Saturday, November 22, 2014
Blog Page 56

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Dwight Howard got knocked out by UFC superstar Chuck Liddell! Well, not really.

Liddell recently appeared on ESPN’s SportsNation where host Charissa Thompson asked him to take his best shot at Howard’s cardboard cutout. Liddell had no mercy and KOed the 2-dimensional Dwight, with Melo even taking a fall. Sounds painful but it’s nothing like the shots Dwight has taken from media and fans lately. With Dwight aggravating his shoulder during the game against Memphis, maybe the team should borrow 2-DHoward. He’d probably play the same amount of defense. Just kidding. Well, not really.

 

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Dwight is focused and ready to go.
Photo Credit: LA Times

Earlier today, ESPNLA reporter Dave McMenamin wrote that Los Angeles Lakers Dwight Howard made statements that every Laker supporter needed to hear from their star center,

“I think this will be the start of a new season for us tonight,” Howard said after the team’s shootaround Wednesday in preparation for their game against the Memphis Grizzlies. “Hopefully our effort and energy is where it needs to be tonight. But, it starts with me. I have to bring it.”

These comments came after a team meeting that was held before Wednesday morning’s shoot-around. Mike Bresnahan of the LA Times reported that head coach Mike D’Antoni began the meeting,

Coach Mike D’Antoni started it by saying he was tired of reading newspaper stories about players questioning his offense or wanting more touches. Bryant and Howard each fell under that category after the Lakers’ lifeless 95-83 loss Monday in Chicago: Bryant said the offense needed to slow down while Howard expressed displeasure after taking only five shots.

Afterwards D’Antoni expressed to the team how they needed to improve defensively. Once he finished his part he allowed the players to speak, Steve Nash went first.

Nash, in his first season with the Lakers, said he didn’t care how they played, whether it was via pick-and-roll or fastbreak or whatever. He just wanted everybody to be comfortable in the system. It was seen as a sacrifice by Nash, who played four seasons under D’Antoni’s run-and-gun offense in Phoenix and won two NBA MVP awards while doing it.

Bryant also spoke up, acknowledging he could be “hard to play with” and asking Howard if that bothered him.

Howard’s answer was unclear, though he did not engage Bryant in nearly as vocal a manner as Bryant engaged him.

“He didn’t go back at Kobe,” said the person who witnessed the meeting.

It was not known how long the actual meeting lasted, but the Lakers’ shoot-around went an hour longer than expected.

Even with the team meeting coach D’Antoni  discussed his reasons for why the Lakers are not performing as well as expected,

“Have you ever watched an All-Star Game? It’s god-awful,” he said. “Everybody gets the ball and goes one-one-on and then they play no defense. That’s our team. That’s us. We’re an All-Star team.

“And we haven’t learned that there’s a pecking order. There’s the one guy, the two guy, the three guy and the four guy. It might not be the same guy every night but somebody’s got to accept being the fourth guy. And if you’ve been the first guy all your life, that’s hard to accept. And that’s happened in All-Stars and that’s what happened with us. And we haven’t overcome it.”

The Lakers have been in a season wide funk. Many hoped that in the new year the team would turn the corner but instead have lost 9 of their last 11,

“I think it’s a little bit different now,” Howard said. “I just think it will be different. Our mentality might be a little bit different.”

Elaborating on what he meant, Dwight spoke about how the team needs more production from him on the basketball court than off,

“I have to be more,” said Howard, who is averaging 17.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.5 blocks on the season. “I have to do more for this team. There are a lot of responsibilities on my shoulders. I have to step up and take it. It has to be me. It has to start with me. I’m a guy that has to dominate for us to win. We’re not going to win unless I dominate.”

“People look at stats, and sometimes I myself look at and get caught up in stats, but stats don’t determine the game,” said Howard, now in his ninth season. “I can affect the game without even scoring the ball, so I got to get back on that. It’s not about how many points [I score], or whatever. I’ve been immature in the past in thinking that it’s all about shots because that’s what people want to see. They talk about points and how many times you score and all this stuff, but for me, it’s not even about scoring. It’s just about dominating, and that’s bigger than just scoring points.”

Despite these comments Dwight did not speak about recent trade rumors or whether he has decided to remain a Laker past this season,

“The only reason they’re saying that is I have an opportunity to walk away at the end of the year, so I totally understand that,” Howard said. “But that’s my right at the end of the year. It doesn’t matter what team [wants me], or whatever they decide to do. I plan on being here for the remainder of the season, and my focus and our team’s focus is what we can do is to get into the playoffs, and from there, it’s anybody’s game.”

More than a week ago coach D’Antoni made similar comments saying that the season began after the home loss to the red hot Oklahoma City Thunder. The Lakers have won only 2 games out of their last five since that statement was made. However everyone still believes that they will succeed. Coach D’Antoni believes that as long as the Lakers play as a team they will soon accomplish their goals.

“Teamwork,” D’Antoni said. “Most of it’s about the Lakers. It’s about trying to get our offense down right, get our defense right and get our minds right. … Today is a little bit more time making sure we’re right mentally, physically and getting ready.”

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Image Credit: Elite Daily
Image Credit: Getty Images
Image Credit: Getty Images

According to ESPN.com, Lakers’ General Manager Mitch Kupchak believes head coach Mike D’Antoni is not the problem for this season’s debacle.

Sorry Kupchak, you’re wrong.

After a 12-20 start to his tenure in Los Angeles, it has become quite clear that hiring Mike D’Antoni was an undeniable mistake. The Lakers are currently riding a 4-game losing streak and stand 17-25, good enough for 12th place in the Western Conference.

The Lakers initially fired former head coach Mike Brown just five games into the 2012-13 season, in an attempt to correct the dismal 1-4 start. Interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff then stepped in and properly led the Lakers to a 4-1 record. In the meantime, the front office conducted a “comprehensive” search for the Lakers’ 24th head coach in franchise history.

According to multiple reports, former Lakers’ head coach, Phil Jackson, was ready to accept the Lakers’ head coaching vacancy. Instead of hiring the 11-time champion, the Lakers decided to hire D’Antoni at midnight the night before Jackson was supposed to accept the offer.

Now, after a .375 winning percentage and 32 games under D’Antoni’s belt, the Lakers are practically back to square one. At 8 games below .500, the Lakers are seemingly back to where they were at the beginning of the season, with Brown as the head coach.

The time has now come for the Buss family to admit their mistake. The front office has invested too much time and money into this team to allow a coach to come in and destroy its potential. For the Lakers to even have a fighting chance at salvaging this season, it is time for D’Antoni to go, immediately.

The main issue this season is not with the personnel, it is instead with the inconsistency and incompetence of the head coaching position. In a season crammed with excuses, the Lakers’ front office must own up to their biggest one.

The following is an in-depth look at why exactly D’Antoni was the wrong coach, why he has failed, and why he will continue to fail this season:

Wrong offensive system:

D’Antoni has never coached a traditional big man, better yet two traditional big men, to any type of success during his coaching career. D’Antoni’s “run and fun” or “7 seconds or less” system calls for an up-tempo style of play, that is best suited when a “stretch 4” is playing the power forward position. This is certainly not the case with which Pau Gasol should be occupying that position.

This up-tempo style also relies on a high volume of three pointers per game, something the Lakers’ roster is obviously not built for. Besides SG Jodie Meeks (who rarely sees the floor now), the Lakers do not have any pure shooters.

As a result, the Lakers’ roster is simply not fit for the type of offensive system D’Antoni has implemented in Los Angeles. D’Antoni has essentially tried to fit a square peg in a round hole with his system.

With two of the most talented post players in the NBA, D’Antoni’s system is actually detrimental to their skill-set. Not only has the system moved Gasol away from his most effective spot on the floor (the block), but it has also neutralized many of Dwight Howard’s back-to-the-basket post-ups.

D’Antoni’s offense blatantly neglects the Lakers’ biggest advantage – size. His system places the ball in Nash’s hands for the majority of the time, but it also relies on the high pick-and-roll too often. Down the stretch of many games this season, the Lakers continuously revert to high pick-and-rolls, even when opposing defenses know they are coming and render them ineffective.

D’Antoni’s stubbornness and reluctance to change has cost the Lakers multiple games down the stretch; their offensive sets become too predictable late in games and the Lakers fail to pound the ball inside with Howard, Gasol and Bryant.

In recent games against Miami and Chicago, this predictability was ever-present late in those games. Nash constantly ran pick-and-rolls to no avail, yet the Lakers continued forcing them. Miami, especially, made the adjustment by trapping the pick-and-rolls, which made the Lakers’ plays ineffective and resulted in more turnovers than baskets.

Also, in the loss to Chicago, Howard only had five total shots the entire game. For the Lakers to be effective going forward, they must feature Howard in the post and get him more shots, especially early in games. Feeding Howard the ball inside early tends to make him play with more energy and activity for the rest of the game.

The right system: Phil Jackson’s triangle offense would have been much better suited for this culmination of talent. The triangle, or triple post offense, is defined by its most important feature of creating a sideline triangle between the center (Howard), who stands at the low post, the forward (Metta World Peace) on the wing, and a guard at the corner (Kobe Bryant). The Lakers’ other guard (Steve Nash) would be at the top of the key ready for three-point kick outs, and the other forward (Gasol) would be on the weak-side high post – together forming a “two-man game”.

