Thursday, July 31, 2014
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Los Angeles

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(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Tanking.  Something no team truly wants to admit to doing but in reality many teams do it to adequately prepare for the future.  It’s all about selling what you currently have (which typically isn’t much) in order to ensure you aren’t as poor of a team for the following years.  In basketball it’s about being as bad as possible one year so you can get a great pick in the upcoming draft, and 2014 just happens to be one of the most loaded drafts in recent memory.  With a draft class consisting of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins, Marcus Smart, Joel Embiid, and Julius Randle rounding out the top-five, teams have to consider wanting a top-five pick for this draft.

Now, before everyone starts yelling about how the Lakers aren’t a team that tanks, they’re not a team that gives up, they’re not… Yeah, yeah, yeah I know, but let’s take a look at what that would exactly entail.

Doug Pensinger | Getty Images
Doug Pensinger | Getty Images

The Lakers aren’t winning anything this year with their current roster

With Mike D’Antoni as head coach, and the current arsenal of players, the Lakers aren’t even looking at obtaining a playoff spot right now.  It’s time to face facts and just accept it, even when Kobe Bryant comes back it’ll be a lot to ask to even make an eighth seed.  Even if they managed to make the playoffs they’re likely looking at a first round exit much like last season, to be honest, the rest of the West is just better and more primed to win than the Lakers currently are.  However, most of us already knew this as the Lakers aren’t playing to win this year, they were playing to have a great amount of cap room for next season in hopes of signing a big name free agent.

 

Finishing with a poor record only means a better draft pick

For the most part at least.  I mean, once the Lakers don’t make the playoffs they’ll be in the lottery, but with a poor record they may have a decent shot at getting at least a top-ten pick which, in this draft, would most likely yield a solid player that would make a difference on any team.  If they’re truly BAD, then they can look at getting into the top-five which would yield one of the players listed above, almost certainly an instant game changer.  Of course the NBA Lottery is unpredictable and just about anything can happen as we’ve seen in the past (1993 Orlando, 1990 Seattle).  These players may not all pan out, but the chances of most of them turning into NBA All-Stars one day is immense.

Jamie Squire | Getty Images
Jamie Squire | Getty Images

The Options

So, as you can see it is clearly in the Lakers’ best interest to be a bad team.  I don’t necessarily mean to just play as poorly as possible, but they shouldn’t use all their energy and willpower to just finish eighth or ninth in the West.  Regardless of what fans think, about how the Lakers are a storied franchise that has only missed the playoffs five times in their history and only once since 1995, there is absolutely no benefit to finishing with a first-round exit. NONE.

Some may call me a hater, a doubter, a nonbeliever, but I’m just being realistic here, and in basketball realism is one of the best mantras to have. Imagine next season, 2014, with only Kobe Bryant ($23.5 million), Steve Nash ($9.7 million), and Robert Sacre ($915,243) on the books, oh and then there’s the possibility that Nick Young exercises his player option ($1.2 million).  According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the 2014-15 cap is projected at around $62.1 million, and the Lakers would have about $40.3 million in salary which equals just under $22 million to spend this summer.

But, not so fast!  This changes based on Los Angeles’ draft pick and how high or low it is.  If they finish out of the lottery, then they will likely get an average draft pick to where they can sign their player to a minimum rookie salary.  But, like I said, if the Lakers are terrible and end up with a top-eight or so draft pick then they will obviously be paying that rookie considerably more money.  This is where we can analyze the options a bit more.

Either the Lakers are terrible, and they get a great draft pick, but don’t end up with enough cap room to sign Carmelo Anthony or Lebron James. OR the Lakers finish in the top-eight in the West, get a mediocre pick, and have enough money to sign a big name free agent.  Anthony is the most likely candidate here, as James just doesn’t look like he’s going to land in the city of angels.

Now, let’s be real here again for a minute, do the Lakers really want Anthony?  What has he done that screams “I’m going to win your team a championship, sign me to a max deal!”  Is it the whopping zero championships he earned in Denver? Or maybe it’s the great record he has the Knicks sitting at in New York. Exactly.  I’m not saying Anthony is a bad player, far from it actually, but he’s just not the player the Lakers need to pair alongside Bryant.  Both those guys like to have the basketball in their hand A LOT, and both take a hefty amount of shots per game.  Bryant averages about 20 shots per game for his career, and Anthony takes about, oh would you look at that, 20 shots per game for his career.  That is 40 shots every game between two players, both of which will want it at the end of the game as well.  Oh, and unless Lakers’ brass change their minds soon, Mike D’Antoni will be the one coaching these two, and he has a wonderful track record with superstars! Right…

Here’s the other option, the Lakers finish with a poor record, get a great pick and sign a guy who could potentially be a difference maker for them. They also would be quite young, which means they could be around for a long time.  A top-ten pick would cost the Lakers anywhere between $1.8 million to $4.3 million, according to HoopsWorld’s rookie salary scale from 2012-13.  This takes the Lakers from just under $22 million in space to roughly $18-$20 million in space, not quite enough for a big name free agent, but enough to fill-out the roster with solid role players.  Yes, solid role players, because believe it or not, Bryant, Anthony, (potentially) Nash, and Sacre won’t be enough to fill out the Lakers’ roster.

Also, something to think about should the Lakers sign someone like Anthony; they won’t have much more salary to devote to the other players needed to fill out the roster.  Which means another year much like this season, with players who are willing to sign for minimum salaries just to fill the roster up.  So, tanking and receiving a great draft pick would essentially give the Lakers more financial freedom to sign other good, solid, dependable role players that can truly help them win another championship in the Bryant era.  I like this plan much more for the future of the purple and gold as it gives them flexible cap space, a young budding star (potentially), and the ability to sign more good players instead of one great player.

So, to sum this whole thing up into a paragraph, the Lakers shouldn’t be worried about finishing with a record worthy of sending them to the playoffs, they should be worried about being bad enough to set themselves up for the future.  Granted, the other option involving big name free agents isn’t horrendous, I just see holes and many issues arising from going down that path.  Not that the tanking path doesn’t have its issues, believe me it does, I just see it as a safer and more efficient path to achieving what every NBA team wants, a championship.

Sometimes you just have to be bad in order to get better.  That is what the Lakers must do this season in order to ensure they have a bright and welcoming future in the NBA.

 

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Courtesy: Getty Images

Mike D'Antoni

Five games into the 2013-14 NBA season, most teams know for the most part which players will be in their eight or nine-man rotations. At this point, the Lakers are definitely not one of those teams. Coach Mike D’Antoni has been tinkering with rotations and player combinations to the extreme, going with an 11-man rotation thus far that has already produced over 34 player combinations. As can be expected, results have been far from consistent. As Steve Nash put it:

“We’re not a well-oiled machine. We don’t even know what line-ups suit us best yet, let alone what each other are going to do.”

Clearly, D’Antoni is going to have to eventually slim the rotations down. Because of the depth of this roster as well as the uncertainty of the bench pieces, the Lakers are likely to go to a nine-man rotation as the season wears on. So what can we expect to see on the court in the coming months? Let’s take a look at the likely line-ups the Lakers will employ the rest of the season.

Starting Line-Up:

PG – Steve Blake

Probably not the Steve you were expecting huh? Five games in, it’s clear that Steve Nash is still dealing with nagging injuries and adjusting to age. Blake, not Nash, is best suited to lead the starting unit because of his aggressiveness on defense and because he has simply looked better on the court than Nash.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

SG – Xavier Henry

On a roster full of question marks, Henry has emerged as a breakout player so far this season for the Lakers. His aggressiveness on both ends of the court fits well in LA’s fast-paced system, and he seems to have all but locked up a starting spot for the foreseeable future. He can also slide down to the small forward position in smaller line-ups with a two point-guard backcourt.

SF – Kobe Bryant

When the Mamba returns, he will obviously be a fixture in the starting line-up. There has been talk for a while of Bryant sliding down to the small forward position, and upon his return that is where he’s expected to be. It will be interesting to see how Kobe plays in the uptempo system that places a premium on ball movement, but knowing the veteran I’m sure (hoping) he’ll fit in just fine.

PF – Jordan Hill

On a roster filled with guys who like to (try to) be scorers, the rebounding machine that is Jordan Hill is a perfect fit for this Laker team. Hill has a constant motor and is always around the basketball at every rebound opportunity. He currently sits in the top 20 for rebounds per 48 minutes and should be there all season long with the rebounding opportunities this team can present.

C – Pau Gasol

With the departure of He Who Shall Not Be Named to Houston, Gasol has been able to move back to his more natural position of center. As the man in the middle of a team surrounded by shooters, Gasol will be able to display his passing skill and low post repertoire in the paint. While the relationship between Pau and D’Antoni is up and down to say the least, Gasol should get plenty of opportunities to go to work with this roster.

