Los Angeles Lakers: Cleveland Cavaliers
After spending the last six years living in L.A. and covering a stretch of your franchise's history that saw just about everything, I'm leaving the purple and gold for LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the wine and gold of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It has been a privilege to cover your team for you. It truly has. The biggest compliment I can say is that you care. You truly do. From what the color of Kobe Bryant's Nikes for the night will be to what the Lakers plan to do with that seemingly perpetually open 15th roster spot, no detail was insignificant.
The Lakers are a way of life in Southern California. And just like the beautiful weather you all enjoy to be so perfect that an 85-degree day is considered too hot, your standards for excellence with your basketball team are also lofty.
If it's a championship-or-bust credo for the Lakers, the coverage by your beat writers better reflect that expectation as well.
Just last week, I was on vacation and one of you tweeted to me pointing out that Kobe was in Germany for another knee procedure and I failed to write about it, accompanied by the hashtag "#slackin."
The NBA "offseason” is one of the biggest misnomers. The league gets talked about year round and there is always some kind of media out there with which to compete. And you Lakers fans have an insatiable appetite when it comes to your team no matter what month the calendar says it is.
I always knew my work would get readers because of you guys. While that interest sometimes went overboard (give it a break about Michael Beasley already, will you?), I'm grateful I had such an active audience to share with.
It was the moment many people in the basketball world first became aware of Rule No. 3, Section I, Part A of the NBA's rulebook.
"Each team shall consist of five players. No team shall be reduced to less than five players. If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly."
Ignore the archaic language for a second (I could do with never having to hear the word "shall" again after that paragraph) and you'll find the reason why Robert Sacre (aka "said player") was allowed to stay in the game with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, even though he just picked up his sixth personal foul, which normally would foul a player out of the game.
Did coach Mike D'Antoni know what was going to happen when Sacre picked up his sixth foul?
"Yeah ," D'Antoni said with his voice trailing off and his eyes letting reporters know he wasn't being truthful. "Not really. But it’s a nice rule."
"I never knew when you fouled out, you could go back in," 11-year veteran Chris Kaman said. "I never knew that was a rule. So, I had my shoes untied and I was like lying down on the bench because we had like a really long bench. There was like 30 feet of extra space."
Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis and trainer Gary Vitti, who began their respective NBA careers in 1981-82, both said they had never seen anything like that before.
Said Jordan Farmar: "I didn't even know half the rules that just went into effect right now."
"I've never heard of it," Steve Blake added. "It's crazy. But it was a fun way to finish it off."
CLEVELAND -- Despite the Los Angeles Lakers coming into Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with just eight healthy bodies available to play, coach Mike D'Antoni refused to use injuries as a crutch.
"We can play better, and we need to concentrate on that and not worry about the other stuff we can’t control," D'Antoni said with a little defiance, perhaps a little hopefulness. "Our guys are going to battle through it, and we’re just trying to stay positive and get better -- individually better and the team better -- and every game try to make a win out of it."
And the Lakers made D'Antoni look prophetic, for a little while, at least.
They tied their season high with 36 points in the first quarter and then set a new season high with 70 points in the first half, shooting 62.5 percent from the field as a team in the process. They led by 21 at the break.
But then Nick Young twisted his left knee on a fast break and did not return, and L.A. was down to seven players.
And then Chris Kaman fouled out, and the Lakers were down to six.
And then Jordan Farmar felt something tighten up in his left calf, and they were down to five.
And then Robert Sacre fouled out with 3:32 to go and the Lakers were down to five? Still? Sacre was allowed to stay in the game by virtue of a little-known NBA rule that requires teams to keep five players on the court at all times, even if a player has fouled out. The Cavs were simply rewarded a technical foul on top of Sacre's sixth personal foul and play continued on.
"I've never seen this situation before!!" Pau Gasol tweeted as he followed along from L.A. "Did anybody know about this rule!?"
It was bizarre. It was extraordinary. It was par for the course for this topsy-turvy Lakers season.
Steve Nash, who was supposed to have the night off, even scrambled to put on a jersey and get back to the bench in case the Lakers needed him.
They didn't need him. They actually won, breaking their seven-game losing streak.
How it happened: The Cavs cut the Lakers' 29-point lead all the way down to eight with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Blake hit two 3-pointers in the final minutes to keep L.A. afloat.
