Archives For Laker News

I wouldn’t blame you if you missed the news or, if you did hear it, were immediately distracted by the news the Clippers’ owner had allegedly made another string of racially and ethnically insensitive statements that could land him in some trouble. I won’t rehash, or get into, those comments in this space. If you’re looking for reflections on the topic, you can read here or here for pieces I found thought provoking.

In any event, the Lakers are, reportedly, set on bringing Mike D’Antoni back to coach another year. This comes from the OC Register’s Mark Heisler:

After 10 days of soul searching, the key figures in Lakers management are agreed on bringing back D’Antoni for a third season as coach, a source with knowledge of the deliberations told the Register…

The Lakers have yet to inform D’Antoni of anything, but they intend to keep him, absolving him of blame for the 27-55 finish without Bryant and Steve Nash for 141 of a possible 162 games.

That second part about not yet informing the coach seems to be an important one. As was noted on twitter multiple times by other beat writers who cover the team (Mark Medina and Kevin Ding just to name a couple), the Lakers have yet to have a formal sit down with D’Antoni following the team’s exit interviews and may not do so for another week (or longer). So, while I am not outright doubting Heisler’s initial report, I tend to believe that this is not as done a deal as he might imply. (As an aside, that is not a shot at Heisler who I respect as a writer and someone who has long been on the Lakers’ beat.)

Especially when you consider that, within hours of that report surfacing, both Ramona Shelburne of ESPN Los Angeles and Sam Amick of USA Today reported that D’Antoni would like the Lakers to pick up his fourth year option this summer. From Amick:

It wasn’t just about whether they wanted him back, but whether he wanted to be there for the final seasons of the three-year deal worth approximately $12 million that includes an option in the fourth year. The crucial kicker, both literally and figuratively, is the option which is currently a key factor in whether he’ll return.

According to a person with knowledge of the situation, D’Antoni is has some concerns about returning as a lame-duck coach and is pushing for the 2015-16 option to be picked up. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the discussions.

It’s unclear whether D’Antoni will return if the Lakers maintain their current stance that they don’t plan on picking up the option, but the fact that he would like that sort of security should surprise no one who has watched these last two seasons unfold.

Amick paints a different picture here that should not be ignored. While it is more than fair to say Mike D’Antoni is not in a position to make any “demands”, it is also not difficult to understand his position.

Surely the financial security matters — if there is any inkling the team may fire him either in-season or next summer (and there is), angling for that year’s salary is smart — but the concept of him wanting the locker room authority that comes with that extra security is also real. It’s much easier to tune out a lame duck coach than it is someone who will, theoretically, be around for at least another season. It also is fair to acknowledge that in a summer where free agency will be a major part of how the roster is constructed, having your coach be (again, theoretically) locked in to more than one season is also helpful (if said player is signing on to play for this specific coach).

If D’Antoni is saying he wants the security and influence that comes with the team wanting him back for another season — and he seems to be — I don’t blame him. It is what anyone would want in his position. The question, however, is are the Lakers going to give it to him? The second question is how much does it matter?

We don’t yet know how serious the Lakers are, if at all, about bringing D’Antoni back. They have never been fond of paying people to go away and cutting D’Antoni loose at this stage, with another nice piece of change owed to him, would be exactly that. We also do not know how much that extra year of security matters to this coach. Is what we are seeing going to devolve into a game of chicken between the Lakers and D’Antoni? If so, who will blink first?

In an ideal world both sides would simply come to an agreement about what is going to be best for this team next season and beyond. While some don’t believe this to be true, a roster full of players who fit D’Antoni’s system and have the ability to play the style he wants can be very successful in the NBA. If those players are also strong individual defenders they can form the base of a team defense that performs well. On the other hand, a team built around Kobe and/or other post up threats who enjoy success playing in isolation and in drawing double teams near the paint and kicking out to shooters/slashers, both sides could also agree that it is better to part ways.

Which path ends up being the one the team goes down remains to be seen, but whichever direction they go here is hoping we know within the next couple of weeks.

ESPN Los Angeles’ Dave McMenamin first tweeted out the news that has seemed growingly inevitable as the season wears on- more likely than not, Steve Nash has played his last game this season.

There’s no other way to describe this news other than plain old sad. Nash has worked his tail off to get back to form this season and make due on that increasingly unexplainable contract that pays him upwards of $9 million per season. But when you’re body simply won’t cooperate, there’s nothing you can do.

