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Shawne Williams was given his walking papers on Tuesday. The Los Angeles Lakers roster now stands at 14. Ownership will save about a million bucks in combined salary and luxury tax.

The story was covered here, and by other Lakers beat writers, but didn’t exactly ripple out into national headlines. Williams arrived in Los Angeles this past September and appeared in 32 games.

The Lakers are in a tailspin at the moment, that’s pretty clear to see. They’re 1-9 in their last 10 games and face the Clippers on Friday. Five key players remain injured and unable to contribute. It’s not a stretch to say that the team’s collective battery is running low.

Williams wasn’t taking up room at the end of the bench. He was a significant part of Mike D’Antoni’s rotation, averaging 5.2 points and 4.5 rebounds in 20 minutes per game.

From Ramona Shelburne for ESPN Los Angeles, D’Antoni spoke honestly about a guy that was more than a number.

“It’s hard for everybody. You do get attached to guys you enjoy walking down an alley with. He will fight for you in a heartbeat and he was a voice in the locker room for us. I could trust him basketball-wise, anything I told him. He did the best he could do. He was good. I’ll miss him.”

For management, the issue was a financial one. If Williams hadn’t been released by 5 pm on Tuesday, the remainder of his minimum salary contract would have been guaranteed, along with the resulting dollar-for-dollar penalty.

The most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement is aimed at creating parity for owners across the league. For the NBA’s lowest-paid players, parity often means a trip to the unemployment line.

Per the Shelburne article, D’Antoni hopes the player with a checked past, will get another shot in the NBA:

“It would be a shame not to. In this business we put labels on people and you don’t get to really know them. I put a label on him before I got to know him. I know what happens. It’s the easy way out. But he’s earned [another opportunity]. I hope somebody bites on it. They’ll be surprised and be happy with it.”

Shawne Williams grew up in the badlands of South Memphis in a neighborhood described by the Community Redevelopment Agency as a “menace to public safety, health, morals and welfare”. He lost his older brother Ramone to gang violence and has not always made the best decisions, peppering truncated basketball jobs with arrests for weed and sizzurp. Taken as the 15th pick of the 2005 draft, he bounced around the league, being variously traded or waived. His biggest impact was with the Knicks during the 2010-11 season.

D’Antoni was his coach at the time in New York and not enthused about a training camp pickup with a bad reputation. Williams began that season with a slew of DNPs but 18 games in, got a chance to play. He impressed his coach and ultimately earned a regular slot as a stretch-four, averaging a career-best 40.1 percent from beyond the arc.

Williams appeared in 25 games the following season for the New Jersey Nets and didn’t play at all in 2011-12. That winter, he was popped once again in Memphis. According to the affidavit, the 26 year-old said, “Officer, I ain’t going to lie to you, there’s a blunt in the car and some syrup.”

This past summer, D’Antoni lobbied management. He had recognized a player’s willingness to do the right thing that one season in New York. He also might have wanted a little extra toughness on a team that’s not always known for it. From all accounts, Williams was a model citizen with the Purple and Gold.

In a recent TWC Backstage Lakers segment, Williams spoke about the opportunity to come to Los Angeles:

“The Lakers is one of those franchises, that when you get a call from them, nothing else don’t matter at the time. Coming from what I come from, going through what I had been through, I was ecstatic. Y’know, it was a blessing. It was something I prayed for, probably one of the happiest calls of my life, saying the Lakers was going to give me a chance.”

Days after the segment taped, Williams was waived while on the road with the team. The Lakers lost to the Dallas Mavericks that night, followed by a loss to the Houston Rockets.

Williams has never come close to averaging double figures in the NBA but he makes his presence felt. He doesn’t mind the blue collar work under the basket, will alter shots and snag loose balls. He’s a streaky shooter but can hit from long range at opportune moments.

He was also a favorite among his teammates. Earlier in the season, Williams took exception when Kings center DeMarcus Cousins gave Jordan Farmar a little extra momentum, heading for the hardwood. Williams confronted Cousins and they both picked up technicals.

Per Mark Medina of the LA Daily News, this is how the Lakers forward explained it:

“Everybody in this locker room is part of a team. We’re a family. Anybody who tries to mess with our family or do a dirty play, I’m going to stand up for them on the court”

Los Angeles won that night, 100-86.

The team just doesn’t seem to have the same feeling of togetherness lately. Whether it’s a cumulative effect of injuries and fatigue, or simply the disillusionment of a downhill skid, things aren’t right. The loss of Williams won’t make it any easier.

The Lakers are still a family business but it somehow doesn’t feel like family anymore. The slide rules have come out and perhaps there’s no turning back—the team assembled a roster of short term contracts this season in an attempt to restructure the future. Williams is now gone and there’s nine other Lakers who don’t have contracts next season.