Bench:

G – Steve Nash

Aside from Bryant, Nash is currently the biggest question mark on the Laker roster. Is he aging and no longer capable of being the player he once was? Or, as Nash believes, does he just need to shake a few lingering injuries before being back to normal? This storyline will only grow as the season moves on, especially as trade rumors continue to grow louder and louder.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images
G – Jordan Farmar

When the Lakers signed Farmar, many people thought it was nothing more than a nostalgia signing on the cheap. But through five games this season, Jordan has been the Lakers best point guard averaging 10 points and 5 assists in under 23 minutes a game. Farmar’s energy and aggressiveness will be key to sparking the second unit all season long.

F – Nick Young/Wesley Johnson

Johnson and Young are the two bench players whose minutes will most likely fluctuate all season long. Because they bring two completely different elements to the court, their minutes will be based on what is needed on a game-to-game basis. When starters are struggling to get buckets, Young will be called upon to provide a scoring spark. When the offense is clicking, it’s likely that D’Antoni will want to use Johnson for his defensive prowess to slow down opponents. Either way, it will be interesting to see these two young forwards try to separate themselves from one another.

C – Chris Kaman

Kaman is more of a fit due to need rather than what he provides on the court. While he can hit an open midrange shot and crash the boards, the Caveman will get minutes due to the fact that he provides size to back up Gasol and Hill. Shawne Williams is also an option here, however he is more of a stretch four who provides shooting that is not a major need on this second unit.

Odd Men Out:

Jodie Meeks

Shawne Williams

Needless to say, I do not envy the decisions that Mike D’Antoni will need to make dividing up the minutes amongst his players. There are sure to be questions, confusion and discontent amongst players as the season wears on and minutes are cut. But when looking at the lack of depth last season, it is a good problem for Coach D’Antoni to have. At least until a few tough losses and people start calling for his job. Oh wait that already is happening? This is going to be one very interesting season.

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As many have heard, the Clippers recently covered up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired numbers at Staples Center, something that will be done for Clippers home games this season.

I have no problem with the Clippers trying to make their home games feel more “Clipper-ish”.  What I do have a problem with are the steps they are taking to do so.

Covering up championship banners is one thing, but covering up retired numbers of Lakers’ legends, including that of the great late Chick Hearn is ridiculous.  I don’t even want to start with the fact that the jerseys are covered with a picture of guard Jamal Crawford.

clippers-banners-close-up-500x250

The decision, which was reportedly that of Doc Rivers, raises some questions as to the thought process behind it.   Considering he was the head coach of the Boston Celtics, the move makes sense since he was associated with the Lakers’ rivals, but one has to believe he would not be okay with the move if another NBA team played at TD Garden and covered up the Celtics’ championship banners for their home games.

A rivalry with the Lakers is nothing new for Rivers, who coached the Celtics in the 2008 and 2010 Finals, prevailing in 2008.

“Listen, I think this is our arena when we play,” Rivers told the Los Angeles Times. “So I just thought it would be good that we show our guys. No disrespect to them. But when we play, it’s the Clippers’ arena as far as I know.” – Sports Illustrated article

Let’s face it, the banners being covered up is not just to make the arena feel more like a Clippers’ game.  It is clearly an attempt to step out of the shadow of the Lakers’ storied history and try to create a new identity for themselves.

Although, there are other alternatives to accomplish that, such as hanging a banner of your own, which is usually something that get’s you noticed.  Or even moving out out of Staples Center to Anaheim or back to San Diego is another option.  As long as the Clippers stay in Los Angeles, they will be known as the other basketball team in LA.

Yes, Staples Center belongs to the Clippers too.  It also belongs to the Sparks (WNBA) and Kings (NHL) as well.   Stop and think how people would react if those franchises decided to start covering up other team’s banners to make their game feel more like a home game.  It is silly to even think about.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, this move is irrelevant.   You can’t cover up the reputation of the purple and gold.  Covering up banners only puts more emphasis on the fact that the Lakers have won 16 NBA titles and that the Clippers have to hang glorified Fathead posters in an attempt to make people forget about the Lakers at their home games.

Fans of the Clippers that I have spoken to have all surprisingly been against the covering of the banners, even to the point where they called it childish.  All fans will have different opinions on it, but I’m sure that their fan base would be more than happy with not bringing any attention to the Lakers, which is what this has resulted in.

The Clippers will be one of the top teams in the league this season.  They have the talent and coaching to do so, it’s just unfortunate that this move can be seen as something Donald Sterling would have done years ago when they were down and out.

Let’s just hope that statues aren’t the next thing to be covered up or that Doc Rivers forces the Team LA store to not sell any Lakers gear during home games.

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PhotoCredit:GettyImages

Dwight Howard has finally made his big decision and it’s bad news to four out of the five teams who were trying to get him to wear their jersey.  He told Dallas that they were out of the running first, and shortly thereafter news surfaced that he had chosen to sign with Houston.

dwight-howard-houston-rockets-1

This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to many unless you’ve been living on the moon, and even there you’ve probably heard about all of the Dwight drama.  It was basically a done deal that Dwight wanted to go to Houston to play along side the likes of Jeremy Lin and James Harden; a young core of players where Dwight wouldn’t feel the immense pressure to succeed like he would in Staples Center.  The lights of Hollywood were just too big for the NBA’s best center, and so he decided to go to a place where everything wouldn’t be on his shoulders.

All this news according to Sam Amick of USA Today:

 

Now, Howard can’t officially sign the deal until July 10, when the NBA lifts the moratorium, but it’s a done deal that Howard has made up his mind and he wants to take his talents to Texas.  What does this mean for the Lakers?  Well currently Los Angeles is without a decent center, with only Jordan Hill and Robert Sacre on the roster.  Los Angeles has many options to choose from to fix the currently shallow roster and I’m sure Mitch Kupchak is already on the phone making deals and asking questions.

This news of Howard affects the entire league as some players were basing their decisions off of his as to where they would sign.

However, news just surfaced that Howard’s agent has said Howard has NOT made his decision yet on where he plans to play next season.  Regardless of whether he has finalized his decision or not, it’s likely that Houston will be the winners of the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

Chris Broussard has reported that Dwight’s camp has notified the Los Angeles Lakers that he will not be returning to the team.  Howard is to sign a 4 year 88 million dollar deal with the Houston Rockets.

I’ll update this article as more news comes out, so be sure to keep checking back Nation.  Are you glad to see him leave LA?  Would you have preferred to see him stay? Let’s hear your thoughts Nation!

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Now that the NBA Finals have ended, the basketball world’s attention shifts to the off-season. Beginning with the NBA Draft yesterday and continuing with the beginning of free agency next week, the next three months will shape how the 2013-2014 NBA season goes down.

There might not be a team with a more uncertain future heading into the off-season than the Lakers. Will Dwight stay or will he go? (Here’s my opinion from yesterday in case you missed it)

Do you upgrade an aging roster? Stick to what you have? Get rid of everyone? What exactly should the Lakers do?

Let’s take a look at three options Los Angeles really has this off-season, and which is going to be best for the franchise.

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

Re-sign and Build Around Dwight

The most obvious solution would be to go all in and put everything you have to bringing Howard back to Los Angeles. While injuries caused a dip in his production this season, there is no doubt Dwight is a top ten talent in the NBA and the best center in the league when healthy. Howard is a game-changer, especially on the defensive end of the court. With a player like that in the fold, you have a solid core for the next 5-10 years that you can build around.

With gobs of cap space coming in the summer of 2014, and a very impressive list of free agents, the Lakers could secure Howard and be back in contention within a year.

That is of course if the big man wants to be back in the Purple and Gold. Reports have recently surfaced that the Lakers are a long-shot to bring him back. According to ESPN:

Howard is willing to forgo the extra $30 million the Lakers can pay him to play for a coach and in a system he feels will better use his skillset, one source said.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Boston Celtics

Sign-and-trade Dwight for Depth

So if there’s no bringing him back, what can the Lakers do? Another idea that has been thrown around lately has been the concept of sign-and-trading Dwight to a team of his choosing to bring back some assets in return. While Howard would obviously have to agree to sign with the team he is going to, getting something in return is better than allowing Dwight to walk for nothing. (Contrary to popular belief, the Lakers can send a player out in a sign-and-trade, they just can’t bring a player in via sign-and-trade.)

