Unless Dwight Howard bolts in free agency or Pau Gasol is traded, the primary cast of this season’s underachieving squad is all but certain to remain intact as the Lakers look to preserve cap space for the summer of 2014, when only Steve Nash and Howard would be on the books and the team would be in prime position to reload.
Heading into the 2013-14 season, the Lakers have five players under guaranteed contracts: Kobe Bryant, Gasol, Steve Blake, Jordan Hill and Nash. While Metta World Peace has an early termination option, he’s likely to remain with the team and not opt out. Jodie Meeks has a team option, meaning the Lakers decide his future, but he’ll probably return since his salary is relatively inexpensive ($1.5 million). Chris Duhon has a non-guaranteed deal and can be waived by June 30 to alleviate cap space.
All three of the Lakers’ free agents -- Earl Clark, Antawn Jamison and Howard -- are probable to return, with Howard commanding a max contract and Jamison presumably re-signing for the veteran’s minimum. Clark, however, is the wild card, as his market value will be dictated by the free agency climate.
The Lakers have $66.6 million in salary between their five players under contract, but assuming World Peace and Meeks are retained and Duhon is waived (they’d still have to pay him $1.5 million), that figure will be about $77.4 million. Throw in Howard ($20.5 million in 2013-14), Clark and potentially Jamison, and it’s clear the Lakers will have a salary north of $100 million and little financial flexibility to add any significant pieces.
With only the mini-midlevel exception (a little over $3 million) and the veteran's minimum at their disposal, the Lakers will have to do something they’ve rarely done before: find cheap talent.
As such, the Lakers will look to sign free agents to one-year deals in their price range, which will mainly limit the field to veterans chasing championships or unproven role players looking to catch a break. While none of these additions will single-handedly turn the Lakers into a contender, there’s potential to find a player or two who can shore up weaknesses and deficiencies and help them compete better next season.
Here are some players the Lakers should look for this offseason:
In 2013-14, they can only do more of the same. But 2014-15 is different.
Most Lakers fans are thinking in terms of bouncing back from this season and its disappointments next year. But they should be thinking about the promise of the year-after-next.
The word patience doesn’t usually go over well in LA. and the Lakers will never ask for it publicly, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need it from their fans right now.
Consider what’s inside the free agent store in the summer of 2014. And begin with LeBron James. I don’t know if he would consider Los Angeles, but the Lakers certainly want to be ready in case he does. And all is not lost if the Lakers have that flexibility in 2014 and don’t land the King. Also likely to be available would be Chris Bosh, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger, and Luol Deng. Possibly available would be Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, John Wall, Tony Parker and Zach Randolph.
If the organization were to cave to public pressure and press to make big changes during the current offseason, they would risk compromising next summer. It’s not worth it. Mitch Kupchak is certainly capable. Even with the current financial restrictions the Lakers face, Kupchak has pulled off some impressive deals. He did it last year with Dwight Howard and Steve Nash. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.
Outside of Howard & Nash, the acquisitions the Lakers have given their fans since their last title include names like Theo Ratliff, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy and Jason Kapono. That excites no one, but maybe this year it should. If the Lakers pull off a deal for Francisco Garcia or Marquise Daniels this summer, that could mean that Kuphcak is protecting 2014.
And that’s exciting.
If the Lakers try to make real moves this offseason . . . and I mean REAL moves, geared toward trying to get back in title contention right away, they risk missing out on the potential of 2014.
And with Kobe Bryant coming off a major injury, there’s little reason to sell out this summer. Their best move might be to bring the same gang back and trim a little salary.
Bryant said in his exit interview that he wants the same group back: “If we can gain something positive from this season it's bringing most of the guys back. (We were) 5 games out of the playoffs and all of the sudden have this incredible run. It does something to the character of the group. To allow that to dissipate, it's a headache.”
He seems to think the same group, if healthy, can win it all. But here's the thing: it doesn’t matter if he’s right.
What matters is what comes after.
Mark Willard is the host of "ESPNLA Now" on ESPNLA 710 in Los Angeles.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports
For a franchise that has won 16 titles, any Los Angeles Lakers season that doesn't end with a championship is considered a failure. But rather than just dole out a blanket "F" for the Lakers' disappointing 2012-13 season, we're going to break down each part of the team's production in groups: Our series ends today with the coaching staff and front office. We have already covered the starters this week and the bench backcourt and bench frontcourt last week.
The Lakers had three men roaming the sidelines in 2012-13. Mike Brown coached the team to an 0-8 preseason and 1-4 start to the season and was fired. Bernie Bickerstaff bridged the gap on an interim basis, led the Lakers to a 4-1 record and stayed on the rest of the year as an assistant before being let go. Mike D'Antoni took over and the Lakers went 7-15 in his first 22 games and 28-12 in his final 40 before being swept out of the playoffs.
What will D'Antoni's fate be? On the final day of the regular season, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said D'Antoni had done a "great job" and added, "We don't anticipate any kind of a change."
You could read into the Kupchak's word choice and wonder why he didn't come out and explicitly say, "Mike's job is safe and he is going to coach the Lakers next year," but that's just semantics. Kupchak endorsed D'Antoni again following exit interviews, saying, "To Mike’s credit, he made adjustments. Once we started getting players back and once he started to see what our real strengths were, he was flexible and made adjustments, and that’s when we started to win games and gather momentum.”
Rather than being dropped in and having to swim against the current, as D'Antoni had to do this season, the coach will be able to wade his way into things next season.
Obviously, with a $4 million salary and being handed a roster with as much talent on it as the Lakers have, D'Antoni should have to face some of the music for the Lakers' being ousted from the playoffs so early. However, the deck was stacked against him this season from the ridiculous amount of injuries his team experienced, to not having a training camp, to not being able to pick his own coaching staff. Even Phil Jackson would be challenged to have success under those conditions.
Outlook for 2013-14
D'Antoni should get a fair shake next season to prove that he was the right man for the job. His first order of business should be strengthening his relationship with Dwight Howard, should the big man re-sign with L.A. Right along with that, he'll be charged with shoring up the Lakers' defense that was far too inconsistent, even when L.A. was winning late in the season. And it will be time to figure out what kind of offense he'll be running, combining what he is comfortable coaching with what his players are comfortable executing. The thought is D'Antoni won't be coming off knee replacement surgery and will have more familiar faces on his coaching staff and should be able to display more confidence than he did in Year 1.
C: D'Antoni gets a passing grade for getting L.A. into the playoffs, despite all the injuries it was faced with, but even he would admit that the team should have come together quicker.
For the last several seasons the Lakers operated under a triple axis of power with Kupchak, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and Jerry's son, vice president of player personnel Jim Buss, working together to call the shots.
The elder Buss died in February, making a difficult season on the court an even more troublesome one off of it for the Lakers franchise.