What it means: Sure, the Lakers almost blew a huge lead, and, true, they allowed a 16th straight opponent to score 100-plus points. But they somehow pulled it off and got the win despite some serious adversity.
Hits: Blake finished with a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.
Farmar had 21 points and eight assists in his first game since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear.
Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 26.
Wes Johnson kept up his strong road trip with 20 points and nine rebounds.
L.A. shot 18-for-37 from 3 as a team (48.6 percent).
Misses: Both Jodie Meeks (right ankle sprain) and Jordan Hill (neck strain) missed their first game all season long by sitting out against Cleveland. They had been the only Lakers players to appear in every game this season up to that point.
The Lakers were outrebounded 57-40.
Stat of the game: 6-for-6. That's what L.A. started from 3 as a team.
Up next: The Lakers close out their three-game road trip Friday in Philadelphia against the 76ers. They have an off day Thursday.
D'Antoni explained how he plans to rotate the point guards before the Lakers played the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday.
"The process is, you’re talking about probably a Hall of Fame guy," D'Antoni said of Nash. "So, yeah, I think he’ll start, and we’ll see where he is. And especially at his age, and where’s he’s at with his injury, he needs to warm up and then play. He doesn’t need to warm up, sit down for 20 minutes and then try to get out there. So that’s the [thought] process on him."
Nash started against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday and finished with seven points and nine assists in 25 minutes. As was the case before Nash missed nearly three months with nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings, the 18-year veteran sat out against Cleveland because it was the second night of a back-to-back for L.A.
Blake shifted to shooting guard and started in the backcourt with Nash against Minnesota. While his right elbow prevented him from being a true "shooting" guard (he went just 0-for-1 from the field), he made his presence felt with six assists, five rebounds and three steals.
"He gives us a toughness that we need," D'Antoni said of Blake, who did not require anything more than eardrops for what was originally considered to be a ruptured right eardrum after he was struck in the head by Dante Cunningham on Tuesday. "Blake we need on the floor, no matter what."
Farmar dressed against the Wolves but did not play. D'Antoni chose to give Farmar an extra day's rest and then start him against the Cavs.
"Farmar deserves the play," D'Antoni explained, simply.
That leaves Marshall, who averaged 11.9 points and 11.5 assists while shooting 44.1 percent from 3 in 15 games as a starter, coming off the bench.
"Kendall needs to right now find his rhythm as a backup to Farmar, and he will," D'Antoni said before the Cavs game. "He’ll get plenty of room. But we just decided to go the other way."
Marshall had just five points, three rebounds and three assists in 21 minutes against Minnesota.
"He should be used to it," D'Antoni said of Marshall playing a reserve role. "Everybody in the league is like that. You got to get a niche. That’s what he did in Phoenix, so that’s what he has to do. It’s a little bit of an adjustment, but there’s no way he’s going to play 38 minutes on every team and be able to just have the ball all the time -- not yet. He’ll have to compete."
When the Los Angeles Lakers head out this week on a three-game road trip, they could be coming face-to-face with the future of the franchise.
And boy, could that future go in wildly varying directions.
Behind Door No. 1, there is the potential route of acquiring a top-10 NBA talent, like the Minnesota Timberwolves have in Kevin Love. The Lakers play the Wolves on Tuesday.
Behind Door No. 2, there is the notion of building through the draft and making some poor choices, like the Cleveland Cavaliers have done in their post-LeBron James era. L.A. plays the Cavs on Wednesday.
Behind Door No. 3, there’s the possibility of having a youth movement actually work out, like the Philadelphia 76ers are proving so far with Rookie of the Year candidate Michael Carter-Williams, plus with a potential defensive lynchpin in Nerlens Noel waiting to be unleashed on the league after he recovers from a torn ACL. The Lakers close out the trip Friday against the Sixers.
Bringing in Love would seemingly be the quickest solution to getting the Lakers back to a championship level before Kobe Bryant's contract expires after the 2015-16 season. While the Lakers have stockpiled cap space for this summer, Love cannot opt out of his contract with the Wolves until the summer of 2015.
“He’s one of the better players in the league,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who also coached Love when he averaged 11.6 points and 7.6 rebounds for the 2012 U.S. Olympic team in London, said Monday. “He’s just a threat everywhere and then he’s always a presence on the boards, offensively rebounding. He can shoot 3s, he can post up, he puts the ball on the floor. He’s one of the better players.”
