Mike D’Antoni

Los Angeles Lakers forward/center Pau Gasol has been a steady rock. Ever since the infamous trade that shipped out Kwame Brown and others for him back in the 2007-2008 season, Gasol has thrived as the second star behind Kobe Bryant. However, age and ever-changing roles for the past three years have seemingly lacerated Gasol to the point where he may never return to his original and consistent form in a Lakers uniform.

Sports Illustrated reporter Chris Mannix recently wrote about Gasol in regards to what he has withstood and what may come next,

“I want to be in a team that is going to be built to win a championship,” Gasol said. “That’s my top priority. Money won’t be the main priority. Length and money are factors, but we’ll see. Until I know all the options, I won’t be able to measure them. But we’re getting close to the end of my career. I want to be in a good situation. It’s an important decision to make.”

Gasol’s contract expires at the end of this season and it seems as if the Lakers may be looking past him to move forward. Players like Gasol are a rarity in today’s NBA in terms of skillset. His numbers have gone down in the past three seasons and there is no debating that he has lost a step. Despite that, he still can be extremely effective when playing within a system where he feels comfortable. When Mike D’Antoni has slowed the offensive pace this year Gasol has performed better both offensively and defensively. When the offensive pace has increased, his play has suffered as his body is unable to withstand that much movement. Even if his skill set is being used correctly in LA, teams across the league are anticipating the chance to capitalize.

“There are a couple thoughts out there on Pau,” says an Eastern Conference executive. “Some people say he is worn out, that he is too far past his prime to really help a contender. There are others that think that LA, that environment the past two season, that style of play has destroyed him and if he goes somewhere else, plays with a different coach, he might be rejuvenated. I could see someone who thinks the latter paying him $10 million a year.”

Another factor that has contributed to Gasol’s decline is the numerous role changes he has had to undergo in the past four seasons. After winning multiple championships he was forced to accept a lesser offensive role to then developing Andrew Bynum. With no complaints he accepted the role and played within himself and the system. Next he was almost traded to the Houston Rockets until then Commissioner David Stern nixed the Chris Paul deal. His role in Houston certainly would have been similar to his championship one had he gone, yet he remained in Los Angeles and became even more humble having to return to the team that signed off on trading him.

While the trade to Houston did not go through he still had to accept a lesser role when the Lakers traded for center Dwight Howard and point guard Steve Nash. At this point he had gone from a championship winning, secondary role with the team to a fourth wheel who would be incorporated only on occasion. All with minimal complaints.

Gasol’s frustrations this season may not make Lakers fans content but nonetheless they make sense. After giving your all to an organization and displaying minimal signs of frustration, it is only a matter of time before it all becomes too much to bear. If Gasol ultimately decides to leave it would be a definite loss to the Lakers organization. He has brought consistency, a humble attitude and personality, as well as monumental contribution in multiple championship runs. However, in staying, Gasol would again add testament to his character by proving that he is more reliable than what you previously believed.

This morning on SportsCenter, ESPN LA’s Dave McMenamin reported that the Lakers are leaning ‘towards firing’ head coach Mike D’Antoni at the conclusion of the season.

Although it has been reported that the Lakers were leaning ‘towards keeping’ D’Antoni, McMenamin said his sources have told him otherwise and that the Lakers will not pick up the final year of his contract.

While not a complete shock, as the Lakers are currently tied for the most losses in Los Angeles Lakers history with 52, the fear amongst the Lakers’ fan base is that the team would ultimately bring back D’Antoni for the final year of his contract.

If what McMenamin says to be true, it would be the first step in getting out from under the dark cloud that has hovered over the team the last two seasons.

With just five games left in the season, this situation should be resolved fairly quickly, even as soon as the day after the season concludes for the Lakers. With exit interviews coming earlier this season and the draft lottery in May, a coaching decision should come before the team finds out where they will pick in June’s NBA Draft.

The Los Angeles Lakers are set to take on the Sacramento Kings tonight with a current record of 25-49. While defeating the Kings is the primary focus of tonight, Bleacher Report columnist Kevin Ding certainly made headlines with his comments on Mike D’Antoni‘s future with the Lakers. In the column, Ding reported how D’Antoni may be around longer than most anticipate:

“D’Antoni has one more guaranteed season left on his Lakers contract, and the club is leaning toward retaining him despite some privately disgruntled players and massive public disdain. It’s not clear which way the organization will go with him.”

