Archives For August 2012

The Los Angeles Lakers pulled off the seemingly unthinkable last week when they hit one of the biggest homeruns in franchise history by acquiring Dwight Howard in a four-team trade. Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss have proven that their commitment to adding more championship banners to the franchise has never been more strong given the way they have shaped up the roster in this offseason.

The purple and gold acquired the best center in the league, a certified game changer at both ends of the floor, but it’s still worth visiting what exactly that means for the Lakers when we break things down. In order to do so, Forum Blue & Gold reached out to Eddy Rivera of Magic Basketball to obtain some insights on the big man:

“With Dwight, you’re getting the best defensive player in the NBA (only LeBron is his peer defensively). I think Mike Brown will have a field day coming up with schemes tailored to maximize Dwight’s strengths on defense. On offense, 1/5 pick-and-rolls with Nash and Dwight will be devastating. And with the mere presence of Nash, Kobe, and Pau on the court, Dwight should have a field day in the low post with his scoring and passing. 

“Dwight represents a far better fit with the new-look Lakers, as opposed to Bynum, because of his ability to get the most out of Nash (and vice-versa) in pick-and-roll sets, as well as his ability to make a far-reaching impact on defense — like hide Nash’s defensive deficiencies, for example. And because of that, I fully expect L.A. to be a devastating team based on talent and fit alone. How good they can be ultimately falls on Brown’s coaching ability.”

Most will look at what Howard brings to the table defensively and honestly, it would be hard not to do. Indeed, according to basketball value, last season the Orlando Magic boasted a defensive rating of 101.52 with the big man on the floor, but that figure ballooned to 108.60 when he was off the court. A big reason for that was his ability to protect the paint.

D12’s gifts on the defensive end shine bright when he is asked to be a help defender as he finds ways to either block or simply change shots all the while avoiding fouls. Howard’s instincts and basketball IQ make it as such that he is constantly in a position to help out his teammates should they get burned on the perimeter.

And yet, he still has more to offer defensively.

The big man’s foot speed, long arms and defensive technique make him one of the best pick-and-roll defenders in the league given that he is able to successfully execute every type of coverage needed to thwart the screen roll action. Howard can hedge out strong on the ball handler and recover in time to protect the paint, trap the man with the ball or play off him without necessarily exposing himself to getting burned off the bounce.

Consequently, teams that are anchored defensively by Dwight Howard promise to protect the paint like a fortress. According to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool, when the former Olympian was on the court for the Magic last season, Orlando only surrendered 33.4 points in the paint per game when projected over 48 minutes. When the former Defensive Player of the Year was off the court mind you, those figures went up to 44.1 points in the paint per game (once again, projected over 48 minutes).

The Lakers as a whole last season gave up 41.5 points in the paint per game and thus stand to benefit from the big man’s presence on the defensive end.  

Howard is a defensive ace that should more than likely upgrade the Lakers’ defense, but he also brings something else to the table: offense.

As Eddy Rivera stated, Howard will be a perfect fit when playing with Steve Nash because of his ability to catch and finish in the pick-and-roll as well as Nash’s ability to deliver the ball in such a setting. According to MySynergySports, Dwight Howard converted 74 percent of his field goal attempts — he shot the ball 73 times in such situations last season — last season in the screen-and-roll action. That’s a staggering conversion rate, but given that he does a good job of catching the ball and then going up and finishing strong over defenders, it makes sense.

But just for comparison’s sake, let’s take a look at Andrew Bynum in the same situation. Given that the former Laker big man often towered over his defenders and did a good job of getting position right next to the basket as the roll man in the pick-and-roll, one would expect him to convert more than his fair share of attempts in this setting. MySynergySports tells us that the All-Star center converted 57.1 percent of his field goal attempts — 35 such attempts — last season as the roll man in the pick-and-roll action, which is an impressive figure all by itself. And really, that puts into perspective just how much of an excellent finisher Howard is.

This becomes quite tricky for opposing defenses when Howard keeps setting screens and rolls to the basket because he typically attracts of wave of defenders; which is how the Magic shooters consistently got open last season.

