Los Angeles Lakers: Lakers News
While it would be great to get a couple runs in before the real games start, the significance isn't necessarily whether Dwight Howard returns for the team's sixth preseason tilt (at Staples against Sacramento), or the seventh, or the eighth. It's another in a series of maraging steel-strong signals he'll be able to play in the season opener on October 30th, and do so without restrictions in playing time or threats to his long term health.
The writing has been on the wall for a little while now, but keep in mind none of this was guaranteed when the Lakers made the big trade in August.
- I am not a doctor.
- I don't have any real reference point to know what a healthy Dwight Howard looks like when he's practicing.
- I am not a doctor.
All that established, I'll now say this: Between what we saw and what he and his teammates said Tuesday afternoon in El Segundo, Dwight Howard doesn't look like a guy too far off from game play. Certainly in the portion of practice we were allowed to view, Howard was running comfortably, working through 5-on-none offensive possessions as the Lakers install their new Princeton system. Even better, Howard participated fully in the portions of practice we weren't allowed to watch, and felt good after.
"We did a lot of work today. 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 1-on-1," Howard said. "We did a lot of drills. So it was pretty good."
Asked if he was surprised to do this much in his first official practice with the Lakers, Howard was quick to reply. “I didn’t surprise myself. I’ve been working hard to get on the court. I’ll continue to work hard, and we haven’t had any setbacks. I’ll continue to do whatever I can to get back on the court."
Whether by deflecting with the joke about the iPhone app measuring a player's health (material he recycled today) or simply avoiding the question, Howard has tried hard not to give any clues about when he might return. Still, he may have unwittingly flashed a signal when asked if it was possible he'd suit up for any of the team's seven preseason games. "Hopefully," Howard replied. "Hopefully I’ll be back for some preseason games. I think we’re going to need it, for chemistry and all that stuff. But like I said, I’m not going to rush. I’m going to continue to practice. We’ve had some great practices. Today was really good. So I’m happy."
When it was noted optimism about preseason games certainly implies greater optimism about the opener, Howard tried hard to backtrack. "I don’t know the date I will return, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s practice. I’ll see how my body feels when I wake up," he said, pointing out the goal is to be healthy for the entire year, and said goal won't be put at risk for a couple of meaningless games.
Certainly Howard's teammates were pleasantly surprised at his level of participation. "He worked just as much as everybody else, so that was good," Pau Gasol said. "I didn’t expect that to happen today."
This afternoon, the team announced the signing of swingman Chris Douglas-Roberts, originally selected in the second round of the 2008 draft by New Jersey. He played two seasons with the Nets, then one in Milwaukee Bucks before joining Virtus Bologna before the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
The 25-year old University of Memphis product has career averages of 7.7 points and 2.2 rebounds in 20.6 minutes over 155 NBA games, including 53 starts. In 2009-10, Douglas-Roberts set per game career highs in minutes (25.8), points (9.8), and rebounds (3.0).
Unlike some other recent signings -- I'm looking at you, Reeves Nelson, Ronnie Aguilar and Greg Somogyi -- this one can't simply be written off as a move to ensure Mike Brown has enough bodies to run a training camp. CDR has shown the ability to score in bunches at the NBA level. During his year in Milwaukee, an up and down affair to say the least, Douglas-Roberts twice put up 30 points. The season before in Jersey he had another 30-point game, plus a host of 20-plus nights.
“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)
"This is the last season the Lakers will pay a dollar-for-dollar penalty for exceeding the luxury-tax threshold, meaning that their league-high payroll of $99.2 million will cost them an additional $28.9 million in taxes, because that's how far they are above the $70.3-million tax level. The tax will raise the tab for their player costs to $128 million.
Starting next season, the tax burden gets significantly heavier. NBA teams must pay a $1.50-to-$1 ratio for the first $4.99 million they are over the luxury-tax threshold, a $1.75-to-$1 ratio for being $5 million to $9.99 million above the threshold, a $2.50 ratio for $10 million to $14.99 million over, and a $3.25 ratio for $15 million to $19.99 million beyond the threshold.
Teams that are $20 million or more over the tax level accrue additional penalties, increasing by 50 cents per dollar for every $5 million...