Financially the decision to retain D’Antoni makes sense. Going back to the 2012-2013 season, the Lakers made a huge financial commitment after firing head coach Mike Brown and consequently hiring D’Antoni days later. Until the Cavaliers signed Brown, the Lakers were due to pay the remaining salary on his contract while paying D’Antoni his salary in his three-year $12 million dollar deal. Add in the new $48 million dollar deal Kobe Bryant also signed and you can see why finances are key in this situation.

With this Lakers team being one of the few in history to not make the playoffs and have players speak out publicly about not retaining D’Antoni for next season, this could turn into a huge fault for the organization. Media, fans, and players alike have spoken out repeatedly about how a change in coaching needs to be made moving forward. Bringing D’Antoni back for another season would not only derail morale for the team but make a statement to potential free agents that seven seconds or less will lead the way in the team’s future.

The Lakers will soon need to make an official stand on D’Antoni’s future in regards to next season and potentially his fourth season as head coach. Luring free agents to Los Angeles will become increasingly difficult if they believe that not only the role players on the team are disgruntled, but star players like Bryant and Pau Gasol are too. Moving on is always something difficult to do, but in some situations it is a necessary part of life. If the Lakers are serious about reclaiming their position as one of the top franchises in the league then it is something they will have to do.

Stay tuned to LakerNation.com for more Los Angeles Lakers news and updates!

With many questions regarding the Lakers needing to be answered this offseason, it looks like two point guards will continue to don the purple and gold next season while the head coach’s future in Los Angeles remains a mystery.

According to Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, both Steve Nash and Kendall Marshall will both be brought back by the team.

For financial reasons, the Lakers currently plan to keep (Nash) next season, The Times has learned, eating the remainder of his contract ($9.7 million) in one swoop instead of waiving him and spreading the money out over three years…  They also plan to keep Marshall, the 13th selection in the 2012 draft, whom they signed as a free agent a little more than three months ago.

A few months ago, it seemed as if it were going to be a foregone conclusion the Lakers would waive Nash using the stretch provision, but now it seems as if the team would rather wait and allow all of Nash’s salary to come off the books next summer, opposed to paying his contract over the next three years.

Marshall has a non-guaranteed option worth $915,243, so it makes sense to bring him back regardless of his role moving forward.   Marshall does average 8.9 assists, but his shooting ability has declined every month since joining the team in December.

As for Mike D’Antoni, his future will reportedly be decided immediately after the season ends in April:

The Lakers have a dilemma with D’Antoni, who coached the Suns for five successful seasons. They still owe him $4million next season and don’t want to look like a franchise with a coaching turnstile.  But Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol don’t support his small-ball offense and Lakers fans don’t support him, period.  So the team will decide fairly quickly after the April 16 regular-season finale — pay him to not coach the team, just like Mike Brown, or try to make it work next season….

Despite the injuries, it is very difficult to see the team bringing back D’Antoni after one of the worst seasons in Lakers history. His poor game-management, troubled relationships with veteran players, and lack of defensive system are just some of the reasons working against the coach.

His job security was in question even before reports of Kobe being against retaining the coach due to offensive system preference and as Bresnahan says, the fans are not very fond of him either.

According to multiple sources, Lakers’ head coach Mike D’Antoni and Marshall University have a mutual interest to return D’Antoni to his alma mater.

As a result, the D’Antoni-era could be coming to an abrupt end in LakerLand. According to ESPN.com, Marshall University recently reached out to D’Antoni to gauge his interest in filling their coaching vacancy.

“I would think his days are numbered based on Kobe saying he had no interest in playing for him next year,” a source told CBSSports.com. “If he isn’t with the Lakers, I believe he will be at Marshall because there is mutual interest.”

As sources have pointed out, Kobe Bryant is no longer a fan of the run-and-gun philosophy that the Lakers have played during Mike D’Antoni’s two-year tenure in Los Angeles. Bryant instead prefers to play at a slower tempo going forward.

While it is unclear whether the Lakers had any plans to fire their coach this summer, sources close to D’Antoni say the interest between he and the Thunder Herd is mutual.

As the Lakers wind down what has arguably been the worst season in franchise history, fans and media alike are asking what does the future hold for the purple and gold.