Dr. Buss was part of putting the team together, and was reportedly the most vocal supporter of D'Antoni when Jackson was being considered to be brought back. He would be just as disappointed with the way the season ended up as anyone -- he set the championship standard in L.A. -- so it's fair to dole out some criticism to the front office group in this case.
But you have to take into consideration their intentions.
First off, give the Lakers credit for committing to a $100 million payroll plus $30 million in luxury taxes because they felt like they had a chance to win a title this season. None of the 29 other NBA teams do business like that. Lakers fans should feel fortunate that their team's brain trust consistently goes all-in.
Second, even with the disappointing nature of the season, look at how some of their moves panned out. Howard instead of Andrew Bynum, who didn't play a game for Philadelphia all season? Amazing move. Could you imagine how the season would have played out in L.A. had they kept Bynum or even worse, offered him a max extension, and he had to sit out an entire 82-game slate?
Then there is the point guard they traded for, Steve Nash. Yes, paying close to $30 million over three years for someone who will be 41 years old at the end of the contract is extreme. And yes, L.A. leveraged its future to do so by sending off draft picks to Phoenix to acquire Nash. But look at it this way: even with the age and injuries, Nash was still better than the point guard he replaced in Ramon Sessions (Sessions shot just 40.8 percent overall and 30.8 percent from 3 for Charlotte this season compared to 49.7 and 43.8 for Nash) and even though L.A. maybe could have pushed to make the first round pick it sent to the Suns lottery protected, it didn't end up mattering. L.A. made the playoffs, the pick is not in the lottery. Giving up a mid-first round pick in a mediocre draft to add a Hall of Famer to your lineup is a move you make every day of the week and twice on Sunday.
Where the front office gambled and lost was putting together such an aging, top-heavy roster means that there's hardly any money remaining to fill out a viable bench and, consequently, if some of your main players get injured (or all of their main players, in the Lakers' case) you're going to be severely hampered.
L.A.'s lack of roster depth became even more apparent in the playoffs when San Antonio was subbing in their bench unit and not skipping a beat.
Outlook for 2013-14
This summer should reveal a lot about the front office's vision for the future. Should Howard choose to re-sign, L.A. will begin to build the franchise around him for years to come. If Howard chooses to leave, that's when it really gets interesting. Will the Lakers try to revamp one final time while Kobe Bryant is still under contract to try to get Bryant that coveted sixth ring? Or will the team be disciplined and try to clear cap space for the summer of 2014 and start fresh? Who will be amnestied? Who will be traded? What will happen on draft night? As those questions are answered, Kupchak and Jim Buss will form their reputations.
C: When the Lakers' front office was going for broke last summer, nobody thought that meant going for broken bones. They deserve credit for ambition and creativity, but ultimately the end results did not cut it.
How should Kobe Bryant's epic yet ultimately disappointing season be remembered? For all of the turn-back-the-clock dunks? For passing Wilt Chamberlain to claim the No. 4 spot on the all-time scoring list? For eight 40-point games as a 34-year-old? For back-to-back games in March with 40-plus points and 12 assists, leading to consecutive must-have wins? For the two free throws he hit after tearing his Achilles? For 11 games with 10-plus assists as he converted to "Magic Mamba" and played point guard? For converting to defensive stopper for a stretch and being relied upon to stop the opposing team's primary ball handler?
In a season that was a struggle from start to finish for the Lakers as a team, Bryant managed to flourish as an individual, finishing fifth in the MVP voting despite the Lakers' pedestrian 47-35 record. Throughout the campaign, Bryant reinvented himself time and time again to fit the Lakers' needs at that point in the season.
It is time to appreciate all that Bryant did for the Lakers this past season, because both his future and the team's future are cloudy at the moment.
27.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.4 SPG, .463 FG, .324 3FG: It was a renaissance season for Bryant as he averaged the second-most assists per game of his career and shot his best percentage from the field since 2008-09.
Outlook for 2013-14
Bryant is aiming to be back in the lineup for opening night in late October, which would mean a remarkably quick six-month recovery from Achilles surgery. That quiets the amnesty talk, however, as the team won't be waiving Bryant and the $30.4 million it owes him in the final year of his contract if both parties share the mindset that Bryant will be back next season.
Furthermore, Bryant wants the Lakers to stay together for one more run in what could be his final season.
"It's a tough call to make," Bryant said at his exit interview. "But then again, it is one more year. One more year. That's how I look at it. One more year of this thing.
"Our contracts are ending. ... Pau [Gasol] is up after next year. Hopefully, we get Dwight [Howard] locked up so he's here for a while and the future is kind of set already. So let's take a crack at this thing."
It's the longest of long shots. Bryant would have to come back from an injury that ended the careers of the likes of Charles Barkley, Shaquille O'Neal and Isiah Thomas, and the Lakers would have to incur severe financial penalties to bring back both Gasol and Howard. However, Bryant and his franchise have surprised us before.
A: Sure, Bryant's defense slipped a bit and he was a difficult teammate at times, but all in all it was a brilliant season for the 17-year veteran.
You can say this: Howard's first season in Los Angeles wasn't as bad as his "Dwightmare" of a final season in Orlando. But that's not saying much. Howard arrived in L.A. with championship expectations but proved he still has more growing to do before he can be the linchpin on a title team.
Still, Howard deserves credit for playing from the opening-night tipoff, when his back was less than 100 percent, even though he wasn't expected to be in the lineup until January or February. He also should be recognized for missing only six games with a torn labrum in his right shoulder when he could have shut it down, with it being a contract year for him and all.
Even though Howard and the Lakers flamed out of the playoffs, with his unfortunate ejection punctuating the series sweep in Game 4 against San Antonio, it was Howard who got them to the postseason in the first place with his shutdown defense and improved overall play in the second half of the season.
17.1 PPG, 12.4 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 2.4 BPG, .578 FG, .492 FT: Howard led the league in rebounding and was second in field goal percentage, so even though his scoring was the lowest it's been since his second season in the league and his free throw percentage was sub-50 percent for the second straight season, he still was mighty impactful.
Outlook for 2013-14
Howard has plenty of incentive to re-sign in L.A., as the Lakers can offer a five-year, $118 million deal versus just the four years and $88 million any competitor can put on the table, but the 27-year-old has vowed to take his time with the decision.
"For me, I'm going to do what's best for myself, what's going to make me happy," Howard said at his exit interview. "At the end of the day, I can't control who likes me and who dislikes me, but I have the right to be happy. That's what I'm going to do. That's the biggest thing right there."
Back in the preseason, when Dwight Howard was out and Mike Brown was coaching and Hill was on the court playing with boundless energy on the boards and actually hitting some jump shots on offense, it looked like the fourth-year forward would be the Lakers’ most important player off the bench this season.