With reports that Chris Paul and Howard want to form their own super team, the most talked about sign-and-trade has D12 going to the Clippers in exchange for Eric Bledsoe and Blake Griffin. Which sounds like a decent deal, except for the fact that the Lakers don’t want to send Howard to their rivals (if you can even call them that) down the hall, and the contract owed Griffin is going to become increasingly tough to justify if all he ever does is dunk and make Kia commercials.

If the Lakers are going to move Howard they need to take advantage of this opportunity and bring in a young talent that can help transform the franchise. A trade that gets the Lakers younger and more talented in exchange for Dwight would be the main objective of the franchise.

So what trade accomplishes these goals? That’s easy. A three-way trade between the Lakers, Clippers, and… (drumroll please) the T’Wolves! Minnesota happens to have a very talented young power forward who most people (Minny included), don’t expect to stick around past his opt-out after this season. A trade sending Dwight to the Clippers, Blake Griffin to the Wolves and Bledsoe and All-Star Kevin Love to the Lakers makes sense for all involved.

Paul and Howard get to team up in Clipper uniforms, Ricky Rubio gets the perfect alley-oop target, and the Lakers get two young, dynamic players to upgrade their roster. Which sounds like the perfect trade, meaning it will be almost impossible to pull off.

Andrew Wiggins 2

Blow it Up and Start Over

So if Dwight doesn’t want to come back, and the Lakers can’t get the right assets in return with a sign-and-trade, what option lies behind the proverbial door number three?

Blow it all up and rebuild. Let Dwight walk. Trade Pau. Amnesty Metta. Don’t bring Kobe back to play this year. Tank, tank, tank, tank, tank. (Then fire D’Antoni, I beg of you.)

If we’ve learned anything from the OKC’s and Spurs of the league, it’s that drafting talent is as important as signing talent. Unless you have Lebron James, you just can’t win in the league today without cheap, young talent.

In Los Angeles, it’s title or bust every season for the Lakers. And with a championship looking less and less likely next season, blowing it up for a franchise-changing lottery pick (Andrew Wiggins anyone?) could be the best route to take.

With ridiculous amounts of cap space next summer, the Lakers could potentially have a great, young talent on a rookie contract and two or three max players in the starting line-up with him. Doesn’t that seem like the best option towards a quick rebuild back into title contention?

The Lakers have some big decisions to make in the next couple of weeks. Will they look for instant gratification again, or decide to finally bite the bullet and rebuild for the future? Either way, you can guarantee it will be an interesting summer in Laker Land.

Belal Abdelfattah is a sports addict, sneaker junkie, and Laker Nation contributor. Follow him on Twitter over at @ItsBelal_A

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Dwight Howard is a seven-time NBA All-Star. Dwight Howard is a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. Dwight Howard is five-time All-NBA First Team player. Dwight Howard is not the future of the Los Angeles Lakers.

There have been many superstars throughout the history of the NBA. None of them have been as indecisive and immature as Dwight Howard.

As is often times the case in a results-driven league, Howard’s talent has caused many to dismiss his lack of maturity on the court, his child-like behavior off of it, and his overall lack of self-awareness in his constantly changing mindset.

Howard wanted out of Orlando, then he wanted to opt-in, then he wanted out again. He also only wanted to go to Brooklyn, then he was happy to be a Laker, then he was frustrated, and now according to ESPN, he wants to run away from difficulty again and head to Texas. But not before putting the blame on the Lakers, like he did to the Magic.

Howard’s major problem with the Lakers is the system that coach Mike D’Antoni employs… Howard also does not want to be second fiddle to Bryant for several more seasons.

Dwight is blaming the coach and the system for his shortcomings, this sounds familiar doesn’t it? D’Antoni in no way has done a good job with the Lakers, and his system is very much to blame for the short-comings we saw all season long, but for that to be the reason Howard leaves Los Angeles is ridiculous.

This is especially true when you consider the fact that Howard is looking at Houston as an option. You know, the team who launches three’s at a record-pace and runs exactly none of their offense through the low-post. Yet that system doesn’t seem to be an issue to Dwight.

imagesThe Dallas Mavericks also seem to be an option. A team with an aging star in Dirk Nowitzki that will be Howard’s team to call his very own a year from now. And to a self-centered man like Dwight Howard, being handed the keys to a franchise without delivering any results sounds like the perfect deal.

It’s time for Laker fans to face some realities. Dwight Howard is not the type of player to lead you to a championship, and in a city where success is measured by titles do we really want to hitch our fortunes to him? When someone shows over and over again that they refuse to accept responsibility for their decisions, that they refuse to grow up and act like the professional they are expected to be, they are not the type of player you want leading you into the future.

Do the Lakers as a franchise want to commit over $100 million to someone who has shown no commitment, and to some extent only shown disrespect to the greatest franchise in sports today? Howard’s contract will determine the immediate and long-term future of the Lakers, and could end up being one of the most important decisions the franchise ever makes. Do you really want to risk all of that on someone who you can’t trust to stick to a single decision?

Los Angeles has been spoiled with Kobe Bryant for the last decade and a half. Bryant is a superstar who takes challenges head on, who enjoys overcoming difficulty and who only wants to win. Howard is the complete opposite of that. He runs from challenges and criticism. Howard wants nothing but adulation from his fan base, regardless of the results he brings.

Dwight Howard wants all the praise that comes with being a franchise player, while playing like a secondary All-Star and acting like a child who is never at fault.

Even if he regains his pre-injury form, Howard will never be the type of player to lead you to a championship. The Lakers should let this spoiled brat tuck his tail and run to Texas.

Good riddance.

Belal Abdelfattah is a sports addict, sneaker junkie and Laker Nation contributor. You can follow him on Twitter at @ItsBelal_A

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PhotoCredit:BBGSports
Photocredit: NBA.com
Photocredit: NBA.com

Last week I released a series of poll questions about this off-season for the Los Angeles Lakers.  I asked you, the Laker Nation, to answer them and I’d analyze those answers in the coming week.  Well you guys all answered and this article will detail all the possible scenarios from the most popular answers to each poll question. So here we go!  If you’d like to take a quick look back at all the questions, here’s the link to the article - http://lakernation.com/offseason-poll-questions/

 

Question 1:  Would you like to see the Lakers re-sign Dwight Howard? 843 Total Votes

PhotoCredit: HarryHow/GettyImages
PhotoCredit: HarryHow/GettyImages

The majority of you said yes, you would like to see him re-signed with 609 “Yes” votes to 234  “No” votes.

What does this mean? Well unfortunately, it isn’t up to Laker management at this point as the ball is in Dwight’s court (No pun intended).  The majority of you would like to see him stay with the purple and gold with a 5 year max contract.  The Lakers can offer Dwight that extra year and 30 million dollars more than any other of the teams vying for his signature.  However, no one except Dwight knows for sure if that is enough to make him want to stay.  Rumors say he can’t stand D’Antoni and that’s a huge factor in making his ultimate decision. Houston is looking like a viable option for him at this point, and recent news is saying he and Chris Paul are attempting to team up together on one team..  Only time will tell whether Dwight will re-sign with LA or another ball club, and July 1st is the date in which the fire storm hits its climax.

 

Question 2:  Should Chris Paul decide to leave the Clippers, would you want him to sign with the Lakers? 848 Total Votes

The majority of you also said yes you would like to see him sign with the opposite locker room this season and leave the Clippers with 787 “Yes” votes against 61 “No” votes.  Many of you are probably thinking “Of course, who wouldn’t want to see Chris Paul in a Lakers’ jersey?”  Well, there are some issues with him signing

PhotoCredit:Robert Beck:SI
PhotoCredit:Robert Beck:SI

here. First off, Chris would have to “want” to sign with the Lakers, and at this point, I’m not sure why he would.  His Clippers finished with the best record in their franchise history and took the Pacific division crown this season while the Lakers barely made the playoffs.  He, like any other NBA player, wants to win a championship sooner rather than later, and by first glance the Clippers seem to be in the better position.

Another thing is that by signing Chris Paul the Lakers would not be signing Dwight Howard, basically they are both too expensive and the Lakers are already well over the salary cap.  So it’s a choice between a dominant center in Dwight Howard, or one of the most crafty, skilled point guards in Paul.  There is also the problem of having Steve Nash still under contract for 2 more seasons; 9 million dollars coming off the bench isn’t the smartest use of money. The Lakers would more than likely have to trade Nash just a year after trading their draft picks for him, and he won’t be necessarily easy to trade given his age and decreased level of effectiveness shown from this previous season.  It’d be a great upgrade at the point guard position for the Lakera with a player like Paul, leading the offense and keeping up with the young point guards that dominate the league, but the chances are low and he’ll likely re-sign with the Clippers.