The freewheeling days of Jerry Buss are over, sadly. There’s a new world order. Basketball is changing, business is changing and the way we cover the news is changing.

Somewhere a car turns a corner and taillights fade. The Lakers’ world just got a little bit smaller.

All The Way From El Segundo

Dave Murphy —  October 12, 2013

The Los Angeles Lakers traveled to China yesterday for the first time as a team. It’s a pretty big deal on a lot of levels. As part of the NBA Global Games, the Lakers will play two matches against the Golden State Warriors. The first takes place in Beijing on Tuesday, October 15. The second will be in Shanghai, three days later. There will be ample time to take in the sights and culture, including of course, the Great Wall of China. Many of the players will be accompanied by family. The NBA represents big money in China as well as a genuine love of the game.

Kobe Bryant knows China well, having traveled there on behalf of Nike for eight consecutive years. He was also a member of the U.S. gold medal team in Beijing in 2008. The team’s head physical therapist, Dr. Judy Seto, offers a nice perspective, not only on Bryant’s immense popularity but on the country itself.

Trips like this can serve as important bonding opportunities. With the on-court chemistry displayed so far in the young preseason, it may be icing on the cake. The team certainly doesn’t have the superstar panache of last year’s edition. They also don’t have the divisiveness that arrived with a player who could have been the future of the franchise. The franchise may have dodged a bullet when he continued on his way.

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Nick Minnerath, One More Detour

Dave Murphy —  September 20, 2013

NBA training camps will soon open their doors. Well into the luxury tax and confined by the new CBA, the Los Angeles Lakers have been scooping up minimum salary free agents. There’s currently 15 guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts, including more than a few wild cards – it will be that kind of season.

Also in play are camp invites from the outer fringes, playing for exposure and the remote possibility of bumping someone else out of place. This is part of the league’s elusive allure, for veterans at the end of their careers, perennial D-leaguers and cautionary tales. Nick Minnerath is a skinny white 24 year-old with lots of ink, hailing from a fragile east coast spit of sand. He wasn’t drafted, was never an AAU prospect and in truth, was basically a washout, even apart from basketball.

This summer, Minnerath managed to get an invite to the Lakers training camp. A couple weeks later, he turned it down. He’s not however, giving up on his hoops dream.

Cape Cod, Massachusetts is a golden place during the summer – dunes and cord-grass, harbors and lighthouses, marshy inlets and terns and wheeling gulls. The population swells to about half a million and the road over the Sagamore Bridge becomes glutted with SUVs. Town boards have long fought against commercialization and to an extent, they’ve succeeded. The forces of nature have not been as kind, with land that constantly shifts and erodes. For three months out of each year, summer residents move back into their vacation homes and relive childhood memories and perhaps make some new ones, while just as many tourists snatch up overpriced rental cottages, months in advance.

When the crowds leave, the Cape changes. The long off-season can be cold and desolate, restaurants close and traffic thins. Nor’ easters blow sideways off the Atlantic, flooding homes and knocking down trees and power lines. The population is an odd combination of retirees, fishermen, construction workers and artists. There’s generational alcoholism and drug use. Cape Cod kids either look to get out or become resigned to a lifetime of limited economic opportunity. Nick Minnerath was a typical townie, baggy jeans and a Celtics hoodie. He would have blended right in except that 6-9 kids stick out on the Cape.

Minnerath grew up in Truro, the son of Michael Minnerath, a Cape Cod National Seashore Ranger. The town is second only to Provincetown at the end of the geographic line. It doesn’t have its own high school – Nick attended Nauset Regional in nearby Eastham. He skipped regularly, got into drugs and failed off the basketball team in his freshman and junior years. He admits he wasn’t particularly into it and had no hopes for college.

Nauset’s head coach Keith Arnold saw something different, size and raw athleticism, as well as a pure jump shot. Minnerath began working out seriously the summer before his senior year. The kid who had nearly bottomed out, approached the season with a new determination. Two games in, Nick Minnerath broke his ankle. A dream that had barely come alive, was already over.

Minnerath managed to graduate, attended a semester at Cape Cod Community College and then resolutely bottomed out. He was heavily into cocaine, took odd jobs – construction worker, cab driver in Provincetown, clerk at Cumberland Farms in Eastham. Cumby’s is one of the places that doesn’t close down during the off-season, it’s where you get your gas and scratchers and cigarettes. According to Nick Minnerath, “I was 19 and I felt like my life was already over.”

A trip to Lincoln, Nebraska with his father made a difference. They were there to visit his aunt and he spent some time at the local YMCA, playing pickup ball with a few guys from the University of Nebraska. He was out of shape but the potential was still there. They asked where he was playing. The answer of course, was nowhere.