A coaching change for L.A. followed by a hip injury for Hill changed all that. Under Mike D’Antoni, Hill received three straight DNP-CDs in December and then missed the rest of the regular season after hurting his left hip against Denver on Jan. 6 and requiring surgery. Hill made a brief return in the playoffs, only missing three months of action instead of six, which is a testament to his dedication to rehabilitation and his body’s healing powers, but he couldn’t sway the Lakers’ fate against the Spurs.
Hill says he might not ever return fully to the player he was before hip surgery, but even 90-95 percent of the activity he’s known for bringing on the court can be a game changer.
“Once you injure something, it’s not going to be back to where it originally came from, but it’s not going to stop me from doing what I do,” Hill said. “I just got to stay on it.”
6.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 0.7 bpg, .497 fg -- Hill’s points and rebounds were career highs and he did it in just 15.8 minutes per game, but his most notable stat was that he played only 29 games in the regular season.
Outlook for 2013-14
Hill’s role will depend on who returns out of the Lakers’ frontcourt group of Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol, Antawn Jamison, Metta World Peace and Earl Clark and also on how, or if, D’Antoni feels comfortable with him in his system. Hill is a young (turns 26 in July), inexpensive (owed $3.5 million next season) talent that will help the Lakers one way or another, either on the court or as an attractive piece in a trade.
B-: Hill performed when given the chance and healthy, but his season, like many of his teammates’, was derailed by an injury.
Jamison certainly didn’t leave a three-year, $11 million offer from Charlotte on the table to come to L.A. and receive six straight DNP-CDs, as he did in late December through early January. The 15-year veteran and the Lakers went through growing pains together, evidently, because around the time Jamison’s role started to become defined, L.A. started winning.
During the Lakers’ 28-12 finish to the regular season, Jamison scored in double digits 25 times. Overall, the Lakers were 15-4 this season when Jamison scored 15-plus points, as his offense added another dimension to the sometimes predictable tandem of Kobe Bryant and Howard. And Jamison did it playing the final five weeks of the season with a torn ligament in his right wrist that required surgery this week.
All in all, Jamison’s contributions to the team were a bargain for the $1.4 million veteran’s minimum he signed for.
9.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, .464 fg, .361 3fg, 21.5 mpg -- It was the first time since Jamison’s rookie season that he scored less than 10 points per game, but it was also the first time since he was a rook that he played less than 30 minutes per game, explaining the drop in production.
Outlook for 2013-14
Jamison is only 42 points shy of becoming just the 39th player in league history to score 20,000 points. That fact alone will be motivation for Jamison, who turns 37 in June, to want to lace them up again next season. It just probably won’t be in Los Angeles. Jamison butted heads with D’Antoni, even getting into an on-court shouting match with the coach while checking into a game in Houston, and the Lakers will sacrifice the skills of a guy like Jamison to find a younger, more athletic replacement for their bench.
B: Jamison played a role capably and often excelled at it.
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Like many of his teammates, Jordan Hill showed stretches of defensive ability, but was somewhat inconsistent.
Despite the Los Angeles Lakers’ troubled offense this season -- and the failed gimmicks former head coach Mike Brown and current head coach Mike D’Antoni tried to implement -- it was never their main issue. The Lakers finished eighth in offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) and were comfortably in the top 10 for most of the season.
The other end of the floor, however, is where they struggled. The Lakers finished 18th in defensive rating, allowing 103.6 points per 100 possessions.
More than anything, the Lakers were never able to form a defensive identity because of their vast assortment of injuries, including 183 games missed by key rotation players. It remains to be seen if a healthy roster could have jelled given some of their limitations, but they were never given a chance.
The constant turnover, combined with the collective age and ill-fitting parts, meant few lineups developed defensive chemistry, as evident by the Lakers' ever-changing defensive schemes. No group approached pick-and-roll or weakside defense similarly, and the results were often ugly.
Elite defenses are often characterized as “playing on a string,” a phrase among NBA personnel that implies defensive cohesion and synergistic movement. The Lakers were the opposite of that. They often broke down out of miscommunication, leading to finger pointing and, ultimately, an early playoff exit.
The misfit pieces
Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace are far and away L.A.’s two best defenders, but both dealt with issues -- Howard’s shoulder and back injuries; World Peace’s waning lateral quickness -- that sometimes prevented them from having the profound impact the Lakers needed.
Still, with Howard on the floor, the Lakers allowed just 101.7 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 10th best in the league. When Howard was on the bench that figure dropped to 107.8 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 28th best.
Besides those two players, the rest of the Lakers' defenders are rather subpar, especially at the point guard position, where Steve Nash and Steve Blake will never be confused for defensive stoppers. The slow-footed point guards allowed opposing point guards to register an 18.0 player efficiency rating (PER), fourth worst in the league.
Kobe Bryant, shouldering a heavy offensive burden, often took plays off defensively, choosing to pick his spots and roam like a free safety. When engaged -- like Jan. 15 against Brandon Jennings and the Milwaukee Bucks -- he played great on-ball defense, but that was the exception more than the norm.
Pau Gasol took a step back defensively, as well, struggling to properly defend pick-and-rolls and close out on stretch big men. He still provided length and size around the rim -- along with his high basketball IQ -- but was clearly hobbled and often late in his help coverage.
Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks and Jordan Hill each showed stretches of defensive ability, but were all somewhat inconsistent. Antawn Jamison has notably been a poor defender throughout his career, and Chris Duhon and Darius Morris fell out of the rotation in the second half of the season.
No defensive structure
Since the start of the D’Antoni era, the Lakers have yet to employ a cohesive defensive system, and the results showed, as they struggled against offenses that moved the ball well, had a lot of off-ball action and forced them to make multiple rotations.
In the four starts Blake made after Kobe Bryant went out with season-ending Achilles surgery, Blake was the Lakers’ most consistent offensive threat on the floor. Blake averaged 18.8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.5 steals in those four games -- two wins to end the regular season and get L.A. into the playoffs and two losses to start off the postseason against San Antonio before suffering a season-ending hamstring injury of his own.
The pulled hamstring was a particularly unfortunate way for Blake to go out. The Lakers' injury-plagued season was perhaps cruelest for Blake, as he also missed 27 games during the regular season with a groin and abdomen injury and had the bizarre incident when he stepped on a spike strip in a beach parking lot that caused him to miss a chunk of training camp.
“As everybody knows, it was a tough year injury-wise, not only for myself but for the entire team,” Blake said after his exit interview. “Whenever we took a couple steps forward, there was an injury there to make us take steps back. But, I was pleased with the way I played throughout the year even though I was hurt.”
7.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 3.8 rpg, 26.1 mpg, .422 fg, .421 3fg -- all of these averages were Blake’s best in his three seasons with L.A.