 

Question 3:  Should the Lakers trade up in the draft for a better pick?  796 Total Votes

This was a lot closer in votes than the previous two poll questions coming in with 438 “Yes” votes and 358 “No” votes.  Seeing as this goes hand in hand with the following question, I’ll combine the two here.

Question 4:  Who would you like to see traded for the pick? 742 Total Votes

The number one person on the roster that you would like to see traded for a pick was Metta World Peace coming in with 220 votes.  Jodie Meeks came in second place with 155 votes, and third place was Pau Gasol with 138 .  While getting rid of Metta may be a good option as his contract is rather pricey for the player the

PhotoCredit:GettyImages
PhotoCredit:GettyImages

Lakers are getting, he’s just not worth that much to trade away for a decent pick.

Meeks is in the same boat as Metta, although he’s younger and a better shooter so he might warrant a slightly better pick.  Pau Gasol coming in at third however may be the most viable and prime option for a good pick.  Pau has a very expensive price tag though as he totes a 19 million dollar salary.  Trading him would likely get the Lakers a decent pick in the first round somewhere, but most teams would have to offer the Lakers at least one other player to accomodate his large salary.  Trading one of your players with a first round pick for Pau Gasol isn’t a trade teams are going to want to make, Pau just isn’t worth that much any more as his numbers have been in steady decline the past couple seasons.

PhotoCredit:IDSports
PhotoCredit:IDSports

However, recent news has surfaced that the Lakers are interested in Peyton Siva, the explosive guard out of the NCAA Champion Louisville Cardinals.  Siva is projected to go late in the second round, which is completely feasible for the Lakers to trade up for.  Trading for a late second round pick isn’t too difficult for Lakers management to pull off, and they wouldn’t necessarily have to give up one of their starting five either.  Do you guys like the idea of drafting Peyton Siva? Let me know your thoughts!

 

 

 

 

Question 5:  Of these free agents, who would you like to see the Lakers sign? 810 Total Votes

This one was a flat out victory by J.R. Smith receiving 526 total votes, second place sits Nikola Pekovic, the Minnesota big man, with 132 votes, and in third we have Anthony Morrow with 88 votes.  Here’s the thing, as great as it would be for the Lakers to sign a player like J.R. Smith, he’s probably going to be too expensive for them. He’s coming off a $2.8 million dollar salary with New York, and he has a player option in his contract for this upcoming season of which he is likely to opt out of.  Smith has earned himself the sixth man of the year award this past season and because of that he can leave New York and ask for

PhotoCredit:APPhotoFrankFranklinII
PhotoCredit:APPhotoFrankFranklinII

more money elsewhere.  Another possibility is that New York signs him to a new bigger contract, but regardless Smith is looking for a bigger contract and with Los Angeles already well over the cap a signing isn’t likely.

Nikola Pekovic would be somone to look at if Dwight Howard chooses to sign elsewhere.  He could hold down the paint, and eventually become a strong, dominant center in the NBA as a member of the Lakers organization.  We’ll see if Lakers management looks his way should Dwight choose to leave LA.

Then there’s Anthony Morrow, a close friend of Dwight Howard’s and a pretty good shooter.  Morrow’s early years were his best shooting wise and if were to return to that form he’d be a great asset for the shooter deprived Lakers. Not that this would necessarily keep Dwight in LA but having a close friend work along side yourself makes you want to stay put more than if Morrow weren’t there.

 

Question 6:  What would you like to see done with Coach Mike D’Antoni? 836 Total Votes

This was the most one sided poll question yet, and expectantly so. Nearly all of you voted that D’Antoni be fired with 736 votes, and here’s why you’re 100% correct.  Not that this is anything

PhotoCredit:GettyImages

new, but D’Antoni  has a different agenda for the Lakers then they are currently built for.  He wants a quick, run-n-gun style offense, and the Lakers, being the oldest team in the NBA this past season, couldn’t quite keep up as well as he’d hoped.  He was adamant about sticking to his guns, and it wasn’t until the end of the season that things began to click and he decided to use Pau Gasol closer to the basket where he thrives.

Should Dwight Howard choose to re-sign, D’Antoni needs to go.  He doesn’t know how to fully utilize two big men out on the floor and maximize their potential.  He’s not a bad coach by any means, he just doesn’t fit as the missing puzzle piece the Lakers have been searching for since Jackson left. He did well in Phoenix when Steve Nash was there, and that’s why Laker management felt he would thrive with Nash again.  It’s unfortunate if he is to be retained because it will only be to the Lakers’ detriment.  Dwight may also be basing his decision on whether D’Antoni is retained or not, and right now it doesn’t look like Laker management has any plans of getting rid of him.

 

Question 7:  What coach would you rather see if the Lakers are to fire D’Antoni? 837 Total Votes

Since I put the zen master himself as an answer to this question I expected him to get the most votes, and he did with 531 votes.  However in second place came the former Lakers assistant coach Brian Shaw with 219 votes, currently with the Indiana Pacers.  Now since it is unlikely that Lakers management removes D’Antonifrom his head coaching seat these are merely dreams of hope that the Lakers would hire one of these guys.  Phil Jackson would obviously be the best choice as he has proven his success with the Lakers before.

Unfortunately he has said he has no plans on ever returning to coaching and the Lakers last chance to ink the 11 time champion was when they flirted with him

PhotoCredit:JohnWMcDonough:SI
PhotoCredit:JohnWMcDonough:SI

after Mike Brown’s firing.  Shaw is also in talks with multiple teams regarding their head coaching vacancies, most notably the Clippers.  The Lakers are likely to see out Mike D’Antoni’s  current contract because they already owe Mike Brown some money from his early termination and they don’t want to look like they don’t know what they’re doing (Even though it appears Jim Buss doesn’t).  Perhaps D’Antoni has a different game plan for this season, perhaps he wants to use Pau and hopefully Dwight together effectively, and perhaps the Lakers have a great season, perhaps.

 

Question 8:  Who should the Lakers amnesty this season? 823 Total Votes

This was my favorite question based on the answers to it that I really didn’t expect.  In first place came Metta World Peace with 342 votes, which isn’t a huge surprise due to his dwindling performance this past season.  Amnestying him wouldn’t be a terrible option as Peace is likely going to opt into the final year of his contract and he’s due 7.7 million dollars, more than he could get anywhere else at this point in his career.  However I expected you guys to want to amnesty Pau Gasol

because he’s due 19 million, which is a HUGE hindrance to the salary cap room the Lakers have.  Pau actually came in last place with just 65 votes.

Second place went to not amnestying anyone this season with 319 votes.  This was in first place for quite some time until Metta World Peace came in and swooped it, probably because of the way Metta has been tweeting recently.  If you don’t know Metta’s tweets I suggest you follow him, he’s quite the character. I think not using it this season is actually a smart idea because each ball club can only exercise it once between now and the 2015-16 season.  So waiting to see if there is a better chance to use it is a safe and careful plan, which is something the Lakers need at this point in time.

Kobe Bryant was next on the list with 97 votes, now before some of you guys start freaking out over such a ridiculous thought, just think about it.  Bryant is coming off of

PhotoCredit: Noah Graham/Getty Images
PhotoCredit: Noah Graham/Getty Images

a very serious Achilles tendon tear, one which could alter his playing style for the rest of his career.  Here’s what Lakers management can do, they could amnesty Bryant, who could potentially miss a large portion of this current season, and then offer him a contract when he is healthy again, hoping he wouldn’t sign any where else in the meantime.  This would alleviate 30 million dollars on the Lakers books and give them a lot of great options going into this upcoming season. The hard part is amnestying the player who has brought the city 5 more championships and has only ever donned a purple and gold uniform, oh and hoping he doesn’t get bitter about it and sign else where.  Essentially what the Lakers would be doing is dropping the final year of Bryant’s contract, wait until he is fully healthy, then re-sign him to a much cheaper deal, likely in the 17-19 million range.  This option really has a lot of potential to it, but it also is a huge risk that I’m not sure Lakers management would be willing to take.  My guess would be that the Lakers choose not to exercise their amnesty clause this season and they’ll wait for a better opportunity.

 

PhotoCredit:Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Question 9:  Will Kobe Bryant be the same player when he returns from his Achilles tendon tear? 828 Total Votes

No one can really know the answer to this question unless you’re Kobe Bryant himself.  We all have watched Bryant play his heart out every night and know first hand that his work ethic is second to none.  That being said, we can all assu

me Bryant will come back sooner rather than later and playing at the same level he’s shown us all these past 17 seasons.  351 of you felt he’ll be the same player when he returns, 239 said he wouldn’t be, and 238 said he’d be even better than before.  Again, it really is a toss up, and none of us can truly know how Kobe will bounce back after such a detrimentalinjury, but we can make educated guesses based on his history.