D’Antoni was then asked if Love could be the type of player a team could build around, and he shot the reporter a knowing smile, knowing full well the speculation that Love desperately wants to become a Laker.
“I mean, he’s an All-Star-caliber player,” D’Antoni said. “Yeah.”
While the Love scenario would require certain pieces to fall into place, one the Lakers can definitely look forward to is their first-round selection in the upcoming draft.
The possibility of securing the top pick might be remote -- L.A.’s 16-31 record would give it a 2.8 percent chance at the No. 1 selection if the season ended today, according to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford -- but this draft class looks to boast a handful of impact players, if not more.
But even with all the talent that could become available come June 26, all the scouting in the world won’t guarantee that a player will pan out for you at the next level.
Just look at Cleveland, which has had six first-round picks in the past three drafts, with four of those being in the top five.
Sure, choosing Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 pick in 2011 despite the point guard playing just 11 games in his lone season at Duke paid off with a Rookie of the Year campaign for Irving and averages of 21.7 points and 6.2 assists this season.
But what about those other five picks? Tristan Thompson, selected No. 4 in 2011, has pedestrian career averages of 10.7 points and 8.5 rebounds on 46.7 percent shooting. Dion Waiters, plucked No. 4 the following year, has proved he can score -- averaging 14.6 points in his two NBA seasons -- but has shot just 41.4 percent from the field in the process. Jared Cunningham, selected No. 24 by Cleveland in 2012, was used to facilitate a trade and can’t get off the bench in Atlanta this season. Sergey Karasev, selected No. 19 in 2013, is currently averaging 1.9 points and 0.9 rebounds as a rookie. And Anthony Bennett, taken No. 1 last June, is threatening to be the biggest bust in the history of the game, putting up just 3.0 points and 2.4 rebounds while shooting 28.1 percent from the field.
On the other hand, there’s Philadelphia.
Carter-Williams, selected No. 11 last year, is averaging 17.3 points, 6.6 assists, 5.4 rebounds and 2.3 steals. Noel hasn’t played a game yet, but was considered the top prospect last June by many pundits. And the 15-34 Sixers are set to add more young assets in a few months, as they hold two more first-round picks.
So there’s hope right around the corner for the Lakers -- a top-tier free agent; a can’t-miss draftee. Perhaps both.
Then again, maybe there isn’t -- a miscalculation on the free-agent market; an incorrect evaluation of a teenager’s potential. Perhaps both.
It all depends on which door the Lakers opt for.
"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."
Phil Jackson wanted to make sure Walton knew what he was doing.
Jackson recalled the time during New Jersey Nets training camp prior to the 1978-79 season -- Jackson's 11th in the league -- when the rigors of NBA practices were causing him constant pain, and he wondered if he was coming to the end of his career.
"The coach kind of told him, ‘Look, I think it’s time for you take that next step and maybe get into coaching. Your body is not really working for you right now,’" Walton said.
Rather than hang it up then and there, Jackson worked through his troubles and got himself ready to play. Next thing he knew, teammate Bob Elliott went out with a season-ending injury in November and Jackson was back in the mix.
"He was still in shape and going strong and he said he ended up having a great year and having a blast," Walton said. "So he was kind of telling me that story, I think, to tell me to stay focused and stay ready just in case because that type of stuff happens all the time in sports."
With that message from his old coach in his head and with the memories of a resurgent 2012-13 season with the Cleveland Cavaliers fresh in his mind, Walton is not announcing his retirement and turning in his sneakers for a microphone.
"I want to play still," said Walton, who has already met with the Lakers' D-League affiliate, the L.A. D-Fenders, to discuss fulfilling a player development role that will allow him to work out with the team along with his TV duties. "I’ve trained all summer as if I was going to get a call. The call never came, so, I’m going to keep working out ... If nothing happens this year, then I’ll probably admit that it’s officially over."
Walton, 33, played 857 minutes for the Cavs last season, which is more than he played in the previous two seasons before that combined. While his numbers weren't gaudy, he found a niche playing point forward with the second unit and registered 14 games with five assists or more, including a career-high 12 helpers against the New York Knicks last March.
While he's now healthy and determined to try for one last shot, Walton's chronic back problems in his last couple seasons in L.A. caused him to contemplate life after basketball already. He sat in on a couple broadcasts with ESPN LA 710 radio. He coached at the University of Memphis on his former college teammate Josh Pastner's staff during the lockout ("The NCAA, they need a lot of help," said Walton, "but, I enjoyed the coaching part of it").