Outlook for 2013-14
Blake is one of four players on the team -- along with Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace -- who is eligible to be waived via the Lakers’ one-time amnesty clause this summer. At one time, it seemed feasible for L.A. to use it on Blake. Not anymore. Blake’s $4 million deal for the last year of his contract looks like a bargain for next season, especially because the Lakers can’t rely on the 39-year-old Steve Nash to stay healthy all season.
B: Blake was a very important piece for L.A. this season and stepped up when he was needed. His grade would have been better if he hadn’t missed so many games because of injury.
The Lakers had very limited resources available to them last summer to attract free agents and used up half ($1.5 million) of their mini mid-level exception on Meeks. The 6-4 shooting guard had a rocky season in L.A., but eventually settled in along with Blake and Antawn Jamison as one third of the Lakers’ core group off the bench as they made their playoff push.
He certainly had his moments -- a baseline dunk in overtime to seal a win against Houston in the regular season finale, 14 points in a must-have road win in Sacramento late in the season, 12 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter during an incredible comeback in New Orleans, and 21 points on 7-for-8 shooting from deep against Denver -- but he was largely inconsistent. After staying healthy all season, he too fell victim to the injury bug, missing the Lakers’ final three playoff games with a sprained left ankle.
7.9 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.9 apg, .387 fg, .357 3fg -- Meeks’ numbers took a dip across the board from his previous season with the Philadelphia 76ers.
Outlook for 2013-14
The Lakers have a team option for Meeks at $1.55 million that Meeks’ camp expects to be exercised. If he can improve his accuracy and consistency, he could be a steal. Plus, with Bryant’s status up in the air for the start of the season as he recovers from his Achilles, Meeks could be leaned on more in the early going. “My shooting was up and down this season for whatever reason. I’ll be ready to come back next year and (get better); this system fits me perfectly and (Mike D’Antoni) has a lot of confidence in me,” Meeks said at after his exit interview.
C: Meeks was an X-factor at times, but hard to trust night-in and night-out.
It’s rare in the NBA for a team to have a player considered a home-grown talent, but Morris fits that description as he matriculated at Winward High School in L.A. and then was plucked in the second round out of Michigan to learn at the feet of Bryant the last two seasons. “He gave me a lot of insight about stuff on and off the court,” Morris said of Bryant. “He became a mentor to me, kept me encouraged, and I really appreciate that.”
If Morris’ rookie year was about improving his body, as he added 15 pounds of muscle, his sophomore season was about getting that body to perform in games. Morris made incremental improvements, most notably on defense, but he still has a lot to learn. He finished off the season strong, however, averaging 14 points and 4 assists in the Lakers’ final three playoff games after Bryant, Nash, Blake and Meeks went out.
4 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.6 apg, .388 fg, .364 3fg -- Morris’ points, rebounds and assists all went up from his rookie year, but his shooting percentages slid significantly.
Outlook for 2013-14
Morris could be brought back on a minimum deal. The Lakers like his attitude and work ethic and he likely hasn’t done enough in his two seasons in L.A. to generate much interest around the league. Bryant said the Lakers’ top needs heading into next season were “length, speed and athleticism” and Morris fits two out of three, which isn’t a bad place to start.
C -: After starting 17 games early on in the season, D’Antoni didn’t trust Morris’ decision-making skills enough to play him so much that when L.A. was plagued with injuries, the coach limited his rotation to seven players at times rather than give Morris another shot.
In one of the few feel-good parts of the Lakers’ nightmarish season, Goudelock -- a 2011 second round draft pick by the Lakers and a 2012 training camp cut -- was called up from the D-League shortly before the playoffs, after Bryant was injured. His time back with the team was short as the Lakers’ season was over two weeks after he was signed, but Goudelock reminded everybody why he deserves a chance back in the NBA, averaging 17 points in two starts in Games 3 and 4 against San Antonio.
“I definitely think I’ve come a long way,” Goudelock said at his exit interview. “From getting cut [by the Lakers in training camp], going to the D-League for the whole season, winning the MVP and then coming back and getting significant minutes [in the playoffs] . . . It was crazy.”
12 ppg, 1.7 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.7 spg, .444 fg, .200 3fg -- Goudelock’s playoff stats in three games played in the first round.
Outlook for 2013-14
Goudelock proved that he can not only dominate the D-League, he can perform in the NBA when the playoffs pressure cooker is on. There are still deficiencies to his game, most notably his lack of size on defense, that won’t make it an automatic for him to latch back onto an NBA roster, but his shooting will give him a chance. Whether that chance will be with the Lakers will be worked out after L.A. goes through its other major offseason moves.
A: Goudelock couldn’t have reasonably done any more with the opportunity he was given. He maximized it.
Duhon was not targeted by L.A., but rather came to the Lakers as part of the Dwight Howard deal to make the numbers work. Ten games into the season, Duhon found himself with an ally in new coach Mike D’Antoni, who coached him back when they were both with the New York Knicks. Injuries to Nash and Blake, coupled with D’Antoni’s trust, gave Duhon an opportunity to start nine games and he filled in capably -- 6.9 points, 5.4 assists and a 42.1 percent mark on his 3-pointers. The nine-year veteran was a back-up and solid bench presence the rest of the season, but seldom used once D’Antoni settled on a shortened rotation when the Lakers were making a late-season push for the playoffs.
2.9 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, .382 fg, .363 3fg -- Not impressive stats, but his 3.3 assists to turnover ratio was respectable for a point guard.
Outlook for 2013-14
Duhon’s $3.8 million salary for next season can be bought out by the Lakers by June 30 for approximately $1.5 million. L.A will go that route and Duhon will not be back with the team next season. He mentioned in his exit interview that he is interested in getting into coaching.
C: Duhon remained a professional in a topsy-turvy season for the Lakers.
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Pau Gasol left his exit meeting with general manager Mitch Kupchak on Tuesday with an increased sense that he may have played his last game with the Lakers.
“The future is uncertain,” Gasol said. “There’s no doubt about it. It’s a possibility that I could be gone and there’s a possibility that I could stay. I don’t know the exact percentages of it. But I’m prepared for either way.
“I understand the challenges that the franchise is facing, the decisions that they have to make in order to keep the team in the direction that they want to -- looking at the present and the future and also understanding the business side of it. So, it’s a lot going on. I wish things were a little simpler, but they’re not. So we’ll see.”
If the Lakers keep next season's payroll at about $100 million, as it was in 2012-13, the team would owe about $85 million in additional luxury-tax penalties because of the more punitive stipulations in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.
Could Gasol and the rest of the Lakers' major pieces all be back next season? Kupchak said that possibility is “in play.”
“We haven’t ruled anything out as of now,” he said.