 

That’s it for the poll questions everyone, thanks so much for participating and here’s to a successful off-season for the Los Angeles Lakers!  Any questions, comments, or concerns, contact me on Twitter, @GarrettGarcia

 

 

 

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PhotoCredit:GettyImages
PhotoCredit:Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
PhotoCredit:Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone knows Kobe Bryant is one of the world’s greatest competitors that it has ever seen, and everyone knows that the Los Angeles Lakers need him to play well and every minute on the court is of paramount importance to their success.  However, everyone may not know that coach D’Antoni is overplaying Bryant over these past four games as Kobe has played nearly all 48 minutes in every contest.  That’s right, almost 48 minutes, that is unreal even for a player in their mid 20′s let alone a 34 year old Bryant.

In the past four games the Lakers played SAC, DAL, MEM, LAC, and Bryant played 47 minutes 37 seconds, 47 minutes four seconds, 42 minutes 32 seconds, and 47 minutes 20 seconds in each game respectively.  That’s an average of about 46 minutes per game, an extremely high amount for someone with the mileage that Kobe Bryant has on his body.  However, if anyone could do it it’s Bryant, he takes care of himself, conditions well, and makes sure he is always in top shape so he can perform his best on the basketball court.

PhotoCredit:AP-PhotoMarkJ.Terrill
PhotoCredit:AP-PhotoMarkJ.Terrill

Even though Bryant is clearly capable of playing these minutes as he’s exhibited these past four games, it’s going to harm him in the long run should the Lakers make the playoffs.  It’s even affecting him now, and considering Bryant is coming off a severely sprained ankle and a bone spur on the same foot, these minutes seem to be taking a toll on Bryant.

Throughout these past four games Bryant’s shooting percentage is down sitting at 37% during the span, and he’s even worse from beyond the arc at a paltry 5% on 1-20 shooting, the lone make being against the Clippers in a loss on Sunday. This can be attributed to tired legs and Bryant just not quite being able to muster up all his strength at times when he normally could on adequate rest.

There is a silver lining though as Bryant’s RPG and APG have been dramatically higher as he works to get his teammates involved early and often and stays active on the boards, securing rebounds and extra possessions.  Bryant, over the span, is averaging 8 RPG, and 11 APG, both significantly higher than his season averages.  He’s also averaging 22.75 PPG which is noticeably lower than his season average of 26.96 PPG, but that can be attributed to his increased assist total as Bryant is looking to pass more often than taking shots.

Playing these kind of minutes takes a large toll on a 34 year old body with the kind of basketball mileage that Bryant has accumulated throughout his career.  Seeing those numbers dip to a sub-par level is just a precursor of what fans can expect to see come playoff time should the Lakers make it.  If Kobe doesn’t start to see some rest soon he could be completely burnt out come playoff time, having used up his energy just to make it their. Bryant isn’t playing this many minutes unwillingly however says coach D’Antoni.  This via latimes.com:

“A lot of it is in the moment, ‘How do you feel?’ ‘What’s going on?’” said D’Antoni about making sure Bryant isn’t overextended. “We’re trying to steal minutes when we can for him.”

“He insists.  He wants to play,” according to D’Antoni.  “I’ve got to trust how he feels about his body and how he feels about his situation.”

Regardless of whether Kobe wants to play these minutes or not, someone has to step in and say enough is enough and he needs to start saving some of those

PhotoCredit:AP Photo:Mark J. Terrill
PhotoCredit:AP Photo:Mark J. Terrill

minutes for a potential playoff run.  There is no point to work this hard to make the playoffs if the Lakers lose in the first round because their star player is burnt out. There needs to be a common ground where Bryant can play a larger sum of minutes and still get the rest he needs and deserves during these important games.

Kobe Bryant wants his team to make the playoffs more than anything and he is willing to go to extreme measures to ensure that happens.  Unfortunately it’s at the expense of his health and overall stamina which may affect his level of play should the Lakers make the playoffs. Seeing Bryant play this much is a true testament to his will and drive to win, but even he knows he needs to save himself for the playoffs, which is all Los Angeles has ever played for. Bryant’s minutes need to decrease over the next five games if the Lakers hope to keep him at full strength for the playoffs, and they need to find a way to win at least four of those next five games without Bryant playing so much if they hope to hang onto that elusive eighth seed and make a playoff run.

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PhotoCredit:Chris Graythen/Getty Images
PhotoCredit:Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant is a scorer, he’s said so himself, that’s just how he plays the game, to score the rock.  So it’s no surprise to hear the greatest scorer in the game is climbing the ladder to the top where the great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar rests upon his throne.

At the end of tonight’s emphatic win at Minnesota Bryant scored 31 points putting him at 31,385 career points, good for fifth all-time which he’s held since February 2012.  Wilt Chamberlain sits right above him at 31,419 career points, which means Bryant is a mere 34 points away from the record itself and 35 points away from keeping fourth place all to himself.

Barely ahead of fourth place is the illustrious Michael Jordan at 32,292 career points.  Kobe is 908 points away from breaking that record and currently Bryant is averaging 27 points a game, at that pace it would take him about another 34 games to take over Jordan for third place.  More than likely Jordan is who Bryant is aiming at, just as he’s aiming at that elusive sixth ring that Jordan holds so dear.

Distancing himself from third-fifth place is Karl Malone at 36,928 career points.  Bryant would need about 205 games at 27 PPG to take over second place on the list, still attainable for Bryant as this is about two and a half more full seasons.

38,387 points is perched at the top by some guy named Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and that milestone may never be eclipsed.  Bryant, at 27 PPG, would have to play 259 more

PhotoCredit:Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
PhotoCredit:Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

games at that pace to take out the all-time leader.  That number marks just over 3 more seasons of Bryant playing at the level he’s currently at, not impossible for a player such as Bryant, but at 37 years old it’s a lot to ask.  That’s also assuming he plays that long, and doesn’t miss any time to injury. Bryant has previously said he has no desire to play past his prime or the high level he and everyone around him has been so accustomed to seeing night in and night out for the past 16 years.

Bryant deserves to go down as the greatest scorer the NBA has ever seen, even if he falls short of Kareem’s highly esteemed record. However records are meant to be broken, and records are never completely safe, so Laker Nation I ask you this: Will Kobe eclipse Kareem and become the NBA’s all-time leading scorer before his career is finished?

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Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

 

To be back in a position to win again is a phenomenal feeling, and I’m really proud to be a Laker today.

When the Lakers introduced Steve Nash back on July 11th of last year, the overwhelming majority of Laker fans felt that on that day, the Lakers had finally acquired a game-changing point guard. After years of role players at the one, the Lakers had finally picked up a pass-first point guard to make Kobe’s life easier and help close the gap on the other contenders in the West.

However, as has been the case with most of the Lakers expectations from that beautiful July, things haven’t exactly played out as expected.

Nash has become more of a spot-up shooter than playmaking wizard, and watching him play has been a bit frustrating for Laker fans and Nash alike. The majority opinion on the topic is that Kobe Bryant has rendered Nash obsolete by having most of the offense run through him, a fear many had when the Lakers acquired Nash.

But is Nash really struggling as much as we’re made to believe? The idea was that he would make things easier for Bryant, but it seems that Kobe has had to do more work this season than any before. But when it comes to Nash and Bryant is perception really the reality?

While it does seem that Nash has struggled shooting the ball this season, take a look at his shooting chart this year compared to his last season as a Sun in the 2011-2012 season.

Nash in 2012-2013:

Courtesy: NBA.com
Courtesy: NBA.com

 

Nash in 2011-2012:

Courtesy: NBA.com
Courtesy: NBA.com

Two things immediately stand out from looking at those two shot charts. First, in 45 games this season Nash has made almost as many three’s as he did in the 62 games he played for Phoenix last season. Second, Nash is shooting about 11% worse in the paint this season than he did last season.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

So then Nash has been relegated to a spot up shooter while Kobe dominates the ball right? Not exactly. It’s easy to look at the numbers and assume that Nash is no longer creating shots for himself and others effectively, but watching the games tell another story. Since the All-Star break, the Lakers have ran a lot more pick-and-rolls with Nash and Dwight Howard. This has resulted in Nash shooting a lot of open shots as Dwight dives to the hoop and really helped him become a great offensive weapon.

Since the break Nash is shooting 80/171, good for 46.7% from the field. While the shooting percentage may not seem that great, the fact is teams have had to try stopping him, which has made Kobe and Dwight’s lives much easier.

But what about the argument that Nash has become an after-thought when Kobe is on the court with him? The numbers seem to show that is not the case at all. Take a look at what Nash has shot this season in games with Kobe, and his numbers in the three games since Kobe sprained his ankle.

