Los Angeles Lakers: Brooklyn Nets

Rapid Reaction: Nets 108, Lakers 102

February, 23, 2014
2/23/14
8:43
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- In what was supposed to be a lazy Sunday matchup between two sub .500 teams -- a game that was considered to have such little juice that it was dropped from the national TV broadcast schedule despite featuring teams from the two biggest markets in the country -- suddenly became a landmark event in the history of American pro sports.

The Brooklyn Nets signed Jason Collins to a 10-day contract Sunday morning, and when the backup center stepped on to the court against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night, he became the first openly gay athlete to play in a game in the history of the four major professional sports in the U.S.

There was a tepid response in Staples Center when Collins entered the game. Better that it was a smattering of cheers than boisterous boos, of course, but the L.A. crowd responded to the substitution the way any crowd might when a 35-year-old with career averages of 3.6 points and 3.8 rebounds checks in.

In that respect, it was a comforting moment of normalcy. Even though many national media outlets descended upon L.A. to document Collins breaking a significant barrier, in the moment it was just about a backup basketball player doing what he has done in the NBA for the past decade plus.

"I don't have time to really think about history right now," Collins said before the game. "I just have to focus on my job tonight."

Which is the same approach the Lakers took, trying to put together only their sixth winning streak of the season despite starting Kent Bazemore, who just joined the team three days ago.

Yet for another night, they were overmatched.

How it happened: The Nets led by as many as 19 in the first quarter, with Paul Pierce starting off blistering hot by scoring 14 of his 25 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the opening frame. L.A. trailed by 16 at halftime but used a 13-2 run early in the third quarter to draw to within eight and got it down to six after a 3-pointer from MarShon Brooks in the final minute of the third before the Nets got it right back up to 12 with consecutive 3s from Mirza Teletovic.

The Lakers stormed back in the fourth. Nick Young brought L.A. to within four by making a layup with 7:36 left in the final quarter and Jodie Meeks got it back to four again with 10.5 seconds left, but the Nets' Deron Williams tacked on two late free throws to give him 30 points and take home the win in a game his team never trailed.

What it means: Friday night's win against the Boston Celtics was a nice moment for Lakers fans looking to stick it to their longtime rivals, but Sunday was a return to reality. There's going to be plenty more losses over the final 26 games of the season.

Hits: With 10:28 remaining in the second quarter, Collins checked into the game for the Nets, making history.

L.A. outscored Brooklyn 58-36 in the paint.

Pau Gasol had a solid double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds.

Bazemore scored 17 points in his first start as a Laker.

Jodie Meeks had 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting.

Misses: Jordan Farmar shot just 1-for-6.

L.A. allowed the Nets to shoot 12-for-25 on 3-pointers.

Stat of the game: 29. That's how many turnovers the Nets had, leading to 27 points for the Lakers, but it still wasn't enough to get L.A. the win.

Up next: L.A. has only a dozen road games left this season and will be down to 10 after its trip this week to play the Indiana Pacers and Memphis Grizzlies in a back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday.

D'Antoni on Kidd incident: 'You can't do that'

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
5:59
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni got a little hot under the collar when asked about Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd intentionally spilling his cold drink.

"I knew he was going to get caught," D’Antoni said before the Lakers played the Detroit Pistons on Friday when asked about Kidd's being fined $50,000 by the league for the incident. "You can't do that. That's crazy. He can't do that. It's cute for a lot of people, but you can't do that."

With 8.3 seconds left and his team out of timeouts in the Lakers' 99-94 win over the Nets on Wednesday, Kidd, who was holding a cup of soda on ice, appeared to say "hit me" to point guard Tyshawn Taylor to delay the game and give him and his team time to draw up a last-second offensive play.

Both Kidd and Taylor initially denied the collision was planned but on Friday Kidd basically admitted it was intentional. "Paul [Pierce] got a great look, but the league fined me for something that I probably shouldn't have done," Kidd said. "We'll move on."

Said D'Antoni of Kidd initially claiming innocence: "I don't buy it."