Although the Lakers only converted 32.6 percent of their 3-point field goals last season (tied for 25th in the NBA), Howard will help them consistently get open looks from long-range but it will also open up the court for midrange shooters such as Kobe Bryant, Antawn Jamison, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to name a few. And well, let’s just say that if you had to rely on these players to hit an open jumper to save your life, you’d feel pretty confident about your odds.

Howard comes to the Lakers with an effective but not quite aesthetic post game as well as athleticism destined to bring more highlights to the franchise but he also comes with a glaring weakness. Those that followed the Lakers in the Shaq era are quite familiar with it: the team will get in the bonus early and probably lead the league in free throw attempts, but they will miss their fair share as well given D12’s inability to convert a high percentage of his freebies.

With that said, provided that he is the same player prior to surgery on his back, the Lakers are getting a once in a generation type of talent that just happens to perfectly fit with his new roster.

Can we get the season to start already?

Lakers Countdown: At #7…

J.M. Poulard —  August 12, 2012

When the Decision happened, LeBron James became the symbol of the spoiled athlete that failed to understand just what was happening around him in “real life”. The end result was that he instantly became a villain and represented everything that was wrong about professional sports in the minds of many. Consequently he was booed in every road arena even though he never truly understood why.

How history treats him remains to be seen, but James certainly was not the first athlete to make a questionable decision in terms of how he conducted himself as a professional.

For instance, Kobe Bryant requested to be traded in 2007 but that has since been swept under the rug after winning back-to-back titles afterwards.

Winning tends to make people forget things.

But sometimes, odd actions can make people forget winners.

The best illustration of this clock in at #7 in our Los Angeles Lakers countdown of greatest title teams…

The 1981-82 Lakers

After winning the NBA championship in Magic Johnson’s rookie season in 1980, many thought the Lakers had a chance to get back to the mountaintop in the ensuing season.

Mind you, Johnson was injured early in the season and thus only appeared in 37 games. Despite the prolonged absence of one of their best playmakers and rebounders, the purple and gold managed to win 54 games on the strength of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes’ scoring. Also, Norm Nixon’s ability to run the offense helped a talented Lakers squad play at a high level.

The team seemed as though they might make some noise in the postseason but then they fell apart in the first round of the playoffs just as the team was getting used to playing with Magic Johnson.

With the team having faced an early season exit, they made some minor tweaks and acquired Mitch Kupchak and Kurt Rambis to help shore up the rebounding in the offseason; and later acquired former three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo early in the ensuing 1981-82 regular season.

The franchise made news by signing Magic Johnson to a 25-year $25 million contract that led many to wonder if owner Jerry Buss liked Magic Johnson just a little too much.

The Lakers started out the season by once again being a very talented squad but some around the team felt as though head coach Paul Westhead was holding the team back with his half court offense. They had stopped being Showtime and instead became a team that brought the ball up the court and executed instead of consistently outrunning their opponents.

Magic went on to voice his complaints and requested to be traded, feeling as though his talents weren’t being maximized under Westhead. And just like that, Westhead was fired despite a 7-4 record at the time.

Had Kanye West been the artist back then that he is today, everyone would have said that the lyrics from his hit song Power were tailor made for Magic:

“No one man should have all that power.”

The former Michigan State Spartan was booed in every opposing arena and was viewed as an athlete with a sense of entitlement and a man possessing far too much power with his franchise. In an odd way, this situation somewhat overshadowed just how deep and talented the team was as well as what it accomplished.

The 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers had four Hall of Fame players (Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, McAdoo and Wilkes) as well as a stud point guard in Norm Nixon — yes, he was listed as the team’s point guard and Magic was listed as a guard/forward — that helped make plays.

The team may have had one of the best guard pairings ever when we look at their production during the 1981-82 regular season:

  • Norm Nixon: 17.6 points per game, 8 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game on 49.3 percent field goal shooting.
  • Magic Johnson: 18.6 points per game, 9.5 assists per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 2.7 steals per game on 53.7 percent field goal shooting.