With Kobe:
195/389, 50.1% overall
49/113, 43.4% from 3

Without Kobe:
18/42, 42.9% overall
3/6, 50% from 3

Nash has had to become more of a scorer since Bryant went out, and his numbers have clearly taken a hit because of it. Much has been made of the threat of Nash shooting allowing Kobe to see less defenders, but the fact is that Bryant also allows Nash to get plenty of great looks in the offense.

The demise of Steve Nash has been greatly over-exaggerated this season. While Nash has had to adjust his role in this Lakers offense, he is still a very effective shooter who can make a huge difference in a game. Whether by running the pick-and-roll or by hurting teams with his spot-up shooting, the two-time MVP definitely can be an X-factor for the Lakers going forward.

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Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

Wow, what a week.

That’s really the only way to look back on what transpired for the Lakers this past week. The Lakers used a 4-1 record and some timely losses from all the teams in front of them (shout out to Milwaukee!) to place themselves squarely in the playoff picture.

This was definitely a week we may all be able to look at in the future and know that this was when the Lakers finally turned their season around for good.

As always, let’s take a look at some of the good, bad and downright ugly of the past week for the Lake Show.

Good – Vino.

This is starting to get ridiculous. Actually it is ridiculous, and is only becoming more and more unfathomable. Heading into last nights game against Orlando, all the Mamba was averaging was 33 points, 9 assists, and 6 boards per on 51% shooting for the week. That was good enough to be named Western Conference Player of the Week, again. We all know that the man is in his 17th NBA season, is 34-years-old, and is supposed to be getting worse and withering away, not getting better and better.

And just when you think you’ve seen it all, that he can’t possibly wow you again, he goes and does this to the Raptors. Seriously, watch all four minutes of that video and enjoy every second, especially that first three, HOW DID HE MAKE THAT SHOT!?!

Oh, that was during the second of consecutive 40+ point, 10+ assist games, becoming the oldest player in NBA history to do that twice, and he did it in back-to-back games. We all need to enjoy what Kobe Bean Bryant is doing right now. I’d call it incredible, but that might not even do him justice right now.

Bad – The First Quarter Against Toronto.

An issue that popped up in three of the five games for the Lakers this week was a total and complete collapse in at least one quarter per game. The first quarter of the Raptors was a great example of that. Toronto, who is a middle of the pack offense at best, averages a whopping 97.8 points per game. They scored more than a third of that in the opening twelve minutes against a prous, plodding Laker defense.

Granted, the Raptors do have newly-acquired Rudy Gay and the streaky DeMar DeRozan, but really 37 points? While the Lakers ultimately came back and won the game in overtime thanks to the Mamba, they spent the last three quarters and overtime catching up from a terrible defensive start against a team they really should have dominated.

Ugly – The Second Quarter Against New Orleans.

If you thought that first against the Raps was bad, take a look at what the Lakers did (or didn’t) do against the Hornets during the second quarter of last weeks game. The Lakers pretty much forgot how to play defense altogether. New Orleans jumped out to a great start, turning a 28-28 tie after one into a blowout at the half. The Hornets shot 13/22 from the field, including four long three’s, en route to a 39 point quarter.

It wasn’t only the Laker defense that was bad during that stretch. The second-unit couldn’t hit a shot to start the quarter, and that coupled with their inability to stop New Orleans from scoring resulted in the Lakers trailing by as many as 25 in the quarter and 19 at the half. Allowing 67 first-half points to a team that averages 94.4 a game is unreal. Well, at least they made up for it in the fourth quarter…

Good – A Furious Fourth-Quarter Rally.

As bad as the second quarter against New Orleans was for the Lakers, the fourth quarter was a total and complete opposite. The Lakers absolutely locked the Hornets down, limiting New Orleans to 4/23 shooting and a whopping 9 points. The soon-to-be Pelicans scored exactly 0 points in the final 6:47 of the game, allowing the Lakers to close it out with a 20-0 run and a huge rally in a 108-102 win.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

While the Lakers as a unit played unbelievably in the fourth, there were three guys who really keyed the rally. Jodie Meeks hit four huge 3-pointers that were crucial to the Laker rally. And for the first time all season, we were able to see what the Lakers can do with Kobe controlling the offense and Dwight Howard dominating on defense. Kobe had 15 of his game-high 42 during that 20-0 Laker run, and assisted on many of Meeks big shots in the fourth as well. In fact, Kobe and Jodie (Jobe?) were the only Lakers to hit a field goal in the fourth.

Perhaps the best part of the whole fourth quarter was seeing what Dwight can do on defense when he is dedicated to shutting down the other team. He had a flashback to pre-surgery Dwight when he swatted Robin Lopez on a tying dunk-attempt in the final 30 seconds, and really dominated the quarter defensively. More on Dwight in a bit.

Ugly – Falling Flat in OKC.

First things first, the Lakers showed a lot of heart in this game after falling behind big. Kobe was hurt early but came back to try and push the Lakers to a huge road-win. Los Angeles put in the effort and even got within five points in the fourth quarter, but a Thunder 12-0 run to close out the game made sure that they never got any closer.

While it would have been great to see the Lakers win in OKC, the fact is that this game showed us all a few things. First, the Thunder are a much better team than the Lakers right now, no matter how well LA is playing. There is still a long way to go for the Purple and Gold if they want to truly compete with OKC this season.

Second, the Lakers are still nto a team that has shown they can win on the road against a top-tier opponent. With the way the season has gone, the Lakers are going to have to win at least one road game against a great opponent to win a playoff series, so this has to be a major concern.

Bad – Stopping Opposing PG’s.

Ahh, there’s that problem which never seems to go away for the Lake Show. Tell me if you’ve heard this one before; the Lakers are getting torched by opposing point guards. Yes? Of course you have because this has been an issue for the Lakers since, oh I don’t know, 1996? We knew bringing in Steve Nash would help on offense and hurt on defense, but look at the numbers of the starting point guards the Lakers faced last week:

Russel Westbrook: 37 points, 10 rebounds
Greivis Vasquez: 15 points, 12 assists
Kyle Lowry: 15 points, 10 assists
Nate Robinson: 19 points, 8 assists

Sure, Wesbtrook kills everyone, and yeah Vasquez has been doing great passing the ball this season, so those numbers aren’t too bad. Except Lowry has been so bad this year that the Raptors tried to trade him five months after acquiring him. Nate Robinson is a shoot-first, pass-never point guard who racked up eight assists on the Lakers while also being the only Bulls player to score consistently all game.

Those are all pretty bad, but my biggest concern are Westbrook’s numbers. While he is impossible for anyone to realyl stop, he has absolutely murdered the Lakers this season. That’s not a good sign, especially with all roads to the Finals leading through OKC. Raphael Westbrook isn’t a problem that will be going away any time soon.

Ugly- Jodie Meeks D.

Meeks was an integral part of the Laker come back in New Orleans, and he helps stretch the floor which in turn makes life easier for Kobe and Dwight down the stretch.

But have you seen Jodie play defense? Me neither. Unfortunately for Meeks, he’s the guy that teams pick on at crunch time. I mean his defense is so bad I considered making a Joie Meeks joke right here but thought better of it.

Friday night against the Raptors, Toronto kept going to Alan Anderson (I know, me neither.) down the stretch, who scored at will on Meeks. I get Mike D’Antoni wants offense in the game, but when he isn’t hitting 3′s he certainly isn’t contributing on defense. Kobe’s heroics are incredible to watch, but Meeks defense is part of the reason those crazy shots are even neccessary.

Good – Dwight’s Back.

See what I did there?

Heading into his return to Orlando, a lot of people wondered if Dwight would be able to handle the backlash he was about to face. Howard was introduced to a chorus of boo’s louder than anything he’d ever experienced, and we were all curious to see whether he would come out and dominate or fade into the background in the face of adversity. 39 points, 16 rebounds and 3 blocks later, we have an emphatic answer from Dwight and the hope that the problems that plagued the big man this season are all gone. Howard also tied his own NBA record with 39 free-throw attempts, and set the Lakers record by making 25 for the game, including eight straight to close it out.

Howard also was a force in the other four contests the Lakers had this past week. This was clear on the defensive end of the floor, where Howard is flat-out dominating the paint recently. Many Lakers have taken notice of his improved play, including coach Mike D’Antoni.

Dwight is just feeling better, you can see it all over the place. His back is better, he’s in rhythm, whatever it is, he’s a monster defensively.

Which sums up exactly what the Lakers expected from Howard when they acquired him last summer.

