Posts Tagged ‘Bill Plaschke’

Riding To The Defense Of Dwight Howard


I like Dwight.

There, I said it. He’s fun. He’s goofy. He smiles. He’s engaging. He talks to you in the locker room before games, about lots of stuff, when most “stars” are buried in their Beats or iPads or simply avoiding the 45-minute open locker room period as if it’s Matt Bonner coming for a bear hug.

And maybe those are all the things about Dwight Howard that so drive Kobe Bryant nuts.

But I like Dwight.

I’ve stood in line to dog pile him. Did it Sunday after his needlessly contradictory series-ending postgame media session. His ejection barely more than two minutes into the third quarter of the final game of the Lakers’ awful season earned him yet another Twitter-lashing from the greatest Laker of all, legend-turned-critical-analyst Magic Johnson.

Even before then I had ridiculed Howard for chronic indecisiveness, chided him for selfishness and criticized him for the overall insidiously poor manner in which he’s handled his contract business.

But dang it, I still like Dwight.

So I’m placing my faith in him now. I believe he will re-sign with L.A., giving him a five-year, $118-million exemption from further free-agent discussion and decisions that obviously fill his head with anxiety and self-consuming guilt.

“I just don’t want any pressure from anybody,” Howard told reporters Tuesday during the Lakers’ end-of-season interviews. “[General manager] Mitch [Kupchak] said he’s not going to pressure me. He’s going to let me make that decision and we’re in a good place.”

And that’s how I believe this ongoing drama, “The Dwightmare,” started: I doubt he ever listened to himself. Instead he allowed a thousand intervening voices promoting self-serving interests, whispering big market or endorsement deals or global reach or whatever else, to swirl in his noggin like piranhas in a fish bowl.

Just my opinion, but as the process slogged on, I don’t think Dwight ever fully embraced his own desires other than yearning to make everybody happy, of which only brought about the counter-result of being universally vilified, a la LeBron James after the Decision.

Through the self-inflicted surreal twists and turns of his final season with Orlando and his first unfathomably incongruous season with L.A., I believe Dwight lost connection to his own identity. What happened to the 23-year-old, fifth-year center who carried the Magic to the NBA Finals — one more than Chris Paul’s played in — and, like Superman, believed he was capable of leaping anything?

The process took a heavy psychological toll heaped on top of the later physical limitations of his back. With his image in tatters, fans everywhere turned on him. And now, after one failed season in Lakerland, home of champions Wilt and Kareem and Shaq, they’re saying good riddance to him.

By all accounts, including his own, Dwight could have sat out until December or even the All-Star break to properly rehab his surgically repaired back. But he wanted to play for his new team with championship aspirations on Day 1. Wisely or not, he did.

Yet when he didn’t possess his usual explosiveness, it wasn’t Dwight’s back that came into question, but his body language.

Then the labrum in his right shoulder tore in early January. He downplayed its severity at first and when he sat out a couple games to rest it he got crushed by every living legend now on TV telling him to play through the pain for the good of the team. Even Kobe offered such an opinion and later tried to retract it.

Of course, Dwight was already playing through pain, or at least discomfort. He underwent back surgery in late April 2012 and played on Halloween. Dwight had never missed more than three games in any season until his back last year forced him to miss 12. Steve Nash struggled with multiple injuries and played in just 50 games, but was spared the rip jobs. Chicago’s Derrick Rose hasn’t played all season.

“Knowing that I wasn’t in great shape, my body wasn’t all the way there yet, but I wanted to do whatever I could to help this team win,” Dwight said on March 5 before a game at Oklahoma City. “And you know, sometimes I have gotten beat up for it, but that’s fine. I took all those hits and I keep moving.”

And the hits keep coming. After Sunday’s Game 4, formidable L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke offered the opinion that the Lakers and Dwight — who still averaged 17.1 ppg, a league-best 12.4 rpg, and fifth-best 2.45 bpg — should agree to walk away. He wrote that Dwight had proven over the season and in particular that very game that he is not a leader, at least not one of Laker ilk, and not one worth the heavy financial commitment.

But remove the raw emotion from this disappointing season, the depths of which run far beyond Dwight, and think about this: Dwight will enter training camp in October with a strong back, a healthy shoulder and reinforced maturity. He will be of clear mind and conscious.

The 6-foot-11, 265-pounder is L.A.’s best hope for the days beyond Kobe. Basketball will again be Dwight’s driving force, the distractions of the last two seasons drowned in the Pacific. He will rediscover himself and reassert himself as the league’s most dominant big man in his upcoming 10th season, just as he turns 28, just as he enters the prime of his career.

Going out on a limb? What can I say, I like Dwight.

Time For Clipper Ship To Sail


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS —  It’s been so long since the Clippers cashed in on their promise — or had promise to begin with — that sometimes even the smallest step gets magnified. Was Wednesday one of those times?

Yes, the Clippers finally beat a team of significance when they outlasted the Heat in overtime. It was a bigger game for the Clips than Miami, if only because Chris Paul and crew had something to prove, not only to the league and the starry crowd that limo’d in for the game, but to themselves. The season was rather mundane until now; they’d lost to the Spurs, Bulls and Blazers and desperately needed a pelt to put on the wall. Well, that stuffed LeBron head and D-Wade scalp will look awfully nice in the den.