Yet Kupchak used similar language to admit that the opposite is also a possibility: "When you lose, everybody is in play ... whether it's Pau or anybody else, we'll look for ways to improve the team."
Gasol's contract has one year remaining at $19.3 million. From a financial perspective, the assumption was that the Lakers would try to trade his expiring deal or opt to use their one-time amnesty provision on the 12-year veteran.
“(Kupchak) couldn’t really tell me, ‘Hey, thanks for everything you’ve done, it’s more likely you’re going to be gone,’ or no, ‘Don’t worry about it, you’re going to stay here. We’re going to make it happen,’” Gasol said. “Which is to be expected. I appreciate Mitch’s honesty and everything that he’s done and the franchise has done for the last two years to keep me here and have me on the team.”
The two-year time frame Gasol was referring to started with his nearly being traded and has included a second-round exit from the playoffs last season, coach Mike Brown's being fired early this season, and a first-round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs last week.
Gasol, who turns 33 in July, said his experience with the Lakers changed significantly after the three-way trade between the Lakers, Houston Rockets and New Orleans Hornets was vetoed by NBA commissioner David Stern on the eve of the first day of training camp for the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season.
The Lakers conducted exit interviews for nine of their 15 players on Monday, with the rest to come on Tuesday.
Here's a recap of what each player had to say to the media, in chronological order, after meeting with Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak on Monday.
Synopsis: Duhon finished with 11 points and seven assists, playing a whopping (and game-high) 43 minutes in Game 4 against San Antonio because of how depleted the Lakers' roster was after not receiving consistent playing time since January.
Lakers future: Duhon is set to make $3.9 million next season if L.A. keeps him around. The more likely scenario is the Lakers buy him out for the $1.5 million that's partially guaranteed in his contract and go their separate ways. "We’re going to talk," Duhon said. "I’ll be here all summer. I’ll be engaged. I have until June 30 for them to pick up my option. We talked about it, and that’s what it is. It’s talk. I’ll be here, we’ll be in contact and whatever decision they make, we’re going to make that decision and go from there."
On Dwight Howard: "I think he’s learned from Orlando, like I’ve always told him, ‘Do what’s best for you.’ Do what’s best for you and your family, whatever makes you happy and keep that to yourself. He’s always been a people-pleaser, always trying to go out into the media and get the media on his side, [but] for him, it’s about him and his family. What makes Dwight happy, that’s what he needs to do. Whatever makes Dwight happy. He can be happy here in L.A. Why not? This is a great city, a great town. Obviously, it’s an organization with a great tradition and pride, and he should be one of those guys that eventually will get a statue here."
Best quote: On why the Lakers had trouble establishing an identity -- "Injuries, two coaches in one year, not a training camp, injuries, injuries again, another injury. I mean, I think probably every member on this team has been injured and missed a game this year. I've never experienced that in my nine years in this league. I think we had five guys have major surgeries. This has been a wacky year."
METTA WORLD PEACE
Synopsis: World Peace limped into the practice facility after missing the second half of Game 3 and all of Game 4 after getting a cyst in his left leg drained. He was generally in good spirits, even wearing a Cookie Monster T-Shirt in an ode to a bizarre off-court incident that happened back in February.
Lakers future: World Peace has a player option for $7.7 million. If he exercises it, he could become an easy target for the Lakers' amnesty clause. "You never know, anything could happen," World Peace said. He added he "definitely" wants to be a Laker in 2013-14. "I'm very competitive, so when you lose with a team, you want to win with that team," he said. "The only thing on my mind is winning, and winning here."
On Dwight Howard: "It took me a bit to get used to his personality, but once I was around him a lot -- we sat together on the plane -– once I got the chance to know him a little bit, it was an easy adjustment. He played hard. His personality was just different than everybody was used to.
"He’s just different. He’s always happy for the most part. In games, he’s really serious; not all the time, sometimes. But when it’s like crunch time, he’s very serious. Pregame, the locker room is very at ease. So you got to get used to a franchise player like that."
Injury outlook: World Peace returned to the lineup just 12 days after left knee surgery, but still needs the summer to get back to 100 percent. "As of right now, I'll just take six weeks and heal up," World Peace said, citing the original time frame of play he was expected to miss.
Best quote: On Washington Wizards center Jason Collins' decision to announce that he is gay -- "You should be free to act and do what you want to do as long as it's not violent, no matter what it is. I came here in a Cookie Monster shirt because I wanted to. And I was going to wear the pants, but I thought you guys were going to judge me. And I was going to wear the hat too, but I figured you guys were going to judge me and I didn't want Mitch to judge me. So that's why I didn't wear the hat and the pants, but I should have wore it. You should be free to do and act how you want to act.
"When you can feel comfortable with yourself, not only does it make you a better person, it's unnecessary stress. As we all know, if you're holding things in it can create unnecessary stress to your heart, to your mind and when you can release it and talk about it, you feel better. That's how it should be with anything. Not just coming out if you're gay or if you have a mental issue, or whatever other issue or stigma you have out there, you feel better."
Synopsis: The season was a nightmare for Nash, bookended by a broken leg and a bothersome hip and hamstring, but he still appreciated the Lakers life after being on the other side for so long as a rival. "It was an amazing experience to play for this franchise and for this fan base," Nash said. "I think that's the one thing that burns me right now, that it didn't go the way I envisioned. I really wanted to have a huge impact on the team and really make this an incredible year and experience for the fans, players and everybody involved. So, great experience for me, I'm really thrilled to be a part of the franchise and just hope that next year we can repay everybody for their loyalty and their enthusiasm."
Lakers future: Nash has two years and $19 million remaining on his contract with the Lakers. He's set to play seasons Nos. 18 and 19 of his career in L.A.
Injury outlook: Nash missed the final two games of the playoffs with a right hip injury and nerve damage in his right hamstring, which required four epidural injections and a cortisone shot in the last two weeks. But the 39-year-old is already on the mend. "I'm not going to take any time off," Nash said. "I'm going to start rehabbing right away and try to get right." Nash estimated it would take a month to get back to 100 percent and added, "I don't have any concern and I haven't gotten wind from anyone on the medical staff that there's concern for long-term issues or for next season to be in jeopardy. But I still have a little bit of work to do to get right."
Best quote: On the team camaraderie, or lack thereof -- "In the big picture, I think relationships were formed, relationships were kept and developed that were really positive. I think that's the only reason we didn't sputter out of control and find ourselves out of the playoffs."
More to come. For more on the day, read this story featuring World Peace and Nash's thoughts on Howard.
As San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich told reporters after San Antonio’s 103-82 victory, “It wasn’t a fair fight.” And he’s right. It’s not as if the Lakers weren’t trying out there; it’s that even when they did try, it didn’t make a difference.