Although this system may have taken some time to learn for incoming players, like Howard and Nash, it would have been much more effective in the long run. Sure, Nash’s full potential may not have been reached in the triangle, but the other three All-Stars’ potentials would have been. Howard and Gasol would have flourished in the triangle, much like Bynum and Gasol did at times during the Lakers’ championship runs.

The triple post offense would have also led to better ball movement and more equal opportunities for other players, not just Bryant. In D’Antoni’s system, the ball tends to get “stuck” on one side of the floor too often, which leads to forced shots by Bryant. D’Antoni’s offensive system also takes too long for movement to occur, which often results in desperation shots late in the shot clock.

Mike ‘Antoni:

That’s right, “Antoni” with no “D”. The Lakers this season are fifth worst in opponent points per game at 101.4 points per game. This lack of defense on a consistent basis will not win you a championship in the NBA.

The constant defensive lapses, breakdowns and poor rotations are as much on the players as it is on the coach. D’Antoni seems content on allowing 100+ points per game, when in reality, giving up that many points will win you very few games in this league.

D’Antoni’s pedigree has never been on the defensive end, as is evident by the Lakers’ poor defense this season. If the Lakers want to start winning games this season, that lack of focus on defense has to change and it has to change now. The Lakers are not scoring 120 points per game, as D’Antoni first envisioned, so they must rely on their defense to win games.

The Lakers have good individual defenders on this team, namely Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace who have four Defensive Player of the Year awards between them, but they need a defensive-minded coaching staff to bring everyone together. None of the Lakers are on the same page defensively and it shows by their late and even missed rotations, which lead to easy buckets for the opposition.

These breakdowns defensively and not being on the same page are a clear result of the Lakers not practicing too. It seems that every non-gameday the Lakers have, they are getting the day off from practice, rather than working on defensive rotations or schemes. How do the Lakers expect to get any better on the defensive end if they never work on it together in practice?

It is clear that D’Antoni does not understand how to coach defense, so for the Lakers to be even somewhat decent defensively, D’Antoni must be replaced with someone who can actually coordinate an NBA defense.

No consistency:

When D’Antoni was hired as the Lakers’ head coach, he openly encouraged players like Meeks and Antawn Jamison to shoot when they are open. This was all fine so as they hit their shots consistently, but once Meeks entered a recent shooting slump, he was promptly sat at the end of the bench.

Meeks has been in a shooting slump from three-point range of late, but with his recent benching, it will only amplify things. You simply cannot tell a player to shoot every time he is open, but then bench him just for struggling.

This contradiction has not only caused tension in the locker room, but it has also significantly hurt Meeks’, and other players’, confidence while on the floor. D’Antoni’s inconsistency in managing his personnel has led to players becoming unsure of their decision-making on the floor, which leads to unforced errors and turnovers since they constantly play in fear of being benched for making a mistake.

Wearing down Kobe Bryant:

With the difficulties the Lakers have had on the defensive end this season, D’Antoni has decided to make Bryant guard the opposing team’s best guard on a nightly basis. At 34 years of age, Bryant can still do this in short stretches, but having to chase speedy guards around all night wears him down.

Ever since the change in defensive scheme last week, Bryant has been in a deep shooting slump. The extra exertion on the defensive end has caused Bryant to become short on his jump shots. Bryant has also complained about fatigue in his legs recently, which has resulted in less lift on jumpers.

If D’Antoni continues to put Bryant on quick guards, along with play him 39 minutes per game, Bryant will not make it through this season. The Lakers certainly need Bryant to be a presence on the perimeter on the defensive end, but not to such a degree that it becomes detrimental to his offensive efficiency.

No sense of urgency:

None at all. D’Antoni continues to act like there is a bunch of time to make up this ground in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, there is very little time to turn this season around. At the halfway point of the season, the Lakers are a dismal 17-25, yet D’Antoni continues making quotes like “we’re too good to be playing like this”, “our new season starts tonight”, and “it will come all around, we just need more time”.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, D’Antoni, but there is no time left. Change has to come immediately and if it doesn’t, the Lakers will miss the playoffs and have arguably the most disappointing season in sports history.

Avoids confrontation:

Not only does D’Antoni continue to show little sense of urgency for this dwindling season, but he also sorely avoids confrontation with his players. This dislike for confrontation has led and is leading to him losing the entire locker room as players beginning to whine about touches and shot attempts. It certainly seems like he has lost Howard, judging by his recent play.

Take last night’s loss to Chicago, for instance. Howard, who only had five field goal attempts in the game, complained to the media in post-game interviews about his lack of looks inside. Howard also complained about the lack of “inside-out” play that he would like to see from the Lakers offensive attack.

It is fine for players to voice their opinions on the problems with a team, in an attempt to fix those issues, but the underlying problem here is that it seems D’Antoni will avoid confrontation about those issues at all costs. Just as he did in New York, D’Antoni tends to let issues fester inside the locker room until they reach a boiling point, at which it is too late to change.

D’Antoni is not a strong enough coach to command the respect of all fourteen guys in this locker room, with the exception of Nash, whom he has coached in the past. With each additional loss piling up for the Lakers, it looks like D’Antoni is starting to lose his team more and more.

Howard was also rumored to have shown the Chicago game’s stat sheet around to his teammates in the locker room, complaining about his lack of touches and shots. This could develop into a much greater issue, as one of D’Antoni’s main objectives this season was to persuade Dwight Howard into re-signing with the Lakers in the off-season.

D’Antoni’s lack of confrontation and hands-off management style seems to be making Howard disgruntled. Howard excelled under former Orlando Magic’s coach Stan Van Gundy because of Van Gundy’s strong-willed coaching style and firm hold on Howard’s personality. D’Antoni has failed to achieve this in the slightest and it could lead to Howard’s eventual departure in the off-season.

Howard has not been effective at all in D’Antoni’s offense, which is obviously not the best offensive option for this team, and it has led to Howard’s recent frustration both on and off the court. The Lakers also struggle to get him the ball, especially in the fourth quarter, so it is easy to see why he’s unhappy.

The problem with Howard’s inconsistent play may partially be with his volatile attitude and his poor free throw shooting. The problem ultimately resides in D’Antoni, however, both in his system and his unwillingness to confront players like Howard. Like most coaches, D’Antoni seems stubborn and reluctant to change his failing system, even though it is clearly not working.

The players, especially Howard, also need to take responsibility for the way this season has gone, however. They must be accountable for their poor play and Howard must own up to his poor attitude of late, as well as his inconsistent effort.

But, it has become quite evident that D’Antoni is incapable of managing a team full of superstar egos. So, pay attention to this budding saga as the Howard trade talks begin to flare up, with no real end to the Lakers’ struggles in sight.

Benching / neutralizing Pau Gasol:

In Pau Gasol’s eleven years in the league, he has started in 816 out 825 games. Gasol has been one of the most talented low-post players this league has seen in recent years, yet D’Antoni seems inclined to move Gasol to the bench permanently. According to the OC Register’s Kevin Ding, Gasol is out as the Lakers’ starter and Earl Clark will start at the power forward position, for the time being.

Clark is an emerging young player for the Lakers, but he is no Pau Gasol either. Gasol is obviously having a down year, in some part due to injury and in some part due to D’Antoni’s ineffective usage of him, but Gasol’s value to this team is still vital to any success. Unfortunately, D’Antoni will now get his way by starting Clark over Gasol, and get to play “small ball” instead of utilizing the Lakers’ great advantage inside.

Consequently, D’Antoni has now significantly decreased Gasol’s value, both as a member of the Lakers and as a trade asset.

What team in their right mind would take on an aging player, with a massive contract, who has now been made a permanent bench player?

Recently, Gasol has even openly discussed a trade being a possibility now with his demotion to the bench and a reduced role on the Lakers.

It has become obvious over Gasol’s years in Los Angeles, that he has never been positively motivated by trade rumors, criticism or public disrespect. With yet another of his recent rotation changes, D’Antoni has proven that he does not understand that and instead feels Gasol cannot be an effective part of the Lakers’ offense.

This is troublesome because it has significantly hampered Gasol’s confidence, to the point that he almost feels unwanted as a Laker. Gasol will continue to play like a professional, for as long as he’s a Laker, but his future with D’Antoni looks bleak.

It is certainly difficult for any player to fully buy-in to a coach’s philosophies if that player does not feel he is appreciated or needed, for that matter. Although it is still a business, Gasol is in a very unfortunate situation because he does not deserve this type of treatment; especially after all he has done for the franchise.

Giving up on Gasol:

Ever since D’Antoni was hired, it has seemed that he would rather avoid having to deal with integrating Gasol into his offense. D’Antoni now seems content on allowing Gasol to struggle, by moving him to the bench, even though Gasol’s play is one of the main keys to the Lakers’ success this season.

D’Antoni almost seems to have a legitimate disinterest in Gasol’s integration and it has shown in his relationship, or lack thereof, with Gasol. In the game against Chicago, for instance, Gasol was called for a questionable blocking foul on the sidelines late in the fourth quarter.

Instead of sticking up for his player (Gasol) and questioning the referee’s reasoning for the blocking call, D’Antoni instead agreed with the official and simply told Gasol to keep playing. This sequence right here just proves how little D’Antoni respects Gasol as a player.