The summer of 2014 has been a key point of the Lakers plan to return to prominence for the last few years, it is the reason why a number of players were signed to one-year deals as the free agent class has some significant players that could turn teams drastically into contenders.

While it remains to be seen what the Lakers will do on the player personnel front this offseason, there is one move the team can make over the final two months of the season and it is a necessary one.

Fire Mike D’Antoni.

Now before you start thinking this is another hate-fueled article you read on other Lakers websites, blaming D’Antoni for all the Lakers troubles this season, please note that this is not one of them.

Do I expect the Lakers to be title contenders next season with or without D’Antoni?  I would be unrealistic if I said yes without hesitation.  The fact is we do not know how the roster will look next season and we are not sure how Kobe Bryant looks in his return (although I would put money on him looking close to the Kobe we have all come to expect).

One thing is for certain, the Lakers cannot go through another season like the one they are currently having.

Firing D’Antoni is not about turning the team around with a single coaching change, nor am I saying another coach would have done a better job with the current roster situation.

What it is about is laying a foundation for future Lakers teams and its success, something that needs to start this summer instead of accepting another season of transition.

If the Lakers were to allow D’Antoni to stay on for one more season, the decision could have a crippling affect on the franchise past next season and here are some reasons why D’Antoni should not be in any plans moving forward:

FREE AGENTS

The thought that players will want to come play for the Lakers because they are the Lakers is no longer viable.

Are the Lakers still an attractive destination?  Yes, it always will be because of the tradition and history of legendary players, but make no mistake, it is not viewed the same as it was when Dr. Jerry Buss was running the team.

Will elite players come play for Mike D’Antoni? History says no as the biggest free agent that signed with a D’Antoni led team was Amare Stoudemire and the New York Knicks in 2010, but also struck out on signing LeBron James and Dwayne Wade.

He is known as a coach that could get role players to play up to their potential but from his time in New York and short-time in Los Angeles, his inability to deal with star players as well as veterans is concerning to say the least.   Dwight Howard did what no superstar had done before … leave the Lakers.  For whatever reasons that are said about that decision, one constant was his relationship with D’Antoni.

In New York, he eventually wore out his welcome with players such as Carmelo Anthony and even players like Stoudemire, who played for D’Antoni previously in Phoenix.

Looking ahead to 2015, the Lakers are expected to be major players in the Kevin Love sweepstakes but with his recent comments that Minnesota has a better foundation than the Lakers, the team undoubtedly needs to show progress next season in the form of being a playoff team or Love will look at potentially re-signing with the T’Wolves or looking at teams other than the Lakers in his free agency.

The Lakers have never accepted mediocrity.  A bad season here and there happens, but there is a reason why the Lakers will miss the playoffs for only the sixth time in franchise history.   If the team were to stand pat this summer and accept another year of transition, what message does that send to the players in the league?  That’s a very non-Laker message to convey.

KOBE BRYANT

The Lakers wouldn’t dare waste $46 million over two years right?

That is what it would do if D’Antoni were to return.  His up-tempo system hoped to bring back memories of the Showtime Era but that has not happened despite having the second-fastest pace in the NBA, instead resulting in one of the worst defensive teams in the league.

At this stage in his career, is it wise to put Kobe in a fast-pace system?  Logic says no, although I do not doubt Kobe can succeed in any system.

With his recent string of injuries, a half-court system involving Kobe in the post is the best thing for the Black Mamba and the final two years of his career.   It would also be nice to have a coach limit Kobe’s minute’s ala Greg Popovich with the Spurs, something D’Antoni has failed to do in his time here.

With the extension given to Kobe, the Lakers made it known this is Kobe’s team and since that is the case, the offensive system should be suited to his abilities at this point and time.   To maximize Kobe over the next two years and also preserve his health, a new offensive system needs to be implemented and D’Antoni simply is not going away from what he knows best, the run-and-gun style of play.

PAU GASOL

The relationship between Gasol and D’Antoni has deteriorated from the day the head coach walked into the practice facility in El Segundo.  Feelings expressed both privately and publically have left the two at odds and as we enter this summer, one thing is certain…

One of them will have to go.

There is no scenario where Gasol returns to play in a system that puts post play on the back burner and there is no scenario where D’Antoni adjusts his system to emphasize post play.