D'Antoni said he did not notice how the spill happened, but his players picked up on it immediately. Both Steve Blake and Xavier Henry hovered around the Nets' impromptu huddle to spy on the play being drawn up.

"I'm glad they did," D'Antoni said of Blake's and Henry’s bit of gamesmanship in response to Kidd's move. "They should have."

D'Antoni said "you can't do that" or "he can't do that" no less than seven times in the two minutes he discussed the incident Friday, adding that it was "nuts" to try such a stunt.

"That's against the rules," D'Antoni said. "I don't think that's very savvy or cool. I love Jason to death, he's going to be a great coach, but no, you don't do that."

D'Antoni, the NBA's Coach of the Year in 2004-05 with the Phoenix Suns, admitted there are tricks that a coach can attempt to try to affect the outcome of a game outside of simply drawing up plays, making substitutions, working the referees and calling timeouts, but that Kidd crossed the boundary of fair game.

"You can catch somebody's eye on the baseline on foul shots and stuff, as long as you stay off the court and in the rules," D'Antoni said. "You can do those things, but you shouldn't get on the court. You shouldn't run into people on the court. You shouldn't drop things on the court, especially when they're not warranted [from an accident]. You can't do that."

Rapid Reaction: Lakers 92, Nets 83

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
7:12
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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NEW YORK -- No Dwight, no Metta, no problem.

"Hopefully, the players will know that you can’t take a play off," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of the team's predicament before the game. "You got to go out there and you got to win games. We put ourselves into this situation where every possession is important and every play. It’s not bad if they can get that mentality, because it does make you sharp, but again, you don’t want to be in this position -- but we are, so, so be it."

The Lakers didn't have Dwight Howard for the third straight game and they won for the third straight time, withstanding World Peace's one-game suspension in the process thanks to some unlikely heroes.

How it happened: After a sluggish start when the Lakers scored just 18 points in the first quarter on 8-for-21 shooting, Mike D'Antoni used a bench-heavy lineup of Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Robert Sacre, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark to start the second quarter. And it paid off, as the reserves went on a 10-2 run to get L.A. going. The Lakers' lead would swell to as many as 13 in the third quarter before the Nets rallied to make it a three-point game heading into the fourth. Pau Gasol (right ankle) left the game with 3:50 remaining, but L.A. was able to hold on thanks to some clutch plays by Clark and a momentum-seizing dunk by Kobe Bryant on Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries down the stretch.

What it means: This isn't a fluke. The Lakers legitimately have some momentum going, winning six out of seven games and three straight on their "Grammy Trip." Better late than never. The end to this road trip will be crucial.

Hits: Playing with his mom, dad and sister in the building, Clark -- a New Jersey native -- played the game like it was in his backyard. Clark finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds and not only hit a clutch jumper and two clutch free throws one game after missing two late freebies in Detroit, but he also played center and guarded Lopez after Gasol went out.

Bryant had a rough shooting night (9-for-24) but filled the stat sheet with 21 points, 4 assists, 8 rebounds, 4 steals and a block.

Misses: The Lakers were dominated on the boards, particularly on the offensive glass, getting outrebounded 52-39, including 20 offensive boards for Brooklyn.

Stat of the night: Duhon had a plus-minus of plus-6 in six minutes of playing time.

What's next: The Lakers are past the midway point of their seven-game road trip, going 3-1 to start things off and reversing the trend they set through their first 20 games on the road this season, when they lost three out of every four away from Staples Center to go 5-15. They'll try to keep the momentum going Thursday against a surprising Boston Celtics team that's been playing great basketball ever since Rajon Rondo went down with a season-ending injury.

Three men, one play, a glimpse at major potential

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
9:16
AM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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To hear Kobe Bryant break down the most important play in the Los Angeles Lakers' 95-90 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday was akin to hearing a forensic detective combing his way through a crime scene and describing how each bit of evidence fit together to illustrate what went down.