As good as the guards were, things became infinitely more difficult for opponents when the frontcourt became involved when arguably the best center in NBA history had two exquisite guards feeding him the ball when the team played in the half court.

And just in case that wasn’t problematic enough, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was surrounded by great scorers in Bob McAdoo (coming off the bench) and Jamaal Wilkes.

With Pat Riley at the helm, the Lakers finished the season with a 57-25 record, tops in the Western Conference. They sported the second best offensive efficiency in the league and the 10th best defensive efficiency.

The Western Conference playoffs were a mere footnote for the Lakers who obliterated the Phoenix Suns (46-36) in the first round by an average scoring margin of 12.7 points in a four-game sweep.

The following series against the San Antonio Spurs (48-34) proved to be quite similar to the outcome against the Suns, as the Lakers swept them and won every game against the Spurs by an average of 8.7 points.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the NBA Finals — at the time, a team only needed to win two rounds to advance to the finals — as underdogs to the Philadelphia 76ers (58-24) given that they did not have home court advantage.

And yet, as if to come full circle, Magic Johnson led the purple and gold to another title against the same 76ers team that had lost against them two years prior in the title round.

Los Angeles won in six games and kept Julius Erving’s title drought alive for one last season.

The ’82 Lakers boasted an impressive 12-2 playoff record and sported an average scoring margin of plus-6.1 during the postseason. In addition, when we consider the roster top to bottom, there is no doubt that this is one of the greatest teams to ever hit the hardwood.

Why seventh then?

For a team as loaded as the ’82 Lakers, one can only wonder why they only won 57 games especially in a rather weak Western Conference. In addition, they dismantled their conference opponents during the playoffs but both teams fail to even win 50 games during the regular season, thus making the accomplishment a little less impressive.

In addition, this squad may have only had two losses during their postseason run, but they were by 16 and 33 points; meaning they were blown out of the building. Perhaps it’s nitpicking, but as we climb along the ladder of best Los Angeles Lakers teams in franchise history, these small details will add up and end up making the difference.

For weeks we’ve been discussing the Lakers’ need to find a capable wing player, especially one that could back up Kobe Bryant. There were several capable options on the market but the Lakers were clearly looking for the right fit both in terms of skill set and price. It looks like they’ve found their man in former 76er, Jodie Meeks. Via Dave McMenamin’s report, it’s a two year contract worth $3 million with the second year a team option.

In Meeks, the Lakers have grabbed a player that crosses off several boxes on the wants side of the ledger. First off, he’s young. Meeks just completed his 3rd year in the league and is only 24 years old. Second, he’s relatively inexpensive. After reports that Meeks wouldn’t sign for the minimum, the Lakers dipped into their mini mid-level exception to give him a slightly larger starting salary, but they’ll pay him around what they pay Antawn Jamison next season, so he represents value for someone they clearly see as a rotation player. The fact that the second year of his contract is a team option gives the Lakers flexibility moving forward to decide to move in a different direction should they deem it necessary. Third, Meeks has been a starter and a bench player in his career so he should have few issues adjusting to a bench role backing up Kobe.

From a skills standpoint, Meeks is the exact type of player they’ve sought. He’s known as a shooter and is someone that does his best work off the ball. Via My Synergy Sports, Meeks shot 37.9% on 3 pointers in spot up situations and 37.5% on 3’s coming off screens. Whatever offense the Lakers plan to employ next year, Meeks is a guy that can work off the talent that surrounds him and knock down open shots afforded to him when the defense reacts to his teammates. Playing on the strong or weak side, spotting up or running off picks, Meeks’ ability to catch, shoot, and hit shots will be a valuable asset to a Laker team that possesses so many players that draw defensive attention.

Where there may be some concerns is when digging deeper into his shot chart. Meeks only shot 25.9% on corner 3’s but did hit 39.3% of his 3’s from the above the break in the arc. If these trends continue into next year, the Lakers may find issues with sending him to the corner to simply camp out and provide a threat that will space the floor. That said, if Mike Brown and his coaches can find ways to use him higher on the floor – something that an offense utilizing a two guard front (like the Princeton Offense) would allow more of – Meeks’ ability to hit those shots with consistency would be a big weapon. Time will tell how Meeks is used and on what spots of the floor he’s most successful, but this will be something to monitor.