Gasol is definitely not the root of the Lakers’ problems this season, but he can certainly be part of the solution. The underlying problem with Gasol this season is his utilization by D’Antoni, which does not look like it will change anytime soon.

If the Lakers do in fact trade Gasol, they will obviously not receive an equal return talent-wise. The best the Lakers can get in return, it seems, are pieces or role players, none of which will come close to the talent and ability Gasol brings.

Not on the same page collectively:

Along with D’Antoni’s failure to maximize the Lakers’ potential by placing players in foreign positions, it seems that he is not on the same page with his players. In the post-game interviews after the game against Chicago, D’Antoni placed the blame on the Lakers’ offense, while the majority of the players blamed the defense.

This discord in opinions is certainly a glaring problem, since the head coach places more stock in one set of problems, yet the players place their blame in another set. For any team to have success, especially championship success, all of the players and coaches must be on the same page.

This obvious disconnect circles back to D’Antoni’s inability to lead his team in the right direction as well as his inability to adequately diagnosis and adjust to the Lakers’ problems. This issue of not being on the same page was never a problem for the Lakers under Phil Jackson, and does not seem to be an issue for the Clippers and their success, this season.

The bottom line is that if the Lakers cannot get on the same page as a collective unit, they will have zero chance at reaching the playoffs.

No respect, trust or buy-in by players:

Much like during the debacle under Mike Brown, only a few of the Lakers’ players seem to actually “buy-in” to D’Antoni and his system. Players like Gasol, Howard, World Peace, Jamison, etc. do not seem to give their all, night in and night out. Their inconsistent efforts are simply a byproduct of them not fully investing themselves into D’Antoni’s system.

Not only do most of the Lakers not fully invest in the system, but they also do not seem to trust D’Antoni’s ability to direct this team in the right direction. This distrust in the coaching staff has trickled down to the rest of the team, as is apparent by the constant lapses in defensive rotations.

None of the Lakers trust each other on the defensive end and instead, are consistently shown with their palms towards the sky looking in disbelief at each other. Since there is no collective trust in what they are doing as a unit, there will also not be any trust in the player playing next to them.

This trust and team-unity must come from within the players, but it can be helped and fostered on the exterior by the coach. D’Antoni, however, has made no attempt at trying to make this happen and instead remains content on blaming the Lakers’ failed execution, play making and inability to finish games.

The resolution:

The resolution is simple: fire Mike D’Antoni.

If the Lakers’ front office makes the right decision, firing D’Antoni rather than making more trades, then the successor would most likely be in-house. Along with a possible terminated D’Antoni contract, the Lakers would also still be on the hook for Mike Brown’s contract as well. Adding a third coach, not already under contract, might be too much for this season.

As a result, any successor to D’Antoni would most likely be assistants Bernie Bickerstaff, Steve Clifford or Chuck Person. A new head coach, the third this season, would be disruptive to a degree, but it would still be better than the present situation.

For the Lakers to be successful, Pau Gasol needs to be in the lineup and playing at least 35 minutes per game. He is still a talented player than needs to be on the floor for the Lakers to operate at full potential.

The Lakers need a coach that will tailor a system towards their strengths – size and a dominating paint presence. There is no excuse for the Lakers to be outscored in the paint when they have Howard and Gasol inside.

Despite D’Antoni’s belief, Howard and Gasol can actually work together on the court. Look, for example, at the recent championship Lakers. Phil Jackson made Gasol and Andrew Bynum work efficiently on both ends of the floor, resulting in back-to-back championships. All the Lakers need is a coach with a simplistic system that would help Howard and Gasol fit together, rather than try and fight it.

With Gasol as a mainstay in the rotation, the other three All-Stars will obviously have to concede a little to integrate his unique talent. Despite this need to concede, the Lakers are still much better with him out there than on the bench. That’s not to say that Earl Clark should not getting playing time or is a bad player, but Clark’s role should be more of a backup to Howard and Gasol so that he can continue to bring energy and flexibility off the bench.

As it stands right now, D’Antoni’s system really only makes Nash and Jamison more effective on offense. So, as a result, about 70% of the team cannot run his system or do not fit in the system efficiently. That, along with D’Antoni’s stubborn coaching style and unwillingness to make in-game adjustments, will continue lead to the Lakers’ doom this season.

A new coach is definitely required since it is estimated the Lakers must finish something like 30-10 just to make the 8th seed in the Western Conference, an improbable feat at this point in time. Without a new coach at the helm, the Lakers will continue to squander and finish near the bottom.

And don’t forget, the Lakers may not even own their own lottery pick since the draft pick was traded to Phoenix in the Steve Nash sign-and-trade deal.

The fans:

An off-season headlined by the acquisitions of Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Antawn Jamison, and this is what the fans get? Increases in ticket prices at STAPLES Center, the intangible hype surrounding the Lakers, yet they are a measly 17-25?

After all has been said and done, the hiring of Mike D’Antoni, over Phil Jackson nonetheless, has slighted the loyal fans of the Los Angeles Lakers. In addition to the fans, players like Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard, who openly vouched for Jackson before the vacancy was filled, were let down by the front office’s decision to hire D’Antoni.

If D’Antoni remains coach for the rest of this season, the Lakers will inevitably miss the playoffs, and their future, Dwight Howard, may very well walk away, soon after. Phil Jackson is not walking through that door anytime soon, but any other coach on the Lakers’ staff, at this point, would be better suited leading this team. D’Antoni’s coaching system and style obviously do not work, and are a direct contradiction to the talent on this team.

Even though the fans’ “We Want Phil” chants were ineffective and it is too late to hire Jackson, it is now time for the Buss family and General Manager Mitch Kupchak to relieve D’Antoni of his coaching duties…before it’s too late.

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Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America
Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America
Photo by: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images North America

When the starting lineup for the Los Angeles Lakers was revealed for the game against the Chicago Bulls last Monday night, Pau Gasol’s name was not on it. Head coach Mike D’Antoni decided to leave the now healthy Spaniard on the bench, giving the starting gig to Earl Clark. And that might not change anytime soon.

D’Antoni told the media after the loss at the United Center that his decision to make Gasol come off the bench is set in stone until he changes his mind. The Purple & Gold head coach explained the idea to TNT’s Craig Sager before Monday’s contest, stating that when Pau and Dwight Howard play together, their efficiency ratio ranks as low as 28th in the league, but it can get as high as 5th if only one of them is on the court, adding that Clark will be the starter for the “foreseeable future”.

The news obviously didn’t bode well for the 4-time NBA All-Star. Gasol, who usually prefers to keep his thoughts to himself and not polemicize on those kinds of topics, wasn’t shy about speaking his mind in the wake of his new role as a bench player despite being healthy. Also to TNT’s Sager, Gasol said:

“I have never been a role player in my life and I don’t like it right now.” Regarding a possible trade out of the Lakers before this season’s deadline, Gasol added that “It certainly looks like a possibility to me.”

After the game, Gasol quickly went back to his more usual self, as he tried to ease on his previous comments by telling the media that, although he’s surprised about the situation, “the Lakers have biggest things to worry as a group.” Pau also added the following:

I’d love to play here for as many years as possible because I identify myself with the team and I want it to work. I want this to work for us. I’m part of this team. I’m part of this franchise.

The benching comes in a season in which D’Antoni has struggled to find the perfect balance between the Lakers roster and his up-tempo style of offense that favors smaller lineups. It has certainly been a tough stretch for Gasol, who has been battling a injury-plagued season that included tendonitis on both knees, plantar fasciatis and a concussion. Adding all those factors, the result is that Pau is having arguably the worst year of his NBA stint, averaging a career-low 12.7 points per game.

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Photo by: Getty Images
Photo by: Getty Images
Photo by: Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers will take a break in their current road trip on Tuesday, January 22nd, but that doesn’t mean it’s not gameday for the Purple & Gold faithful. Kobe Bryant announced earlier yesterday via his official twitter account that he will be watching and tweeting about his historical 81-point performance against the Toronto Raptors in 2006, celebrating the seven-year anniversary of one of the most memorable moments in NBA history.

Amazingly, Kobe says that he has never watched himself explode for 81 points on that night at the Staples Center, as he stated in the tweet. Mr. Bryant recently explained the reason behind it in a interview with ESPN’s Chris Palmer, when asked if he ever looks back into his 17-year career and its long list of great accomplishments, specifically that performance against Toronto:

To this day I’ve never seen that game. I don’t feel the need to watch it. What am I going to learn? I don’t watch those tapes. If I’m watching film it’s usually for an upcoming opponent.

Fortunately for all the basketball fans who would love to hear Kobe’s take on his masterpiece, that’s about to change. So free up your schedule on Tuesday at 1 P.M. (PDT) and follow along the Black Mamba himself his unforgettable 81-point game on NBA TV.

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Photo Credit | NBC Sports

When a team plays poorly there are always some options that the GM has at their disposal.  They can trade for some players, look to the free agent market for some sort of spark, or maybe the coach is to blame. In the case of the Los Angeles Lakers, Mitch Kupchak really hasn’t been left with any except to trade one of our All Star pieces.