The Lakers already have $79.6 million committed to eight players for the 2013-14 season. Assuming they re-sign Howard next summer to a maximum contract that calls for him to make $20.5 million in the first year, that bumps the Lakers payroll over $100 million.
If their final payroll was $105 million, that would put them $32 million over the league's projected tax threshold of $73 million, triggering a tax of $94.5 million and putting the team on the hook for a staggering total of $199.5 million — a 55.9% increase over the total for this season with essentially the same group of core players."
This in addition to the team's revenue sharing bill, adding tens of millions more to the "Outgoing Payments" category on the big Excel budget spreadsheet. While the Lakers certainly are a revenue monster, particularly in light of their multi-billion dollar deal with Time-Warner, there is always an upper limit somewhere. Even the Yankees, the gold standard in franchise largesse, have hit a top end when faced with MLB's more punitive tax policies.
Additionally, things only get pricier for the 2014-15 season when the new CBA's "repeater tax" kicks in. While the only player under contract at that point will be Steve Nash, they'll probably need others (if only to fully take advantage of Nash's passing skills). The assumption is he'll be joined by Howard, but who else?
It'll be fascinating to see how the Lakers handle things in the long view. Does Kobe stay for less? Does he retire? What about Pau Gasol? Do they spend a season resetting the luxury tax clock by getting under the salary cap for a year? The answers are likely dictated by the next two seasons, and reinforce their urgency. Unlike the Heat, who could absorb a couple empty seasons after constructing their SuperTeam! because of the squad's age/financial demographics, the Lakers don't have that luxury.
If they're going to push Dr. Buss past Boston or Kobe past Michael Jordan, they may very well need to bat 1.000 over the next two seasons.
Thursday morning, when rumors of a new Dwight Howard deal began percolating around Twitter, it was believed that the Lakers, in an effort to finally acquire Orlando's superstar center, would send out not just Andrew Bynum but Pau Gasol as well, getting Al Harrington in return. As the day went on, the winds began to change. Maybe Gasol was involved, maybe not. In the end, he stayed put. The Lakers acquired Howard (along with Chris Duhon and Earl Clark) for Bynum, Josh McRoberts, Christian Eyenga and a lottery-protected first-round pick in 2017. (Why 2017? Because it's the first one the Lakers have available for trading after the Steve Nash deal last month.)
Improbable as it might have seemed a few months ago, the Lakers have reinvented themselves as a legitimate top-shelf contender, and Gasol remains in Los Angeles. In the wake of the Howard deal, here are four reasons why that matters so much:
1. Dwight insurance.
Howard may not be ready for the start of the regular season while recovering from back surgery. With Gasol, the Lakers have the ability to accommodate whatever Howard requires to be totally healthy when it really matters. Antawn Jamison slides over to the 4 temporarily, and while the Lakers' bench thins out a little, a starting five of Kobe, Gasol, Nash, Jamison and Metta World Peace is pretty stout. Certainly enough to win some games if Howard needs a little time.
2. Gasol's versatility will be key.
I'm less concerned than some about the sheer age of the team, but without question, the lesser the burden put on Kobe and Nash the better. In many ways, Gasol does out of the frontcourt what Nash does in the backcourt -- greases the wheels and makes life easier for others, both with his passing and how he can force a defense to react. For a team still not rich with shot creators, losing Pau would have had a profoundly negative impact on the Lakers' offense (bad offense, of course, often leading to bad defense). While Gasol still might not find his way into the post as much as he'd like/his talent dictates, the rest of his skill set adds a completely different dimension to what the Lakers can do, and is integral to keeping the team's backcourt stars fresh. Plus, he's a far better defender than anyone likely replacing him, meaning the Lakers don't forfeit a portion of what Howard brings on that side of the ball.
3. The Lakers need givers.
Having "too many" highly talented players on the roster is one of those quasi-problems that every GM in the league would love to tackle, but nonetheless presents challenges. Statistically at least, the four stars will all have to sacrifice for this to work effectively. Having Gasol, who last season demonstrated a willingness to play a role outside his comfort zone without complaint and who plays with an unflinching team-first ethic, only helps the endeavor. Granted, had Gasol been traded we'd be talking about three guys having to share instead of four, but I'd much rather have another talented guy who models the necessary mindset over role players without the skill to merit a larger profile.