Defensively, there are also some positives to bringing in Meeks. He has decent size (6’4″), has played for coaches that preach defense first (most recently Doug Collins and before him Scott Skiles), and will give good effort on that side of the floor. Numbers wise, when he played shooting guard he held his man to a PER of 8.5 this past season and the Sixers were a bit better defensively when he was on the floor versus when he was on the bench. Via Synergy, Meeks also posted very good numbers guarding ball handlers in the P&R and when guarding his man coming off screens or receiving hand-offs. His numbers in isolation and in guarding spot up shooters were only average, but with better help defenders in Los Angeles (hello Dwight Howard) the hope is that his numbers in these areas will improve next year.

Of course, not everything is roses with this signing as Meeks does have his limitations and does come with some question marks. He’s not a guy that will create his own shot. He’s got relatively good size but offers little positional versatility and will likely only play shooting guard. In the playoffs, his minutes dwindled and his role was reduced in favor of players that offered more well rounded games. And, though he’s a “shooter” his overall FG% is not eye popping.

But even with those caveats, the Lakers did well here in finding a good role player at a moderate price who can help the team. Meeks isn’t a difference maker as an individual talent, but he’s certainly a quality player within the team structure that the Lakers offer. His offensive skill set and ability to relieve Kobe of playing heavy minutes make his signing worth what the Lakers paid. When you add in the fact that he’s a capable defender, is coachable, and has never seemed to chafe when his role shifted, the Lakers got a very good player to compliment their roster. Considering they’ve already added Nash, Howard, Jamison, and brought back Jordan Hill, this signing caps off a nice off-season for the Lakers. This team is now built to seriously contend and Meeks aids in that pursuit. From that perspective, I’m very happy he was added.

*Statistical support for this post from NBA.com

Friday Forum

Dave Murphy —  August 10, 2012

It’s the day after the night of the big news, and I don’t know that there’s anything I can say that hasn’t already been said (although you can be sure that it will be said again, many times over). The arrival of Dwight Howard after a prolonged and sometimes awkward dance, is a major milestone in the Lakers’ timeline. Credit Mitch Kupchak, who swung for the fences this summer in his measured and quiet way, and parked a couple well over the fence. There’s also the matter of the Olympics – Team USA is in the midst of their semi-final, playing against Argentina. If they advance, they’ll play Spain. Do I seem at all distracted?

Adrian Wojnarowski at Yahoo Sports was the first to break the news yesterday, and updates his report this afternoon.

Brian Kamenetzy at the Land O’Lakers examines why it was so crucial to keep Pau in the fold, during the Dwight trade.

Kevin Ding at the OC Register writes about Mitch Kupchak and the magic of the crystal ball.

C.A. Clark at Silver Screen & Roll, reports that it’s official, and breaks down what we got and what we sent.

Mark Medina at the L.A. Times looks at five ways in which Dwight helps the Lakers. Mark also just reported on Jodie Meeks signing for about $3 million over two years.

Ramneet Singh at Lakers Nation brings us Kobe’s reaction.

Steve McPherson at Hardwood Paroxysm takes a Glengarry Glen Ross look at the Lakers’ newest acquisition.

***

To say that the Laker roster looks to be in good shape, is only saying a little. As fans, we have every right to be happy and unapologetic about our good fortune. Yet, it’s still the middle of a long, hot summer. Training camp is months off, and then come the adjustments and acclimation for a team that will look, and play differently. There will be an 82-game regular season and I for one, don’t expect any romp to the finish line. Darius wrote a nice goodbye to a kid that we all watched grow. And best wishes to Josh McRoberts as well. I always liked his hustle and his attitude. From halftime to the start of the 4th quarter as I write – Durant and Carmelo are bombing away, and USA is opening up their lead. Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

* Okay, I cannot NOT update this, moments after posting. Team USA blows it open and goes for gold Sunday!  Yes!!