First, some context. The Lakers led by three heading into the fourth quarter and then went horridly cold, starting off the final period by going nearly eight minutes without a field goal and seeing their three-point lead turn into a six-point deficit thanks to missed shots, turnovers and poor free throw shooting.

Metta World Peace finally made the take-the-lid-off-the-rim basket -- a 3-pointer from the left corner -- to cut Brooklyn's lead to two points with 4:39 remaining.

And that set up the play that changed the game.

"It’s kind of a domino effect," Bryant said. "To start the game, they went to a drop defense and I stepped up and had 11 points in the first quarter just from pulling up and shooting. After that, they had to change their coverage a little bit and went more to showing up a little higher on the screen-roll and I was able to hit Pau and he hit jump shots. So now, they have to pre-rotate and now I hit Pau and now Pau’s hitting Dwight slipping to the rim or hitting Metta in the corner for a 3.

"So it’s kind of a domino effect."

Bryant drove right past Gerald Wallace, but was forced to pick up his dribble when Brook Lopez stepped up to cut him off just below the foul line.

In true Bryant form, he already left his feet when Lopez collapsed on him, but was able to turn around in midair and pass it out to Pau Gasol who came to the ball to catch it at the top of the key. (Sidenote: Bryant leaving his feet before he passes is easily the most frustrating part of his game to see over and over again. For being as fundamentally strong as he is, he chooses to break this cardinal rule of basketball way too much.)

Bryant then came back out to the wing to get it back from Gasol and positioned his body in a way -- shoulders square to the rim with his feet spread apart enough to give him a good base -- that Wallace and Lopez both closed out on him, thinking he was going to shoot. Rather than shoot it, Bryant flipped a pass over Wallace's head to Gasol who was cutting towards the free throw line.

When Kris Humphries saw Gasol coming down the lane with the ball in his hands, he left Dwight Howard who he was checking on the baseline to cut off the Spaniard.

Then Gasol, seeing that Howard was as open as the day is long, immediately threw a lob pass that Howard caught and threw down for an alley-oop dunk.

That made it a tied game, 86-86, with 3:05 remaining. The Lakers made the dominoes fall and never looked back.

"It was a good, good play," Gasol said. "Kind of a double drag and then they jumped Kobe, because obviously he’s a great player and then I was able to get that pocket pass. I made the intention to go to the rim and Dwight was wide open. I always try to find him every time when I’m rolling there, unless they back off a lot from me and then I have to get the shot up, which is also a good choice."

As much as the play worked because Bryant shot pull-up jump shots in the first quarter to get the Nets to change their defense to pressure the ball, it also worked because Gasol kept shooting the ball from the foul line extended all night when he was open. Even after he missed a couple in a row, he didn't defer when he got an open look from there. If Gasol had shown a reluctance to shoot the ball in that position, maybe Humphries doesn't close out on him and stays home with Howard and then there's no lob portion of the play to finish it off.

"They mostly come out of Kobe’s pick-and-rolls," Gasol said of his team-high seven assists. "He gets all the hockey assists on my assists so he’s the one initiating the action. They have to make a decision as far as how much they want to commit to Kobe and commit to the roll of Dwight and then I make the next decision, which is most of the time hitting the opposite wing for the open jumper or hitting Dwight if I see that he has an opportunity to score."

(For the record, we had to ask Bryant what he thought of adding the hockey assist as an official statistic -- holler, HoopIdea -- and he was non committal about the possibility. "It's really just if they want to add it, they'll add it," Bryant said. "For us players, it really doesn't change the game except for statistically we'll probably get a little more assists.")

Howard had the least to do with the play out of the three guys involved. He really didn't have to think, just observe what was playing out in front of him and use his tremendous athleticism to punctuate the chain of events with a slam dunk. But that was part of the beauty of watching he and Bryant and Gasol come together to make the play happen. Bryant did the skill work by shifting the defense into a compromised position, Gasol did the thinking work by assessing the skewed D that Bryant had created and then deciding the best possible avenue to score and Howard did the physical work by doing what he does best and leaping toward the hoop.