While Gasol’s return to the Lakers is not certain even if D’Antoni were to be fired, it certainly increases the chances significantly if it were to happen.  Gasol would need to take a pay cut to re-sign with the Lakers and at this point of his career he may have to.

Keeping D’Antoni while letting Gasol leave would also take another close friend of Kobe away and that is something that will not go over well after the Derek Fisher trade from two seasons ago.  While the franchise looks to reload, is letting a veteran with championship experience like Gasol a wise thing to do?

Will the Lakers let go of a player who can still produce consistent numbers on the offensive end?  Fans have been down on Gasol from the past two seasons but fact remains it is difficult in today’s NBA to find a post player like Gasol who can score, rebound, and pass.  While the defense is not there, as long as he is not expected to be a defensive anchor, the Lakers can get by.

THE FANS

Laker fans are a different breed.  A very proud fan base, the purple and gold faithful are also a impatient bunch and do not take losing seasons very well.

Attendance has dropped this season and fans have voiced their displeasure through out the season with style of offense, lack of defense, and non-existent passion the team has displayed at different times this season.

As with free agents, if the team were to commit to D’Antoni for one more season, what message is the front office sending to the fans?  With a lack of fan support, this franchise loses another defining quality that makes the Lakers the Lakers.

At the end of the day, I ask Laker fans and management alike, if D’Antoni is not part of the solution, what is the point of keeping him around?  One thing in sports that is a constant, if the discussion is when a coach will be fired, that situation is already resolved, it is just about when the firing will take place.

For the fans, I understand it is a rough season, but with every bad season, there are another 10-15 better seasons coming for the purple and gold.  Be patient although it may be difficult to do so.

For the Lakers franchise, it is time to move out of this dark cloud of uncertainty and frustration.  Well firing a coach will not mean much in the short team (this season), it will pay off in the future.

And that is what matters the most.

According to Sporting News’ Sean Deveney, Kobe Bryant has had enough of the losing and sources close to the superstar have said that Kobe will not play for head coach Mike D’Antoni next season and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-2015 season.

Bryant, sources said, has “no interest” in playing for D’Antoni next season, and wants a new coach in place for the 2014-15 season.

 

It is not exactly a shocking revelation as Kobe is one of the fiercest competitors in sports today, but the fact this news is starting to leak out after his strong words in his press conference on Wednesday in which he called out the front office and called for change this summer:

Then it goes down to the coaching staff, what Mike (D’Antoni) is going to do, what they want to do with Mike and it goes from there. It’s gotta start from the top.

Unfortunately for D’Antoni, the writing on the wall is looking clearer and clearer by the day.  Just a few days ago, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith said that his sources informed him that D’Antoni would be fired at the end of this season and additionally, Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher said in his article that some Lakers players have been assured D’Antoni will not return next season:

At least two other players frustrated with their current roles were told to be patient because the Lakers will have a new head coach next season, sources said.

There have been plenty of burned bridges this season between players and D’Antoni, notably big men Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, and Chris Kaman.  In what has become a concerning trend of inconsistent playing time and comments in the media, it is not a surprise to hear that players are frustrated with the coach in what has been arguably the worst season in Los Angeles Lakers history.  Deveney shared similar sentiments on Twitter on Wednesday:

Despite all of that, the feelings of one Kobe Bean Bryant have the most impact on the direction of the franchise.  Kobe, who was notoriously called a “fan” by D’Antoni after a Twitter-spree during the Lakers first round matchup versus the San Antonio Spurs last season, seems to have put his foot down.

While he did not say it directly, it sounds like Kobe’s comments in his press conference were loud and clear as they were in 2007…

“Do something and do it now.”

After the Lakers’ most recent loss, a 118-98 drubbing by the league best Indiana Pacers, Pau Gasol made sure his voice was heard post-game.

“There’s just too many individual actions right now. It’s really not a good flow and rhythm out there.”

“We got to be unselfish. If we see a teammate open, we have to make sure that guy gets the ball. Otherwise, it’s really deflating”

“When you get outrebounded by 20, I don’t care who you are and what you do, it’s not going to work and you’re not going to win.”

“I don’t think there’s a lot of discipline right now”

Gasol clearly isn’t pleased with how things are going, I don’t think anyone is for that matter.  D’Antoni decided to play small ball against the Pacers and ended up having the much smaller Wes Johnson guard the much larger David West.