The Lakers fired head coach Mike Brown, only 5 games into the 2012-13 NBA season, and soon after hired Mike D’Antoni, completely snubbing 11-time World Champion Phil Jackson.  So that makes it very difficult to fire D’Antoni to hire yet ANOTHER head coach. The Lakers would then have three head coaches on their payroll, with two of them at home laughing at how the Lakers can’t seem to get their act together.

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Ronald Martinez | Getty Images

Kupchak has been pushed to this point by the poor and lackluster play by the Lakers thus far this season.  I feel (as I know many of you feel also) that there needs to be a change; I truly wish that the Lakers organization had hired Phil when they had the chance, but that didn’t happen, and we will have to look elsewhere now.  Trading seems to be the only logical thing to do at this point and there are a few players that would be perfect center pieces, most notably Dwight Howard.

There has been the idea that Dwight isn’t truly happy here in LA, and his true home lies in Brooklyn with the Nets.  The Nets know this and have since began looking for a possible trade scenario that would land Howard in Brooklyn.  However, the Nets’ GM Billy King has been looking for a third team in which to facilitate this trade, and most recently, that team had been the Minnesota Timberwolves.  The possible trade called for Howard going to Brooklyn, Brook Lopez to Minnesota, and Kevin Love to Los Angeles, with some other smaller pieces thrown in to make the trade work.  More from that trade scenario can be read here.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Denver Nuggets
Garrett W. Ellwood | Getty Images

Unfortunately, Kevin Love has since been sidelined for 8-10 weeks due to re-injuring his broken hand.  That kind of makes this trade impossible as Los Angeles doesn’t want an injured Kevin Love for All-Star Dwight Howard, even if his performance has been sub-par recently.  The Nets will continue to find a suitable third team for the trade, as they clearly want Dwight Howard on their roster so they can make a strong playoff push.

Personally, I feel our problem isn’t Howard or Gasol and trading them would make things worse at this point. That said, as I noted earlier, a new head coach isn’t an option.  D’Antoni is a great head coach for a team that can mesh with his system, but the Los Angeles Lakers are NOT that team.  As long as D’Antoni is head coach and Jim Buss is still running the organization, the Lakers cannot be successful with this current roster.

Trading Dwight is the best option that the Los Angeles Lakers have right now and receiving a great couple of pieces in return would be best.  After such a thrilling off season and excitement building up to this season it kills me to say that we need to trade the player the Lakers worked so hard to acquire, but it has to be done.

1
Chicago Bulls v Los Angeles Lakers
Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Lakers came into Chicago to play the Bulls tonight, minus Luol Deng, perhaps their best all around player this season. That told me advantage Lakers in the paint. Yes the Bulls still had Boozer and Noah, but they are too small to compete with the Lakers big guys. Surely, Howard, Clark, and Gasol would have their way in the paint. But once again, they proved me wrong.

Nash was unable to get the ball inside in the first half, and when he did, Howard found a way to screw it up. I have been frustrated all year watching this guy. I thought he was going to bring an inside presence, a dominating presence. The kind not seen since Shaq was in his prime. Instead, he fumbles and bumbles his way to the basket, and when he gets fouled, more often than not misses his free throws. Rip Hamilton was energetic, and scored 10 points in the first half, and Boozer and Noah were active on the glass. They out hustled the Lakers on the loose balls, & Nate Robinson was drilling uncontested 3 pointers.

The Lakers scored 29 points in the 3rd quarter, held a 37-29 advantage on the boards, & found themselves tied at 69 heading into the final quarter. Once again, that’s when it all fell apart for the purple and gold. The Lakers allowed the likes of Kirk Heinrich, Marco Belinelli, & Jimmy Butler look like Jordan, Pippen, & Rodman. Not to mention, Kobe had another terrible shooting night, & add to that Steve Nash can’t play defense anymore, & Dwight Howard was invisible.

The Lakers have now lost 6 straight road games, & have to go to Memphis on Wednesday to play the Grizzlies. Good luck with that. L.A. now has as many losses this month (9) as the OKC Thunder have all season. Oh, and did I mention the Lakers road record of 5-14 is tied with the Charlotte Bobcats? Real exciting stuff, huh? What’s most troubling to me is how the Lakers still have no identity as a team, have no energy, play no defense, and are getting older by the day.  I don’t care that Nash had 18 points, he let Kirk Heinrich make him look silly.

I have no sugar coating to put on this game, and I certainly wouldn’t even try. After watching the Lakers melt down in the 4th quarter, and play like they had nothing left in the tank, it’s time to call it like it is. This team is in deep, deep trouble. Every time you think this team is making a move in the right direction, they make a U-turn. The only bright spots in this game for me was the effort put forth by Earl Clark & Metta World Peace. And both of them even had defensive breakdowns, but at least they played hard.

I guess it’s back to the drawing board again, but the Lakers are running out of time. The good thing about this league, is the schedule doesn’t allow time for sulking. Time to go get a win in Memphis. Maybe Elvis can help them win one.

1
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

If it’s not one thing, it’s another. This Lakers team just flat out stinks and the product they display on the court has officially become a joke. From the beginning of the season this team has lacked something every great team needs: an identity. Do they play inside – out? Do they run iso plays? Do they run a pick-and-roll system? Who knows. The truth is, this team is composed of 4 talented all-star caliber players. Two of those players are team first individuals while the other two are selfish individuals.

Kobe Bryant shot an abysmal 7 -22 tonight against a great defensive team in the Chicago Bulls, but anyone that watched the game will tell you that not a single of those 22 shots were easy shots. Every shot seemed forced and contested, which is exactly the opposite of what Kobe claimed he wanted offensively.

The Lakers have two of the top big men in the NBA, yet they continue to take terrible shots off of terrible ball movement. Whenever the Lakers dump the ball into the post they either get a high percentage shot in the paint, an easy pass to a cutting player, or a wide open three. And yet, these Lakers, in particular Kobe, insist on taking outside shots for no apparent reason other than they don’t trust their big men will make the right play.

This Lakers team may make the playoffs, but they will go absolutely nowhere if they continue to play this brand of basketball. First it was the coach, then it was the injuries, then it was the rotation; when will the onus fall squarely on the shoulders of their two superstars Kobe and Dwight?

If Kobe is honest in his statement that the blame should go all on him then he needs to try something different. Playing hero ball for 48 minutes while getting locked down by Jimmy Butler is not something a true leader does. Let’s see what happens if for an entire game Kobe doesn’t take any contested shots and instead throws the ball into the post on every single offensive possession. I am absolutely positive that great things will start to happen for this team.

Unfortunately, the team is full of stubborn coaches and players that refuse to change, and it seems this season has become a lost cause. Here are the grades for the egregious loss to an undermanned Bull’s team:

Steve Nash: B-

Can’t knock Nash too hard for getting burned defensively because it was no secret that Nash is not a good defensive player. He shot the ball fairly well, but Nash needs to set this offense up by posting up the big men. Everyone knows he prefers the pick-and-roll game with the bigs, but how long can he continue to do the same thing over and over before he finally realizes it’s not working?

Kobe Bryant: F

If I could give Kobe a lower grade, believe me I would. It was obvious to anyone that’s watched Kobe throughout his career that he took the great defensive effort of Jimmy Butler as a challenge, and he would have won the battle a few years ago, but this is his 17th season and young guys now have the athletic advantage to defend Kobe very well one on one. Instead, Kobe took terrible shots early in the shot clock and tried to get his against a young player that he must have felt disrespected by in some way. These little battles are ok when you have a winning record, but when you are fighting to get out of the 11th seed in your conference, these foolish battles look very, well, foolish.

Metta World Peace: B

One of the very few players on this team that still shows pride and believes in his team. Metta may not be the best shooter, but Laker Nation can always count on him to bring it every game. Many fans have begged for Metta to be traded, but imagine how bad this team would be without Metta’s defense and energy, two intangibles that make a huge difference for a team.

Earl Clark: B

Gotta feel sorry for EC. He’s playing hard every night on a team that shows no teamwork or chemistry whatsoever.

Dwight Howard: F

No longer will Dwight get a pass for his lack of shot attempts. It’s time for Dwight to show some competitive edge and demand that he get the ball. If you are the biggest and strongest man on the court for every game, you should be able to demand the ball every time down the floor. He needs to get in the face of his teammates and show them that he means business. If he continues to play passively and look like a clown, then his team will continue to treat him like a damn clown.

Pau Gasol: B

Decent game for Pau off the bench even though he expressed that he wants to start. At this point, I actually want Pau to be traded not because the Lakers need somebody better, but because Pau deserves so much better. He is a two-time world champion being treated like Amar’e Stoudemire by a coach who has won absolutely nothing in his career. Pau isn’t being utilized correctly and if he is ever traded to a team that knows how to use him, watch him flourish and make every Laker fan that disrespected his game look like a fool.

1
Photo: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images
Image Credit: Noah Graham | Getty Images

“Another disappointing week in the books for the Los Angeles Lakers.” This seems to be a recurring theme for the season.

After a promising 2-0 start to the week, the Lakers finished this past week with a 2-2 record; a record that will simply not cut it for the 17-23 Lakers. The Lakers started the week off with solid wins against Cleveland and Milwaukee, but ended the week in discouraging fashion with losses to Miami and Toronto, thus adding to their current 5-game road losing streak.