"It’s a great play for us because you got to pick your poison," Howard told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "Sometimes they drop back on Kobe, he hits the jump shot. They come up, he passes the ball to Pau. If my man leaves me then I have a dunk. If my man stays home, Pau got the jump shot. So, we just got to slow the ball down and make the defense pay for making mistakes.

"It just shows that we’re learning each others’ game, we’re getting into a good rhythm on the offensive end and we’re playing together. It will only get better, so we just got to keep going."

That's the ultimate motivation to want to play together, when you see that a teammate gets it and that you're both operating on an unspoken plane while you're playing that renders the defense inconsequential.

The Lakers are still an unfinished experiment, but the way their elements are naturally mixing already doesn't make you think it's all going to blow up in their face.

"There’s a lot of stuff you can’t guard," Mike D'Antoni said after his first game on the sidelines ended with a win. "Kobe in the angle pick-and-roll with Pau there and going 7-feet (Gasol) to 7-feet (Howard) and Pau can pass ...

"So, a lot of good stuff."

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

D'Antoni welcomes 'Hack-a-Howard'

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
11:52
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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LOS ANGELES -- It had been almost a month since a team last threatened to break out a "Hack-a-Howard" routine to stop Los Angeles Lakers center Dwight Howard by trapping him at the free-throw line all night.

The strategy surfaced again Tuesday in the Lakers' 95-90 win over the Brooklyn Nets when Howard's 23-point, 15-rebound, four-block effort was marred by a 7-for-19 mark from the line. It was almost contagious as L.A. shot just 19-for-37 on free throws overall as a team.

Howard's struggles from the line were particularly pronounced during the fourth quarter when he connected on just 3-of-10 attempts and the Lakers' offense seemed to grind to a halt.

However, as dicey as things got with Howard turning freebies into anything but free, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said he invites other opponents to try the same technique.

"The thing with Dwight, I hope you know, if they start Hack-a-Dwight and he's making one out of two, that's a possession," D'Antoni said. "That's one point per possession. That's pretty good basketball, especially down the stretch. So that's fine. If they want to do that, that's great. I got no problem with it."

The last coach to consider the strategy before the Nets' Avery Johnson was Portland's Terry Stotts. Howard had just come off a 3-for-14 game from the line on opening night against the Dallas Mavericks and Stotts openly contemplated escorting Howard to the free-throw line all night against the Trail Blazers. Although Portland didn't purposefully end up parading Howard to the line, the All-Star big man ended up giving the Blazers no choice but to foul him when he got deep post position and ended up going 15-for-19 on foul shots.

(Read full post)

Lakers vs. Nets: What to watch

November, 20, 2012
11/20/12
10:09
AM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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A historical footnote is in the making, as tonight marks the first meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and the newly face-lifted Brooklyn Nets. These ain't your daddy's Nets anymore, with the presence of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov and rap icon/multi-hyphenate Jay-Z, the Barclays Center and a hipster locale to call home. Oh, and the roster isn't half bad, either. Maybe not worth the price tag, but certainly formidable, and definitive proof of the commitment to make the Knicks paranoid about a sea change in New York.

It remains to be seen who'll be on the sideline coaching the Lakers tonight, but whether its Mike D'Antoni or Bernie Bickerstaff, the Lakers will look to maintain their momentum and tighten up the execution on both sides of the ball. Here are three things to be mindful of once the ball is jumped.

1. Will the Lakers' high-octane offense continue to explode?
Take a cursory glance at the numbers and you'll see 92.5 points a night surrendered by Brooklyn, the sixth-lowest in the NBA. On the surface, they would appear quite the defensive juggernaut. However, a little more digging shows an opponent field goal percentage of 45.3 percent, tumbling the Nets well into the bottom third of the league when it comes to protecting the basket. How are these intertwined, yet polar opposite findings possible? Well, tonight's visitors play like their offense is being quarterbacked by a snail. The NBA's fourth-slowest pace means fewer possessions, which means fewer opportunities for the enemy to score. In other words, the Nets are plodding their way to smaller point totals for the opposition, rather than achieving through maximum lockdown.

