Dwightmare part 2 – the Lakers

As I said in part 1, I got a little more invested in Howard than I should have. Just a few weeks ago, I was telling friends that if Howard walked on the Lakers, good riddance. In fact, I said that I was wholly apathetic about Howard. If he signed-back, great. If not, fine. I could be talked into either scenario.

But then it looked like my beloved Warriors might land him, and I crossed the line of rationality. I talked myself into loving Dwight, and everything he stands for.

Time to step back.

Yep. What he said.

Howard is a flawed product. That matters a lot less playing for the Warriors than the Lakers. With the Warriors, we would have been happy to be a contender. With the Lakers, it is all about championships. And Howard is no champion. He may turn out to be an accidental champion, if James Harden is a true champ, and just needs good sidekicks. Howard certainly makes the Rockets relevant for the next few years. But as things stand now, they are only the 5th best team in the West.

Still, I care a lot less about the Rockets than the Lakers. And the Lakers just got totally crushed. Because no matter how flawed Howard is, there is no one else walking through that door.  He was the one they could build around, use to bait Lebron or Carmelo, or at least pretend to be a contender, like today’s Rockets.

The Lakers are about to enter the NBA’s Twilight Zone. They will not be able to make the playoffs (or maybe they will – a team with Kobe, Pau, and 10 other guys has got a shot at the playoffs in any given year). They will not get a high lottery pick. They will struggle to attract free agents (who will want to play for a non-Twilight Zone team).

Let’s get real – Lebron is not coming. Lebron will finish his career in Miami.

So, after a lost season, who can the Lakers get next summer to re-ignite hope?

Here’s a name for you: Kevin Love. Personally, I am not a fan. But… he has cachet, he is “available” (as they say in Hollywood), and he would probably thrive in the D’Antoni system. If the Lakers re-sign Kobe and Pau at reasonable rates, land Love, and add a couple of 3-and-D wings, they can at least get in the conversation.

If they miss on Love, they should probably swallow their pride and ask the Warriors about David Lee. This would be in the nature of a salary dump by the Warriors, in which the Lakers get Lee and the Warriors get cap room. The Warriors may not be interested. But I think Lee would do well as a running 4 in D’Antoni’s system. 

Or… look at what the Mavs are doing this summer. They are reloading for a 3-year run with Dirk. But not with marquee free agents. They are signing journeymen. Is that enough to make them championship contenders? Or just enough to ensure playoff appearances?

 

Lebron to the Lakers?

Brian Windhorst wrote the most obvious article in the world: the Lakers are planning for 2014, when Kobe and Pau expire. And who will be available then? …  Gosh, Lebron James! Coincidence? Er… yes.

As much as Mitch Kupchack wants to keep every door open, and look like a mastermind, the truth is: this is just a big coincidence. Kobe and Pau got the longest contracts they could under the CBA. That’s not a genius move by Mitch K. It’s just what had to happen. If LBJ happens to pop free the same summer the Lakers finally get under the cap, well, that’s cool.

But realistically, the Lakers are currently the victims of their own success. No one wants to go and “Walk in the Shadows of Greatness.” That’s why Dwight Howard avoided the place like the plague. Chris Paul has expressed similar sentiments. Steve Nash is there only because he is recently divorced, and wants to spend time with his kids. The last brand-name guy who wanted to be a Laker is Ron Artest. And how many Laker fans love that contract?

Weirdly, NBA players think it is cooler to raise up Donald Sterling’s Clippers than to perpetuate Dr. Buss’ Lakers. Ouch!

Anyway, thanks to Widndhorst, Lebron (and the rest of us) will have endure two years of questions about going to the Lakers. Each of which will only serve to harden Lebron’s heart against the Lakers, much as similar questions (and Shaquiile O’Neal) poisoned the well for Dwight Howard.

Of course, Howard ended up a Laker after all, and is likely to stay one. But Lebron is in a very different situation:

  • He just won the NBA championship. He has an excellent chance to win the next two. Don’t you think that will influence his thinking?
  • This is not just a Laker’s playground. Miami can reload too.
  • Lebron’s image, and legacy, would be better served if he returned to Cleveland, which now has Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson to support King James.

Bottom line, I just don’t see this (Lebron to the Lakers) happening.

 

Meanwhile, in Laker-land

The Lakers came so very close to getting Michael Beasley. And that would have been a major coup, my friends. With both Sessions and Beasley, the Lakers would have gotten a huge injection of youth and speed. Sigh.

I’m glad I get to watch the Lakers make one more run with Kobe, Pau, and Andrew. Because I know that Pau is going to get traded over the summer. As a friend of mine said: as soon as someone offers 75 cents on the dollar, Pau is gone.  The Lakers are hell-bent on getting below the tax limit before the super tax takes effect after next season. They can’t do that and keep Pau.