Minnerath returned to the Outer Cape, to drugs and sitting on a couch. Something had changed however, a faint flame had been rekindled. “I’d probably be dead if I continued where I was going”, he says. His dad’s girlfriend Janet, suggested contacting junior colleges. She helped him with letters and emails, over 50 of them. Only one coach responded. Steve Finamore at Jackson Community College in Michigan extended an invite to an open gym in June, 2008. There were no promises made. Nick, Michael and Janet, packed their car and drove 900 miles. On a Midwestern basketball court, Finamore watched for ten minutes and then pulled Nick’s dad aside. He offered a scholarship on the spot.

Minnerath found a new focus at Jackson. He caught the attention of Coach Ray McCallum from the University of Detroit Mercy, was offered a scholarship and accepted. He broke into the starting five his first year with the Titans. By his senior year in 2011, Minnerath was attracting national attention. Five games into the season, he blew out his right knee with torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. His father was called out of the stands. Michael said, “It was just the most heart-wrenching thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Somehow, Nick Minnerath came back again. He graduated, rehabbed all summer, returned to the Titans for a redshirt season as a graduate student. He put up an average of 14.6 points and 5.9 boards, dropped 36 on Valparaiso, 34 against Cleveland State. He got an invite to the Portsmouth Invitational in April, had pre-draft workouts for ten NBA teams including the Celtics, Pistons, 76ers, Warriors and Kings. Minnerath’s number wasn’t called in June but he played for Sacramento during Vegas summer league. He also caught the attention of the Los Angeles Lakers.

At 6-9 and 215, Minnerath can run the floor, play above the rim and knock down the three-ball. For the Lakers, he would have been one more potential swingman in a glut of swingmen. He earned an invite to camp with the additional carrot of the Los Angeles D-Fenders. Instead, he took one more detour on his unlikely basketball journey and signed with Obradorio CAB in the Spanish ACB League. Realistically, Minnerath made a decision that was good for him, both financially as well as on the floor. It would have been fun to see him give it a shot in Los Angeles. Yet for a Cape Cod kid once headed nowhere, Nick Minnerath is still living a basketball dream.

The 11th Man

Dave Murphy —  September 13, 2013

Mike D’Antoni went on the airwaves earlier this summer, theorizing about an 11-man Lakers rotation. On the one hand D’Antoni is as adverse to extended lineups as he is half-court basketball. Further, trying to speculate on what that rotation might look like, weeks before training camp even begins, is a sublimely ridiculous thing to do. Regardless, people need to read and people need to write and given that I haven’t posted here in ages, this exercise in futility seems strangely appropriate.

Few would have predicted the Lakers’ ground-zero meltdown last season. If it was bad it happened and that basically covers the bases. Health concerns will once again be front and center when it comes to planning and contingencies. Nobody can predict what Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash will bring to the table, coming off rehab. Nobody can predict what anyone will bring. All across the league, decision makers hope for the best, plan for the worst and roll the dice. Here at home, management has been signing wild cards left and right. It’s not the usual Lakers way and it won’t be the usual season. The rash of step deals at league minimum will allow for an extended evaluation period – guys will be playing like they mean it and they’ll also be playing for the opportunity to have a seat at the table for the great rebuild of 2014.

Here’s four key Lakers acquisition this summer and how they could play into Coach D’Antoni’s system.

Jordan Farmar presented something of a riddle for the Lakers during their first go-round. Drafted out of UCLA, the Los Angeles native was cocky, quick and a round peg in Phil Jackson’s triangle system. The fact that he played backup to Smush Parker that season provided some unintentional comedy relief. There were ample other opportunities to try Phil’s patience, including Kwame Brown, Vlad Rad and the rise of the Machine. It should be noted that Farmar replaced Smush in the starting lineup for the last two games of the regular season, as well as the playoffs. It was a summer of discontent for Kobe Bryant however and management responded in part by bringing Derek Fisher back. The move cemented Farmar’s position as a back-up. He won a couple rings but eventually left to free agency and the New Jersey Nets. Farmar most recently played for Turkey’s Anadolu Efes. He accepted the league minimum to return to Los Angeles, noting that the idea of playing for Coach D’Antoni played a major part in his decision. The guard-driven pick and roll system should be a good fit.

Nick Young has been the subject of a number of good articles. Dan Devine for Ball Don’t Lie summed up the free-wheeling guard succinctly:

“The cold reality of course, is that Nick Young will break your heart; Wizard fans know this all too well. He will shoot you out of games, he will disinterestedly defend you out of games, he will refuse to pass you out of games, he will lackadaisically not-box you out of games – he is an incredibly versatile player, lose-you-games-wise. But in those moments when the shot’s falling, when everybody’s clicking and his joy is irrepressible… he’s pure and unadulterated fun in a way that few NBA players are. There’s room for that. There has to be.”