– Dave Murphy

Goodbye, Big Fella

Darius Soriano —  August 10, 2012

Andrew Bynum came to the Lakers as the youngest player ever drafted into the NBA. Taken out of high school with the 10th pick in 2005 – the highest the team had drafted in over 10 years – the Lakers gambled that the young big man would develop and become a franchise cornerstone. He had immense size, good hands, and an inquisitive mind. He also had little basketball experience, never completing a full season in high school. For all intents and purposes, he was a blank slate that would need to be molded and developed. No one really knew what he would become. Everyone, though, had hope.

And so it began.

In his first season he showed that he would be willing to compete, producing a sequence we all remember. After being used as a catapult and getting pogo’d into the hardwood by a Shaq tip slam, Bynum raced up the floor and delivered quick retribution with a nifty spin move and a strong finish of his own. For good measure, he let the former franchise big man know he’d arrived by delivering a bump that the Diesel countered with one his trademarked pork chop elbows. On that night Bynum showed he’d stand up to anyone and that he had some skill to play with the big boys. It was one of the few highlights in a season of mostly watching and learning but it was something.

Fast forward a few years and you have a disgruntled Kobe wondering when the investment in the young fella would ever bear fruit. A parking lot video full of pot shots soon became the story of the day with everyone wondering how Bynum would respond. As it turned out, quite well. Using that video as a bit of extra motivation, Bynum came into camp ready to be a contributor; ready to start his ascension as one of the better young big men in the league.

In 2008 Bynum showed that all the hard work was paying off. Tutoring sessions with Kareem helped produce a foundation of strong footwork that all big men need to be effective. With solid feet, his young legs provided the spring for him to play a dashing, above the rim game. His long arms and good hands meant no pass was ever out of reach. Lob city wasn’t a thing in 2008, but with Kobe and Bynum running the 2/5 pick and roll, it probably should have been. Bynum dunked everything in sight, or at least tried to. The chip on his shoulder was pronounced and it came attached to a body that was primed to unleash havoc. Kobe was happy, the Lakers were surprising the league by ranking among the West’s top teams, and everything was looking up.

Until, of course it wasn’t.

On that fateful January night in Memphis, Kobe crashed into his young big man’s knee. The face of the franchise who once sarcastically scoffed at young Bynum now gasped as he saw that the guy he’d just started to lean on toppled over in pain, clutching his leg. Bynum would be done for the year. The Lakers would go on to trade for Pau Gasol and reach the Finals anyway. And thus, a new stage in Bynum’s career was born.

Bynum came back the following year hoping to build on what was the start of his previous season’s breakout but found a team that had changed with him in street clothes. Pau had become the anchor in the pivot, his exquisite passing and all around game one of the pillars of the triple post offense. Lamar Odom also raised his level of play. Properly slotted as the team’s do it all big man, scoring some nights, assisting on others, always on the glass, always everywhere defensively. Together with Gasol, they were the ones that closed games; they were the ones whose versatility blended so nicely with Kobe. The team went on to win the title, Bynum playing his role as de facto starting Center who closed games cheering on his mates from the bench. His contributions were necessary to win but the credit was doled out to the guys that did the heavy lifting at the end.

But even with a role somewhat in flux, Bynum just continued to improve. His athleticism wasn’t quite the same but his body became transformed. His shoulders and arms chiseled, he began bullying his man more with straight post ups. In the process of working more from the block, his game also became more refined. Less frequent were the above the rim finishes, instead replaced with righty jump hooks and counter spins to the baseline. He’d flash a face up jumper, a lefty jump hook. Then he’d lower the boom with a lob just to show he could still do that too.

In 2010 the Lakers went on to repeat as champions. Bynum took a larger role but was still part of the three-headed big man monster. The Lakers don’t win without him gutting through a meniscus tear and playing the final three series hobbled; they certainly don’t grab all those offensive rebounds in game 7 against the Celtics without him occupying defenders and giving his all. Bynum showed us all that winning was all that mattered and that he’d be willing to make the sacrifices to do so.