Looking at the Nets' roster, this isn't surprising. Save Gerald Wallace, no member of the starting five will likely gun for any Defensive Player of the Year votes. Joe Johnson's best days sticking a wing scorer are behind him. Deron Williams and Kris Humphries are somewhere between "average" and "decent enough not to kill you." And Brook Lopez has been a train wreck defensively his entire career. Off the bench, rebounding savant Reggie Evans is more of an energetic defender than a truly effective one, MarShon Brooks is inexperienced and Andray Blatche's indifference to lockdown is in part what prompted the Wizards' decision to use the amnesty clause on him.

Thus, the Nets' best approach for keeping points low is manufacturing a crawl, and for the first time in eons, the Lakers won't play along. During this D'Bickerstaff era, the Lakers haven't necessarily become a fast-break factory, but they're no longer the methodically slow squad Brooklyn would prefer to face. Removed from a comfort zone, I don't expect the Nets to keep an opponent in the low 90s. For that matter, it'll be interesting to see if they can simply remain effective at keeping the Lakers off the line, a spot where Kobe and Company have taken frequent residence this season.

2. Who defends Deron Williams?
By his standards, the Nets' franchise face is off to a slow start. Whether gauged through points, field goal percentages from the field or the arc, assists or rebounds, D-Will is putting up numbers below his career clips, figures that aren't necessarily indicative of playing for a team with more talent and more statistical wealth spread about. However, he's still Deron Freakin' Williams, meaning the odds favor him remaining a handful even if he's still in the process of feeling out a new roster. With that in mind, it'll be interesting to see who spends the majority of minutes checking the three-time All-Star.

As I noted in Sunday's Rapid Reaction, Darius Morris' rapid improvement hasn't just been notable while running the offense. The kid's demonstrating fine defensive instincts, in particular his understanding of how to use his big body. But Williams is the rare point guard who doesn't surrender size to Morris and has a vast edge in veteran smarts. If Morris struggles, could Chris Duhon, who's played solid-if-unspectacular minutes with the Steves out, handle extended minutes against D-Will? And can the Lakers handle Duhon in extended minutes? He may be a credible enough defender, but his presence limits the overall dynamism of the offense. Does the answer perhaps lie within the starting lineup? Metta World Peace can certainly bully Williams physically, and those vice-grip hands can induce turnovers from even the most elite point guards. But will his feet cooperate? If he's not fast enough to stay with Williams, the challenge could fall on Kobe.

In the past, the Lakers have looked to avoid extended periods latching Kobe to such a difficult assignment, given the scoring burden additionally shouldered. But given how judiciously Kobe's letting shots fly this season, that energy may not require as much preservation. Maybe we'll see the Mamba go at Williams throughout the closing minutes, which would obviously be fun.

3. Dwight Howard vs. Brook Lopez
Yeah, that Brook Lopez. The one Shaquille O'Neal famously/ridiculously presented as better than Howard. The Diesel's analysis clearly wasn't appreciated by Dwight, but he responded by reminding Shaq that he's currently out to pasture, rather than taking any shots at Lopez. No need to drag the twin any further into this mess. Still, Howard's willingness to take the verbal high road needn't necessarily bleed onto the hardwood. I wouldn't be surprised if Howard looks to prove the inanity of O'Neal's comments by launching a full-blown assault at Lopez's expense.

D'Antoni's debut still TBD

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
5:59
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Mike D'Antoni limped around the court at the Los Angeles Lakers' practice facility Monday, barking out instructions to his players in his Southern twang, while his crutch remained propped up against the scorer's table at center court.

He isn't completely done with the crutch; he used it to walk off the court and into the locker room after speaking to the media. But it was a sign of progress. During his first day with the Lakers last week, he was working his way around the court with the aid of two crutches.