Forward Earl Clark continued his surge towards becoming a mainstay in the Lakers’ rotation, while both Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol returned from injury. The returns of the two big men failed to help the Lakers climb out of their rut, however, as the Lakers ended the week right where they started, six games under .500.

Take a look back at the changes in the Lakers’ stock values and the impact the players should have going forward:

Earl Clark (SF/PF) Up arrow : Clark, 25, continued his stellar play this week and proved he was not a “fluke.” Clark’s energy and effort, both off the bench and in the starting lineup, have been a huge lift for this inconsistent Lakers team.

Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports
Image Credit: USA TODAY Sports

Over the past four games, Clark averaged 9.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, and 3.0 apg in 29 minutes per game. Clark started at power forward for the Lakers vs. Cleveland, Milwaukee and Miami, but came off the bench against Toronto.

Clark’s game against Toronto was the main reason the Lakers had a chance to win the game late. Clark registered a very active double-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, on 6/10 shooting from the field. Clark’s high activity level and his ability to snatch offensive rebounds (6) were key to keeping the Lakers in the game.

Coach Mike D’Antoni’s “run and fun” system works the best with a “stretch four” player playing power forward. Clark, being 6’10”, certainly fits the bill. If he can continue to produce and bring energy off the bench, Clark could seriously push Gasol for the starting power forward position.

Clark, the 14th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft, has been an end of the rotation type player for much of his career. In Los Angeles, however, Clark has seized his opportunity with the Lakers’ recent injuries, and has finally been able to show all the hard work he put in this season.

Expect Clark to keep receiving ample playing time, as long as his energy and effort continue to be there on a consistent basis.

Dwight Howard (C) Up arrow : Howard had a solid week after returning from a torn labrum injury in his right shoulder. Howard returned against Cleveland and had back-to-back monster performances vs. Cleveland and Milwaukee.

Despite having a solid start to the week, Howard was ejected in the 2nd quarter against Toronto for picking up his second technical foul. Over the past week, Howard averaged 17.8 ppg, 12 rpg, 1.3 apg, and 1.8 bpg on an efficient 71.8% shooting.

Howard’s two exceptional performances, 22 & 14 vs. Cleveland and 31 & 16 vs. Milwaukee, were a big reason why the Lakers won both of those games. Howard’s activity level has also improved on the defensive end since returning from injury.

For the Lakers to be successful going forward, they have to give the ball to Howard in the post early. As evident in the Lakers’ two wins, getting Howard going early yields success for the remainder of the game. With Howard getting early touches, he seems to become even more active on defense on the help-side and on both defensive and offensive glasses.

Howard will continue to recover from off-season back surgery but he needs become the Lakers’ defensive captain, quickly. Howard’s defensive presence has been there some nights, but it must become a consistent part of the Lakers’ attack every night if they want to make the playoffs.

Along with the need for Howard’s superior defensive presence, Howard must start making his free throws at a higher percentage. This need was particularly evident when Howard missed two key free throws down the stretch of the game against Miami, which could have led to a Lakers win.

Howard was also selected as a frontcourt starter on the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team this past week.

Pau Gasol (PF/C) Up arrow : After missing six games with a concussion, Gasol returned against Miami. Gasol came off the bench vs. Miami in which he registered 12 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists on 4/7 shooting in just 24 minutes.

With his solid performance against Miami, Gasol was re-inserted into the starting lineup in the following game. Gasol followed up that solid offensive game with another one in Toronto. After Howard was ejected, Gasol became the Lakers’ offensive focus in the post. Gasol finished the game with 25 points on 10/15 shooting, but only had 5 rebounds.

Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images
Image Credit: Kevork Djansezian | Getty Images

Gasol’s ability to score in the paint has been a consistent part of his offensive game, but the Lakers need much more from their 32-year-old Spaniard. Since returning to the Lakers’ lineup, Gasol has only grabbed 9 total rebounds in two games. The Lakers need Gasol to be a much more consistent rebounder for them going forward.

Despite two decent games offensively, Gasol continues to struggle this season. Gasol is averaging career lows in points (12.2), rebounds (8.2) and field goal percentage (42%). If Gasol wants to continue to start for the Lakers, rather than come off the bench as D’Antoni has toyed with recently, he must become more consistent on both ends of the floor.

Continue keeping an eye on Gasol as the NBA Trade Deadline nears (February 21st), although there has been little reported interest in the Lakers’ 7-footer thus far.

Kobe Bryant (SG) even : Bryant’s defense was the main reason the Lakers won their two games this past week. Coach D’Antoni has decided to place Bryant on each opposing team’s best guard going forward.

As a result of this change in defensive scheme, Bryant limited the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Irving to just 15 points on 7/15 shooting. Bryant also contained Milwaukee’s reigning Eastern Conference Player-of-the-Week, Brandon Jennings, to just 12 points on 4/14 shooting.

Bryant’s defense on opposing guards was key in the Lakers’ success on the defensive end. Going forward, Bryant must continue to set the tone on the perimeter defensively because it trickles down to the other players on the floor.

With Bryant taking on a bigger task defensively, his efficiency on offense has suffered. Over the past four games, Bryant has shot just 43.3% from the field, despite scoring 25.5 ppg. In the Lakers’ two losses, Bryant shot a dismal 31.6% and forced a season-high 32 shot attempts against Toronto.

It seems that with Bryant taking a larger role defensively, his energy on offense has been negatively impacted. Bryant is constantly short on his jump shots and has settled from the perimeter more than he had earlier in the season. Bryant still leads the league in scoring (29.7 ppg) but his FG% is now down to 47.4% on the season.

After the Lakers’ loss to the Raptors on Sunday, Bryant was quoted as saying, “My legs are a little tired out there, and it’s been impacting my jumper, making it short at times.”

If D’Antoni continues putting Bryant on the opposing team’s best guard defensively, Bryant must make the adjustment on offense. The Lakers will not win many games with Bryant forcing 32 shots or shooting 31.6% from the field.

After the loss to the Raptors Sunday morning, Bryant took the blame for the Lakers’ recent struggles:

With Bryant expending more energy on the defensive end of late, he needs to find his teammates more often and get them going early. Doing this early in games should lessen the offensive burden on Bryant, in particular.

Bryant was also selected as a backcourt starter on the 2013 Western Conference All-Star team with a league-leading 1,591,437 fan votes.

Steve Nash (PG) even : Nash had a decent week both scoring and assist-wise, but turnovers and defensive lapses plagued him. Nash has helped bring some consistency to the Lakers’ point guard position this season, but he needs to shoot the ball more for the Lakers to be successful.

Over the past week, Nash has averaged 3.3 turnovers per game along with 10.8 ppg and 9.0 apg. At age 38, Nash is averaging 32.8 minutes per game this season. That number will hopefully decrease once backup point guard Steve Blake returns from injury.

In the last four games, Nash has only shot 45.5% from the field, an uncharacteristically low shooting percentage for him. Still, Nash continues to get open looks when Howard or Gasol is doubled inside, so he must continue to shoot with confidence. If Nash is even more aggressive with his own shot, it could open up the floor even more for his teammates.

Image Credit: Ezra Shaw | Getty Images
Image Credit: Ezra Shaw | Getty Images

In the game against Miami, Nash looked relatively helpless against the Heat’s trapping defense. The Lakers continued to run high pick and rolls, even after the Heat made it clear they were focused on stopping them. In this instance, the Lakers should have made an adjustment; this adjustment falls on the “floor general”, Steve Nash.

If D’Antoni continues to fail to make adjustments late in games, like he has on numerous occasions this year, Nash must take it upon himself to read the defense and make the necessary adjustments. Nash should have directed Gasol to the high post to relieve the pressure, instead of continuing to run high pick and rolls that were rendered ineffective.

Along with making late-game adjustments, Nash needs to start the Lakers half-court offense sooner in the shot clock, especially against athletic teams. Too many times the Lakers’ offense starts around the 10-second mark and the ball becomes stuck on one side. Nash should make sure the Lakers take advantage of the entire shot clock by moving the ball from side to side when he crosses half-court.

Since Nash is the emotional and floor leader, his improved play and on-court direction will prove paramount in turning this season around.

In this past week, Nash also continued his streak of made free throws (26/26), and remains a perfect 100% from the free-throw line on the season.

Metta World Peace (SF/PF) even : Despite being torched by Heat F LeBron James, World Peace has played consistently over the past week. World Peace averaged 11.3 ppg and 4 rpg while shooting 42.9% from the field and 35% from three-point range in that period.

Although World Peace has not been as efficient as he was earlier in the season, his averages are still a welcomed sight from the supposed “fifth option” of the Lakers. The Lakers need even more from the 13-year veteran, however, especially on the defensive end.

World Peace’s defense on LeBron James in the Lakers’ loss to the Heat was poor, to say the least. World Peace allowed James to become comfortable early in the game and let him become both a playmaker and scorer, simultaneously. In the future, World Peace must take away one of those two abilities to be successful against the league’s top scorers.

The Lakers need World Peace to return to being a “lock down” defender on the perimeter. Most of the Lakers recent struggles have come on the defensive end of the floor. World Peace has done little to help those struggles and the Lakers’ collective defense this season, posting a 105 Defensive Rating*.