“We do have guys with size who can do well.”

Tonight, Gasol played 27 minutes, Kaman played 14, Hill played 10, and Sacre played 6.  Clearly D’Antoni is favoring his smaller guys and is straying away from the bigs on the team, which is a detriment when the Lakers are playing bigger teams like the Pacers.

Gasol’s frustration hasn’t only been seen today, it reared its head back in December as well.

After Gasol openly complained about not being utilized in the post enough, D’Antoni had this to say:

“It’s also a nice excuse not to play hard, that’s a classic, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.’ Well you don’t have trouble getting up to the pay stub line.  You know what you need to do to get your check.  You know what to do. They will.  They’ll figure it out.”

Gasol has not been happy with the way D’Antoni utilizes his bigs on his team, he would much rather play small ball with a run-n-gun style offense.  It’s unfortunate to see Gasol so upset with his usage and the overall usage of the team as he has definitely earned more respect than he is receiving from D’Antoni.

Needless to say the Lakers are going to have to choose between the two this coming off-season as Gasol most certainly doesn’t want to return to a team where he isn’t used properly.  For that matter, no big man would want to come to Los Angeles if D’Antoni is still coaching, as they would receive limited minutes and not be put in a system where they could realize their full potential.

This off-season will be telling, Laker Nation, telling indeed.

February 25, 2014 — 4:00 PM (PST)
Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, IN
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers take the show on the road as they take a quick road trip as they play vs. one of the Eastern Conference favorites, the Indiana Pacers (42-13)

The Lakers, cannot get away from injuries. F/G Nick Young, who returned Sunday to play his first game in 3 weeks, will sit out during this 2-game road trip as he felt some soreness in his knee that caused him to sit out.

Pau Gasol played very well Sunday, racking up another double-double by scoring 22 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

Meanwhile, newly acquired G Kent Bazemore has taken full advantage of Mike D’Antoni‘s offensive system, which has given him the green light on the offensive end for the first time in his career. Bazemore has surpassed his career high in points, scoring 15 and 17 points respectively in his first 2 games.

The Pacers currently follow “the rich get richer” motto. When the rest of NBA did not think the Pacers could improve their roster any further, the Pacers shocked everyone by acquiring 76ers best player, G Evan Turner and also C/F Lavoy Allen in a trade for F Danny Granger. 

Turner, who will make his Pacers debut tonight along with Allen, has had his best season so far this season for the 76ers, scoring a career-high 17.4 PPG, while grabbing 6.0 APG and dishing out 3.7 APG. Turner’s brings scoring firepower off the bench when he gives George and G Lance Stephenson a break.

With Turner’s acquisition, the Pacers won’t lose any scoring powers in the Shooting Guard and Small Forward position.

Pacers F Paul George has blossomed into a bonafide NBA Superstar. George plays both ends of the floor significantly well, scoring 22.7 PPG, grabbing 6.4 RPG, dishing out 3.4 APG, and take 1.8 SPG from his opponent which ranks him 8th in the league.

Projected Starters

PG - Kendall Marshall / George Hill [Advantage: Pacers]
SG - Kent Bazemore / Lance Stephenson [Advantage: Pacers]
SF - Jodie Meeks / Paul George [Advantage: Pacers]
PF - Wesley Johnson / David West [Advantage: Pacers]
C - Pau Gasol / Roy Hibbert [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Pacers: F Evan TurnerF Luis ScolaG CJ Watson, C/F Lavoy Allen

Lakers: C Chris Kaman, F Jordan Hill, Marshon Brooks, PG Jordan Farmar

Bench Advantage: Pacers

Injury List

Pacers: Out-C Andrew Bynum

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-PG Steve Nash, Out-F/G Nick Young, Out-G Xavier Henry

Keys for Lakers Victory

Out-run the Pacers: Sounds very crazy thinking turning this game into a track meet with Pacers’ having young athletic players like George, Stephenson, and Turner. However, the Pacers do work best when they slow the game down and utilize F David West All-Star C Roy Hibbert. If the Lakers control the tempo of this game by playing they way that D’Antoni likes to, maybe they can catch the Pacers off-guard and make this game somehow competitive.

