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UDATE #2: It’s official. Dwight Howard has informed the Lakers that he will not re-sign with the team and will instead play for the Rockets. Here’s a statement from GM Mitch Kupchak:

“We have been informed of Dwight’s decision to not return to the Lakers. Naturally we’re disappointed. However, we will now move forward in a different direction with the future of the franchise and, as always, will do our best to build the best team possible, one our great lakers fans will be proud to support. To Dwight, we thank him for his time and consideration, and for his efforts with us last season. We wish him the best of luck on the remainder of his NBA career.”

UPDATE: Everything written in the post below this update may end up being true. So, just remember that when you read this next sentence: Dwight Howard is, reportedly, having second thoughts about signing with the Rockets and is set to land in L.A. to speak with GM Mitch Kupchak where he may or may not have a meeting with Lakers’ brass before making his final decision. According to Chris Broussard of ESPN, Dwight is having concerns about leaving the guaranteed 5th year and $30 million in salary on the table from the Lakers in favor of what the Rockets can offer. It is said to be a “50-50″ race between the Lakers and the Rockets at this point. If you find all of this confusing or frustrating, you’re not alone. Hopefully we get a final word on this soon so that this entire fiasco can come to an end.

- Darius

This is a tough one to stomach considering what the Lakers lose in terms of building for the future. The 2012-13 Lakers season was one of the most bewildering in recent memory. Mitch went out and fielded a conjectural super team, but injuries, a coaching change and Dwight Howard’s free-agency quietly following the Lakers everywhere they traveled like the ghosts in Super Mario — and every time we stopped to turn around and looked at may happen — it just covered its eyes and ignored the situation.

At some point, the situation had to be addressed. He was asked about his impending free agency in his exit interview and informed the world that he was going to need some time to decide. Then earlier this week, the Rockets, Lakers and a few other teams made a pitch for Howard’s services. Howard told the teams he’d head to Colorado and mull over his options and decide by Friday. And a decision was made, and was first reported by USA Today’s Sam Amick.

The Lakers, who had an extra year and $30 million to offer Howard, were spurned by the big man in news that isn’t exactly shocking, but flummoxing, to say the least. The Lakers have always been one of those teams who get their guy, and they’ve had more success off the strength of great centers than any other team in the association.

Nonetheless, we’re entering an era of Lakers basketball that we’ve been unfamiliar with for the past 15 years. The team, as currently constructed, is going to be good enough to win some games and maybe compete for the 6th through 8th seeds in the playoffs, but this may be a team too good to acquire high draft picks, hoops purgatory, if you will.

It’ll be fascinating to see where the Lakers go from here. Their plan to have an abundance of cap space in the summer of 2014 has not been compromised, so all is not lost, but losing Howard is a huge hit to this team’s ability to lure the league’s top free agents. We’ll have more analysis about what this means for the Lakers soon.

[Note: Tonight's post was written by Daniel Buerge, the Editor in Chief of LakersNation.com. Make sure you check him out over there and give him a follow on twitter at @DanielBuerge_LA]

Oh, the offseason. It’s a strange time for everyone. Whether it’s absurd speculation or random video clips of your favorite player talking about Desperate Housewives (is that still a thing?) on Chris Ferguson’s couch, the basketball withdrawals are frequent and take many different forms. While the season is still technically going, for Laker fans it’s long over. In fact, most people have been looking toward next season since about the third month of the last one, and now everybody else is finally catching up to them.

This offseason, however, is a little different for the Lakers. Although free agency hasn’t started yet, it seems that fans are already bracing themselves for the worst. As if prepping for a hurricane, Laker fans have boarded the doors and windows, refusing to let reality breach their consciousness. In fact, it’s worse than that now. We’ve reached the denial stage for many of Los Angeles’ most loyal followers. Somehow, in the midst of all the disappointment over the last 12 months, we’ve seen the evolution from disheartened to downright denial. Fans have begun to convince themselves that Dwight Howard isn’t the right choice for the Lakers. And that’s simply not correct.

Now, Howard didn’t have his best season in 2012-13. In fact, it could be argued that it was his worst. But that is nowhere near indicative of the kind of player Howard is. And, more importantly, how big of a drop off there is between Howard and whoever the Lakers think they’re going to replace him with.