The harsh reality is that a banged-up Spurs team is still eons better than the crop of players the Lakers had available to them in the 2013 playoffs, and the results -- four straight double-digit losses -- showed as much.
No matter how well Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol played, or how much help they received from the severely depleted supporting cast, the Lakers never stood a chance against the Spurs. Once Kobe Bryant went down, the Lakers’ hopes of advancing deep in the playoffs were essentially over.
The only takeaway from this series, and the final six games, is the potential blueprint for how the Lakers can play without Bryant next season, regardless of his health. The Lakers have a size advantage over virtually every opponent they face, and should be able to leverage their strength more effectively.
At about the midway point of the first quarter, Earl Clark made an entry pass into Gasol, who was battling Matt Bonner for position near the right block. As Clark cut to the opposite side of the floor, Gasol jab-stepped, observed the defense, and then starting backing down Bonner toward the paint.
A quick hedge by Kawhi Leonard didn’t faze Gasol, and neither did a late double-team attempt by Tony Parker, who left Chris Duhon wide open at the top of the key. Once he got into the middle of lane, Gasol lofted up a gentle left-handed hook shot that barely grazed the front rim and dropped in.
The Lakers’ spacing on the possession was almost perfect: Darius Morris, Duhon and Clark were spread out evenly and spotting up along the 3-point line, while Howard stayed ready on the weak side to either cut or attack the offensive glass.
Without Bryant in their final six games, the Lakers became more of an inside-out team, often posting up either Howard or Gasol and then stationing the other four players on the weak side and around the 3-point arc to provide ample spacing.
That way, if teams choose to double down low or aggressively help, the Lakers would counter with a barrage of open 3-pointers.
In an effort to preserve their sacred spacing, head coach Mike D’Antoni tried staggering Gasol and Howard’s minutes, so one would be accompanied by floor-spacer Antawn Jamison, although that caused defensive issues.
Over the course of the season, post-ups accounted for only 14.4 percent of the Lakers’ plays. Since Bryant went down, however, post-ups accounted for at least 16.2 percent of the Lakers’ offense in each game, and topped 18 percent in five of the six contests.
In Game 4, Gasol scored on seven of his 10 post-up opportunities. For the game, the Lakers scored 1.05 points per play (PPP), which would best the Miami Heat’s league-leading .92 PPP on post-ups over a full season.
The prevailing concern in retrospect is that D’Antoni played Bryant too many minutes down the stretch of the season, thus increasing the potential for an injury, because he didn’t trust the rest of the team to remain competitive without him on the floor.
Come next season, though, that shouldn’t be as much of an issue, assuming the roster is reasonably healthy and somewhat bolstered through free agency.
The Lakers should be able to go at least 10- to 12-minute stretches throughout a game without Bryant and muster enough offense through post-ups for their All-Star big men and open 3-point looks for their shooters.
There’s no telling what the offseason holds for the franchise -- including which players and coaches will remain – but it’s clear that when Bryant finally returns at some point next season, the new incarnation of the Lakers will have formed an identity and playing style all their own.
Stats used in this post are from NBA.com/Stats and MySynergySports.com.
The moments are far too many to number at this point and in the aftermath of the season just blend together like a marathon showing of “Jersey Shore.”
But perhaps the most fascinating moment came Sunday night as Dwight Howard was inexcusably ejected from a game in which he was one of only two players from the Lakers’ regular rotation able to walk.
Howard already had received a technical in the first half for complaining about a call, then picked up a second technical a little less than two minutes into the third quarter with the Lakers down 55-34. Many Lakers fans hadn’t even made it back to their seats from halftime as Howard walked back to the locker room.
Less than two minutes after Howard's ejection, Kobe Bryant, who was watching the game from the Lakers’ locker room, was making his way to the Lakers’ bench on crutches.
He didn’t want to be a distraction to the team but wanted to be as close to them as possible. He was at the Lakers’ facility for practices and shootarounds, but disappeared before the media were allowed in. He also was in the locker room and training room at Staples Center before and after home games, but was nowhere to be found when the doors opened for the media.
His reaction in the locker room after Dwight’s ejection was no doubt priceless and deserved a string of hashtag-laced tweets, had he not sworn off Twitter posts during games after it became a distraction in the aftermath of Game 1 in San Antonio.
Howard said by the time he got to the locker room, Bryant wasn’t there and he had no idea he had walked out onto the court. Maybe Bryant wanted to be as far away from Howard as possible after his boneheaded decisions and lackluster performance (seven points, five turnovers and eight rebounds) and the furthest he could get without leaving was actually limping toward the bench.
Maybe Bryant just wanted to give the Lakers, down 58-37 with 8:47 left in the third quarter, some inspiration or the fans something to cheer about. But aside from a momentary standing ovation, a short “M-V-P!” chant and an even shorter 7-2 Lakers’ run, that was about it.
Bryant was like a hobbled coach sitting behind the bench. He would get up and lean on his crutches as he yelled instructions at Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock, then whispered in their ears when they sat down in front of him.
“He’s always coaching,” Goudelock said. “I’m like a dog when I’m listening to him talk. My ears stand straight up. You can’t teach the things he’s been through.
“I think he thought we felt a little push, a little motivation, a little something to get the crowd into it. I think he did that, but it’s just tough.”
Bryant wouldn’t talk after the game and isn’t scheduled to address the media after exit interviews on Monday and Tuesday. As he sat in the back of a golf cart and was asked about Howard being ejected, Bryant laughed as the cart sped away while reporters chased after him.
Howard probably wished he were able to speed away in the back of a cart as he was once again noncommittal about his future with the Lakers and unaware that Bryant walked out onto the court almost as soon as Howard left the court.
“I haven’t seen him,” Howard said. “I didn’t see him. I didn’t even know he went out there.”
Either Howard wasn’t being totally honest or he simply checked out of the game as soon as he was ejected and didn’t care what his team did in the second half and was immune to why the crowd was cheering moments after he left. Either way, it wasn’t a good look.
The beginning of the Lakers’ offseason will begin the relentless debate about Howard and Bryant’s relationship, which Howard hates talking about almost as much as his plans for next season.
"We've had a pretty good relationship before I got here and I think a lot of people twisted a lot of things,” Howard said. “The fake fights that people said we supposedly had, we maintained a pretty good relationship and we'll continue to be here for him throughout a process that he has to go through recovering from his Achilles."
There had been a feeling that perhaps Bryant’s injury may have brought the two players together. Howard visited Bryant in the locker room and at his house, and he made sure other players visited him, as well.
"I don't think that we were that far apart [before Bryant's injury],” Howard said. “We're not best friends, but like I said, I want to be there for him. Having an injury is a tough thing to deal with alone, and I just want to be there for him as a brother before anything.”