Bottom Line

The Lakers have to play almost perfect and the Pacers have to play very uninspired basketball for the Lakers to put themselves in position to win tonight’s game. The Lakers have to get off to an excellent start and hit their 3 pt. shots. Otherwise, this will be a very ugly game for the Lakers versus a team that views this season as their best opportunity to win a championship.

Prediction

Pacers: 109-96

The NBA trade deadline has passed and with it any semblance of the Lakers making any kind of big personnel moves this season. This year has been a tough season for Laker fans as their team and its superstar have been hobbled by countless injuries. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. The Lakers go into this offseason with enough cap room to acquire a big name free agent. They did not trade Pau before the deadline, so the Lakers will either have a lot of cap room from Pau’s contract coming off the books, or they will be able to convince Pau to stay with the team for less money. That may seem like a long shot, but Pau loves the Lakers, he loves Kobe and he may also love their next head coach *wink wink*. They also have a first round draft pick that, given their abysmal record, will most likely be a top-5 pick. That means the Lakers will be able to sport a squad next season consisting of a Kobe, Pau, Big Name Free Agent X and Talented Draft Pick X core. That may not be enough to win a title next year, but it will absolutely be a contender if healthy and under the supervision of a new head coach. With all that said, here are some questions from LakerNation fans:

Q: Are we going to re-sign Nick Young next year?

- Jacob

A: If the Lakers are serious about contending immediately, they must re-sign Nick Young. Swaggy P has been one of the few bright spots this year for the Lakers as he earned the respect of Kobe and the rest of Laker Nation by competing every night. There are very few teams in this league that have a 6th man as effective as Nick Young. He is instant offense and his ability to draw foul calls on 3-pointers is uncanny. Young has always been capable of scoring, but he has an added intensity in his game since joining the Lakers this season. He knows what it takes to deliver for the Purple and Gold.

 

Q: How do you feel about the Lakers landing a big name free agent, this off-season with D’Antoni as the head coach?

- Jermaine

A: I feel very strongly about this issue, but I will do my best to keep it PG. THERE IS NO FREAKING WAY ANY BIG NAME FREE AGENT WANTS TO COME PLAY FOR A COACH THAT DOESN’T CARE ABOUT DEFENSE.  With the myriad of issues I have with Mike D’Antoni, the two I just mentioned take the cake. The man obviously doesn’t give a damn about defense when his team gives up an average of 105.9 PPG. That’s the 2nd worst in the entire NBA. Only the Philadelphia 76ers give up more points than us and they’re trying to lose every game this year! Let that sink in for a moment. D’Antoni may be a great offensive mind, but that does not make him a good head coach. I guarantee if Tom Thibodeau were coaching the Lakers, they would not be in the bottom half of the NBA in terms of defense. You want to talk about injuries? Look at the Chicago Bulls and their injuries. They rank 2nd overall in the league in terms of defense. Injuries are not an excuse for a lack of defense and effort. If the Lakers really want to land big name free agents this summer, Mike D’Antoni must be fired at the end of this season.

 

Q: Can we still get Love? Or Melo or even Deng? Please get them.

- Alexis

A: When you talk about Kevin Love, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and even Luol Deng, those guys want to win now. They don’t want to play for a coach with the same philosophies as Mike D’Antoni. Getting the right head coach will be step one. The second step will be finding out if Kobe is still Kobe. Make no mistake about it, if the Lakers didn’t have Kobe Bryant on their team, none of these free agents (except maybe Love) would even consider coming to the Lakers. Kobe must show that he is still one of the best basketball players in the world after coming off two of the worst injuries in his career.

 

Q: My question is, will the LA Lakers make it to the playoffs this season or next season, yes or no?

- Eyrika

A: I stated in my preseason article that the Lakers would not make the playoffs this season and that remains true. As for next season, it truly depends on a number of outcomes and possibilities. Who will be the new head coach? Will the Lakers land a top-5 draft pick this year? If so, who will they select? What free agents will be brought in? Which current players will stay with the Lakers? And, of course, what will the status of Kobe Bryant be? If Kobe is still Kobe, which I assume will be true, the Lakers will always have a shot. If the Lakers bring in one of the earlier mentioned big name free agents, that shot increases tenfold. My gut tells me the Lakers will get a new head coach, a lottery pick, land a big name free agent and the most underrated move they will make will be re-signing Pau Gasol. With that scenario, I believe the Lakers will be instant contenders next season and in the future. All things will be right in Los Angeles as the Lakers are at the top once again.

