Posts Tagged ‘Atlanta Journal-Constitution’

Lakers’ Drama Soars To New Heights





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You have to wonder what Joe “Jellybean” Bryant has to say about the mess that has become the Los Angeles Lakers’ season and the superstar dynamic between All-Star starters Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard?

We’ve already heard from just about everyone else, and that includes Howard’s father, Dwight Howard Sr. Howard’s father opened up to Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, defending his son on one hand and taking direct aim at Bryant and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni:

“I told him before he said it publicly, ‘It’s your career. No person can say what you need to do or not do. You can’t worry about what Kobe or anybody else says,’” the elder Howard said. “Nobody can say what Kobe said — that’s stepping into another man’s shoes. I understand what Kobe was trying to do, but he went about it the wrong way. He’s trying to win a championship. But Dwight has to tell Kobe, ‘I appreciate your opinion, but that doesn’t matter. We’re two men on this team. We need to be reasonable about this.’”

Dwight Sr. said he believed Bryant was trying to motivate his son, but that the advice was misplaced, adding: “The problem is the coach. (D’Antoni) needs to step in and say, ‘You guys have got to be quiet. We’re trying to secure something here. Dwight is probably looking at the coach, thinking, ‘What are you going to do?’ I promise, if that had been Stan Van Gundy, that wouldn’t have happened. (Howard) wouldn’t have been admonished publicly. I think the coach has a lot to do with who controls Kobe’s mouth right now.”

This latest round of drama, coming on the heels of Bryant suggesting that Howard needed to play through whatever pain is associated with his torn labrum, and Howard firing back and suggesting that Bryant is no doctor and need not be concerned with how he handles himself on the injury front, should make for an entertaining pregame locker room scene today in Miami.

The Lakers face LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the defending world champion Miami Heat for the second and final time this season this afternoon (3:30 ET, ABC). It’s a game that will have the undivided attention of the basketball world for reasons other than the always anticipated Kobe-LeBron dynamic.

Few dramas in the history of the league have dragged the fathers of famous sons into the fray.

But here we are, with the Lakers seemingly on the verge of complete collapse or stunning renaissance every night, trying to sort out who is right or wrong in a public dust-up between superstars that should never have gone this far. Whatever issues Kobe and Dwight (Jr.) have should never have made it out of the locker room. So in that regard, Dwight Sr. makes a valid point about the responsibility that lies with D’Antoni.

Even D’Antoni, who insists that he and his stars are fine (despite the obvious evidence to the contrary), didn’t seem to object to a father protecting his son:

D’Antoni said, “We’re good,” when asked about the state of things between him and the two Lakers’ All-Stars, and shrugged off the comments made by Howard’s father.

“That’s cool,” D’Antoni said. “He should, he’s the father, he should defend his son. But I thought we had that [meeting] in Memphis. Maybe we have to do it again.”

Bryant, for his part, took the liberty of throwing the onus back on the media, a typical and easy response from a veteran of his fair share of teammate drama (Shaquille O’Neal …). He suggested that this has gone on all year, “people have been trying to hang on to stuff. He’s just got to go do his job, man. Just rebound, defend and we do our jobs and [fulfill] our roles on what we have to do to help us win. It’s not rocket science.”

That’s easier said than done when you’re on the receiving end of all of the verbal shots fired. Howard has been in retreat from the very start of this union and it almost feels like his father simply got fed up with his son being the scapegoat for all that’s gone wrong for the Lakers this season.

All that said, fathers often know their sons best. And there’s something else the elder Howard said about his son that speaks to the root of young Dwight’s issue with not only the Lakers but also with Los Angeles and his place in that fair city:

“L.A. has been like humble pie for him,” he said. “When you go from being the man in one city (Orlando) to second or third tier, it takes a toll on you mentally.”

Last I checked, Dwight Howard is the man who wanted out of Orlando. He was “the man” in that city but decided against remaining in that one city for whatever his reasons were then and are today. So if anyone is ultimately to blame for the hoops disaster that has unfolded in Los Angeles this season, “Junior” has to shoulder the bulk of that burden.

If there is a solution to be had,and at this point there is little faith that there is, it won’t come from fathers or mothers, girlfriends or cousins, Dr. Phil (the guy on TV, not Jackson) or Oprah or anyone else.

The only resolution to this issue will come from the two men at the center of it all. They need to resolve their issues, right the Lakers’ ship and guide this team into the postseason. Because if they don’t, the fallout will make all of this drama seem like child’s play compared to the firestorm that a crashed and burned season can bring in Los Angeles.

Hawks Owner Calls Garnett “The Dirtiest Player In The League”





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Not that this series needed any more fire, but those passionate fans the Hawks will see in Boston tonight got a little extra incentive from Atlanta.

When Hawks co-owner Michael Gearon called Celtics forward Kevin Garnett the “dirtiest player in the league” during a speech Wednesday, he tossed even more kindling onto an already raging fan fire.

It doesn’t matter that most of those fans in Boston wouldn’t be able to pick Gearon out of a lineup, or that his comments were supposedly made “off the record” during a luncheon sponsored by an Atlanta-based non-profit organization.