I was one of the millions of Laker fans who was ecstatic when the news broke on July 4th, 2012 that the team had acquired the two-time MVP. Never in a million years did I expect Nash to function more as a cap-clogger than anything productive on the floor. It’s now a legitimate possibility that the Lakers use the stretch provision on Nash, would could end the future hall-of famers career. By exercising this provision, the Lakers would release Nash and his cap figure would be spread across three years, allowing the Lakers added flexibility to chase free agents.

If Nash has indeed played his last game in purple and gold, his final game tally in two years would be 60. Not what the Lakers had in mind.

Kobe’s in a similar position in the sense of not knowing whether he’ll suit up for another game this year. He’s still weeks away from an evaluation, and if he’s cleared to play then, he’d likely have to have at least a bit of practice time to get him back into game shape. And judging from the 4 games he played in his return from the achilles injury, he wouldn’t be his usual self- at least not at first- when he does make it back onto the court.

All of this injury news bodes well for those Laker fans aboard Team Tank. The Lakers enjoyed probably their best win of the season last night in snapping Portland’s five-game win streak. In Portland. The win was so surprising that it prompted this headline from the LA Times: “Lakers beat Trail Blazers…in Portland…really!” But despite this, and the win over Sacramento where the Lakers caught fiiiiire from three, the upcoming schedule remains brutal- six out of the next eight games are against teams above .500, including two each against the Thunder and Spurs (who are absolutely incredible. Nothing less. Each and every year I count them out, figuring Father Time will eventually prevail. Those who believe the age-old adage that Father Time is undefeated doesn’t know that Gregg Popovich exists. Okay, Spurs rant over).

Without Kobe and Nash for the foreseeable future, the Lakers should return to their losing ways in the next couple weeks. Of the remaining 22 games, 15 come against teams above .500. If you’re rooting for losses, things are working out quite nicely for you- the Lakers’ remaining schedule is brutal and they will be without the production of both Kobe and Nash, however limited that production might be, when they go toe-to-toe with these superior teams.

The news hit right before game time — Steve Blake was actually in his warm-ups and was ready to play against the Rockets — but in an instant the third longest tenured Laker (behind Kobe and Pau) was a Laker no more. Blake was shipped off to the Warriors in a 2-for-1 trade that netted the team young swingmen MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore.

The mechanics of the deal aren’t as straight forward as you’d think, but Amin Elhassan of ESPN summed up the deal as three separate trades:

  1. Steve Blake traded to the Warriors into a Traded Player Exception (TPE)
  2. MarShon Brooks traded to the Lakers into a TPE
  3. Kent Bazemore traded to the Lakers into a minimum salary exception

Those are the mechanics, the business side of this. Of course, that’s not the only part of a deal like this.

I, for one, will miss Steve Blake a great deal. Others may not feel this way and it is somewhat understandable when you consider the full picture of his time as a Laker. Blake was brought in as a $4 million/year point guard who was supposed to fit into the template as an ideal Triangle point guard. He had a reputation as a shooter, but not necessarily a playmaker and was supposed to thrive as an off-ball worker in Phil Jackson’s scheme. It didn’t play out that way, however. Blake had his moments under Phil, but never really flashed the consistency or high level three point shooting the team was hoping to get. That, combined with his salary, had fans turning on him early in his tenure and never really coming around on him as a player with value.

Which is a shame. Because while Blake’s salary should be a factor in how he’s viewed as a performer, what I saw when he played was someone who always gave his all while on the floor, always talked about the success of the team as his number one priority, and always carried a chip on his shoulder with an extra level of competitiveness that isn’t always seen in players — even at this level. He never wilted from a big moment, never blamed a teammate when something went wrong, and never did anything less than he could to try and help the team win. If that meant playing out of position at shooting guard, he’d do it. If it meant coming off the bench or having his minutes cut, he’d accept that too. Blake is the type of teammate everyone respects and the type of player who coaches love to have on their side.

The hardest part about trading Blake now is that he had finally come into his own as a contributor in a scheme that seemed to suit his skills best. Unlike the off-ball work he was asked to do under Phil Jackson and Mike Brown, Blake had the ball in his hands under Mike D’Antoni and was showing what he could do with the added responsibility. He proved he could make plays for his teammates in both the half court and when running the fast break. He also showed that he really could shoot well enough to be a long range threat. Blake had his best games under this head coach. Now he will try to do the same for Mark Jackson out in Oakland.