February 19, 2014 — 7:30PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / ESPN
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

Former Lakers center Dwight Howard returns to STAPLES Center tonight as his Houston Rockets (36-17) face off vs. The Los Angeles Lakers (18-35) in their first game since the All-Star break.

All eyes are on Howard tonight, as he plays vs. Lakers at Staples Center for the first time since he left the Lakers. Fair or unfair, many have blamed Howard, who averages 18.8 PPG, 12.5 RPG, and 1.8 BPG this season, for last season’s debacle of a season. With this season’s disaster that the Lakers have faced throughout this season, we can sense that other major factors caused last season’s struggle and Howard’s eventual departure to the Rockets.

Meanwhile, very high probability exists that tonight will be the final game the Lakers roster would look like their current state. The Lakers will most likely make moves before tomorrow’s trade deadline, which would include getting additional picks for the upcoming NBA Draft, getting under the luxury tax threshold, or rebuild for another championship run with SG Kobe Bryant.

As usual, C Pau Gasol has once again been placed in the trade block, while PF Jordan Hill has been involved in many trade talks, notably Brooklyn Nets. Other candidates to get traded before tomorrow’s deadline include C Chris Kaman and PG Steve Blake, mainly since trading their contracts will get them much closer to get under the luxury tax threshold.

Ironically, the Lakers will be led by C Chris Kaman tonight, who for whatever reason Mike D’Antoni has placed at the end of the bench for the majority of this season. One of the most skilled center in the NBA on the offensive end, Kaman has been by far one of the most consistent Laker since finally receiving any playing time, scoring 22 PPG and grabbing 10.5 RPG in the last 4 games. If this is Kaman’s last game with the Lakers, he will definitely help another team’s cause at going for this year’s NBA Championship.

Projected Starters

PG - Patrick Beverly Kendall Marshall [Advantage: Rockets]
SG - James Harden / Steve Blake [Advantage: Rockets]
SF - Chandler Parsons Wesley Johnson [Advantage: Rockets]
PF - Terrence Jones Ryan Kelly [Advantage: Even]
C - Dwight Howard Chris Kaman [Advantage: Rockets]

Notable Bench Players

Rockets: PG Jeremy Lin, F Omri Casspi, G Francisco Garcia, Greg Smith, Omer Asik 

Lakers:  C Robert Sacre, F Jordan Hill, SG Jodie Meeks

Bench Advantage: Rockets

Injury List

Rockets: Questionable-PG Patrick Beverley, Questionable-F Greg Smith

Lakers: Out-G Kobe Bryant, Out-C Pau Gasol, Out-G Xavier Henry, Out-G/F Nick Young, Doubtful-PG Steve Nash, Doubtful-PG Jordan FarmarProbable-SG Jodie Meeks

Keys for Lakers Victory

Defense: The Lakers’ defense played well the 1st 3 quarters vs. Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder, holding them to only 72 points in the first 3 quarters. Hopefully the Lakers will come with the same energy tonight, especially since Howard returns to Staples Center and this game will be broadcasted nationally. The Rockets have a lot of weapons other than SG James Harden and Howard; SF Chandler Parsons and PG Jeremy Lin have shown that they can also take over games if needed, so the Lakers have to play great team defense and communicate well in order to contain the Rockets lineup.

Bottom Line

I expect the Lakers to play very inspired basketball tonight especially during the 1st half. They have to play with the same energy they came out with vs. Thunder but maintain throughout the duration of tonight’s game. Unfortunately, the Rockets’ talent will be very tough to overcome for the very shorthanded Lakers tonight, especially as 4 of our 5 top players are not even in uniform tonight.

Prediction

Rockets: 112-97

Jordan Hill

Update (Feb. 20, 12:00pm PST) – Jordan Hill, along with Pau Gasol and Chris Kaman, remains a Laker through the 2014 NBA Trade Deadline.

Update (Feb. 19, 11:00am PST) – The Lakers and Brooklyn Nets are reportedly progressing on a deal to send Jordan Hill to Brooklyn.

Along with the Nets, the Phoenix Suns have emerged as a potential suitor for Hill.