4. The Lakers need talent.
And here's the big one.
A core of Howard, Bryant, and Nash ain't bad, but without Gasol, the Lakers would have been a much thinner group with almost zero ability to absorb injury. Jamison likely would have moved into the starting lineup, by definition eliminating his impact off the bench and likely leaving the Lakers short on scoring from their reserves. That's not a roster taking down Oklahoma City and Miami in the playoffs. So while the Lakers would have had their star of the post-Kobe era, they likely would have lowered their title chances had Gasol joined Bynum on the exit ramp and undercut the moves coming before the Howard trade.
"The Orlando Magic have told rival executives that they might not trade Dwight Howard after all, according to league sources.
An executive who has had discussions with the Magic regarding Howard said Orlando only will trade the star center in a deal that is great for the franchise. The executive said this has been Orlando's stance for the past "week or so." Another executive who has talked with Orlando said he thinks the Magic may start the season with Howard and wait until the February trade deadline to move him.
Each executive left the door open for posturing, noting that the Magic may be bluffing in hopes of coaxing better offers out of opposing teams. But the overriding sense is that Howard may not be moved for weeks, if not months."
Translation: Orlando hopes (as you'd expect) to extract as much from this deal as possible, and (at least outwardly and publicly) won't be pushed into what they feel is a less-than-appropriate return on Howard in the service of expediency.
Jordan Hill gives the Lakers athleticism and energy off the bench.
Meanwhile, the Lakers were able to secure Hill's services at a reasonable price and a contract length keeping in line with their long-term plans. Only Steve Nash has a deal guaranteed beyond the 2013-14 season.
When the Lakers brought him over from Houston at the deadline in the Derek Fisher trade (considered by management as Part II of the Ramon Sessions acquisition), Hill was little more than a throw in. His primary value wasn't rebounding or hustle, but a contract coming off the books at the end of the season. Hill spent the first chapters of his Lakers career on the bench, recuperating from an MCL sprain in his right knee looking as if he'd amount to little more than a footnote in the story of Fisher's final day as a Laker. Then in the final home game of the regular season, Brown dusted him off, sent him out for important minutes, and Hill responded with 14 points and 15 boards in a double-OT win over Oklahoma City.
Hill stayed in the rotation during the playoffs, producing some solid games particularly in the first-round series against Denver, where three times he posted double-digit rebounding totals. Overall, he averaged 4.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 12 postseason games.
He's not a perfect player. Hill isn't terribly skilled in the post, nor does he have a lot of range on the jumper. Nobody will confuse him for Gasol as a passer, either. But in those moments Hill plays with Nash he should (like everyone who plays with Nash) thrive, whether running the floor or cutting to the rack for passes or offensive rebounds. Given all the skill the Lakers have, opposing defenses likely won't give him much attention.
One more potential negative, of course, is the matter of Hill's continuing legal issues.
He faces third-degree assault charges stemming from an alleged incident last February involving his ex-girlfriend, while still a member of the Rockets. Hill's attorney Rusty Hardin, whose clientele includes Roger Clemens and Adrian Peterson, is scheduled to appear in a Houston courtroom next week on Hill's behalf.
I won't venture a guess on where that proceeding ends up, but from a basketball standpoint, this is a major victory for the Lakers and another solid day in what has been a very productive offseason. The Lakers have remade their Big Three into a Big Four, and now have solidified the bench with Jamison and Hill's return. They can still use some help in the backcourt, but overall the Lakers have without question thrust themselves back into the championship conversation.
The agent for Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum says it would be "foolish" for any team to trade for his client without first speaking to Bynum to gauge his interest in signing an extension or long-term contract with them.
The Lakers so far have not granted the Cleveland Cavaliers, Houston Rockets, Orlando Magic or any team permission to speak directly with Bynum or his representatives. Bynum has been the subject of trade talks involving the Magic's Dwight Howard.