So is Dwight officially back? Well if his past two games are any type of evidence, it seems he is pretty darn close. On Sunday he was especially impressive against Chicago putting up 16 points, 21 boards and 4 blocks going against Joakim Noah. You might have heard some “experts” proclaiming Noah to be the best center in the league right now. Dwight sure looked like he’d heard the chatter, dominating Noah on both ends of the court to put that argument to rest.

After a good week for the Lakers, the team has two more tough road games and a home date remaining this week. They face a revenge-hungry Hawks squad in the second of a back-to-back, then head to Indy to take on the defensive-minded, dangerous Pacers. After the mini-trip, the Lakers return home to face a Kings squad that seems to always give them trouble. By Sunday night, this Laker squad has a chance to really launch themselves up the standings in the West.

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Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

Another week in Laker Land has passed us, and for the first time in a long time it feels like our boys in Purple and Gold are (finally) headed in the right direction. While the Laker schedule was light on games with only three contests this week, there were plenty of things to take from games against Denver, Minnesota and Atlanta.

Here is a look at the Good, the Bad and the Ugly of the Lakers past week in action.

Good: Kobe Bryant circa 2006 is Back.

Really, I could just post a link to this dunk and it would be enough of an explanation.

The Mamba has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break ended, and the Lakers 5-1 record during that time is tied directly to what Bryant is doing. In the past five games alone Kobe is averaging a whopping 34.8 points per game, on 66-116 shooting, good for a cool 56.9% from the field. Did I mention that Bryant is doing this at 34-years old, in his 17th NBA season, 60 games into a campaign that has seen him average 38.2 minutes per contest? Oh and all while shooting what would be the highest field goal percentage of his career.

Bryant realizes this is a make or break stretch for the Lakers playoff chances, and he looks to be up for the challenge.

I’ve been in attack mode since the break. It’s go time. We’re getting a little bit closer and we’re starting to get in more of a striking distance where you start watching (the playoff race).

It’s absolutely mind-boggling that this guy is not only still going strong, but getting better as the season and his career progress. With the way Kobe’s been playing since the break, would you really want to bet against him getting the Lakers into the playoffs? Me neither. Kobe is aging like a fine wine (or Vino as he’s now apparently calling himself), just in time to save the Laker season.

Ugly: Interior Defense.

One negative that really stood out this week for the Lakers was just how bad their defense is in the paint, especially when Dwight Howard sits. In the loss to Denver, the Lakers gave up an astronomical 78 points in the paint. That’s more than some teams have scored in ENTIRE GAMES recently. The Nuggets were also able to gain a 33-3 edge on the fastbreak, further emphasizing the Lakers inability to not only get in position, but to challenge at the rim at all. This only gets worse when LA’s lone shot blocker has to take a seat. Granted, that Denver game was the second of a road back-to-back in an arena where any team that’s not named the Nuggets is expected to lose, so you can make a bit of an excuse for the Lakers, right?

Wrong. That would be fine and dandy if the Hawks didn’t score almost at will inside at the end of the game last night. While the Lakers were able to escape with a huge win (or avoid a huge collapse, your choice), you simply cannot ignore the fact that Atlanta scored three consecutives times at the basket in the final two minutes. Oh, and all those buckets were basically unguarded lay-ups and dunks. In fact, had Josh Smith been able to handle Devin Harris’ entry pass at the end of the game, we’d probably be lamenting another terrible loss rather than breathing a sigh of relief.

The Lakers should be able to slow down the scoring of other teams inside once Pau returns from his injury right? Wait what do you mean no? Let’s just move on.

Bad: Steve Nash Turnovers.

With the Lakers winning games and Kobe dominating on offense, it’s been difficult to find many things wrong with the Los Angeles offense. One thing that has definitely been off in the six games since the All-Star break has been Steve Nash’s handle. Nash has 20 turnovers (TWENTY!) in those six games, and that number is actually helped by the fact that Nash had none in the blow-out win over Minnesota. It’s hard to pick on anything Nash does because he has done such an incredible job of adjusting to the offense so that his teammates can thrive, basically becoming a spot-up shooter in this system.

But in Denver, those Nash turnovers became very costly. As is often the case with turnovers on the road, Denver was able to turn six Nash turnovers into points on the fast-break that really ignited their offense and helped them kill any Laker hope of winning int he Mile High City.

Courtesy: Getty Images
Courtesy: Getty Images

Good: Dwight Howard.

No, really. This isn’t sarcasm. I’m serious!

I know, it’s been a long time since we had a week free of tearing Dwight down, but the All-Star big man has actually been a force since the All-Star break. Sure he still forces some bad shots in the paint, and yeah his free throws are still terrible. But, hold on let me channel my inner Rock, FINALLY DWIGHT HAS COME BACK, sort of. Howard has really been playing with great energy lately.

Starting with a dominating 24-point, 12-rebound performance against the Celtics and on through the next five games, Howard has shown flashes of the All-Star Laker fans expected to see when he was brought in. In the past six games, Dwight is averaging 17 points and 14 boards per game, while also throwing in two swats a night. His scoring may not be as high as Dwight would like, but he is finally making an impact for the Lakers in a way that translates directly to wins. Boards, defense, and hard screen-and-rolls on offense will help this team win, and Howard seems to have finally figured that out.

Ugly: Opposing Role Players (still) Killing the Lakers.

This has really been a theme of the entire Laker season, but there were a few more instances this week of role guys really hurting the Lakers. In Denver, Wilson Chandler was a late insert into the starting line-up for the Nuggets, and all he did was drop 23 points on the Lakers. And just in case Laker fans forgot what he did to them the last two times these teams met, Corey Brewer chipped in 16 points and plenty of overdone celebrations. These two specifically played a huge role in sparking the Nuggets to a win over the Lakers.

Then, this ugly problem reared its head again against Atlanta. Devin Harris turned into an All-Star for a five-minute stretch spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter. By scoring 14 of his 16 points during that span, Harris nearly single-handedly brought the Hawks back from a 16-point deficit. Not to be outdone, Kyle Korver came in and also scored 16 on the Lakers, hitting a few big shots that nearly cost the home team the game.

This is another issue that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, but the Lakers are .500 so let’s stop talking about bad stuff!

Bad: Momentum Swings with the Bench.

Okay, so this is still something bad we have to discuss, but I’ll counter it with some good. The Laker bench was great against the T’Wolves this week. Jodie Meeks, Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake all scored in double-digits and helped the Lakers blow Minnesota out of the building.

It was the other two games this week that were cause for alarm, however. After a solid first quarter in Denver, the Laker bench allowed the Nuggets to blow the game open in the second quarter. Denver built a lead the Lakers were never able to recover from. Then against the Hawks, the bench twice blew a double-digit lead they had inherited from the starters. While only Meeks, Jamison and Blake entered the game off the bench, they were a collective -40 against Atlanta.

Simply put, this is not going to get it done most nights. Scoring isn’t a problem for the bench guys, but their inability to stop anyone on the opposing bench from scoring really puts a limitation on what the team can do.

Like most .500 teams, the Lakers have plenty of room for improvement. On the plus side, this is the first time in a roller-coaster of a season where Laker Nation can confidently say that its team is finally on the rise. This time, we just have to hope it’s for the rest of the season. Any more steep drops on this ride will have the Lakers heading straight into the off-season.

Oh and by the way, just in case you forgot what Kobe did yesterday, here you go. You’re welcome.

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Denver Nuggets v Los Angeles Lakers - Game Seven
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Since the 2012-2013 NBA season kicked off, Lakers fans have been on a weekly roller coaster ride. From Opening Night onwards, we’ve seen some good, some bad, and even some ugly. The Laker season has played out like a cheesy day-time soap, changing dramatically from day-to-day, keeping Lakers fans everywhere on their toes.

There is so much going on weekly with this team that it sometimes becomes exhausting trying to keep up with everything. So how do we keep track of all the weekly events in Laker Land?

Simple, by tracking all of the ups and downs of the past week. Without further ado, here is the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly from the last week of Lakers action.

Good – Lakers Ball Movement.

While much of the attention has gone to Kobe Bryant’s new found “Magic Mamba” persona, the Lakers as a unit have really been moving the ball well in the past six games. That was apparent this week during hot stretches against New Orleans, Phoenix, Minnesota and Detroit when the Lakers were getting good looks and easy shots, which lead to them building double-digit leads in each contest.

Side-note: Speaking of ball movement, that Kobe to Clark alley-oop to end the first half in Detroit was absolutely gorgeous.

Bad – Dry Spells.

However, with all of that great ball movement comes one major concern; over-passing the ball. There were a couple of really bad Laker dry spells in the past couple of games where guys became a little too pass-happy. Passing up some good looks leads to bad shots at the end of the shot-clock and also turnovers, which adds up to terrible stretches of play for the Lakers. While the Lakers were able to hold on after nearly blowing leads of 29, 18 and 16 in three wins this week, they were bitten in Phoenix where a 13-point lead was lost in defeat.