Feb. 17, 4:00pm PST – According to Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, the Lakers have had discussions on a deal to send forward/center Jordan Hill to the Brooklyn Nets. 

The Nets have a $5.25 million disabled player exception that they could use to absorb the remaining $3.5 million on Hill’s expiring contract.

As Wojnarowski mentions, Hill has never been a particular favorite of head coach Mike D’Antoni. If D’Antoni remains the coach this summer, Hill does not seem to factor into the Lakers’ long term plans.

Moving Hill to the Nets before the trade deadline, while receiving nothing but cap relief in return, would help the Lakers as they attempt to get under the luxury tax threshold this season.

The 2014 NBA Trade Deadline is Thursday, February 20 at 12:00pm PST.

Keep it locked to LakerNation.com for all the latest surrounding the Lakers’ trade rumors!

After exiting early for the second straight game with nerve irritation, it looks like Steve Nash may be out until after the All-Star break.

After Tuesday’s game vs the Jazz, Nash spoke very briefly to reporters, but did mention he might need some more time to get past this issue:

“I think I need a little more time to get over the hump,” he told the LA Times.

Head coach Mike D’Antoni was noncommittal in his post-game comments regarding his point guard, but at the time seemed like he did not know his status moving forward.

“I imagine it’s day to day. I don’t know anything else,” D’Antoni said of Nash’s status. “I haven’t really talked to him.”

It is definitely a concern that Nash says he needs a little more time to get over this injury considering he took nearly three months to return the court. At 40 years old, it is really hard to imagine this nerve root problem improving enough to where he could play multiple games in a row without setbacks.

Guard Steve Blake also shared his concern to reporters regarding Nash after the game:

“I’m pretty concerned. I know he’s dealing with a lot of pain.”

With Tuesday being Nash’s tenth game of the season, the Lakers cannot apply for the salary exclusion until one year after his final game, whenever that may be. There was talk of a potential medical retirement that would take Nash’s salary off the books, but that is no longer an option because of the number of games he has played in.

Had he retired before ten games, the Lakers could have applied for the salary exclusion 60 days after his final game, clearing his contract for the summer.

In simpler terms, Nash’s salary is on the books this season and next season barring some sort of trade, which is highly unlikely.

The Lakers using the stretch provision on Nash this summer seems more and more likely by the day.

Update: The LA Daily News’ Mark Medina reports that Steve Nash has no plans to retire.

“I work as hard as I can everyday to perform and keep going until I’m not playing anymore,” said Nash. “But right now, I have no intentions to stop playing.”

Head coach Mike D’Antoni also chimed in on Nash’s rumored retirement.

“It’s too early for him,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said about Nash’s possible retirement. “He’ll have to decide that. He’ll feel it in his heart and his head. I’m sure he’s getting good advice. Right now we’re trying to get to the next game and play well.”

According to Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News, Lakers guard Steve Nash has told friends he plans to retire this summer:

“Steve Nash finally made it back to the Lakers and has told a few friends this is going to be it, even though he has one season to go on his contract, at $9.7 million. Nash, who turned 40 Friday, doesn’t expect to help much, but that’s been the story of his injury-plagued Laker career. He really missed the camaraderie with his teammates when he was out for three months with a nerve injury in his back, and says he wants to experience that for at least the last part of this season before he calls it a career.”

Still two months away from the end of the regular season, there are plenty of questions that need to be answered regarding the direction of the Lakers, but Nash’s future may be one of the bigger ones.

While many do not know the true intentions of Nash, it is not unreasonable to think he could call it quits this season.  Nash has one more year remaining on his contract worth $9.7 million.  It is difficult seeing him being able to go through offseason workouts, training camp, the grind of another 82 game season and potentially additional games in the playoffs but being the competitor that he is, Nash is not going to give up without exploring all avenues to continue playing at an elite level.

The 40-year-old point guard has not enjoyed a successful stint with the Lakers. Affected by nerve problems in his left leg, Nash has played in just 59 games over two seasons.  This season, he has played in only nine games before having to come out of Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bulls with nerve irritation.

On Monday, Nash did go through practice with the team which is a good sign, but it is important to keep a close watch on his health over the final 31 games of the season.  The Lakers say that Nash is probable for Tuesday’s game vs the Jazz.

 

 

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