But here is where the story gets complicated. Surgery to repair his torn meniscus was delayed by a trip to the World Cup and a surgeon’s vacation. The procedure itself changed from routine to more complex – a change that would aid in Bynum’s long term health but also extend his recovery period. He’d start the season on the shelf and his team would feel the effects of that later. Pressed into longer minutes, Gasol wore down. Bynum wasn’t quite himself upon return and took time to find his stride.

By the time the playoffs came the Lakers looked weary from long playoff runs and heavy minutes, though Bynum looked as good as he ever had. His game was showing full polish by April of 2011. The lefty jump hook was part of his arsenal. As was all the nifty baseline work born of drop steps and quick spins. He took on more responsibility in that post-season but it didn’t really matter. The Lakers were swept. The defense crumbled, Bynum’s frustration led to a terrible foul on J.J. Barrea and quotes about trust issues.

All the while though, Bynum simply continued to improve. By this past season, the potential that was so often attached to his name became actual production. A fully healthy season produced season highs in minutes and averages in points and rebounds. He’d clinch a game versus the Celtics with a power post up move that one of the league’s best defenders looked helpless to stop. He’d have a 30 rebound game. In a playoff game he’d record a triple double that included 10 blocked shots. He earned his first all-star berth and was named 2nd team All-NBA. He’d asked for more, gotten more, and delivered.

There have been missteps along the way. This past season showed a player not yet fully aware of what it means to be a leader. Some games he loafed. Others he went off and did whatever he felt like doing on any given possession on both sides of the ball. He’d sit out of huddles. He’d miss a meeting. His honesty, while always welcomed to an eager press corps, wasn’t always the right thing to say in public. And, I could go on. Despite all that, though, Andrew Bynum showed a great self awareness. He knew what he was, how he was perceived, and worked through all of it to become a fantastic player.

There’s something to be said for watching a player develop on the team you root for. Bynum went from chubby and unpolished to the 2nd best Center in the league. He did so through injuries and surgeries. Through trade rumors and a role in which he wanted to be more than what he was being asked to do. He never really got credit for how much work he put in, consistently being called lazy or not caring enough about basketball.

I never understood those claims. You don’t come back from injury better than before without working hard or without caring. You don’t mold your body by putting in the hours. You don’t refine your skills, develop counters, and keep adding new facets every year without caring. You don’t speak your mind either. I for one, will miss seeing Andrew Bynum play for the team I root for. He helped win two championships and gave us many moments to remember during his 7 years with the team. He grew up – not fully, but a great deal – during his time in Los Angeles.

And now he’ll get his shot to take his game even further in Philly. Good luck, Andrew Bynum.

Wow. Wow. WOW. To be honest, even now, I’m still in shock.

Earlier today I wrote that I seriously doubted the rumored 4 team trade that would land Dwight Howard on the Lakers would happen. Well, I was only partially wrong (and couldn’t be happier about it). The rumored deal has been re-worked and the framework for a Howard trade has been agreed upon by all parties. A call with the league is set for tomorrow morning to get final approval. From ESPN’s report:

A four-team trade that would send Dwight Howard to the Los Angeles Lakers is complete, multiple sources told ESPN on Thursday night. A source with direct knowledge of the talks told ESPN.com’s Marc Stein the Lakers will receive Howard, the Denver Nuggets will acquire Andre Iguodala, the 76ers will receive Andrew Bynum and Jason Richardson, and the Magic will get Arron Afflalo, Al Harrington, Nikola Vucevic and one protected future first-round pick from each of the three teams. In addition, the Magic will be getting other pieces, including 76ers No. 1 draft pick Moe Harkless, a source told Stein.

One name you don’t see listed there is Pau Gasol’s. In what can only be considered a coup by Mitch Kupchak, the Spaniard is staying in Los Angeles and will team with Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, and Dwight Howard to form a starting lineup for the ages. As if getting Howard wasn’t enough.

But let that reality sink in some more. Dwight Howard will be a Laker.

He is the premier big man in the league. In the season before last, he was the runner up for the MVP award. He’s won 3 defensive player of the year awards. He’s a superstar of the highest order, bringing two way impact that that’s felt on the floor and from a marketing perspective. There was no bigger fish to be had this summer and he’ll be wearing the forum blue and gold next season.