Let’s play a little game. When the Lakers traded Shaq in 2004, they took a calculated risk. O’Neal was getting older and less productive, and they thought they might be able to match 60-70 percent of his production by using a filler player. Someone like, you know, Chris Mihm. We all remember how well that worked. See, now that’s the problem with the idea that letting Howard go isn’t going to cost the Lakers that much. Even if you believe Howard will never get back to the level he was at when he was going through Defensive Player of the Year awards like they were Pez, he’s so much better than any sort of alternative option out there that it’s foolish to believe the team will be able to plug in replacement parts and hope they can replace Howard’s production.

So, in his worst season, Dwight averaged 17.2 points, 12.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game.

How did the best big men in the league stack up to those numbers? Let’s look.

Brook Lopez: 19.4 PPG, 6.4 RPB, 2.1 BPG
Roy Hibbert: 11.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 2.6 APG
Al Jefferson: 17.9 PPG, 9.3 RPB, 1.3 BPG
Al Horford: 17.4 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.0 BPG
DeMarcus Cousins: 17.2 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 0.7 BPG
Chris Bosh: 16.6 PPG, 6.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG

Interesting. Suddenly Dwight isn’t looking like such a dismal prospect, is he? And, you also need to remember, these are the league’s ELITE centers. The best in the business. These are guys the Lakers aren’t going to come anywhere near acquiring if they lose out on Dwight. They’ll be more likely to land an average-type center. You know, a Chris Mihm-type. So how about those numbers? What does the statistical breakdown of the median of the center world look like in the NBA in 2013?

League Center Average: 7.1 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 0.9 RPG

I’ll save you the trouble of getting a calculator and let you know that that’s 10.1 points, 7.1 rebounds and 1.6 blocks fewer than Howard.

Basically, if you subtract Roy Hibbert from Dwight Howard you have the league average center. That’s how good Dwight’s numbers still were, in a season where he had three coaches, two injuries, and one ball-dominant shooting guard in his way. Yet, in the face of all this evidence, fans seem convinced that moving away from Howard is the way to go. Some say he doesn’t have the mental tenacity to handle life as a Laker. He doesn’t embrace the legacy.

Who cares?

As fans we’re far more romantic about all that stuff than the players. We like to idealize these situations, because to us it would be tremendous if our favorite players were as passionate about our teams as we are. But that’s not the case. In reality, players want financial security, a chance to win and a fun place to live. And, a lot of the time the first two will supersede the third (not that the Lakers have ever had to worry about that since they hit the geographic lottery).

In the end it comes down to an uncertainty about the future that is the root of all these problems. Fans are afraid. The end of the Kobe era is closer than many want to openly admit, and the guy who has to follow a legend is always seen through lenses thick with skepticism until they’re able to prove themselves. Nobody thought anybody would be able to follow Joe Montana. Then Steve Young came along. Nobody thought anybody would be able to follow Joe DiMaggio. Then some guy named Mickey Mantle showed up. Nobody thinks anyone will be able to live up to Kobe Bryant. But Dwight Howard has as good a chance as any.

And let’s not forget, nobody thought the Lakers would be able to survive after losing Baylor, West, Wilt, Kareem, Magic or Shaq either. I’m sure we all remember how that went.


*Statistics provided by HoopData.com

I received my copy of Phil Jackson’s Eleven Rings  on Friday and immediately delved into the 334 page journey through Phil Jackson’s 11 (well actually, 13) championships (two as a player). The book begins, however, with Jackson describing the Lakers’ 2009 championship parade.

“Here I was sitting in a limo at the ramp leading into the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, waiting for my team to arrive, while an ecstatic crowd of ninety-five thousand plus fans, dressed in every possible combination of Lakers purple and gold, marched into the stadium. Women in tutus, men in Star Wars storm-trooper costumes, toddlers waving “Kobe Diem” signs. Yet despite all the zaniness, there was something inspiring about this acnient ritual with a decidedly L.A. twist. As Jeff Weiss, a writer for LA Weekly, put it: iIt was the closest any of us will ever know what it was like to watch the Roman Legions returning home after a tour of Gaul.’”