But it was his friendship with Time Warner Cable anchor Chris McGee, who is so close to Walton that he was the emcee at Walton's wedding this past summer, that led to his latest career exploration. Station executives asked McGee to gauge Walton's interest, and the man who made it to four Finals in his 8½ years with the Lakers was intrigued.
"For me, I’d be sitting on the couch watching Lakers games anyway, so I might as well do this and try something new and have fun with it and experience it," Walton said, who joins Byron Scott -- his coach in Cleveland -- as a new addition to the TWC SportsNet staff.
"Mike’s a great coach," said Mike D'Antoni, Brown's replacement in L.A. "He’ll do a great job."
"I’m happy for him," said Pau Gasol, one of the eight players on the Lakers roster who played for Brown in 2011-12, his only full season in L.A. "I think Mike is a really good coach, so he’s going to I’m sure help Cleveland be a better team. They have a young team. Mike is a hardworking coach. Very dedicated. Pays attention to detail. So, he’s going to help them out."
Said Steve Nash: "He’s an extremely hard worker, a very passionate basketball person. He has an emphasis on defense and he does a great job. I think he’s a very good coach."
Added Dwight Howard: "I’m happy for him. He’s a great guy and he’s back in Cleveland, so I’m pretty sure he’s happy about that."
It remains to be seen just how happy Lakers management will end up about the development.
The Lakers owe Brown approximately $7 million for the remaining two years on his contract with the team, but the Cleveland hiring will offset some of that. According to a team source, the Lakers expect "at most" half of what they owe Brown to be offset and that the $3-4 million that it would amount to would be a "grain of sand on the beach" when it comes to impacting the Lakers' finances. The Lakers will not know the final amount they will save on the Brown hiring until his new contract with the Cavs is finalized and approved by the league, which could take "up to a month," according to the source.
The other way Brown's hiring could be felt in L.A. is with D'Antoni's coaching staff. All but two of D'Antoni's assistants -- his brother, Dan D'Antoni and Chuck Person, who was hired when Phil Jackson was the head coach -- were brought on by Brown.
That means that D'Antoni could have significant spots on his staff to fill next season if Brown attempts to lure assistant coaches Steve Clifford, Bernie Bickerstaff, Darvin Ham, player development coach Phil Handy or the team video and support staff of Kyle Triggs, J.J. Outlaw and Tom Bialaszewski.
"You know what? I’m thinking about San Antonio, that’s all I got time for," D'Antoni said Wednesday when asked if he's considered what his coaching staff could look like next season. "Then we’ll figure out everything else later. No, I’m not even thinking about it."
Nervous questions like “how can the Lakers make the playoffs” are now being replaced with sober inquiries such as “How will Mitch Kupchak fix this mess?”
Naturally, attention is turning toward the Lakers’ upcoming draft picks. If there’s one silver lining to missing the playoffs and landing in the lottery, it’s that the team usually gets a pretty good rookie to show for it. Problem is, the Lakers never envisioned being in this situation, and instead used their upcoming picks like chips at a poker table, throwing them into the pot in order to go all-in with their current hand.
Lottery pick? Not this time.
In two separate but interconnected trades, the Lakers dealt away most of their future draft assets. Let’s look at what happened earlier this year in order to understand what’s going to happen in June when David Stern calls his final draft.
March 15, 2012: The Lakers traded Luke Walton, Jason Kapono, a conditional 2012 first round pick (used to select Jared Cunningham at the 24 spot), future draft considerations and cash to Cleveland for Ramon Sessions and Christian Eyenga.
While this trade brought the Lakers a stopgap point guard in Sessions, it’s the future draft considerations we want to focus on here. The Cavs had already stockpiled first-round picks from the Heat (in the post-decision LeBron James sign-and-trade) and Kings (as part of their J.J. Hickson-Omri Casspi deal in 2011). In the Sessions trade, the Cavs gained the right to swap the worst of these picks and their own pick with the Lakers, as long as the Lakers’ pick isn’t in the lottery.
From the Lakers’ perspective, this means that if they miss the 2013 playoffs and land in the lottery, they retain their pick. If they make the playoffs, then they will enter the draft with the worst pick from among their own, the Cavs’, the Heat’s and the Kings’ picks.