Whether Howard will be there for him next season as a teammate, as well, or whether the two crossed paths at Staples Center for the last time as Lakers on Sunday won’t be known anytime soon. That decision will just be the next episode in what has become Hollywood’s most interesting reality show.
LOS ANGELES -- In a season that was defined by struggle from the very start -- an 0-8 exhibition record and a coaching dismissal after just five games -- maybe a four-game sweep was actually a merciful way for it to end.
Did anybody really want this Los Angeles Lakers train wreck to continue?
If the injuries to Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks weren't enough to deal with over the last couple of weeks, the insult of back-to-back home losses by 20-plus points to a rival like San Antonio surely made everybody involved -- players, coaches, fans -- ready for it to end.
L.A. was overmatched as a No. 7 seed against the No. 2 Spurs to begin with, but nobody could have predicted it being this lopsided.
How it happened: Tony Parker (23 points) was brilliant again and San Antonio was relentless, leading by six after the first, 18 at halftime, 20 after three and 21 in the end.
Meanwhile, the Lakers' twin towers in Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, whom they planned on going through all series, combined for just 23 points.
What it means: The Lakers' much ballyhooed 2012-13 campaign that started with so much promise is officially a disappointment. Not as much as the disaster it looked to be before they finished the season with a 28-12 run, but still a massive disappointment.
Hits: Andrew Goudelock scored 34 points in playoff starts in Games 3 and 4 after being in the D-League two weeks ago.
The Lakers fans showed a lot of class, giving Gasol a standing ovation when he checked out with 3:08 remaining, knowing that it could be his last appearance in purple and gold.
Misses: The Lakers handed out white towels to fans entering Staples Center for Game 4. Apparently nobody thought of all the "waving the white flag" or "throw in the towel" jokes that would ensue.
One of the lowest points of the Lakers' regular season was Howard getting ejected in Toronto and L.A. losing a lackluster Sunday afternoon game to fall to 17-23 on the season. Howard managed to trump it Sunday, getting sent to the showers just more than two minutes in to the second half after picking up his second technical foul.
Stat of the game: The Lakers had 21 turnovers, leading to 24 points for the Spurs. San Antonio had just eight, leading to four points for L.A.
Up next: An offseason full of question marks. Forgive me for copying and pasting the list I used here from Game 3, but they all still apply: Is Mike D'Antoni truly safe, or will those "We want Phil!" chants we heard in Games 3 and 4 actually come to fruition? Who gets waived via the amnesty clause -- Kobe? Gasol? Blake? World Peace? Anybody? Will Dwight Howard re-sign? Will Nash and Bryant be able to come back healthy for their 18th seasons? Does Gasol get traded if he's not amnestied?
The question is: Should it be?
The Lakers have already made their intentions clear. They want Howard back.
"Dwight is our future," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said back in February to debunk all the trade rumors that were swirling.
"It's hard to get talent in this league, and to have a talent like Dwight Howard, we have no intention of trading Dwight Howard," Kupchak continued. "He belongs to have his name on the wall [as a retired uniform] and a statue in front of Staples [Center] at some point in time."
They certainly won't be erecting a statue based on Howard's 2012-13 alone. In a season that started with Howard coming off of spinal surgery -- later admitting that his back could have feasibly kept him out of the lineup until March -- and included Howard missing six games because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Howard never lived up to the "Superman" reputation that preceded his arrival here.
The nine-year veteran made his seventh All-Star team, but his 17.1 points per game were his lowest average since his second season in the league, his 12.4 rebounds were his lowest since his third season, and his 49.2 percent mark from the foul line represented the second straight season he's shot less than 50 percent from the charity stripe. Not to mention the former three-time Defensive Player of the Year winner finished tied for 14th in the voting for the award this season.
With Kobe Bryant going down with a season-ending Achilles tear, Howard's numbers have increased to 20.6 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.0 blocks on 55.7 percent shooting from the floor in five games as the No. 1 option with Bryant gone. But the Lakers have gone just 2-3, including 0-3 to open up their first round series against the San Antonio Spurs.
All year long, when asked about his future plans after this season, Howard's go-to response was that he was only concentrating on winning a championship in L.A. in 2013.
Barring the Lakers becoming the first team in NBA history to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win their series against the Spurs, and then somehow going on to win three more series without Bryant on the court, Howard's championship goal will go unfulfilled this season.
So, what will he decide to do?
While the Lakers have been forthright with their plan to build around Howard, the 27-year-old has been evasive as to whether he sees his future including L.A.
When asked about what the offseason could bring following Saturday's practice, Howard said, "I haven't thought about it."
Even if Howard wasn't telling the truth, he can't act on any decision he would make for more than two months; he becomes a free agent July 1.
At that point, Howard can sign a five-year, $118 million contract to stay with the Lakers, or a four-year, $87.6 million deal with another team.
While the extra $31 million in guaranteed money might not seem like as big a deal for a player who is on a career track to warrant yet another max contract when his next one is up, Howard learned that he isn't as indestructible as he thought this season, after only missing seven games total in his first seven seasons in Orlando.
According to several sources familiar with Howard's thinking, Howard will likely explore free agency before reaching his final decision. In today's media landscape, that means there will be a circus in July while Howard hears pitches from the likes of the Dallas Mavericks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Even if it is merely Howard doing his due diligence before making a major life decision, the frenzy it is sure to create will give Howard a taste of the backlash he could face if he ultimately decides to uproot from L.A. just one year removed from the "Dwightmare" that surrounded his exit from Orlando.
As bad as Howard's first season in Los Angeles went -- from a coaching change, to myriad injuries, to the death of the Lakers' legendary owner Dr. Jerry Buss, a media spotlight that criticized him for everything from his free throws to lack of effort to the headband and arm sleeve he wore -- L.A. is still set up to be a place for his career to blossom.
The things that could give him pause, mainly his relationship with Bryant and his belief in Mike D'Antoni, can be worked on, and if Howard indeed signs a five-year deal, odds are he'll outlast both of those guys in L.A. anyway.
While Howard has been tight-lipped when it comes to answers about his future plans all season long, maybe his true intention has been on his Twitter profile all this time.
Howard's avatar shows him in a gold Lakers uniform staring down at a basketball that he holds in both of his big hands. Behind him hang the uniforms of legendary Lakers big men: George Mikan's No. 99, Wilt Chamberlain's No. 13, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's No. 33 and Shaquille O'Neal's No. 34.
His Twitter bio is three words: "After the ring!"
We'll find out sometime in the coming months after the season whether he'll continue to seek that ring with the Lakers, or if he'll have to change that avatar of his.
But as has been the case for most of the season, the Lakers' dream became a nightmare: Due to a rash of injuries to their rotational guards, Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock were forced to start a playoff game against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday night.