"I can't imagine any team foolish enough to do the deal without asking permission to speak to Andrew," Bynum's agent David Lee told ESPNLosAngeles.com on Thursday. "That's beyond belief, but strange things happen."
However Lee denied that Bynum had a list of preferred destinations, saying he and Bynum chuckled when they read reports while on vacation in Alaska last week indicating he had already made such decisions ...
... Lee denied that Bynum had a list of teams he would ultimately sign an extension with, saying he and Bynum chuckled when they read reports while on vacation indicating he had preferred destinations.
"I looked at it and he looked it and we both wondered where it came from," Lee said."
I've long felt Bynum would be willing to play in a lot of different NBA cities, so long as he could get the max contract for which he's in line, continue his ascension as a frontline NBA player, and then be competitive as well. Still, "a lot" is not "anywhere." (For example, last year he expressed how "terrible" it is DeMarcus Cousins has to languish in Sacramento. Fair to say Drew isn't likely joining the Kings.) Yesterday, I mentioned the leverage Bynum has in this process, and Lee's comments only reinforce the idea.
If the Lakers line up a trade but Bynum signals he won't stick around in his new town after this season, that deal won't happen.
In other news, as reported by ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher, Howard's agent Dan Fegan -- it's been a big day for agents -- says his client won't sign an extension with whatever team trades acquires him and will explore free agency next summer. On the surface, this might appear to undercut yesterday's report Howard would be willing to re-sign with the Lakers if traded here, but really doesn't. First, Camp Howard gains nothing by making promises now, before Howard is even traded. Second, that he wouldn't extend before his contract expires was a foregone conclusion and is a matter of finances, not city preference.
If Howard signs a "fresh" deal with a new team after the '12-'13 season, it can be worth up to $117 million over five seasons. Extending before that costs him at least two years, and tens of millions in the process.
The Lakers would be willing to acquire Howard with or without assurances he'd stay long term, confident a combination of team culture, the perks of L.A. life, and the extra year/money they'd offer as the holder of his Bird rights would be enough to keep Howard in purple and gold long term. Learning now he'd be willing to stay in theory removes some of the risk, but since Howard wouldn't be signing until after the season, it's hardly something the Lakers could truly bank on.
Really, all that's happening there is a little message control from Fegan.
Devin Ebanks' accepting L.A.'s qualifying offer, for one year at just over $1 million, isn't at all surprising. He simply hasn't played enough to generate significant interest across the league. It's a good thing for the Lakers, too. Beyond needing athleticism, inexpensive talent, and bench depth, they have a great deal of uncertainty at the small forward position. Matt Barnes isn't expected to return, and Metta World Peace is, at least for now, a candidate either to be traded or amnestied. Meaning Ebanks could be in line for a major bump in playing time.
On the other hand, if MWP is back and the Lakers ink someone like Grant Hill, minutes could be tougher to come by.
Regardless, having Ebanks back for another season is a positive development. Had he somehow slipped away, there's a real chance the Lakers would have regretted it, certainly now, and perhaps down the road.
This is a very good thing for the Lakers. How good? Tonight's 5-on-5 panel weighs in. I join ESPNLA's Ramona Shelburne, along with J.A. Adande, Zach Harper, and Brian Windhorst answering the following quintet of questions:
1. What do you make of Nash's decision to join the Lakers?
2. How do you see the Nash-Kobe Bryant partnership playing out?
3. What else should the Lakers do, if anything?
4. Are the Lakers now favored to win the West?
5. Are the Lakers now favored to win a title?
None of this should shock anyone, given Bryant's incredible popularity globally. Any time he sets foot in a foreign land, he might as well be The Beatles. All four of 'em. People, grown-ups and kids alike, flock to him screaming like teenage girls.
Few American athletes have worked harder to make inroads across the globe like Bryant, and clearly it has paid off.
Interestingly, despite routinely disparaging Twitter and other forms of newfangled communication, Kobe is also a big winner in the NBA's inaugural Social Media Awards. Bryant won what appear to be the Best Picture and Best Director of the S.M.A.'s (do they call them that?) -- The #TrendSetter Award for the player receiving the most Twitter mentions this season, and the Thumbs-Up Award, going to the player who had the most likes, or whose Facebook posts received the most likes.