World Peace has had his best season in Los Angeles so far this season, but the Lakers dearly need him to return to being a defensive force. World Peace, Bryant and Howard need to come together and create some defensive cohesion.

* Defensive Rating = an estimate of the number of individual points allowed per 100 possessions; a good DRtg is below 100.

Antawn Jamison (PF) even : Jamison has played inconsistently since becoming a major part of the Lakers’ rotation. The problem with Jamison is that you never know what you will get from him on any given night. Jamison could go off for 30 points one game, then the next game he could only get you 5 points.

Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez | US Presswire
Image Credit: Gary A. Vasquez | US Presswire

Jamison had a high last week of 16 points in the win against Cleveland, in which he made 4/5 three pointers, but he also had a low of 5 points against Toronto, where he went 2/6 shooting from the floor.

Jamison’s role on the Lakers is certainly not to play defense or rebound, instead it is to score. Unfortunately, Jamison has yet to become a consistent scoring threat off the bench for the Lakers this season. A player with a career average of 19.2 points per game has become a player with an average of only 7.7 points per game.

Although Jamison is playing fewer minutes and receiving fewer opportunities with the talent around him, the Lakers need him to become more consistent from the floor. With Jordan Hill now out for the season, the Lakers will need both Jamison and Clark to become consistent to bolster the bench.

Jamison’s averages of 10.8 ppg / 5.8 rpg / 1.5 apg on 50% shooting in the last four games is just not enough production from the Lakers’ “best” bench scorer.

Chris Duhon (PG) Down arrow : Duhon continues to be the Lakers’ backup point guard, but also continues to have little impact off the bench. Duhon takes care of the ball (only 1 turnover in his last four games), but does little else to help the Lakers.

The Lakers’ main backup for Steve Nash, Duhon, has only scored 4 points in the last four games. Duhon does get ample playing time (21.5 mpg), but he does little else besides initiate the offense.

When Duhon does shoot, however, he is only shooting 40% from the field and 37.5% from three-point range. As a result, Duhon has become a glaring liability for the Lakers. As much as a “bust” Steve Blake has been for the Lakers over the past few years, he is clearly needed to give them some type of production from the backup point guard position.

Darius Morris (PG) Down arrow : It seems that Morris has now been relegated to just an emergency guard. Coach D’Antoni made Morris the main backup at the shooting guard position earlier in the week, but now with two straight games of only 5 minutes of play, Morris seems to have an even smaller role.

Morris played well against Cleveland, registering 14 points on 5/9 shooting, but has only scored 5 points over the past three games. Morris’s athleticism is something the Lakers can surely use and take advantage of, but D’Antoni seems confident in leaving him on the bench.

Robert Sacre (C) Down arrow : With Howard and Gasol returning from injury, Sacre’s role has also been reduced. Sacre, despite playing 18 minutes in the win against Cleveland, has only played a total of 12 minutes over the last three games.

Despite playing solid while filling in for the injured big men, it now seems like Sacre will only see the floor if Howard or Gasol get into foul trouble or become injured again. Like Morris, Sacre looks to be in the same situation as an “emergency big man.”

Jodie Meeks (SG) Down arrow : Meeks is now glued to the bench. Despite once being a consistent three-point threat for the Lakers, D’Antoni has chosen to leave Meeks on the bench. Meeks has not shot well from behind the arc in the past few weeks, and has yet to get a real chance to revive his shooting ability.

It looks like Morris is now the official backup shooting guard, although even Morris is rarely given a chance. Meeks can certainly be a great asset off the bench, because of his ability to stretch the floor, but as long as D’Antoni is the coach, it seems that Meeks will remain glued to the bench.

Steve Blake (PG) Injury sign : Blake began the week playing three-on-three games at practice. Blake has fully recovered from his abdominal surgery, but is now dealing with a groin issue. He is expected to receive a cortisone shot in his groin on Sunday, however, which will hopefully speed up the recovery process.

The Lakers are optimistic that Blake will be able to return to the lineup within the next 1-2 weeks. His return would be a welcomed sight for the Lakers’ bench, especially with Duhon’s poor play of late.

Notes: SF Devin Ebanks has not played in a game since January 11th against Oklahoma City. Ebanks, 23, is averaging 3.6 ppg and 2.2 rpg this season, but has only played in one of the past 13 games.

 

Stay tuned for next weeks’ Lakers Stock Watch as the Lakers battle Chicago, Memphis, Utah and Oklahoma City over the next week.

45
Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles Clippers
Harry How | Getty Images Sport

 

At 17-22, the Lakers have a difficult ladder to climb in order to reach the postseason. Lakers fans have become accustomed to regular trips into May and June, but fans now are being confronted with a different reality: the Lakers – the second-oldest team in the NBA – may have run out of tricks to continue to revamp their aging roster.

Are more acquisitions the answer? The Lakers in the offseason had acquired what was being touted as “the best team on paper”, so to keep turning the trade wheels may seem a bit fruitless. The current roster, despite leading the league in “moral” victories, has yet to show why it should stay intact. With the NBA Trade Deadline (February 21st) a little over a month a month away, as Amateur General Manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, here are a bevy of moves that work to acquire value for under-performing stars and expiring contracts. But first, let’s take a look at the available assets:

THE ASSETS

STEVE NASH

The Lakers currently have only one contract on the books for the 2014-15 NBA season. PG Steve Nash, who will turn 41 years old halfway through the final year of his contract, will be the final remaining relic of the 2012-13 Lakers. Should the Lakers not resign any of their expiring contracts over the coming two years, Nash’s age, declining defense and healthy contract may be the centerpiece of a young and rebuilding Lakers squad. However, should the Lakers choose to move Nash’s contract, the team would need to acquire starting point guard talent to fill the void at the position with Steve Blake still recovering from injury.

KOBE BRYANT

Since the Lakers stood fast and rebuffed trade demands from Kobe Bryant during the 2006-07 season, it’s highly unlikely that the team would look to move their greatest player in franchise history in the final year of his deal. Further, a team making a move for Kobe Bryant’s $30 million contract for 2013-2014 is just as doubtful. Would the Lakers dare using their available amnesty clause on the final year of Bryant’s contract? The larger question for Bryant and the Lakers is, should Bryant wish to continue playing into his late 30s, at what price do the Lakers pay at the expense of their cap space? If Bryant’s price is too high, would the Lakers let Bryant test free agency?

Frederic J. Brown | AFP
Frederic J. Brown | AFP

PAU GASOL

A longstanding target of trade rumors, Pau Gasol’s current value has diminished after a current rash of injuries ranging from plantar fasciitis to tendonitis to sustaining a concussion. At $19 million a year for his remaining two years on the Lakers, Gasol’s decline has led to his expendability while simultaneously causing his trade value to plummet. Perhaps a change of scenery, or the opportunity to play primarily in the low post, is what Gasol needs to thrive once more.

DWIGHT HOWARD

If Lakers fans were expecting Dwight Howard to be the second coming at Shaquille O’Neal, this Lakers season has been a massive disappointment (unless, of course, you were looking for O’Nealean free throw shooting). While the points and rebounds haven’t dipped much following Howard’s offseason back surgery, the lack of explosiveness and recent torn labrum injury have led some pundits to question if the Dwight Howard we once knew is gone for good.

THE TRADES

1. Dwight Howard to the Dallas Mavericks for Dirk Nowitzki

The Mavericks were a potential free agent suitor for Dwight Howard prior to his one-year extension in Orlando. When Howard decided that he didn’t want to play the villain in Orlando, Mark Cuban’s allocated cap space this offseason went towards one-year signings for rental veterans Chris Kaman and Elton Brand.

Would Mark Cuban want a four-month window to entice Howard to stay and resign with the Mavs this offseason? Conceptualy, the move would help Dallas in freeing up the combined two years and $43 million remaining on Dirk Nowitzki’s current contract. Additionally, the move would reunite Nowitzki and Steve Nash, who started their careers together in Dallas. Though Nowitzki often utilizes the low block in his game (real estate that Pau Gasol hasn’t used consistently since Howard came to town), Nowitzki’s game would offer more flexibility from the perimeter to spread the floor should D’Antoni decide to feature Gasol on the block. Unfortunately, Nowitzki has inked a no-trade clause in his contract, and barring a sudden change of heart, the 2011 Finals MVP will likely retire a Maverick.

2. Dwight Howard to the Washington Wizards for Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and a 2014 protected 1st Round Pick

Ronald Martinez | Getty Images Sport
Ronald Martinez | Getty Images Sport

A Dwight Howard-to-DC move would function for the Wizards – at worst – as a franchise mulligan. By dumping the massive contracts of Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza, the Wizards would have almost $21 million in free cap room for the summer of 2014 should Howard not choose to resign. Best case scenario, Howard stays in the Chocolate City and forms a slash-and-slam game with John Wall that would make 2K13 players drool.

For the Lakers, the move reunites the Lakers with the athletic Ariza and allows Okafor to take over the power forward position. More importantly, the Lakers acquire a sorely needed draft pick for the future of the franchise once Bryant, Gasol and Nash retire.

NOTE: The terms of this trade being “fair” are based on Washington protecting their 2014 pick. However, should they not do this – entirely possible, given that the Clippers only two years ago lost out on Kyrie Irving because they didn’t protect their pick – the Lakers would be in possession of a lottery pick for the first time since drafting Andrew Bynum in 2005.