As a result of this trade, the Lakers’ pick had been partially spoken-for, but they still retained control of it if it turned out to be one of the top 14. This meant they were free to trade it again, as long as it was traded on the condition that it was one of the top 14 picks. They could even trade their pick if it wasn’t one of the top 14, so long as the trade specified that they were giving up whatever pick Cleveland left them with.
That’s exactly what they did.
July 11, 2012: The Lakers traded a 2013 first-round pick, a 2015 first-round pick, two second-round picks (in 2013 and 2014) and cash to Phoenix for Steve Nash.
In a trade that was widely viewed as a coup for the Lakers, the team acquired one of the premier point guards of the millennium (albeit the 38-year-old-version) for what was thought to be a collection of odds-and-ends. Again, we want to focus on the 2013 pick here.
The Lakers essentially agreed to give the Suns whatever pick they end up with in 2013. If the team misses the playoffs and ends up in the lottery (with one of the top 14 picks), the pick goes directly to Phoenix. If the Lakers somehow make the playoffs, then the Cavs still get the first shot at it, and the Lakers will end up with the worst pick from among the four aforementioned teams. But then whichever pick the Lakers end up with would go to Phoenix.
In summary, any way you slice it, the Suns get a first-round pick from the Lakers this summer. If we project the current records to the end of the season, the Lakers would be in the lottery and likely end up with the 10th pick, and the pick would be conveyed to Phoenix. (Historians will note that the Lakers’ only visits to the lottery were in 1994 and 2005, and both times they had the 10th pick, selecting Eddie Jones and Andrew Bynum, respectively.)
So if the Lakers want to have a first-round pick in this June’s draft, they’re going to have to trade for one. Their own pick will go to either Phoenix or Cleveland (likely Phoenix), and the team will be on the outside looking in on June 27. Unless Kupchak trades for another pick, his options are limited.
If Kupchak wants to fix the team through the draft, he likely won’t have a 2013 first-round pick at his disposal.
"I told the team that the biggest thing is that our season starts Sunday," D'Antoni said after the Lakers lost 116-101 to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday to give them a 15-21 record and extended their losing streak to six.
Well, then I guess you can say the Lakers came out of the gates strong with their win against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday.
If only hitting the reset button on the season could be that easy. Nevertheless, the Lakers are 16-21 and still on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture looking in.
Reset button or not, at least they took care of business and stopped the bleeding.
How it happened: The short answer is that Dwight Howard returned from the right shoulder injury that caused him to miss the past three games and dominated.
Howard finished with 22 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, one block and one steal in 30 minutes of work, going 9-for-11 from the field.
The longer answer is that the Lakers jumped out to a 37-20 lead after the first quarter and continued to pour it on from top to bottom, putting four starters in double digits along with two bench players.
What it means: If it wasn't abundantly clear already this season, the Lakers need more than Kobe Bryant to win on a consistent basis.
Bryant was splendid Sunday (23 points on 9-for-14 shooting and six assists), but the win came down to a total team effort on both offense and defense as the Lakers shared the ball on O and limited the Cavs to just 41.1 percent shooting on D.
Hits: A trio of role players came up big as Antawn Jamison (16 points after scoring 19 against the Thunder), Darius Morris (14 points) and Earl Clark (13 points, nine rebounds and four assists as the "You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll Earl" movement continues).
Misses: The Lakers had 13 turnovers in the first half leading to 14 points for Cleveland. L.A. ended up with 22 turnovers for the game, seven of which belonged to Howard.
Jodie Meeks did not play until garbage time in the fourth quarter, with L.A. already up by 20-plus points. His playing time has been limited recently as he totaled just six minutes against San Antonio and 15 minutes against Oklahoma City coming into Sunday.
Stats of the night: The Lakers shot 13-for-25 from 3 (52.0 percent) as a team, led by Bryant (3-for-4) and Jamison (4-for-5).
L.A. assisted on 80 percent of its made baskets (32 of 40).
What's next: The Lakers host the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, one of the two teams in the league other than the Lakers (along with Brooklyn) to fire their head coach this season. The key will be for L.A. to not overlook the Bucks with the Miami Heat coming to town Thursday. They need every game just as much as the next one at this point. The last time the Lakers had consecutive wins was when they won their fifth in a row Christmas Day against the New York Knicks.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Plus, the Cavs are 2-8 with Irving and 2-9 without him, so practically speaking, the Dukie's talents haven't translated to much winning, anyway. Hopefully, it's the best of both worlds for the Lakers. Here are three things to be mindful of once the ball is jumped.