For the record, his Facebook page (which mostly promotes his charitable endeavors) currently has over 13.16 million of them.
He'll make about $16.1 million next year.
The news will surprise nobody, since the Lakers said weeks ago they'd be doing it. Questions about Bynum's attitude, effort, and maturity notwithstanding, even if he had TP'd Mitch Kupchak's office and keyed Dr. Buss' car on the way out of his exit interview, the Lakers wouldn't let Bynum waltz into unrestricted free agency this summer.
Still, he'll remain at the center (ha!) of a healthy portion of Lakers-related intrigue in the offseason. Bynum is the only player on the roster capable of fetching a truly elite player in any trade. Pau Gasol still has value, but nearly 32 years old and owed almost $40 million over the next two seasons, it's hard to see a scenario in which another team sacrifices young, primetime chip. The Dwight Howard whispers likely won't stop, nor the intrigue surrounding Deron Williams. Other big names will likely pop up in rumors, and any linked to the Lakers will by definition be linked Bynum. There are certainly those believing the team might be better primed for a short term run by flipping Bynum for an elite PG (for example) and keeping Gasol around with Kobe Bryant.
Of course, the Lakers can choose to build around Bynum, too, evidenced by the 18.7 points, 11.8 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks he averaged this year. Big numbers, and at 24 still has room to improve. Players like him -- capable of controlling games on both sides of the floor -- don't come around often, particularly on the block. He is a prodigious talent, and already a very productive player. Concerns about Bynum have little to do with his skills.
It'll be pretty fascinating to see how the Lakers proceed. They could trade him, or look to find common ground on a contract extension. Or both. Clarity in one direction or another would likely be welcome, because I can't imagine the Lakers relish the potential circus of Bynum coming into camp next season in a walk year. Still, given their payroll issues under the new CBA, the Lakers might value Bynum next year as both a top tier trade chip and a valuable expiring contract.
Either trait could come in handy.
Bottom line, this is one step in a story that could evolve in any number of directions.
1. What was your gut reaction to the play?
2. How long should the NBA's suspension of World Peace be?
3. Should MWP's track record influence the NBA's decision?
4. How will this impact MWP and the Lakers going forward?
5. What's your take on violent play in the NBA?
Check out our takes, and leave your own in the comments section below.
"Kupchak is one of the Blazers' top targets, sources told ESPN.com, in their quest to land an executive with experience running a franchise's basketball operations.
It remains to be seen, however, whether the Lakers would be willing to grant Portland permission to speak to Kupchak, who has spent more than 25 years in L.A.'s front office. Kupchak took over for Jerry West as the club's lead decision-maker in the basketball department in the summer of 2000 before gradually ceding that status to Jim Buss, who serves as the Lakers' executive vice president of player personnel.
Blazers president Larry Miller could not be immediately reached for comment and Kupchak did not immediately respond to messages left by ESPN.com.
Sources close to the situation told ESPN.com that Kupchak's latest contract with the Lakers is a lucrative multiyear deal. But Jim Buss -- son of longtime Lakers owner Jerry Buss -- is widely perceived to have the deciding vote on basketball matters with the Lakers and is regarded as the driving force not only behind the drafting of Andrew Bynum in 2005 but also L.A.'s decision to hire Mike Brown as Phil Jackson's replacement over Rick Adelman. And that has spawned a growing belief among several of Kupchak's peers that the architect of the Pau Gasol trade in 2008 that ultimately led to two championships would have some interest in listening to outside proposals."
Two points: First, Portland showing interest in Kupchak makes sense (why wouldn't they be?) but doesn't automatically mean Kupchak showing interest in Portland. Second, In a zillion years, I can't imagine the Lakers giving Kupchak permission to interview with a conference rival, so in that regard it feels like a moot point. Still, the report isn't insignificant, because as long as Kupchak's name appears in the rumor mill it lends credence to the idea the Lakers' front office isn't a totally happy place, one where basketball personnel not named Jim Buss don't have the authority to run a department.
Whether that's fair depends on who you ask, but either way is definitely the type of narrative Buss wants to dispel.