D'Antoni has managed to make it through several practices since joining the team, but he's yet to coach a game. It will be a game-time decision Tuesday when the Lakers host the Brooklyn Nets whether D'Antoni will finally assume his seat on the sideline, or leave it up to interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff again.

"It’s a lot better," D'Antoni said of his health after undergoing knee replacement surgery at the beginning of the month. "Every day it gets tenfold better. Hopefully because of that I’ll be ready to go soon."

The 61-year-old coach intended to take over for the first time Sunday, but opted against it a few hours before tip-off. He told reporters Monday he didn't want to make the same mistake again and offer up a definitive answer on whether he'll coach against the Nets and have to potentially go back on his word.

"I’m anxious to go," D'Antoni said. "Watching the game in the back (in the trainer's room) is driving me crazy. I suffer more back there than I would on the floor.

"I just want to make sure it’s right. Bernie does a great job, so there’s no hurry on my part. Just when I’m 100 percent, I’m ready to go.

“Just got to make sure my stamina is up there."

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

Howard puts Brooklyn in the rearview

November, 19, 2012
11/19/12
3:19
PM PT
McMenamin By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- With all the drama surrounding the Los Angeles Lakers since the start of training camp -- from a winless preseason, to Steve Nash getting hurt, Mike Brown being fired, Phil Jackson being spurned and Mike D'Antoni being hired -- Dwight Howard has flown relatively under the radar.

It wasn't too long ago that Howard's name couldn't stay out of the headlines as his exit from Orlando played out in the press. The All-Star center's situation became commonly referred to as the "Dwightmare."

Howard's inspired play just six months removed from back surgery has helped people move on from the soap opera that surrounded him during the summer. He is averaging 20 points (60.8 percent shooting), 11.4 rebounds and 2.7 blocks through the Lakers' first 10 games. However, with the Brooklyn Nets coming to town to play the Lakers this week, Howard was reminded Monday about his supposed preferred destination.

"I’m here now," Howard said after practice Monday, a day before the Lakers host the visiting Nets at Staples Center. "I’m in L.A. There’s no need to talk about what could have happened. I’m happy with being here in L.A. Like I’ve said, the fans have always been great here, and now that I’m on the team, the fans from Day 1, they’ve just been unbelievable to me and to this team. So I’m just happy about that."

(Read full post)

PodKast: Blake's injury, #6 for #24, JET's fightin' words

September, 27, 2012
9/27/12
3:42
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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Our last podKast before training camps begins. On several levels, we're quite excited about this timeline.

The show can be heard by clicking on the module and a breakdown of talking points can be found below:



Play Download

- (1:00): After taking a moment to celebrate Metta World Peace's offseason conditioning, we turn to more somber news on the health front. Steve Blake suffered a (very strange) puncture wound to his left foot, and will therefore be unable to participate in impact exercises for three weeks during training camp. Given that Blake could miss some scrimmages and preseason games, does this situation present an opportunity for Chris Duhon or Darius Morris to earn the spot backing up Steve Nash?

- (10:00): Players 6-10 in #NBArank were announced Tuesday, and Kobe Bryant came in at sixth with a bullet. BK already shared some thoughts, so there's no need to rehash too much of what's there. Plus, as I've noted many times on the blog, I find the concept of ranking players fairly tedious, in large part because people so often work themselves into a lather. Particularly when it comes to The Mamba, whose die-hard followers can be a sensitive lot. It's important to remember hairs are being split between great players. As Brian noted, that Bryant's still part of this discussion after 16 seasons is what matters most and is most remarkable.

Having said that, I also gave Kobe a "10" (the highest possible number) when I filled out my ballot, so direct any complaints somewhere else. And those insulted by Kobe's standing can perhaps take solace in the following. Last year, at age 33, Kobe was seventh in this project. This year, at age 34, he's sixth. Thus, if trends hold, he'll land the No. 1 spot at age 39!

- (18:50): Jason Terry made small headlines recently with his stated mission of "killing" the Lakers and Heat as part of a Celtics squad aiming for a title and none too fond of L.A. or Miami.