3. Earl Clark to the Charlotte Bobcats for 2013 and 2014 1st Round Picks.

In your dreams. Just wanted to make sure that everyone was paying attention.

4. Pau Gasol to the Atlanta Hawks for Josh Smith and Johan Petro/Kyle Korver

For Lakers fans longing to trade Pau Gasol, you finally get your wish. The Atlanta Hawks would ship Smith, a longtime polarizing figure for Hawks fans, reuniting him with former AAU teammate and preschool classmate(!) Dwight Howard. The trade would also work to acquire either Johan Petro, adding much needed frontcourt depth with the season-ending injury to Jordan Hill, or Kyle Korver, providing much-needed three-point shooting off the bench.

5. Pau Gasol and Steve Nash to the Toronto Raptors for Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Landry Fields and a 2014 1st Round Pick

Steve Nash was heavily pursued by the Raptors this offseason before deciding to stay close to his children in Phoenix and sign with the Lakers. With a Raptors team lacking a true identity, a potent pick-and-roll duo of Gasol and Nash would likely get the Raptors into the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. For the Raptors, the opportunity to offload Landry Fields’ contract and part ways with failed franchise player Andrea Bargnani would be a welcome opportunity, especially if it meant bringing in Native Son Steve Nash for $10 million less than their free agent offer this last summer.

If a move like this occurred, it would be a massive endorsement from the Lakers organization that Mike D’Antoni is secure as the Lakers head coach. The Lakers in the deal would acquire Jose Calderon, a poor man’s Steve Nash who has been the focus of Lakers trade rumors for the last two years. Andrea Bargnani would provide the Lakers with a power forward comfortable with taking outside shots, a spot that Pau Gasol found uncomfortable in Mike D’Antoni’s new system. Landry Fields, putting up career lows in Toronto, would be reunited with D’Antoni from Fields’ rookie year with the New York Knicks. Fields in his first year with D’Antoni shot over 39 percent from behind the arc, made NBA All-Rookie First Team, and at 24 years old would infuse the Lakers with some much needed youth. And while the Raptors would likely push their 2014 1st round pick back a few spots with a playoff appearance, a draft pick even in the teens would be a welcome sight to a team that hasn’t had a first round draft pick in what will be four years.

Jeff Gross | Getty Images Sport
Jeff Gross | Getty Images Sport

6. Pau Gasol to the Boston Celtics – Paul Pierce to the Memphis Grizzlies – Jason Collins and Rudy Gay to the Los Angeles Lakers

In the only three-team trade of the group, all three franchises would exchanges superstars to acquire positions of need. The Celtics get younger (slightly) by obtaining Pau Gasol, who immediately moves Kevin Garnett back to the power forward spot. The Grizzlies get a veteran small forward in Paul Pierce that can provide Celtic leadership and outside shooting for a deep playoff run into May and June – something the Grizzlies were looking for at last year’s trade deadline.  Finally, the Lakers aquire a younger franchise player in Rudy Gay, allowing Metta World Peace to come off the bench as a defensive specialist and further spread the floor for Dwight Howard underneath the basket. Further, Jason Collins can help provide size off the bench following the season-ending injury to Jordan Hill.

Why would the Lakers consider Gay? Mentioned above, there’s only so much time left in Kobe Bryant’s contract. With the opportunity to shore up the Laker’s 3-5 offensive package for the next few years (should the Lakers resign Howard), wouldn’t it make sense to acquire the 26-year-old small forward at the expense of an aging, injured, out-of-position center that fans have been looking to trade for years?

To be blunt, it’s unlikely that the Lakers make a move at this year’s trade deadline. Despite being a first-ballot submission for history’s All-Disappointment team, Lakers Executive Vice President Jim Buss believes that this year’s team is “built to win” and that the organization “would not consider a temporary fix or blow it up”. As an honest question, at what point do you determine that the team structure as it is currently designed is not working? The firing of Mike Brown and hiring of Mike D’Antoni suggest that the Lakers moves this season have been sudden, reactionary and possibly misaligned. With no easy fix to an aging, injury prone roster, Lakers fans may be starting to realize that a franchise rebuild – something the Lakers haven’t truly done since the post-Magic era – may be less than two full seasons away.

Will a trade fix the closing championship window? The Lakers have always had a history of stringing good fortune together into extended greatness. LakerNation, do you have any trade ideas for the Lakers? Post them here!

UPDATE: The Lakers have shown interest in Timberwolves forward Dante Cunningham. No trades have been discussed as of yet.

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Image Credit: Alex Lambeth | LakerNation
Image Credit: Alex Lambeth | LakerNation
Image Credit: Alex Lambeth | LakerNation

January 16th, 2013 — The 9th Annual Lakers All-Access event at STAPLES Center was a great opportunity for fans to interact with their favorite team. The night included a shoot around on the Lakers’ court, a photo opportunity with the championship trophies and Lakers girls, as well as a silent auction for autographed memorabilia.

The event concluded with two separate panels discussions, both moderated by Voice-of-the-Lakers Bill Macdonald. The first panel consisted of Laker Legends: General Manager Mitch Kupchak, Robert Horry, James Worthy and Jamaal Wilkes. The second panel consisted of present Lakers: head coach Mike D’Antoni and players Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake. The following is a brief recap of the important quotes from the panel discussions:

Robert Horry:

When Kobe’s on the weak side, he needs to start paying attention to where the ball is and not be flying around thinking he’s just some ‘stealth bomber’ and he can get steals all the time.

- Wants to see Pau Gasol continue coming off the bench for the rest of the season; says Gasol should watch tape of Manu Ginobli and James Harden to understand how to be an effective sixth man.

- Frustrates both him and his Time Warner Cable Sports Net co-host, James Worthy, to see a team with so much talent, struggle so much early on.

- Would like to see the NBA take out the zone defense: “If you can’t play man-to-man defense, then go home.”

James Worthy:

If you ever tried to block Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s hook shot, you would probably need facial reconstruction surgery when you were done from his elbows.

- Enjoys receiving feedback on Twitter from fans; helps shape direction on TWCSN telecasts.

- Wants to see Kobe Bryant get cleaner shots and not force shots as much on offense when he as such great teammates around him. Mentioned both Blake and Steve Nash as great shooters.

- Would like to see the NBA go back to just two referees; game was more fun and more up-tempo because of less calls, and players could get away with more off the ball.

- Wants to see consistency from game-to-game with Gasol being implemented back into the lineup.

Jamaal Wilkes:

If the Lakers make the playoffs, I wouldn’t want to be the team that has to play them.

- Shared the fact that he learned how to shoot in such a unique way at about 11 or 12 years old: “No one wanted to mess with it when I got to high school.”

- When Wilkes arrived at UCLA, coach John Wooden said that as long as it had good backspin, rolled off his fingertips and went in the basket, then there was nothing that needed to be changed.

- The NBA used to be more physical, but that physicality was accepted more back then, which is the main difference in the league, past and present.

- Wouldn’t count out the Lakers. They’re not panicking and seems like they’re figuring more things out now, called them “shell-shocked” initially.

Mitch Kupchak:

The Western Conference is a much tougher conference these days. We have to win 3 out of every 4 games going forward, not 2 out of every 4, and be playing well come April.

- Kupchak preached patience; thinks this season would be a much different story without the multitude of injuries the Lakers have suffered so far.

- If he had to pick one player to start a franchise with, besides Michael Jordan, it would be Kareem. Cited “The Captain’s” great skill for a big man as well as his longevity of spending 20 years in the NBA.

- One rule that the NBA has discussed implementing is the European goal-tending rule; Kupchak doesn’t like the rule personally.

Mike D’Antoni:

The fans are better here in Los Angeles than they were in New York. In New York, they’re with you until the 3rd quarter then they’re against you.

- On Steve Blake: great, smart basketball player and he’s tough as nails. Excited to coach him because he believes Blake will pick up the system quickly.

- His experience playing in Italy was wonderful; traveled everywhere with his team and it made him into a different person.

- Doesn’t know whom he’s talking to sometimes between Ron Artest and Metta World Peace; says that he tends to switch between identities often.

- Still thinks it’s early in the season, hopes they’ve turned it around now. Still have steps to go, but likes where the energy and effort are on a nightly basis.

- Defensively they’ve found a couple things that work well and they’ll run with them. Energy is not an issue as the players bring it every night.

- Kind of hit rock bottom but have learned how to get through the rough parts and turn them into positives. Did that vs. Milwaukee and Cleveland.

- Players must have great chemistry and trust each other on the court. Guys must understand their role as well, which is simply to play hard, shoot when you’re open and then run back down the floor.

- Hates when players complain about touches or about their role on the team; the “ball finds energy” and everyone has the same role on the team (to play as hard as you can and shoot when you’re in the game).

Antawn Jamison:

If I had to change my name, [like World Peace did], I would probably change it to Denzel. I looked like a young Denzel Washington back in the day.

- Loves playing in LA and has had “an unbelievable experience here.” Especially likes seeing all the Lakers fans on the road.

- Felt like he deserved to be on a historic franchise such as the Lakers after 14 years in the league. Chose the Lakers because they “value championships over everything else.”