1. A defensive tone set by Kobe Bryant
Some of the Lakers' defensive issues are caused by elements beyond their control. Say what you will about Pau Gasol's defense, but he's an upgrade over Antawn Jamsion. Say what you will about Steve Nash's defense, but with the two-time MVP quarterbacking the offense, quality shots should increase while turnovers decrease, both of which should cut down on possessions in which the Lakers find themselves defensively in transition. And until the Lakers are at full strength for an extended time, continuity remains elusive. As Dwight Howard and Jodie Meeks noted after the Utah loss, this group is still learning each other, and defensive synchronicity takes time.
However, it also takes effort, particularly when short-handed, and consistent willingness has been in short supply. And to be blunt, chief among those guilty of fluctuating effort has been Kobe Bryant. Darius Soriano at Forum Blue and Gold wrote a terrific breakdown of The Mamba's recent issues, which include ball watching, gambling and poor rotations, all points discussed by Brian or I at various points this or the past few seasons. Kobe has also maintained his habit of reacting to perceived non-calls (in his mind, more or less whenever he shoots) by demonstratively arguing with referees in lieu of getting back. As I noted in Sunday's "Rapid Reaction," Bryant didn't even bother crossing halfcourt on one possession while his teammates defended four-on-five. In the past, Bryant's teams were good enough to stop opponents while he jawed with officials. This season, not so much.
But beyond how Bryant's inconsistent defense creates practical on-court issues, it sets a troubling tone. Howard is the Lakers' defensive anchor, and his credentials on that side of the ball best any teammate's, but Kobe rightfully remains the unquestioned leader whose cues are taken foremost. Thus, when he's not attentive or devoted defensively, it's easier for others to take possessions off. Or, for those actually consistently trying, foster resentment over what they perceive as unmatched effort. Either way, it's a problem.
Obviously, all of the Lakers' defensive problems shouldn't be laid at Kobe's doorstep. He's hardly the only one guilty of sloppiness, and these guys are all professionals obligated to perform as such. However, until Bryant makes a point of investing himself defensively, I believe there's a ceiling to any potential improvement. This is the burden that comes with being a franchise player and a Hall of Fame first-ballot lock. Inevitably, it all starts with you.
And for those who claim Bryant is too taxed by his offensive responsibilities to be a two-way player, I would submit he scale back what he's doing, anyway. The Lakers are 1-9 when he scores 30-plus, 5-3 when he scores between 20-29, and 3-0 when he scores less than 20. Moreover, a look at Kobe's splits reveals that in wins, Bryant's taking 15.9 shots while averaging a shade under seven assists. In losses, his assists drop by nearly half as the shot total climbs by nearly seven. Taking things a step further, to a man, Howard, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace are averaging more shots in wins than losses.
This can't all be coincidence.
History has generally dictated that the more judicious Bryant is in seeking his shot (especially those created off-ball, where he never seems to work anymore), and the more conscientious he is toward creating for others, the better the Lakers perform. During this period down key playmakers in Nash and Gasol, even more so. This issue isn't really about Kobe taking "too many" shots, but the overall dynamic of a game as he tries to do too much. Kobe is not "the reason" for the losses, but I do think an altered approach would result in more wins.
"Day off tomorrow!" he said happily as he left the arena.
After a long week of practice, three exhibition games, plus travel to Fresno and Ontario, it wasn't surprising the Lakers would take Sunday off before starting a week in which they'll practice every day, play three more exhibition games and travel to Anaheim and Las Vegas.
It wasn't surprising unless of course you spent any time around the team during Mike Brown's first season as head coach.
During the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, the Lakers worked 19 straight days from the time training camp started on December 9, finally taking a day off on December 28 after opening the regular season with back-to-back-to-back games.
Things didn't get much easier from there, as Brown earned the nickname "All day, every day" from his players, many of whom chafed at the coach’s hard-driving style.
Shootarounds were often two or three-hour affairs. Brown favored practices on the mornings after a back-to-back. Days off were few and far between.
Brown was new. The systems he needed to install on offense and defense were different than those the Lakers had run under Phil Jackson. After a flurry of deals at the trade deadline, half the team was new too. Brown needed time to teach. His players needed time to learn. Even late in the season, even in their second-round playoff series against Oklahoma City, the Lakers looked like a team still figuring things out.