Young’s natural position is at shooting guard but he’s reportedly penciled in at the starting small forward slot for the Lakers. Whether that comes to pass is anybody’s guess. The situation will be in a word, fluid. Coach D’Antoni will get a taste of what Flip Saunders and Doug Collins had to deal with in the past. Then again, Swaggy P can do this.

When it comes to cautionary tales and reclamation projects, Shawne Williams is a quintessential case. The former #17 Pacers draft pick hasn’t played since an abbreviated stint with the Nets during the 2010-11 season. He was subsequently traded to Portland and waived. Williams has been busted numerous times, lost an older brother to street violence and flamed out at nearly every NBA stop along the way. The 2010-11 season was an exception. As a combo forward for Mike D’Antoni and the New York Knicks, Williams provided tough defense and a consistent outside stroke. After helping limit LeBron James at a MSG Knicks win, Coach D’Antoni had this to say, “If you know Shawne’s background, I don’t think he’s going to be intimidated. That’s not going to be a problem. He’s coming at you, and I like that about him.” Coaches remember these moments and Williams will get a solid look this season, despite all the blown chances.

When I think of Chris Kaman, I always go back to his early years as a Clipper. The 2003 draft pick used to give Coach Mike Dunleavy (a man with a voluminous playbook), fits. The 7-foot center was prone to getting calls mixed up, or in his own words, “simply forgetting them in a matter of 10 seconds or less.” Part of the issue according to Kaman, was being misdiagnosed with ADHD as a young child. He took Ritalin for a number of years but in the summer of 2007, began working with a neuropsychologist, Dr. Tim Royer, channeling and slowing hyperactive brain patterns. Kaman became a consistent and indispensable asset to the team, getting an All-Star nod in 2010. Of course, athletes begin to break down with passing years. Kaman isn’t the player he once was but he’s still a big body, he’s experienced and hasn’t lost his mid-range jumper.

So what about Mike D’Antoni’s supposed 11-man rotation, the one that will spell much-needed relief for the creaky body parts of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash? As mentioned at the top, it’s a ridiculous hypothesis. Who could possibly know? But I promised one so health and circumstances permitting, here it is:

Starting lineup: Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Nick Young, Jordan Hill, Pau Gasol.

Nash subs out, replaced by Jordan Farmar. Bryant subs out, replaced by Nick Young who slides back to his natural two-guard position. Shawne Williams enters at the small forward. Jordan Hill comes out and Chris Kaman comes in. The positional pairing of Kaman and Gasol is probably not that exact – they could easily switch the four/five on offensive/defensive sequences. At this point, Pau’s the main voice of reason on the floor, as well as a guy whose legs are getting tired.

We’re at eight players. What comes next? It’s not a leap of faith to assume that at some point, Swaggy P goes off the reservation, even in a Mike D’Antoni world. Enter Steve Blake, a guy who brings a modicum of stability and toughness. At  #10, my sleeper long-shot – Elias Harris. Yup, I said it. Granted he’s an undrafted rookie who may not even survive training camp. Harris is a classic role-player however, a guy who doesn’t mind the dirty work and who has impressed staff with his tenacity. Although undersized at 6-8 for the PF position, he weighs around 240 and has enough in his back pocket to move players in the paint. During his combine workouts however, Harris was well aware that NBA scouts would be evaluating him at the wing. Finally, Wesley Johnson is a former #4 overall pick and an athletic swingman who by sheer coincidence, will wear the number 11. Say no more.

At some point the summer passes and turns to the endless NBA grind. Ice baths and swollen ankles, dislocated fingers and gimpy knees. A coach looks down the bench and frowns. The choices aren’t as good as they were last week. They aren’t even as good as they were last night. He points a finger in an impossibly noisy arena. A player gets up, trying to work the stiffness out of his joints. In about 20 seconds he’ll have make a difference.

Wednesday Storylines

Dave Murphy —  August 7, 2013

In Dave McMenamin’s recent article on Pau Gasol, he references the mindset that management had about planning for the future. That of course had to do with Dwight Howard and the hope that he would eventually become the face of the franchise. This was a long running conversation, basketball fans watched throughout the season as Gasol was benched at crucial moments, and as participants weighed in. With the departure of Dwight, there seems to be a new level of candor and opinion, from strategic on-court differences to management’s attempts to please.

I keep going back to the season. Gasol often talked about being able to work together, a hopeful sense that he and Dwight could succeed in tandem. They didn’t get that many chances due to the injury parade and rotation decisions but there was at least communication – Pau would speak quietly on court with L.A.’s next big thing, would be the first person waiting on the sidelines during a time out, trying to instill confidence. He was the consummate team player in that regard. Getting a bead on Howard was often trickier. He’s a guy with an easy smile who likes to be loved and wants to be humored. He’s sowed a few seeds of dissension in his time. Superstars can be like that. Ultimately all I really know is that I look forward to the Lakers get-togethers with Houston this season. I only wish Metta was still with the team.

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