Actually, I wonder if they can do that and keep Kobe? That is the elephant in the room that everyone is starting to notice. The Lakers have not used their amnesty yet. Maybe they will use it on Ron Artest. But it has to be really intriguing to think about paying off Kobe, getting way under the cap, and rebuilding with young guys plus Bynum.

The Lakers had two first round picks this year, and unloaded both at the trade deadline. If you have a loaded, championship-caliber team, this makes sense. If you are looking to start rebuilding, quietly, then this is crazy. Let’s concede that the Lakers are not a loaded championship team. (They have a puncher’s shot at the title, but they are far from “loaded” right now.) And let’s go ahead and assume that they are not crazy.  So what are they up to?

Here’s how I see it laying out:

* Sessions will opt out this summer. The Lakers will re-sign him at around $8MM per year, for 5 years. Not a great value for the Lakers, but they won’t have much choice. Sessions can play anywhere for the full midlevel, and there will probably be a couple of teams with cap space courting him.

* Also this summer, they will unload Pau. For now, let’s assume they trade for picks, expiring contracts, and a trade exception. That makes the math easier later.

* In summer 2013, they will give Bynum a max contract.

* So, in that summer of 2013, they will have Sessions and Bynum, one more year of World Peace and Blake, and Kobe. That is $67MM in payroll, maybe $5MM short of the tax line. They need to fill the roster with 10 more guys. It sure would be nice to free up, say, $30MM, right?

*  Guess who will make $30MM? Kobe! If the Lakers pay him off, they drop $20MM under the cap, which makes them a major playa in free agency.

* We haven’t yet considered the possibility that Pau is traded for good guys with longer contracts. For example, a trade that could easily happen: Pau for Luis Scola and Chase Budinger. That adds another $11MM to the Lakers payroll.

No matter how you massage the numbers, the ugly truth is there: the Lakers cannot get under the tax line and keep Kobe.

(Ok, they could amnesty World Peace, trade Bynum for a sack of picks, bottom out in 2013, and rebuild in 2014. Or, Jim Buss could reach deep, pay the onerous tax for one year, then re-sign Kobe to a twilight-years contract at reasonable rates (the Steve Nash solution). I just don’t think those scenarios will happen.)

 

Trade winds

When it comes to trades, it takes two to tango. So I look for the win-win trade, because win-lose trades don’t get made in the modern NBA.

The Monta Ellis to Orlando rumors are silly. Where is the win-win? The Magic have no one that anybody wants. Except for Dwight Howard, of course. But he is not walking through that door.

And why would the Magic want Ellis? To pair with Jameer Nelson? Lol!

So… what makes sense out there?

You heard it here first, and I’m going to keep promoting it: Laker’s Pau Gasol for Celtics Rajon Rondo. That is a win-win waiting to happen.

Closer to home, I like the rumored Ellis for Joe Johnson trade. That is another win-win. The Hawks are looking to rebuild on the fly, and achieve salary sanity. The Warriors need a big guard.

I love the bag-of-Ws for Andrew Bogut and Steven Jackson trade. Let’s assume that SJax is willing to bury the hatchet and play for the new Lacob/MJax version of the Warriors. Let’s also assume that his extension demand is really just a way to either exploit a weak franchise, or get traded from an unpleasant city. If the Warriors can add Bogut and Jackson to their roster, they have a legit starting 5 next year. BTW, this trade probably keeps Ellis and Curry together, while cleaning out the young talent. So next season’s starting 5 would be: Bogut, Lee, Jackson, Ellis, Curry. Nice, eh?

More likely, the Warriors are being asked to give away all their young guys for Bogut/Jackson, and will then have to buy out Jackson. If all we get is a gimpy Bogut and a big tab, I’m not so in love with that.

Honestly, I just don’t see a blockbuster trade out there this year. Front offices have become increasingly sophisticated. Everyone is working their own plan now. And they are keeping they cards close to their vest. Dwight Howard could shake things up with an unambiguous signal that he is leaving this summer. But if he has waffled this long, why change now?

 

Bullet Points

* Poor Chris Kamen. He is basically an older, taller version of David Lee. Lots of teams would love to have him as a reserve, at low money. But, like Lee, he is on a big money contract (which expires this year). Still – what did the Hornets think they could get for him? Youth and draft picks? Bwahahaha! The only offers they will draw is for overpaid longer-contract guys.

* I recently discovered that Peter Guber is 69 years old. So while Joe Lacob can boast about owning the Warriors for “decades” to come, I don’t think we can expect Guber to be here quite as long. Obviously, I wish him a long, healthy life. Just sayin…

* Dan Gadzuric was a plus/minus monster last year. I can’t understand why he is still looking for work. Actually, he would be a huge upgrade over Earl Barron. Dan fouls too much to get heavy minutes (not a Kwame replacement), but Earl is getting zero minutes these days.