That was the second paragraph on the first page of Eleven Rings, and after reading that PJax “never loved being the center of attention” I couldn’t really put the book down this past weekend.

Eleven Rings is more than just a relentless foray in to the countless bumps in the road, the countless numbers of characters and egos he had to balance, and foreign techniques used to band groups of men together to win championships, it’s also a tremendous walk down memory lane, whether you’re a Knicks, Bulls or Lakers fan, through some great times.

While Jackson spends a large chunk of the book discussing his years and New York and Chicago, the efforts of this post will be focused on his time in Los Angeles.

Continue Reading…

Imagine this: Vegas had a prop bet on the Lakers facing a first round sweep after squeaking into the post season. The Lakers would be playing without 55 percent of their scoring on the season, the starting power forward would be playing with a torn ligament and the starting off guard would be the D-League MVP. This team, which would have a starting five that has played a grand total of two minutes together all season, would have to try to slow down the San Antonio Spurs with a three-man core that has been playing together for almost a decade. How much would you have put down on the odds of this scenario happening?

As I write these words, the Boston Celtics are holding a 12-point lead, and seem to be holding off a 1st round season sweep of their own against the New York Knicks. After three games, it didn’t seem like the Celtics had a glimmer of hope of winning a game this series, yet J.R. Smith was suspended for a game and Carmelo Anthony just hasn’t been able to find a rhythm. I’m sitting here trying to convince myself that this Lakers team — as depleted as they are — can find a way to be competitive in this Game 4 at Staples Center in front of their fans. Unfortunately, that seems as unlikely as the scenario mentioned above.

There were such high hopes and expectations coming into this season. Mitch Kupchak put together one of the most incredible rosters we had ever seen on paper. He did the impossible by bringing in Steve Nash. Then did the even more impossible by trading away a center who would not log a single minute in 2013 for this generations best. Even the minor move for Jodie Meeks was a great signing… on paper.

Problems would ensue, however.

The Lakers failed to win a preseason game. Red flags were ignored. Steve Nash broke his leg. Mike Brown was fired. Phil Jackson was (allegedly) snubbed from the coaching position. Mike D’Antoni was hired. The Lakers lost a whole lot more games than they won, and in the midst of losing (and the probably cause for a lot of those losses) more core guys missed time due to injuries. Pau had knee problems. Jordan Hill had back spasms, Chris Duhon did as well. After the spasms, Hill tore his labrum. Pau had a concussion. Dwight had a partially torn labrum. Steve Blake had a stomach thing. Pau then had Plantar fascists. Kobe sprained his ankle. Ron tore his meniscus. Nash pulled his hammy. Kobe ruptured his Achilles and then the season was over.

There were 14 injuries during the regular season with a total of 175 games missed from everyone who went down. As bewildering as the regular season was, the Lakers bad luck continued into the post season with Meeks, Blake, Nash, and Artest all down with an injury going into Game 4 — and Gasol will be playing with a torn ligament in one of his fingers.

How do you preview a game that is notionally a foregone conclusion?

The Lakers will start Darius Morris, Andrew Goudelock, Earl Clark, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard in what is likely the last game of the season for a Lakers team that suffered through setback after setback. The Morris-Goudelock backcourt wasn’t as bad as many would have expected in their first stint together as back court mates, but there was a lot left to be desired as the Lakers suffered their largest home playoff defeat in Game 3 after a 31-point loss. While the two combined for 44 points, neither could keep Tony Parker out of the paint, where has lived for the whole series.

Tim Duncan has had a great series, the interior defense of both Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard have been questioned, but they’ve largely been left out to dry by the poor perimeter defenders allowing penetration, freeing up Duncan and other bigs after rotations. The case was most evident in Game 3, once again, with Morris and Goudelock struggling to stay in front of Parker and Co. The Spurs had 30 team assists, and will be looking to move the ball in similar fashion tonight to close out the series.

For the Lakers, a steady diet of Gasol and Howard aren’t going to win it. The Spurs had packed the paint with more fervor as the series has progressed and the consistency of perimeter shooting has decreased. The Lakers have shot just over 25 percent from three in this series (15-for-57) and will need to see the three-ball fall and a much higher rate should the Lakers make this one competitive. There really hasn’t been an opportunity for either Howard or Gasol to get into a real groove with the Spurs having four guys at any given time with one foot in the paint.