All anyone will know by tipoff of Game 6 tonight in Boston is that the other team’s owner called out the guy universally regarded as the emotional heart and soul of the Celtics the night before they have a chance to close out the Hawks and move on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

And now that it’s all out there, courtesy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s D. Orlando Ledbetter, a NFL writer who happened to be in attendance at the luncheon, it gives the Hawks yet another mess to deal with on the day of what is no doubt the biggest game of their season. Check out exactly what the AJC reports that Gearon said and decide for yourself how big a mess this is:

On media coverage of Hawks’ playoff series against the Celtics

“Did you see what Al Horford did last night? The timeline for recovery for his injury is another three months. He’s not even supposed to be playing and Josh [Smith] should not be playing.Zaza [Pachulia] can’t stand up, but if we can get past this round there is a chance that we can get him back. So this is a team that is overcoming adversity. I wish . . . some of the national media or even some of the local media, more the paper than the TV guys, recognize how hard these guys are playing based on how injured they are.

“On top of all that, we don’t get any calls, which I know everybody always hears. But I’ll give you a stat. Last night, we are playing this old physical team. They are old. I know what happens when you play basketball, old guys foul. [Kevin] Garnett is the dirtiest guy in the league. We are playing Boston last night and they had two fouls the whole first half. We had five times that and we’re athletic.”

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Don’t Write Off The Hawks Just Yet

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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Hawks All-Star Joe Johnson is either crazy or a man of serious basketball faith when he says his team “still has enough talent” to be one of the Eastern Conference elites after losing Al Horford for the remainder of the regular season with a torn pectoral muscle.

No one was sure they were “elite” even with a healthy Horford. And no team in the league causes more head-scratching than the Hawks. Who else follows a rousing road win in Miami, handing the Heat their first defeat of the season, with two of the more remarkable meltdowns of this young season in back-to-back losses to the Bulls and Heat? And then they rebound by the weekend and run the Bulls off the floor in Atlanta?

While most everyone assumes that the Hawks will struggle just to make the playoffs without their two-time All-Star center, I think the Hawks become an infinitely more dangerous team without him. Before you spit that coffee all over your computer screen, walk with me for a minute (and remember that this is the Hawks we’re talking about, a team that has found a way to become a postseason staple the past four years in spite of all of their Draft gaffes, enigmatic play and general dysfunction).

Despite Johnson’s belief in the Hawks’ elite status, I can promise him they wouldn’t have been considered elite by outsiders even if they did finish in the top three or four of the standings this season. Honestly, that might not matter anyway. To succeed in the playoffs during an abbreviated season such as this one, a team’s regular-season finish might not be the most telling factor.

The Hawks proved that last season, faltering during the regular season and then surprising with a win over the Magic in the first round and pushing the Bulls to the brink in the conference semifinals.

What the Hawks do have that can’t be measured is the undeniable ability to defy all expectations and common sense. They’ve been doing it since Horford entered the league, backing into the playoffs during his rookie season and then pushing the eventual champion Celtics to seven games in a first-round series.

Every season since then, the Hawks were supposed to stumble and fall back to the pack or fall out of the playoffs completely … and each time they’ve made a mockery of those predictions. Every metric, measurement and statistical analysis designed to study this team has been turned inside out.

For better or worse, the Hawks never follow the script.

Never!

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Hawks Set To Enter Meruelo Era

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Now that the news has broken and the previously unidentified buyer of the Atlanta Hawks has been revealed, Hawks fans are ready for the Alex Meruelo era to begin.

Never mind that most Hawks fans had never heard of Meruelo, the Southern California-based business man who would become the first Hispanic owner of an NBA franchise at the close of the deal, before word spread this morning that he would purchase controlling interest in the franchise from the remains of the Atlanta Spirit Group.

When you hit the stage talking the way Meruelo did to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution — “I’m a person who doesn’t give up. I want to bring a championship to the city of Atlanta.” — the fans want to hear more.

As Hawks fans spend the next few days purging the drama and turmoil of the Spirit days from their systems, Hawks staffers are preparing for Monday’s official announcement and whatever changes might be on the way with a new owner (the Spirit group will retain minority ownership positions).

What that means for the team remains a mystery. The Hawks have gone from an Eastern Conference doormat to a consistent playoff team since the 2004 sale of the team from Time Warner to the ASG. They’ve made the playoffs four straight years and been to the Eastern Conference semifinals in each of the past three seasons.

But if Meruelo’s words (“I will be in complete control of the team.”) mean anything to you, folks in and around the organization should prepare themselves for some changes:

Although his primary residence and business will remain in Southern California,

Meruelo said he plans to spend a lot of time in Atlanta and to buy a home here.

“If you look at my previous … business ventures, I’m very hands-on, and this will be no different,” he said.

Asked if there is any scenario in which he would seek to move the Hawks out of Atlanta, Meruelo said: “Absolutely no. None.”

Owning an NBA team, he said, “has been a dream of mine and a passion, and you’ll definitely see that as I become, hopefully, the owner in a short period of time.”

What all of this means for the people running the show right now — most notably Hawks general manager Rick Sund and head coach Larry Drew — remains to be seen.

But general managers and coaches have a way of exiting the stage when new ownership takes control.

Without any clear basketball or NBA connections to speak of, there is no telling what direction Meruelo will go in. But you can rest assured there will be some changes … be it at that level or in the makeup of a team that many feel has plateaued with its current group of core players.

And with Meruelo’s unique success story, you can read more of it here, courtesy of the AJC’s Mark Bradley, it’s clear he won’t be afraid of taking a few chances to mold the franchise in whatever ways he deems necessary to achieve his desired goals.

It makes you wonder, who stays and who goes?