I wish him nothing but the best moving forward.

And speaking of moving forward, the players the Lakers got in this deal fit the profile of players they’ve been chasing for the past year. Brooks isn’t a former lottery pick, but he’s a former first round pick who has flashed an ability to score the ball well. His rookie season saw him score over 12 points a game while playing about 29 minutes per night. Since that point, however, he’s seen his minutes and production dip. In his 2nd season with the Nets he only played 12.5 minutes per night and in stints with the Celtics and Warriors this year he’s only appeared in 17 total games. Brooks’ issues seem to lie most with his shot selection and his ability to play NBA level defense. The latter is an issue most young players have, but that doesn’t alleviate the concern. The former is an issue that can also be aided with coaching, but that doesn’t mean it actually will be. Some players are what they are and never really grow out of the habits that they’ve had most of their basketball playing lives.

Whether Brooks is one of those players or not remains to be seen. But know that the Lakers acquired him to get a long look at whether he is redeemable as a player and whether the promise he showed as a rookie can be harnessed again. Brooks, after all, is only 25 and is only in his 3rd year. He is entering his prime and whatever skill he has is about to be combined with what should be his peak physical years. The Lakers, like they did with Xavier Henry and Wes Johnson and Kendall Marshall, are hoping he can show why he was a first round pick in the first place and do it under their watch.

As for Bazemore, he’s had a winding road to the NBA, going undrafted and then having spent time in the D-league trying to round his game into form. He’s probably best known for his legendary sideline celebrations, but he’s also been a summer league demon and flashed an ability to use his athleticism and physical gifts to look like a capable a pro. The issue is, however, that he hasn’t shown the skill level to match his physical tools and that has left him out of the Warriors’ rotation the past two seasons. This past summer they experimented with him as a point guard and tried to rework his jumper to get him to be a compliment to Steph Curry, allowing Steph to play off the ball more offensively and guard the lesser of the two guards defensively. That, though, never materialized and now the Warriors have turned to Steve Blake to do that job (after also failing with Toney Douglass and, to a lesser extent, Jordan Crawford).

If Bazemore is really going to stick in this league it will have to be as a “three and D” perimeter player in the half court and a guy who is opportunistic and a strong finisher in the open court. His defensive potential is enormous as he has great length and enough foot speed to guard three positions. That, like Brooks’ offensive talent, must be harnessed, though, if he is to become a rotation player in this league. Just as his offense will need to be at least replacement level. It’s one thing to have a somewhat broken jumper if you play Tony Allen level defense — but even that is getting harder to do as spacing has become so crucial in the league — but Bazemore is nowhere near that level now. So he must refine his offensive game so he can be a somewhat capable half court player. Because if he doesn’t, he’ll find himself sitting on the bench a lot in Los Angeles, just as he did in Oakland.

The Lakers will give him his shot, though. And he has some potential to make a wise man out of a gambler.

All in all, then, what these trades do is signal the continued transition of this team, in this season. Trading Blake means salary savings and a peek at two young players who have some promise. It maintains financial flexibility moving forward and, at least in the short term, actually adds healthy players to the rotation for coaches to evaluate. I can’t say from a management perspective I am mad at this approach. It is hard to see a player you like leave, however. And with the trade deadline nearly here, I don’t think it will be the last time I say that today.

In the newest chapter of the Magic Johnson-Lakers Management relationship saga, Magic told reporters from the LA Times that he’s willing to help the Lakers in their pursuit of free agents this summer.

This comes exactly one week after Magic vowed via Twitter that he’d stop criticizing the purple (blue) and gold. Previously, Magic had been harshly critical of Mike D’Antoni’s rotation and suggested that Jim Buss needs help running the organization.

Magic is a valuable asset to the Lakers if he’s truly invested in helping them recruit. He’s an all-time great (probably top 5 ever), and is the perfect example of an NBA player parlaying his superstar status into a multitude business ventures. He’ll tell free-agent targets that Los Angeles is the perfect place for them because of the franchise’s commitment to winning as well as the vast opportunities that Los Angeles offers.

Let’s hope Kevin Love looks up to Magic Johnson as much as the rest of us do.

 

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.