Of course, there are some concerns. First of all, he’s currently not able to play basketball. As of this writing, he’s rehabbing his back after season ending surgery. Second of all, he’s made no commitment to the Lakers beyond next season. One of the reasons he’s even available is the fact that he’s not under contract beyond next year and has expressed the fact that he’ll test the free agent waters once his current deal expires.

However, it’d be silly to think the Lakers haven’t thought those issues over one hundred times over. Howard has been rehabbing his back in Los Angeles and it’s fair to assume they’ve done their due diligence on his progress and are comfortable that he’ll be ready to play at a high level next year. As for keeping him beyond next season, the Lakers will not only have Howard’s Bird Rights but can sell him on the history of the franchise and the team’s status as perennial contender for the championship. There are few, if any franchises, that can give Howard the market, dollars, and chance to win that the Lakers do and you can bet they’ll spend the upcoming campaign convincing him that his future is with this team.

All that said, those are concerns for another day. Today, the Lakers and their fans can celebrate. They’ve nabbed the league’s best big man. Its premier defensive player. Its best pick and roll big finisher and one of the few elite hedge/recover defensive bigs. If there’s a single player that could have taken an already primed team to the next level, it was Howard.

After the Nash acquisition, the signing of Antawn Jamison, and the return of Jordan Hill the Lakers were already on the doorstep of being one of the few teams that could claim challenger status to the Thunder and the Heat. Now, the Lakers have kicked in that door and placed themselves right in the middle of the conversation. They’ve made a fantastic team even better.

Kudos to Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss. The front office that just a season ago was questioned on the trade of Lamar Odom and its ability to make the necessary moves has transformed the team in a single summer. They’ve spent the money, made the prudent trades, and held on to the guys they’ve wanted to.

It’s really unbelievable. Dwight Howard will be a Laker. I still can barely believe it.

It’s been a while since a juicy Dwight Howard trade rumor was floated in the press. So, if you were starving for one, here’s your fix via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports:

There are other players involved in these fluid talks, but a framework of the possible deal includes Howard and Denver forward Al Harrington going to the Lakers, Philadelphia guard Andre Iguodala going to the Nuggets, Los Angeles center Andrew Bynum moving to the 76ers, and Los Angeles forward Pau Gasol and Denver guard Arron Affalo going to the Magic, sources told Yahoo! Sports.

The report also states that “a deal is not considered imminent” and it’s that part of the report that we should probably be focussing on most.

First of all, four team trades are difficult to execute. There are a lot of parties to appease and all it takes is one GM not getting exactly what he wants to kill the entire deal. We saw this with the proposed three team deal the Brooklyn Nets were trying to manufacture earlier this summer in trying to acquire Howard. And that was only 3 teams, not the rumored 4 team deal presented above.

Second, while there are exceptions to the rule, Mitch Kupchak has rarely executed a deal that was leaked. Mitch typically works in silence and seeing reports of talks have normally equated to a deal withering on the vine. For every deal like Sessions or Steve Nash where there was rumored interest or leaks of the Lakers jumping into the fray, there are countless deals like ones for Michael Beasley or Chris Paul (sorry to bring it up) that never came to fruition for whatever reason.

Third, the details of this deal seem a bit off. The Lakers have consistently positioned themselves as not wanting to give up both Gasol and Bynum in a trade for Howard. Of course, you can look at this trade as two separate deals: Bynum for Howard and Pau for Al Harrington. However, the Lakers have also been very hesitant to give up Pau for lesser talent with reports for more than a year stating that the Lakers are asking for too much in any deal in which they surrender the Spaniard.

Of course there are financial concerns as well. Al Harrington makes much less money than Gasol and the combined salaries of Howard and Harrington would be less than what Pau and Bynum make. However, the other side of that equation is that Harrington’s contract runs into the year that the repeater tax would kick in and any deal that lasts that long limits the Lakers’ financial flexibility in a year they’ll need to be under the tax. I’m not yet convinced the Lakers want any money on the books that year beyond Nash’s salary and what either Bynum or Howard (should he be acquired and re-signed) make that year. Harrington would muck that up.