On the defensive end, it’s all about keeping Tony Parker on the perimeter and out of the lane where he has been dangerous, creating scoring opportunities for himself and others. The Lakers defenders have worked hard in this series, but the hard work hasn’t exactly been within the realm of the Lakers scheme, which is understandable considering the fact that at least three rotation players have been out in each game this series, and five will be out in the finale.

We can’t go into this one expecting a Lakers win, but we can go into this one expecting this team to work hard on each end of the floor and to go down fighting for one more game. No Lakers team has ever been swept in the first round of the playoffs, and if you’re suiting up tonight, you don’t want to be a part of the cast that is the first to end the season in that fashion. While I would love to see the Lakers come away with a victory in this one (I’ll actually be in attendance tonight), just seeing them going down fighting until the very last possession will be good enough for me.

D’Antoni can only ask these guys to play tough, play smart and to play hard. This season has been a disaster, but what is potentially the last game of the season doesn’t have to be.

Records: Lakers 41-37 Blazers 33-44
Offensive ratings: Lakers 107.6 Blazers 106.1
Defensive ratings: Lakers 106.6 Blazers 108.9
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard
Blazers: Damian Lillard, Sasha Pavlovic, Victor Claver, LaMarcus Aldridge, Meyers Leonard
Injuries: Lakers: Steve Nash, Jordan Hill
Blazers: Nicolas Batum, Wesley Matthews, J.J. Hickson, Elliot Williams

Blazers Blogs: Make sure you check out Portland Roundball Society for all of your Blazers news and analysis.

Keys to game: The Blazers are coming into tonight’s game with a wealth of injuries to some of their key players. Wesley Matthews has had some big games against the Lakers, Nicolas Batum has done a pretty job of defending Kobe over the years when he drew that assignment and J.J. Hickson’s motor could be a problem on the boards on any given night. While it’s never a good thing for an opponent to have injured players, the Lakers have caught the Blazers at the most opportune time considering the battle for 8th place they’re in with the Jazz and the fact that the Rose Garden has always been one of the most difficult places for the Lakers to travel to and get wins.

With all of that being said, this game is still no gimmie and they’ll have to execute on both ends of the floor. Defensively, keeping Damien Lillard out of the paint and close out on shooters. Portland hasn’t been shooting the ball particularly well from deep recently as they’re only at a .264 clip over their last five. Just to make it a point to show how bad they’ve been from 3-point range, that five game stretch includes a 13-23 performance against Utah — and they’re still shooting over 25 percent. But considering that they’re capable of an outlying performance like that, the Lakers cannot allow them to take open shots from deep to ensure that they’re not the next team to get burned by a bad shooting team. Outside of Lillard and shooters, the focal point of the defense should be on LaMarcus Aldridge. The Lakers have done fairly well on Aldridge in the previous three meetings, holding him to 20 points on 18 shots and only 4 rebounds per game. Both Pau and Dwight will have to be willing to close out on his mid range jumper and continue to keep him off the glass.

On the offensive end, the Lakers are going to have to play inside-out. With Hickson out, Meyers Leonard will get the start and won’t be able to hang with Dwight in one-on-one situations. Should Aldridge or Claver help off of their respective man, that will open things up for both Pau and Kobe. Speaking of Pau, it would be wise to continue to feed him in the post as it seems as if his confidence has been rising lately — and should the Lakers get into the post season, having a confident Pau will be awfully beneficial for this team. On the perimeter, Kobe is likely going to be guarded by the likes of Sasha Pavlovic or Victor Claver, and he should be able to exploit those match ups and find the open man should the Blazers double off of him. I’d like to see lots of off-ball movement from the other wing guys and make this banged up Blazers team work as hard as possible on the defensive end.

I do expect the Lakers to win tonight, which would be the first sweep of a back-to-back on the season. It would be nice if they can put Portland away early and give some of the key guys a break, but a win regardless of how it happens is essential if they want to make the playoffs.

Where you can watch: 7:30 pm start time on TWC Sportsnet. Also listen on ESPN Radio 710AM.