This season they all have time to breathe again. Training camp is a month long. The season isn't condensed. And while Brown is still pushing the Lakers hard -- he ran them through a three-hour practice before their exhibition game in Ontario on Wednesday -- he seems to be reading and reacting to his mostly-veteran team better than he did a year ago.
"From what I hear, last year they didn't have a day the first 19 or 20 days," Lakers forward Antawn Jamison said. "This is already our second day off.
"He knows this is a team with a lot of guys who have a lot of mileage. There's certain things he's going to tweak what he would normally do. That's what coaching is about -- understanding your personnel."
That three-hour practice on a game day? Brown heard about it from no less than Steve Nash who joked in his post-game comments, "That was a new one for me."
And even Brown admitted that night that his team looked "a little tired" during their loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
So Thursday's practice turned into a 90-minute film session and mental reps. Friday's practice was short as well. Shoot-around on Saturday was 90 minutes.
However, the subject matter of Nash & Howard’s first comedy act after Wednesday’s Los Angeles Lakers practice didn’t seem like laugh-track material.
The NBA announced its new anti-flopping rule on Wednesday, which will penalize players financially after the fact for flopping, based on video review, and, well ... we’ll let Nash & Howard take it away from here:
Howard: “Me and Steve had a play like that today. He flopped and he got away with it, so he should be getting fined.”
(Howard yells over to Nash who is standing in a separate media scrum about 10 feet away.)
Howard: “Steve, you’re fined. I just got off the phone with David Stern.”
Nash: “There’s no video tape in here! … “Sorry, buddy, you’re not going to win this one.”
Howard: “Well, there’s no evidence of the flop, so the NBA rescinded it.”
Not exactly the stuff that will garner the Mark Twain Prize, but perhaps the bigger joke was on the NBA on Wednesday, as no one within the Lakers could seem to agree on whether the rule change would be an effective deterrent against floppers or not.
Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace agreed that flops were embarrassing.
Bryant: “Shameless flopping, that’s a chump move.”
World Peace: “Flopping is very stupid. It’s not even basketball. I don’t know who taught people how to flop.”
Yet, their overall stance on the rule change varied greatly.
Bryant and Pau Gasol both suggested that in lieu of a fine, technical fouls should be doled out during the course of a game to really have an impact on how players conduct themselves, similar to how international basketball is officiated.
For Howard, who led the league in technicals in 2010-11 with 18, Ts certainly weren’t the way to go.
“There shouldn’t be any techs given,” Howard said. “I think once you give guys techs for flopping, it’s just more money, it really hurts the team and it hurts them later on in the year. I’ve experienced getting a lot of technical fouls, and it’s not a good thing.”
World Peace put the onus on the referees to ignore floppers, swallow the whistle and give the advantage to the offensive player to continue unimpeded to the hoop while the defender who flopped is on the floor.
“You can’t blame the players for adjusting to how they’re reffing the game,” World Peace said. “Now you can’t just take somebody’s money for adjusting to how (the referees) adjusted the rules.”
And Lakers coach Mike Brown just didn’t like the rule at all, questioning how it can be properly enforced after the fact.
“I think it’s tough to determine that,” Brown said. “Because watching it on tape, do you really know if a guy is flopping or not? It’s a subjective call.”
Brown, who has benefitted from having a couple notorious floppers on his teams in the past (Anderson Varejao in Cleveland Cavaliers and Derek Fisher in L.A. come to mind), doesn’t feel like the rule will have an impact on this year’s Lakers squad.
“We should never get fined, because we don’t have any floppers on our team,” Brown said. “That’s all I’m worried about.”
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Dwight Howard is apparently willing to stay in L.A. if traded to the Lakers, but that doesn't necessarily make a deal easier to facilitate.
Not all that much, really. Signaling a willingness to stick around long term obviously removes one potential spot of worry from the Lakers' end and allows them to move forward with more confidence, except it wasn't that concern holding up a deal. The Lakers have been willing to pull the trigger even without such assurances from Howard, confident they could keep him through a combination of championship culture, fringe benefits to living in Los Angeles, and the extra money they'd be able to offer by holding his Bird rights. So while it's nice for Howard to point to L.A. as a preferred (or at least acceptable) destination, as the Nets can attest, Dwight doesn't always get what Dwight wants. If Orlando isn't interested in Andrew Bynum as a return for Howard, the Lakers and Magic still need to find another team, maybe more than one, to build a package of young talent, draft picks, and cap space attractive enough for the Magic to accept.