Of course, the Clippers’ work is only beginning. They’ll fill out the month with games just as meaty, starting Saturday with the Lakers, and then: Dallas, Wolves, Lakers again, Nuggets and Oklahoma City. We’ll all have a better idea of this team then, and how much Paul’s addition is helping. You see, that’s the challenge of trying to elevate yourself from decent team to contending team. That stairwell can be quite oily. One big win doesn’t make for a celebration. Maybe in the past, it did. Not now. The Clippers are beyond that, or so it seems, all because of CP3 came along and raised expectations.

I’d say the Clippers are definitely intriguing, and in spurts do have the look of greatness, but they still need to demonstrate it over a longer stretch. And they’ll have that chance. In the meantime, they can’t afford many if any sloppy losing streaks if they want to be taken seriously by the basketball world. Good teams find a way, even when they don’t look too sharp.


The Big Author (Uncut) Reflects

— For labor updates, follow: @daldridgetnt | @AschNBA 

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Appreciation for days like this one, Veterans Day, were forged years ago in Shaquille O’Neal, the son of a father who served in the military.

Preparation for the days like this one and the many ahead has been a part of O’Neal’s thought process for years, long before he began his 19-year journey in the NBA.

Unlike countless others before him, O’Neal didn’t wrestle with the idea of what he’d do when his playing days ended. He’s already kicked off his career as a TNT analyst (check him out talking lockout with several of his new colleagues). His biography, “Shaq Uncut: My Story,” with Jackie MacMullan, hits the shelves Nov. 15 and will include an extensive book tour where fans will no doubt want to hear more about some of his legendary battles, on and off the court, with some of basketball’s biggest names.

“Going into the next phase of my life never worried me,” O’Neal said. “Growing up and watching everybody else’s successes and failures, I’ve prepared for this. I even talk about it in my book. My father came home one day and hit me in the back of the head with a book. He said, ‘read this.’ And it was Kareem‘s book on how he lost all his money. And my father told me, ‘it’s never going to happen to you.’ It’s all about having a plan. And that’s how I got here.”

That doesn’t mean he spared anyone or anything in his book. With an extensive history playing with and against some of the biggest names in the game — including the league’s three biggest current stars, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade — there will be plenty for fans to chew on once they get their hands on more than just the excerpts that have already circulated.

“The worst thing about the world we live in now, is there is more than one outlet that people respect. Back when we were coming up if it didn’t come from ESPN, NBC, CBS or ABC it didn’t have that stamp. But now, people are just taking excerpts and putting them out like they have the whole story,” O’Neal said of early criticisms, particularly his relationship with Bryant. “In the long run, it’s only going to help me have a No. 1 bestseller. Look, a lot of this stuff is just me reflecting on what’s already been out there and what’s been said. But a lot of guys that don’t have any creativity, guys like Bill Plaschke (of The Los Angeles Times) and Ric Bucher (of ESPN The Magazine), they don’t have any creativity to come up with their own stories. So to keep people paying attention and respect what they do, they keep bringing up old (expletive).


Lakers Circus — Day 3

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Ron Artest is the featured guest on Day 3 of the Lakers’ Traveling Circus.

When Lakers coach Phil Jackson isn’t passing out books, publicly coaching his star players or trading barbs with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who referred to Jackson as Jeanie Buss‘ “boy toy,” he is throwing up his dukes at practice with Artest.

Fine, so we put a little frosting on that last part. But Jackson did confirm the reported altercation with Artest, though he disputed the tenor of the altercation and the way it was initially described.

Of course, Artest was not a happy man when his name showed up on the LTC blotter.

He also confirmed the shouting match between he and Jackson. But he also reminded everyone, including HT fave Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, that he’s done everything in his power to avoid these sorts of conflicts and public spats since joining the Lakers:

Before Tuesday’s 108-83 victory over the Detroit Pistons, Artest was as lost in the locker room as he has been on the court, clearly upset that news of his standoff with Jackson was leaked.

“I’ve worked too hard to have something like this come out,” Artest said, shaking his head. “My image is very important to me — whatever image I have left — and this hurts, this really hurts.”

He added, “I’ve tried so hard not to be part of any controversy, not to be part of any conflict, for this to come out now, that’s weird, and it’s really hard.”

He was so upset that, as reporters were leaving the interview, he asked them to enhance his emotions.

“Put tears around those quotes, OK?” he said.

Win or lose these days, the Lakers’ in-house affairs are a mess.

Even messier when they get Wiki-leaked for all our viewing pleasure.

But unlike Kobe Bryant, who is used to dealing with Jackson’s motivational tactics, someone will have to mend fences with Artest or risk losing the man who saved the Lakers’ title hopes in Game 7 of The Finals last season.

Listen To Ron-Ron’s Message


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Our favorite Laker is back in the headlines this week, gobbling up his share of the spotlight.

But before you go knocking Ron Artest, know that he’s in the public eye right now for all the right reasons.

Ron-Ron’s well-detailed mental health issues have always been a part of the deal, but only recently has anyone begun to really listen to his message about the gains he’s made in dealing with those issues.