* Speaking of Gadzuric, Lacob ended up trading him and Brandon Wright at the deadline for the Nets’ 2012 2nd round pick. Meanwhile, Keith Smart would go on to coax 36 wins out of the Warriors. If they kept Gadzuric and Wright, would they have won 4 more games, making Smart a 40-game winner? And if so, does Smart still get fired?

* Last year, after the trade deadline, Joe Lacob bragged that he could have had Gerald Wallace, but passed. Wallace ended up going to the Blazers, where he has been quite good. The Blazers are a contender for the West this year. Adam Lauridsen brought up Wallace’s name in his epic interview with Lacob. Lacob’s response: “Not going to get into that.  You may or may not think that’s a good trade.  I don’t know.  Unimportant.” Denial? Hubris? Sigh.

* Danny Ainge waited one year too long to blow up the Celtics. As with Kamen, no one is going to send youth or picks for any of the Old Three. And Rondo has been exposed as a guy who has reached his ceiling.

* Call me crazy, but I think the Celtics best trade partner is the Lakers. The core of the deal to be made is Gasol and Blake for Pierce and Rondo. The Celtics need a quality center, badly. Pierce is showing his age. Rondo is overpaid. Meanwhile, the Lakers need a guard who can penetrate, and stay in front of other guards. Pierce is insurance in case Kobe can’t keep defying medical science. Gasol is left out in a system that now features Bryant and Bynum. Blake needs a fresh start. Danny Ainge and Mitch Kupchack: do this.

 

Fannies in seats

The original Demps trade was far better than the Stu Jackson/Litvin trade. Value of NOLA for a sale just plummeted.
@sheridanhoops
Chris Sheridan
Because D.Demps Hornets would have won 38-40 games and made playoffs, putting fannies in seats in NOLA. Scola, Martin are damn good.
@sheridanhoops
Chris Sheridan

 

This, distilled effectively, is what I was driving at earlier. The first trade was so much better for the Hornets, never mind the other teams.

Scola/Martin/Odom put you in the hunt for the playoffs. Jack et al do not. Just sayin…

 

Do the Lakers hate Lamar?

The press is on fire lately with reports that the Lakers are shopping Lamar Odom. What’s the story?  Are they really unhappy with him?

I doubt it. I think the Lakers like Lamar lots. For what he is and does, he has a reasonable contract. Believe me, he is pretty far down the Laker’s wish list of players they want to unload.

The Lakers want to get better this offseason. They know they need to get younger and faster. The truth is, Lamar is just the best trade asset they have. The other guys are either:

  1. Untouchable (Kobe, Pau, Bynum)
  2. Unappealing (Artest, Walton)
  3. Don’t make enough for a worthwhile trade (Blake, Brown), or
  4. Both 2 and 3 (Fisher, Barnes)

Lamar just happens to be the only guy they have that:

  1. Other teams want
  2. Doesn’t make too much money
  3. But makes enough to trade for another team’s assets

So poor Lamar will be dangled this week, and whenever free agency happens. But if the Lakers can’t get the deal they want, I think they’ll be content to have Odom on the roster when the new season tips off.

Catching up

The regular season was a long dull march for the Warriors. But since the season ended, so much has happened, to the Warriors and the rest of the league. I’ll try to catch up here.

  • I was wrong about Keith Smart, and about Joe Lacob. Lacob has spent the last 6 weeks beefing up the brainpower in the front office. Jerry West! Woot! OTOH, I do think that Lacob fired Smart expecting some bigger name coaches to be available. Didn’t happen, and now they’ll be picking over the leftovers. I was actually hoping for Mike Brown, but that leads us to…
  • I was dead on about the Lakers. The Buss’s went with the most qualified guy, not the young assistant. But then, the Lakers are also victims of this year’s coaching dearth. Which reminds me…
  • Tim Kawakami floated the idea of a “greatest generation” of coaches this year. He argues that there was a group of exceptional coaches, all working at the same time, and all getting old simultaneously. Jackson, Sloan, Riley, Nelson, Larry Brown. I would add George Karl and Rick Adelman. Only Karl is still employed. Point being: times are changing, and power coaches are on the way out.
  • Why is everyone so down on Jim Buss? True, he is “inexperienced”. And true, he gets the job by nepotism, not merit. But still… he has an excellent support group: Jerry (his dad), Jeanie (his biz-savvy sister), Mitch Kupchack (Jerry West disciple). How bad can he screw up with all that adult supervision?  So far, his two big moves are: 1) picking and keeping Andrew Bynum (that hasn’t been a bad decision, actually), and 2) hiring Mike Brown (most qualified candidate). Let’s cut him some slack until he does something authentically stupid.
  • Jerry West! OMG! There is literally no bigger name in the NBA. Nothing else could have given me any hope for the Warriors’ future.
  • Kids will look back at this year’s playoff records, and shrug. No big deal. Heat go 4-1, 4-1, 4-1. Mavs go 4-2, 4-0, 4-1.  They will miss the nuances of each game played. The authentic struggle. The Heat beat the Celtics and Bulls in 5 games each, but it was not as easy as the record suggests. Ditto for the Mavs. The games are worth watching.
  • Chris Bosh was my MVP in the Eastern Finals. James and Wade closed it out, but Bosh kept them in the series.
  • Dirk Nowitski is having one of those magic postseasons, like Moses Malone in 1983, or Hakeem Olajuwon in 1994 and 1995. Playing over his head. And probably winning a championship.

