of anything you may have read about what maybe his desires were or weren’t. Our feeling was, no matter what anyone says, let’s just get him to Los Angeles and we’ll take our chances.”

Is the thought process that winning takes care of it?
“It’s the organization, ownership, the city of Los Angeles, our ability to win games, surrounding Dwight with players that will make it easier for him to play the game and not have to burden a load that’s maybe not fair."

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