Maybe that team is Cleveland or Houston, or perhaps the Lakers can draw another squad into the talks, but for the time being, at least, the Magic seem willing to be picky. Would the newest incarnation of a trade, sending Bynum to Cleveland and a package of picks and Anderson Varejao to Orlando be enough? Probably not considering what the Magic have already turned down. In the short term, constructing a deal might even get harder, because while the Lakers aren't desperate in their Howard chase -- they would be perfectly willing to enter the season with Bynum as their center -- teams might demand a little more to help facilitate a trade if they believe the pressure is on L.A. in the wake of Howard's new outlook.
The news seems to give Bynum a lot more leverage, as well. He could in theory kill a deal by sending signals he'd be unlikely to re-sign in his new city once the season is over. (Like Howard, Bynum costs himself too much money in an extend-and-trade to sign early with his new team.)
Point being, there's a lot of work left to do.
So while last night's development is certainly significant and definitely increases the likelihood of a successful post-trade relationship between Howard and the Lakers in which he becomes the franchise's post-Kobe Bryant cornerstone, from a practical standpoint it doesn't actually change much. The Lakers are still positioned very well to get Howard and can still afford to be relatively patient, but also still have to construct a trade with which the Magic are, if not comfortable, at least willing to take.
"Jamison will sign a one-year deal for the veteran's minimum with the Lakers ... The 36-year-old forward will bolster the Lakers' bench with scoring and veteran leadership while pursuing the first championship ring in a career largely spent as the best player on bad teams...Brian recently shared some thoughts on Jamison. The two-time All-Star was among the bigger "names" available, but also among the more productive players. His numbers may be trending southward, but last season's 17.2 ppg and 6.3 rebounds is nothing to sneeze at. Even if those figures -- along with his shooting percentages from the field and downtown -- continue to dip, Jamison could become the most useful Lakers reserve since Lamar Odom. And we all remember how much LO (or a credible equivalent) was missed in 2012.
... Jamison had several suitors for his services, including his hometown Charlotte Bobcats, the Brooklyn Nets and the Golden State Warriors, his employer for his first five NBA seasons. For a player who has never advanced past the second round of the playoffs in 14 NBA seasons, the Lakers' chance to contend apparently was too enticing to Jamison."
The Lakers really needed a bench player who can score.
And even if Jamison remains an absolute sieve, here's the thing: Last season, the Lakers subs averaged a league-worst 20.5 ppg (more than a third of which were provided by Matt Barnes, who ain't walking through that door). Unless the bench scoring is drastically improved, the reserves' collective defense is largely irrelevant, because they'd need to hold opposing second units to 10-15 points a night to be effective. That being a completely unrealistic goal, enter Jamison, who nearly outscored the purple and gold reserves himself in 2012. He's often a volume shooter, but outside of his rookie season, he's never averaged less than 14.8 points (which came off the pine). Jamison's proven ability to unite ball and basket removes pressure off the starters and reserves alike. Simply knowing somebody can consistently score should provide the bench with a mental lift, and defenses being forced to key on Jamison should make the unit as a whole more effective. Thus, I'm guessing the points generated by Jamison will offset the inevitable buckets he'll allow in the process.
There are other pluses as well. He's a former Sixth Man of the Year. Yes, that was eight seasons ago, but success in that role requires a specific mentality. Some players adjust well to joining games already in progress. Others struggle to catch a groove. Jamison is familiar with the process, so hopefully this will help him hit the ground running. The half-season spent under Mike Brown in 2010 means he's at least somewhat familiar with the coach's style and system, which could result in a reasonably smooth transition. (Ditto Steve Nash after their 2004 season as Mavericks teammates.) While probably better suited for the four at this age, Jamison can play both forward positions, which provides depth at two spots. Durability isn't an issue, even at his age, which is important for a team lacking the depth to absorb an injury to a key player. He's also long carried a reputation as a good locker room addition, and even veteran teams can never get enough of those players.
And finally, the money involved makes this a pretty sweet deal. More often than not in life, you get what you pay for. On paper, Jamison represents more help in one player than I figured the Lakers could realistically land at that cost. Unless he seriously underachieves, this signing should prove a very useful bargain.