- Determined that Mike D’Antoni and his brother, assistant coach Dan D’Antoni, can’t be related because of their polar opposite personalities; says that it makes for an interesting locker room.

- Spacing and timing are the keys to making everything come together effectively this season: “Look at the personnel, it’s almost impossible to stop us.”

- By doing the things that D’Antoni preaches, it creates more opportunities for everyone. Trusting both the system and each other has opened the players’ eyes to just how good they can be collectively.

Steve Blake:

I love playing in LA and hopefully I’ll continue to have success here. I hope to be Laker for a long time.

Injury update: Blake will receive a cortisone shot on Sunday to treat his recent groin issue. Blake has recovered from the abdominal surgery but must take care of his groin trouble before returning to the court.

- Likes seeing his teammates “buy-in” to D’Antoni’s system and trust each other on both ends of the floor; seems like they’re playing more “playoff-style basketball” of late.

- Nice to see guys stepping up when others go down with injuries. Especially likes seeing his teammates “not taking any possessions off.”

LakerNation: Be sure to be on the lookout for next year’s ‘Annual Lakers All-Access’ event sometime in January 2014. It is definitely a great opportunity for fans to gain a personal, behind-the-scenes look at your Los Angeles Lakers!

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Have you seen it yet? If not, here it is, Kobe Bryant’s new Nike commercial.  This thing packs a punch, it’s such a solid commercial and really puts Kobe in a great light.  Bryant is having one of his better seasons thus far and this commercial really rewards him for such a performance.  Take a look:

<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/shx0iu-TC6w” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen></iframe>

Kobe deserves a commercial like this, and it was very well put together.  We can all see from this commercial that Nike and Kobe have a great relationship and to expect more to come in the future.  But at the end of the day, one thing we know is that we can always #CountOnKobe

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Photo courtesy of Frederic J. Brown
Photo courtesy of Frederic J. Brown.
Photo courtesy of Frederic J. Brown.

The Lakers needed this win. They absolutely, positively needed this win. They needed it for their confidence. They needed it for validation that they were starting anew. And they needed it as a reminder of how good they could and should be. But even when Miami was missing three-pointer after three-pointer, and their layups seemed averse to the bottom of the basket, the Lakers couldn’t capitalize. The win that they needed became another loss with which they must own up to.

16 turnovers in the first half will do any team in, and that’s exactly how the Lakers kept themselves from controlling this game to start. Carelessness and the complete inability to guard the paint was their demise, as the Heat had their way inside, and against every which way the Lakers tried to score.

HIGH POINTS:
Pau Gasol’s Return – Returning from a concussion he suffered against the Denver Nuggets five games ago, Gasol came off the bench as a way to ease himself back into game action after being out for a stretch. It’s been an option of discussion in the media to bring Gasol off the bench to sub in for Dwight Howard. That way, the two aren’t on the floor simultaneously looking for room to operate. Gasol finished with 12 points on 4-7, four rebounds, four assists and a steal. He had time on the floor with Steve Nash, and it would’ve been a perfect opportunity to run some screen and roll sets, but the Miami Heat defense was just that good, keeping passing lanes constantly occupied, so Gasol and Nash weren’t able to capitalize as much as they could have.
Dwight Howard – It wasn’t a 31-16 kind of night for Howard, but 13 points on 4-7 from the field, 16 rebounds, two assists, a block and zero turnovers against a suffocating defense were a good effort.
Close game – Neither team led by double digits, and the Heat didn’t pull away until later in the final quarter. Though moral victories mean nothing to the Lakers at this point in the season, they have to look at this game and know that they have clear advantages over this team and can win the next meeting. Kobe Bryant had an unusually bad shooting night against a stellar scoring spree from Dwyane Wade and Lebron James. It’s hard to take advantage of the strength in the middle, when the ability to spread the floor is compromised by an off night of shooting.

LOW POINTS:
Turnovers – 16 turnovers in the first half alone for the Lakers led to 19 points for the Heat. Credit Miami’s defense, but place blame on pure carelessness as well. There is no excuse for committing five turnovers before the Lakers even scored their third and fourth points.
Kobe Bryant (first half) – 2-9 from the field in the first half for four points. It wasn’t a stellar night for the Mamba, and right after his new commercial premiered too. The new tagline reads CountOnKobe, and the team especially got what they wanted from him in the fourth quarter. Bryant hit 5-9 from the field, not to mention 3-4 from downtown, but it wasn’t enough to get them over the hump.
Paint ballin’ – 68-28, that is how much Miami outscored the Lakers in the paint. It was dunk after dunk, layup after layup with ne’er a gold jersey to contest.
Miami Defense – The Lakers simply couldn’t get around Miami’s defense. Steve Nash was constantly hounded, as each passing lane became more dangerous a place to throw the ball, and Dwight Howard could barely get to a thrown pass because Heat players surrounded him.
Loss – The road to .500 is a long one.

Two wins against bottom-dwelling and, at best, mediocre teams is encouraging until everything good that came out of those games turns into the exact opposite in the subsequent, nationally-televised contest against the defending champs. But this is nothing new for this Laker team. They’ve hit every roadblock that could possibly hinder a struggling team – injuries (lots of it and in various parts of the season), coaching changes, system changes, new players, etc. These aren’t excuses for their difficult season. It’s just their reality, and sadly, they haven’t handled it in the most effective ways.

Box Score

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AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

This game started off about as poorly as it ended for the Lakers as they drop to 17 – 22 on the season. From the get go it was obvious that the Miami Heat were on a different level in terms of athleticism as they began the game with 4 straight dunks with little to no resistance from the Lakers. As the game progressed, though, the Lakers began to exploit their one advantage over Miami: their size down low. Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol took turns having their way in the paint for the first half of the ball game and Miami had absolutely no answer for either Laker big man.

When the Lakers weren’t turning the ball over, they actually played solid half-court defense against the Heat and built a 1 point lead going into half time. The second half began and the Lakers were unable to get anything going on the inside as Miami’s undersized team was swarming like killer bees on defense by switching everything and making sharp, championship style rotations.

Mike D’Antoni continued to run a pick-and-roll with Steve Nash even though the Heat were smothering Nash every time he tried to go around a screen. Instead of posting up either Pau or Dwight, the Lakers continued to P-n-R until Kobe decided to warm up and take over down the stretch, but it was too little too late as the Heat cranked up the defensive intensity and executed on the offensive end to solidify their victory.

This was yet another moral victory for the Lakers at a point in the season when they cannot continue to replace actual victories with nugatory ones. As soon as this Laker team and their stubborn head coach understand that they will only win once they exploit their size advantage and dump the ball into the post every offensive possession, then they will finally mold into the contenders they are supposed to have been by now. Here are the grades for Thursday night’s L:

Steve Nash: C+

4 turnovers by Steve Nash? Wish it were a typo, but Nash made some peculiar decisions with the ball and was obviously overwhelmed by the athleticism of Miami on the perimeter. Without a screen Nash is unable to penetrate and create plays, but he can still be effective by throwing the ball into the post and hitting open 3’s once the double team collapses on either Pau or Dwight.

Kobe Bryant: D

The hot shooting down the stretch saved Kobe from getting an F, but 6 turnovers, 22 points on 8- 25 shooting, and only 2 free throw attempts is not a typical Kobe game. The Mamba was cold through the first three quarters and was having a tough time guarding Dwyane Wade on defense as well. Kobe eventually shot himself back into rhythm, but the Lakers become stagnant on offense and defense when Kobe continues to take long, contested jump shots instead of trying to get his big men going.

Metta World Peace: B+

Offensively, Metta had some good moments, but also had a couple “what the hell is he doing?” Metta moments. Great hustle from Metta all night as he had the impossible task of slowing down LeBron James. Metta did a decent job forcing James into his one weakness: mid and long range jump shots. Unfortunately for Metta, LeBron got into a rhythm in the 4th quarter and hit some crucial shots to seal the victory.

Earl Clark: C+

The stage seemed a little too big at times for EC, especially when he had to guard LeBron, but he did do a good job rebounding and hitting his 3’s while he was in there.

Dwight Howard: B

While he did take advantage of Miami’s inability to rebound, I can’t believe Dwight finished the game with only 7 field goals attempted in 38 minutes of playing time. There needs to be a better reason for the lack of shots other than the Heat fronted Dwight and rotated quickly or he was immediately fouled. I believe it’s a combination of the Lakers not force feeding Dwight down low as well as Dwight not fighting hard enough to get the ball. Whatever the reason is, the Lakers need to figure out how to get Dwight or Pau down low on nearly every offensive possession so they can exploit their size advantage or at least create open shots for the guards.

Pau Gasol: C+

As soon as Pau was playing center, the Lakers couldn’t stop Miami from getting to the basket. The key to the turnaround is how the Lakers play with Dwight and Pau on the floor together. There were moments late in the game when the big men took turns posting up and attacking and the offense looked fluid. If the team can somehow find a balance when both big men are on the court then this team will truly begin to right the ship, but until then they will continue to look clumsy on offense.

Antawn Jamison: B

Solid bench production from Antawn on both ends of the floor. Antawn is always at his best when he makes timely cuts into the lane and finishes with his unorthodox style. Those opportunities arise more off of post ups and forcing the defense to rotate.

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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.