Why the Lakers lost

Problems on both ends. Let’s review…

Offense

The Lakers have never had much motion or flow in their offense. Typically, they take turns going 1-1. That works out because they have some great individual scorers. In post-seasons, they have gotten timely scoring from unexpected places (Trevor Ariza, Jordan Farmer, Shannon Brown, Ron Artest). But against good team-defense (Celtics, Cavs, Magic, these Mavs), they have always struggled. If someone doesn’t step up and have a lights-out game, they often lose against those teams. Fortune has smiled on the Lakers, and Kobe has had some monster games.

I don’t want to blame the Triangle, because Kobe won’t really run it.  Maybe there is no offense that Kobe will actually run. What I know is… the Lakers rarely have the kind of motion and flow that I see in other teams.

Defense

The Lakers are statistically effective at defending the 3-point shot this year. But that was a devastating weapon for the Mavs. What happened?

Some guys are deadly 3-point shooters. You cannot give them any space to shoot. Which means you cannot leave them to help on defense. Most teams have, at most, one such shooter. You can stay with that guy, or absorb his damage and still win.

Everyone in the league can nail unopposed 3-point shots. Jason Kidd proved that to the Blazers in the first round. But, except for the the deadly shooters,  a little defensive effort goes a long way. If you just run at most shooters, you’ll drop their shooting percentage by 10 points. The Lakers made “running at shooters” a point of emphasis on defense this year. That made them a statistically good 3-point defender.

But that Mavs have three (3!) deadly shooters. That changes your whole defense. Or not. The Lakers gave their usual effort, which was not nearly enough against 3 deadly shooters.

One thing the Lakers have been horrible at for the last 10 years is defending quick, penetrating guards. The Lakers have basically never had anyone who could stay in front of a quick guard, and keep him out of the paint. The Mavs exploited this with JJ Barea, just as the Hornets did earlier with Chris Paul. The reason the Lakers don’t worry much about penetrating guards is that they have multiple 7-footers to oppose their shots. Which is fine, as long the the guards are forced to dish to ineffective 3-point shooters. But, as discussed, the Mavs are blessed with a surfeit of 3-point talent.

And so, the result: 4-0 Mavs.

Why the Lakers will stand pat.

Magic Johnson has spent the last few days asserting that the Lakers will “blow it up” after losing to the Mavs. I don’t think so. Here’s why…

  • Jerry Buss is a zillion years old. In 2004, he could still imagine living long enough to endure a 5 year rebuilding process. Not now. He wants to hang onto the glamor, and the chicks. That means top-4 finishes in the West, for a few more years.
  • The Spurs took the same long look in the mirror two years ago, and decided to keep rolling with their guys. The Jazz did the same 10 years ago. Frustrated fans might want to lash out and “blow it up.” But GMs like their cushy jobs, and owners like full arenas.
  • It is surprisingly hard to “blow it up” in the NBA. Players have guaranteed contracts. The trade rules are complicated. There is a salary cap, so you can’t just buy out contracts. Also…
  • Everyone important to the Lakers is under contract for 3 more years. At significant money. Does anyone in the league actually want Ron Artest at $7  million? Or Derek Fisher at $3.4 million? Bynum at $16 million?

So… I think the Lakers next year will look astonishingly like the Lakers this year.

The trade everyone expects (like we expected Carmelo to the Knicks this year), is Dwight Howard to the Lakers. If that happens (and I am not yet convinced that Dwight will force the issue), it won’t happen until somewhere around the trade deadline, with everyone in a holding pattern until then. Remember, Orlando also has a zillion-year-old, win-now owner. Waiting for that deal to happen (or not) will jam up the Lakers for the next year, preventing other, easier trades.

The only sense in which the Lakers could “blow it up” between now and the resolution of Dwight Howard’s next contract, is to make a radical coaching change. Jerry Buss has never liked the Triangle offense. He prefers an up-tempo game. He tried to go that direction in 2004, hiring Rudy T.  But then he re-hired Phil Jackson, because he realized (even then) that he wanted to win now, not eventually. So although Brian Shaw has been the presumptive heir, I would not be surprised to see Jerry Sloan or Larry Brown installed to goose the offense and keep the wins rolling.