Except the duo's play wasn’t the issue in Game 3. The two combined for 44 points on 17-of-32 shooting, which is better than some of the nights Bryant and Nash have had as a duo.
The issue was the defensive end of the floor, as the Lakers allowed the Spurs to score 120 points on 61.2 percent shooting. The Spurs had more turnovers (14 to 13) and less made free throws (11 to 15), yet they still won by 31 points, making for the worst home loss in Lakers playoff history.
While the Lakers certainly had every excuse to lose considering the personnel they were playing, it was disconcerting to see how little effort they put into their defensive execution, especially in their transition defense.
In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Pau Gasol threw up a wild shot out of a double-team on the left block and, thinking he was fouled, yelled out in frustration and stopped to stare at the nearest referee.
Meanwhile, Manu Ginobili grabbed the rebound and ignited a fast break as Tim Duncan raced downcourt, easily outpacing both Gasol and Dwight Howard, who had also decided to jog back.
One of the keys of transition defense -- which no Laker did -- is stopping the ball, as all five guys turned their backs to Ginobili, who had time to wind up and throw a three-quarters court pass to a wide-open Duncan in the paint.
Chris Duhon, the only Laker who hustled back, had no choice but to foul Duncan, and only then did Gasol and Howard finally get into the fray. Duncan, who’s 37 years old and had played just as many minutes as either Laker big men at the time, made both free throws, extending the Spurs’ lead to 90-67 with 10:41 remaining.
Even when trailing by over 20 points and trying to make a late-game comeback, the Lakers haven’t had the determination to play consistent defense.
Despite misconception, the Spurs aren’t a potent transition team, ranking just 13th in fast-break points and 17th in transition points per possession, but the Lakers allowed them to score 19 fast-break points, which would rank second in the league throughout the season.
By virtually every conceivable category, the Lakers are a below-average defensive team. The Spurs have taken advantage of that all series, using well-timed offensive flurries to turn a one- or two-possession game into a double-digit deficit.
Against an offensive juggernaut like San Antonio that has more depth and talent than the Lakers, there’s almost no margin for error, as Game 3 showed. For the Lakers to have any chance at winning Game 4 on Sunday and extending the series for at least one more game, they’ll have to show a level of defensive coherence and effort that’s been missing all season.
Stats used in this post are from ESPN.com, NBA.com/Stats and MySynergySports.com.
He wasn’t smiling because he scored 20 points and was the leading scorer on the Lakers for much of the game.
He wasn’t smiling because the D-League MVP trophy he was given before the game was sitting right behind him, placed in a cardboard box that looked like it had just been shipped to him overnight.
And he wasn’t smiling because Metta World Peace was teasing him about being surrounded by dozens of reporters and cameras.
He was smiling because he was simply sitting in an NBA locker room again.
Not bad for a guy who went from making about $475,000 last season to borrowing money from his college girlfriend to pay his bills last month.
“I’m broke,” Goudelock said. “I’m cool. Nobody would know that I’m broke. I just come here with a smile on my face.”
It’s an unusual confession for an NBA player starting in the playoffs to make, but Goudelock wasn’t even in the league two weeks ago.
Goudelock, who was a second-round draft pick of the Lakers in 2011, was cut Oct. 27 prior to the season opener. He ended up being drafted by the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the D-League and later traded to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he averaged 21.4 points and won the D-League MVP, an award he didn’t even know existed before he won it.
Less than two weeks ago, the Lakers signed him for the final two games of the regular season and playoffs after Kobe Bryant ruptured his Achilles tendon.
“This business just keeps getting crazier,” Goudelock said. “I wouldn’t think I’d be here two weeks ago. Nothing happens the way it’s supposed to happen. This is a great opportunity, going from the D-League a week and a half ago to starting in the playoffs. It shows you the nature of the business.”
Business wasn’t so good for Goudelock after being cut by the Lakers. Despite playing well in front of dozens of fans in cities like Bakersfield, Calif.; Canton, Ohio; and Erie, Pa., Goudelock was living paycheck to paycheck after finishing up his rookie salary.
“I was so broke I had to borrow money,” he said. “I’ve had the same girlfriend since college, and I had to call her to give me money and she’s still in college, but I didn’t have any other choice. I didn’t want to call my parents. I’m too old for that. Some days I couldn’t even eat, and she sent me money. It’s definitely an experience I’m going to tell my kids about.”
Goudelock made about $1,200 every two weeks while he was in the D-League, and his per diem was $40. Before the Lakers left for San Antonio for a four-day trip, his per diem was slightly different.
“When I got my per diem, I was the happiest guy in the world. It was $500!” Goudelock said. “I took that! That’s like half my check in the D-League. … You go to the D-League, and you basically lose money. I used to tell people I might as well work at Burger King or do something else, but it all pays off.”
Goudelock didn’t want to bother his parents with monetary requests while he was struggling this season, but after he called to let them know he would be starting Friday, they surprised him at the game by getting on the first flight they could from Atlanta to Los Angeles.
“It took them a lot of money to come here, but I’m glad they’re here,” Goudelock said. “I’m glad they got to see me play.”
As Goudelock talked about his experiences on the road, on buses and sleeping on floors, he smiled again as he looked across the locker room at Darius Morris. He and Morris were both selected in the second round of the 2011 NBA draft by the Lakers, five picks apart, but didn’t want to have anything to do with each other when they both got to Los Angeles.
“We really didn’t like each other,” Goudelock said. “We would compete all the time, and we ended up being real good friends. We never thought this would happen.”
No one thought this would happen. Bryant’s injury might have brought Goudelock back to Los Angeles, but injuries to Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks catapulted him and Morris into the starting lineup Friday. Goudelock had 20 points and three steals while Morris added 24 points and six assists.
“Every time we look at each other we say this is crazy,” Goudelock said. “When we first got here, I don’t even think we spoke to each other. It was a completion thing. In training camp, I said that’s the enemy, but as time went on, we were doing this together and we got really, really close.
"When I was in the D-League, he would text me and call me and ask me about certain situations. He had my back just like I had his. I’m just glad that we get this opportunity to go out and play together.”
This was certainly not the way Goudelock and Morris wanted to get their moment in the playoff spotlight. They began the season as third stringers in a backcourt behind Bryant, Nash, Meeks and Blake, but if this season has taught them anything, it’s that nothing ever goes exactly the way you plan it. Goudelock wouldn’t have it any other way.
"For a guy like me, I've been through so many different types of situations, and it seems like I'm always the one that gets the short end of the stick,” he said. “But, you know, I always just try to keep a smile on my face, keep my head up, and you know you're always going to be where you're supposed to be. If you're working hard, if you're really working hard and you want something, you're going to get there. Nobody is going to be able to stop you from getting there whether you get the short end of the stick or not."