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 MG 2088This is going to be a fascinating Lakers season on various levels, but one is the narrative surrounding the myriad Lakers who are in contract years this season. Outside of Steve Nash, Robert Sacre and Elias Harris, there are no Lakers who have contracts that extend past the 2013-14 season. Nick Young has a player option for the 2014-15 season, but can opt out of his deal for greener pastures should he choose to do so.

Going into a season, we’d normally segregate the various contractual castes, but what the top and bottom of the notional salary totem pole have in common is the dynamic that everyone is playing for a new deal this season. Kobe Bryant playing to show that he’s still worth top dollar, in theory, isn’t any different than Jordan Hill or Steve Blake or Jodie Meeks wanting to have a great season to earn a bigger contract over longer years.

Guys going into a season knowing that they’re in a contract year isn’t a new phenomenon, but a team with this many players not knowing what their respective contract situation for the following season is unprecedented, and could potentially be problematic. One of the Lakers biggest issues last season was a lack of chemistry. From the coaching change to the clashing personalities to the plethora of injuries, the team never got on the same page. Now, with the majority of the team in a position to make more money in the following season, getting on the same page could prove to be difficult.

“It depends on you want personally, said Hill at the Lakers media day this past Saturday. “Do you want to win or do you want money? If you perform and win, you’re going to get the money anyway. I just want to focus on winning and playing hard.”

While it may be difficult to get everyone in a contract year zoned in on that singular focus, there is a possibility that the Lakers could see some pleasant surprises out of some players in the five through eight spots in the rotation. If you google search the worst contracts in NBA history, they’re guys who had phenomenal years proceeding large deals.

  • Rashard Lewis: Following a year that Rashard Lewis posterd a 20.7 PER with a 22.4/6.6/2.4 split per 36, the Orlando Magic gave Lewis a six-year, $118.2 million contract as an unrestricted free agent. Lewis’ win shares would decline for the next six seasons and he would never post a PER above 16.8 in his career.
  • Trevor Ariza: Trevor Ariza had a great 2008-09 year with the Lakers. Both his TS% and eFG% were norht of .500, his turnover percentage was the lowest of his career, he posted decent ORtg and DRtg numbers hand recorded the most win shares of his career. Things got better in the post season as he was instrumental in helping the Lakers get some late game stops to lead the franchis to it’s 15th title while shooting .476 from three. The Rockets would sign the unrestricted free agent to a five-year, $34 million deal and watched as those numbers decline. His win shares would be cut in half and his TS% and eFG haven’t shot back above of .500 since.
  • Amare Stoudemire: Amare Stoudemire has only played 82 games twice in his career, and one of those times he was in a contract year. His 2009-10 season with the Suns, Stoudemire posted a 24.1/9.3/1.0 per 36 split with a 22.6 PER and became an all star. Stoudemire parlayed that great season into a five-year 99.7 million contract. Since then, Stoudemire has only played in 66 percent of games for the Knicks and hasn’t really been able to find a fit into the Knicks system beside Carmelo Anthony.
The list of guys who have excelled in their contract years is limitless, and the possibility of a few Lakers having similar success is high, and performing well in Los Angeles will definitely get a guy like Xavier Henry some looks from teams around the league.

“I think competing takes care if itself,” said Henry on the opportunity to earn a bigger contract by playing well for the Lakers. “If everyone is going out there wanting to win, and we’re winning, everyone is going to get what they deserve at the end of the day. If everyone comes in here and competes, all of those things will work themselves out.

Right now, everyone is saying the right things. Wesley Johnson echoed a lot of what both Hill and Henry said on Saturday, while both Bryant and Pau Gasol don’t seem interested in bringing up their respective contract situations, and neither have began negotiations with the team. Only time will tell whether or not this team will be able to gel and put personal goals aside, but it’s going to be necessary for this team to do so if they’re going to be successful this season.

Last season, the Lakers had what may have been one of the worst Summer League teams in NBA history. They went through the summer league session without recording a win, and looked awful in all of their losses. For their first game of this year’s Summer League, the Lakers fell to the Cleveland Cavaliers 70-62, but there were some positives to take away from this game and some things to keep an eye on as the Summer League progresses.

One of the more glaring things that stood out in this game, especially in the first half, was the team’s willingness to share the ball. Guys were constantly looking to make the extra pass and find their teammates. There were a few times where a back side cutter was missed, and a few times where they were a bit over zealous with their passing, and it led to some turnovers. Even though it won’t show up in the assist numbers (only 11 on the game), I really enjoyed this team’s willingness to share the ball — especially in a situation where everyone is essentially competing with each other for an opportunity to get an invite to training camp.

The team defense was a bit suspect, especially in the second half. Once the Cavaliers started to finally make some jumpers, perimeter defenders started to close out a little harder, making it easier for shooters to get to the rim and compromise the rotations. As expected, the rotations weren’t sharp for the most part, and that led to a few easy buckets for the Cavs front court guys, things you’d expect from a team that hasn’t exactly spent a lot of time together.

Here are a few things that particularly stood out from individual players.

  • In the Lakers first Summer League game, Marcus Landry was the most impressive over the course of the game. Landry finished with 14 points on eight shots. He hit three-of-eight from three, and got in the lane to draw foul shots. He scored 10 of his 14 in the third quarter, and kept the Lakers in the game when the Cavs started finding their shot. Landry was also aggressive on the defensive end in stretches. He has some nice size at 6-7, 225 and used that to his advantage when defending smaller guys.
  • Robert Sacre, the only guy we know for sure who will actually suit up for the Lakers next season, had a fairly decent game. They ran a lot of HORNS, and Sacre was able to knock down the mid range jumper a couple times early in the first, which was a nice sign for the team. That’s one of the things Mike D’Antoni would like to see out of his young bigs. If Sacre can find a way to stretch the floor a bit, even if it’s just bringing his defender out to about 15-feet, will earn him some minutes this season. He still looked a bit raw on the defensive end of the floor, but he continues to work hard when he has minutes. Early on, he was really scrappy on the boards and created a couple of second chance opportunities.
  • Elias Harris had some really strong points in tonight’s opening game. Harris was most impressive when attacking the rim. There was a play early in the first where he took the ball strong to the rim, used his body well to fend off the defender and finished. Harris also wasn’t too bad off the ball, constantly moving without the rock in his hands and cutting when opportunities presented themselves. Harris was one of the backside cutters that was missed a few times, but was found on a gorgeous drive from Josh Selby and finished with a dunk in the third quarter.

Overall, the first game was pretty much what you would expect from an inaugural Summer League game. A lot of feeling out both teammates and the opponent in a sloppy first half. Things got a bit better in the second half, but it wasn’t exactly great basketball. Regardless of the results, this year’s Summer League team looks a bit better than last year’s rendition, and they’ll have opportunities to win some games this season. I don’t expect them to win this year’s new NCAA style tournament, but they’ll be competitive in some games, and we’ll get some good looks at some guys who can potentially get an invite to camp.

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.

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