Ultimately, there’s a chance that this deal could happen (or a version of it). But history – both in terms of how the Lakers operate and the stance they have taken in regards to a Gasol trade – have me beyond skeptical.

Wednesday Storylines

Darius Soriano —  August 8, 2012

In terms of the NBA calendar, we’ve officially entered into the period best described as the dregs of summer. News is slow as teams are holding off on inking free agents, trades are non-existent, and most of the news involves teams filling whatever coaching or front office vacancies they may still have. Not exactly the blockbuster action a lot of fans are hoping for. That said, there’s still some happenings going on, both with the Lakers and around the rest of the league:

  • It’s been discussed plenty, but the Lakers are still after some wing help. When looking at a list of the top 20 free agents still on the market, there are some desirable names still to be snatched up that could bolster the Lakers’ perimeter rotation.
  • The name residing at the top of a lot of Lakers observers’ wish list is Jodie Meeks. He’s young, has a rep as a shooter, and should come cheap.
  • It’s that last point, however, that is now in question. Meeks’ agent has drawn a line in the financial sand, stating his client won’t play for the minimum. I don’t blame Meeks’ agent for trying to leverage bigger dollars for his man. After all, that’s his job. Plus, once a player signs on for the minimum, it’s hard to escape that fate in future deals. Mickael Pietrus and Kenyon Martin are two players who took the minimum last year to play for playoff teams and now they’re struggling to find offers above that this summer and are languishing unsigned still hoping for a bigger offer. Meeks is still at a point in his career where he’s looking to get that first “big” contract and this may be his one shot to get it.
  • Moving on from potential Lakers, to current ones, the question must be asked: are the Lakers alienating the franchise Center they currently have in pursuit of the one they’d rather have? This is a question we’ve asked before ourselves and it’s one that is difficult to answer. Bynum, for all his outspokenness, isn’t always the easiest player to read and when you add his agent to the mix (David Lee doesn’t have the best history in negotiations with the Lakers) it’s hard to know what Bynum will do when it’s time to decide where he’ll play out his next contract. Know this, however: Bynum has leverage and may just use it of pressed hard enough.
  • Of course, another Laker big man is making news and doing so because of the work he’s doing on the court. At TrueHoop, Kevin Arnovitz named Pau Gasol as one of the 10 players performing very well these Olympics:

He has snatched those 25 or so minutes he spends on the floor for Spain and made them his personal exhibition. It’s difficult to tell if Gasol is being guided by the desire to answer those who question his fortitude November through June, or if he truly feels more comfortable in that Espana jersey. Whatever the case, Gasol has eagerly moved to the post, but has still experienced a ton of success as a face-up jump shooter.

  • Pau is playing so well, in fact, that he’s on the verge of tying an Olympic record.
  • One Laker not playing as great in London is Kobe Bryant. His offense has been up and down and his defense has not been up to the standard he showed in the 2008 Beijing games. In fact, Tom Haberstroh says that for Team USA to get back to its defensive roots, Andre Iguodala should grab more of Kobe’s minutes.
  • It’s highly doubtful that Kobe’s minutes are reduced and it’s very likely that Team USA will win the gold medal anyway. Plus, as Marc Stein told Beckley Mason, Kobe’s not worried about how he’s playing and says he’ll be ready to close should the moment present itself.

Beyond that, though, it’s doubtful Kobe will need to “close” any games in the way he’s asked to do so often for the Lakers. LeBron James is coming off a championship where he dispelled a lot of the doubts that he could be the man down the stretch. Kevin Durant is also quite good at burying opponents down the stretch of a close game. Instead, Kobe can focus on making the little plays, like he did in grabbing a key offensive rebound down the stretch of the Lithuania game that gave the Americans an extra possession used to extend their lead and pretty much ice the game. It may not be the role he’s used to, but it’s one he can perform quite well for this team and help them achieve their goal of bringing home the gold.