- (21:20): The Brooklyn Nets cheerleader outfits are... eye-catching.

Has the Dwight Howard calculus changed for the Lakers?

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
4:48
PM PT
Kamenetzky By Brian Kamenetzky
ESPNLosAngeles.com
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As the Dwight Howard saga rages on, one thing has gone from pretty much obvious to abundantly so: Howard wants to go to Brooklyn, and only Brooklyn.

So with that in mind, are the Lakers in better shape now to bring him to Los Angeles?

Very possibly.

As ESPN.com's John Hollinger notes (Insider required), thanks to months' worth of wishy-washiness and poor execution culminating in his decision last spring not to enter free agency this summer, Howard's master plan appears to be crumbling around him. And that was before this afternoon's bombshell: The Nets have a deal in place to acquire Joe Johnson from Atlanta. Setting aside for a moment the wisdom of the trade from Brooklyn's perspective -- while Johnson is a very good player, he's south of elite, north of 30 years old, and due an astonishing $90 mil over the next four years -- his addition combined with the re-signing of Deron Williams (they hope) and a re-signed Gerald Wallace would reportedly shut the door on Howard in Brooklyn. As for a trade with the Nets, if the Magic wanted some sort of package built around Brook Lopez and MarShon Brooks, it would have happened by now.

As one source told ESPN.com, "Dwight blew it in March."

Howard made it clear the Nets were the only team with whom he'd sign an extension in a trade, a threat designed to keep other teams from making a deal with Orlando. Now his one-and-only destination appears to have denied him an entry visa. For the Lakers, that completely changes the calculus surrounding a potential Howard-for-Andrew Bynum swap. Before, the risk of sacrificing Bynum only to see Howard bolt after one season to the place he said all along he wanted to go was a lot to stomach. Without Brooklyn in play, it's a different ballgame. Suddenly, the idea of making a career with the Lakers becomes an easier sell, particularly since if they did swing a trade, L.A. would have the ability to give Howard far more money than anyone else.

The Lakers would have a much easier time calling Howard's bluff at the end of next year. A max deal combined with some winning, excellent weather, and no better option makes for a decent Plan B.

From Orlando's perspective, Bynum still constitutes the single best player they'd get in return for Howard, and while (just as the Lakers would with Howard) the Magic would have to sign him to an extension, I don't see it as a problem. Remember, it was in reference to Orlando-centric trade rumors Bynum made his famous "bank in every city" quote. While I've never sensed he's hell-bent on leaving the Lakers, Bynum has also always given the impression he'd get over a trade in about 17 seconds.

There would still be plenty of potential peril. The Lakers won't be the only organization recognizing a new opportunity. Other teams, Dallas for example if they lose out on D-Will or (Howard's hometown) Atlanta now that Johnson and Marvin Williams have been cleared away, could jimmy around their rosters to make enough space to sign Howard outright after next season. Some wonder if so much sacrifice for a guy who appeared not to want to come to Los Angeles, and reportedly wasn't high on playing second fiddle to Kobe Bryant, is worth it. There's a good chance he could leave.

Character wise, Howard has turned many off by the way he's morphed his exit from Orlando into a soap opera. Remember, too, he's coming off major back surgery.

On the other hand, assuming he's healthy, Howard is a dominant force in ways Bynum isn't yet. As a rule, in the NBA when you have a chance to pick up a top-five player, you do it and ask questions later. The other stuff can and likely will be forgiven, at least locally, if Howard helps push the Lakers back to the Finals. Talent is the ultimate olive branch.

Now that it appears he might have to settle for his less-favored options, it makes much more sense for the Lakers to push harder for a deal with Orlando, even if Howard won't sign an extension right away. The Lakers can more successfully call his bluff.

"Where are you going to go, Dwight?"

Would he have a good answer?

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Kobe Bryant
PTS AST STL MIN
22.3 5.6 1.3 34.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Hill 7.9
AssistsK. Bryant 5.6
StealsR. Price 1.6
BlocksE. Davis 1.3