Ugly – Metta World Punch?

Things got a little chippy in Detroit for the man formerly known as Ron Artest, again. While this wasn’t as bad as the Malice at the Palace, Metta got into a scuffle with second-year Pistons guard Brandon Knight towards the end of the second quarter. Both players got tangled up going for a rebound, and in the ensuing sequence Metta seemed to throw a slight jab at Knight. World Peace was assessed a flagrant-1 foul on the play. But if you ask Knight, that wasn’t enough of a punishment.

The play needs to be reviewed because he definitely threw a punch. It felt like he threw a punch. That’s why I reacted the way I did.

It will be interesting to see if the league does indeed take a look at the play for any further disciplinary action.

UPDATE – The NBA has suspended Metta for one game following his altercation with Knight.

Bad – Dwight Howard’s Shoulder, Again.

In what is becoming a recurring theme for the All-Star big man, Howard aggravated the torn labrum in his right shoulder again during the Lakers collapse in Phoenix. Howard flew back to LA for treatment, and has since rejoined the team, and is currently day-to-day after sitting out the past two Laker road games. This is an injury that Lakers fans will have to worry about for the rest of the season. Something as serious as a torn labrum will not be completely healed until Howard is able to have surgery performed on it. With Dwight trying to avoid going under the knife during the season, the organization will have to wince and pray every time a defender takes a whack at D12 for the rest of the season.

Good – Pau Gasol’s Aggression.

It’s hard to take positives from an injury like Howard’s, but one good thing to come from him missing a few games is the re-emergence of Gasol. Pau has been the starting (and only) center for the Lakers since Dwight went down, and he has been a revelation in the past two games. Against the Pistons, Gasol had 23 points, 10 boards and 3 assists to follow up a game in Minnesota that was much more dominant than his 22 point, 12 rebound stat-line would suggest. It’s been good to see the Spaniard once again playing like Laker fans are accustomed to seeing. The hope is that he can keep his production up when moved back to his sixth man role.

Ugly – Fourth Quarter Collapses.

Starting with the near collapse against the Pelicans Hornets on Tuesday, the Lakers were anything but solid in the fourth quarter this past week. Los Angeles completely blew a big lead in a road-loss to Phoenix that gave the Lakers what was at the time their eighth straight road loss. The fourth-quarter bug almost bit the team again in Detroit with Earl Clark and Steve Nash (no, really) each missing two free throws in the final 20 seconds of what turned out be a very uncomfortable one-point victory. Against better teams, these lethargic fourth quarters will not get it done, especially come playoff time.

Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Image
Credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Image

Good – The Continued Emergence of Earl Clark.

While this is something that has not been limited to the past week, the emergence of Earl Clark has really helped the Lakers on both ends of the court. Clark is a stretch-four who can play opposite both Howard and Gasol, and considering the troubles those two have had co-existing, that has turned into a great luxury for the Lakers to have. Defensively, Clark has spent time doing everything from trying to slow down the other team’s best player like Lebron James, to guarding the other teams hottest player like Will Bynum in Detroit. He has really helped boost the Lakers on both ends with his versatility and athleticism.

Bad – Mike D’s Rotation Minus Dwight.

If you looked at the Laker line-up to start the second quarter against Detroit or Minnesota, you may have been surprised to notice that Metta World Peace or Antawn Jamison were playing center for the Lakers. You also may have noticed the Pistons and T’Wolves scoring at will in the paint with those two playing the center position while Pau gets a breather. This line-up really has some Laker fans scratching their heads. As we all know, D’Antoni is generally an offense-first coach, but to oplay no big men at any point in an NBA game is kind of ridiculous. Getting Robert Sacre some minutes is a much better option for LA because not only does he give you some type of size inside, he offers some type of resistance at the rim.

Good – Steve Blake Sparking the Bench.

Finally, the missing piece to the championship puzzle returned to action this past Tuesday against the Pelicans Hornets. Okay, so that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the return of Steve Blake has undeinably impacted the Lakers bench. Blake is doing a good job of getting guys running and involved in a way that Chris Duhon simply couldn’t. Having Blake running the show for the second unit will only benefit the Laker bench, especially Gasol. Blake has played in this system longer than Duhon and Nash, and is comfortable getting Pau the ball in places where he can go to work in the post. This could help the Lakers stem some of the runs made by other teams that have plagued them when the bench is in the game.

Ugly – Creating All-Stars

One thing that has killed the Lakers all season is the fact that almost every game, a role player on the opposing team tends to have an All-Star kind of night. The Lakers have been beaten by guys like Jose Calderon, Greg Smith, Toney Douglas and most recently Michael Beasely this season. They have also nearly blown games to guys like Charlie Villanueva, Will Bynum and Gerald Henderson. Things have gotten so bad for Laker fans that when a guy like Villanueva checks in you automatically have two reactions. One is shock that he is still in the league. The other is the fear that he is about to light the Lakers up. This is especially frustrating when you see that a guy goes right back to doing nothing in his next game. It’s alarming that the Lakers haven’t been able to put a stop to this disturbing trend yet this season, and it’s definitely something to watch for as we approach the postseason.

Good – Magic Mamba

What? You thought I was going to do a whole article and not mention Kobe? Bryant has dished out at least eight assists in five of the past six games, including five straight for the first time in his career. It really has been remarkable to watch Kobe adapt and get his teammates involved. In the past six games alone, Mamba has made some of the nicest passes of his career. While he does have a tendency to revert back to his hero-ball ways (see: 4th quarter, Phoenix), Kobe and the Lakers seem to be realizing that the best way to hurt a team is by having them have to guess whether or not Kobe is going to score or pass. This works much better than the old way, where teams just figured Bryant was going to shoot. It will be very interesting to see if the Kobe can keep this up for the rest of the season. The Lakers are clearly a much better team when Magic Mamba is on the court.

 

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Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Last week we told you that the Minnesota Timberwolves were were interested in trading for Lakers F Pau Gasol. That report set off a ground-swell of speculation that the Lakers are entertaining offers for the former all-star.

That speculation has not sat well with Kobe Bryant, who feels that Gasol is still a key component to the Lakers championship aspirations. Kobe voiced his displeasure with a group of reporters after the Lakers loss in Phoenix last night:

I wish management would come out and either trade him or not trade him. It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. I’d rather them not trade him at all. If they’re going to do something, I wish they would just (expletive) do it. If they’re not going to do it, come out and say you’re not going to do it. This way he can be comfortable, he can go out, he can play and he can invest all of himself into the game.”

As much as fans and pundits say that the NBA is a business, it is more than understandable how constant trade speculation can weigh on the mind of a player. Pau’s field goal percentage has taken a bit of a dip over the last few games, but his overall production has been consistent throughout. Despite his age and adjusting to playing more outside of the paint, Gasol has scored at least 15 points 19 times and has grabbed at least 10 rebounds 21 times in 31 games, which is still better than most at his position. Bryant, as many should expect, is thinking from a players perspective. If a move is going to be made, then make it as quickly as possible so that the team can move forward and not have to deal with the constant rumors on a day to day basis.

The problem with that notion is that the trade deadline is just barely under a month away. Mitch Kupchak (or more likely, Jim Buss), isn’t going to the pull the trigger on a trade just for the sake of doing it. For every name that we hear linked to potential trades around the NBA, there are dozens of names that we would never imagine being discussed (see the trade that brought Pau to Los Angeles from Memphis). The closer we get to the deadline, the more and more potential names that will come available.

Bryant has been in the NBA long enough to know that trade speculation comes with the territory of being an NBA player, and he is playing the good soldier by vouching for his teammate. But the fact of the matter is that in a perfect world the Lakers wouldn’t want to move Pau Gasol. He’s a double double machine who has helped them win two championships. The problem is that he is the only tradeable asset that other teams would covet (sans Andrew Bynum, but we all know there’s only one place they would trade him to). Bryant needs to understand that any move that the organization would make would be done with the intent to improve his chances of winning a 6th championship this season and if that means taking their time to make a move to place the team in the title hunt, then so be it. Of course, that theory is out of the window should the Lakers consummate a deal like the T-Wolves trade, at which point they’ll be dealing with an even angrier Kobe Bryant who just might ask to be sent to pluto again.

On a side note: I spoke with co-host of the Petros and Money Show on Fox Sports Radio, as well as columnist for foxsportswest.com, Matt “Money” Smith, this past weekend and he laid out multiple trade scenarios for the Purple and Gold. You can hear that interview here

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