Posts Tagged ‘Chris Kaman’

Opening Night: Time For Clippers’ Griffin And Jordan To Show Up And Show Out!


VIDEO: DeAndre Jordan abuses Utah’s Enes Kanter and finishes with authority

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Point fingers all you want at Chris Paul, coach Doc Rivers, owner Donald Sterling or anyone in Los Angeles this season. It doesn’t matter. Because it’s not on them … not If the Clippers are serious about making that move from pretender to contender.

It’s on two guys and two big guys in particular.

Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, the highlight stars in Hollywood, have to take that next step and put the Clippers in a position to cash in on the immense potential we all see on that roster. They were the missing piece last season in the playoffs, when the Grizzlies’ Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol exposed the Clippers’ soft underbelly in a first-round playoff ouster of the reigning Pacific Division champs.

The Clippers weren’t tough enough then and Griffin and Jordan clearly didn’t have the seasoning needed to win the series. But Rivers has infused the Clippers’ locker room with a new energy, a new confidence even, that will serve as fuel for Griffin and Jordan.

And it’s time for those two to show up, show out and take some of the pressure off of Paul, the team’s smallest player (in stature). We get our first glimpse tonight, when the Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers open the season at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Griffin and Jordan couldn’t ask for a better opening test than the Lakers’ veteran frontcourt of Pau Gasol and ex-Clipper Chris Kaman.

If they want to justify the hype and make Rivers look like a genius for praising and challenging them simultaneously during the past few months, we’ll see it tonight in their play.

When he spoke about Jordan as a potential All-Star, to USA Today SportsSam Amick, his comments had to strike a (positive) nerve with Jordan — a player with big talent who still lacks the polish needed to dominate both ends of the court.

“He’s an All-Star, and whether he makes it or not I could care less about that part but I’m just saying that he’s at that level,” Rivers said. “DJ has the ability to affect an entire end of the floor. So how good was Deion Sanders? That’s how good DJ is. That’s the way I look at it.”

Griffin is already an All-Star. There’s no stroking of his ego needed. Rivers had to challenge his basketball IQ, his personal fabric and find out if he was willing to go to uncomfortable places within himself to improve and make himself more of a factor this season.

Combined, Griffin and Jordan have the ability to push the Clippers into the true-contender atmosphere. They’re talented enough to be the difference-makers in ways that few players in the league can, due mostly to the fact that they are physically superior to most opposing low-post duos.

But are they mentally tough enough? Are they skilled enough? Are they determined enough to become the collective force of nature that elevates the Clippers?

We’ll get a good sense tonight when the curtain comes up on their 2013-14 season!

McGrady Not Feeling It For Kobe, Lakers

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Tracy McGrady had to settle for a shotgun seat on the San Antonio Spurs Express to The NBA Finals last season to end his career with a lone trip out of the first round. Who knows, had McGrady ever had Spurs-like talent around him, things might have turned out differently for him.

At any rate, the borderline Hall of Famer can spot a lacking supporting cast when he sees one. He spotted just that Tuesday night while taking in some Jazz vs. Lakers preseason action. What he witnessed was so disturbing he felt compelled to take it to Twitter:

Jellybean is, of course, Kobe Bean Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers superstar and son of former ball player Joe “Jellybean” Bryant.

Kobe is working his way back from an awful Achilles tear in April and his return date remains uncertain. McGrady would apparently tell him to take his time getting back. No need to rush.

The 2013-14 Lakers, with or without Kobe, aren’t exactly high on anyone’s predictions chart. Check any Vegas sports book and this bunch is basically sitting at 75-to-1 odds to get Kobe that elusive sixth championship ring and knot him up with Michael Jordan.

Compared to all those souped-up Lakers squads through the decades, this one’s feeling like a stripped-down Vette with a leaky transmission. The horses under the hood buck instead of gallop and the suspension is all out of whack. You swear every time you turn the key it gives off that rotten egg odor.

Recently coach Mike D’Antoni said he was on drugs a year ago when he took over and proclaimed that team could average 110 ppg. And he was medicated on painkillers following knee replacement surgery. The disastrous 2012-13 team, with Bryant playing ungodly minutes night after night, averaged 102.2 ppg, which would have been pretty good if they had played any defense.

Without Bryant this preseason and with Steve Nash approaching 40 years of age by unfortunately grinding through seemingly just as many body ailments, scoring is down to 94.3 ppg. Only the Mavericks and Jazz have averaged less.

Speaking of the Mavs, everybody’s always quick to point to Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion as the only remaining members of the 2011 title team. The remnants from L.A.’s back-to-back title teams in 2009 and 2010? A rehabbing Kobe, a fragile-kneed Pau Gasol and a back-from-Europe Jordan Farmar.

To McGrady’s tweet, this is no Lamborghini waiting to be valet parked at Staples.

Assuming Nash is healthy enough to play (and start) on Oct. 29 when the Lakers open at home, to their misfortune against Doc Rivers‘ new team that shares the building, he’ll be joined by — and please don’t write this in ink — Steve Blake, Nick Young, Gasol and Chris Kaman, assuming the center has recovered from a bout of gastroenteritis.

As for Lakers depth? Among the newcomers are Xavier Henry in the backcourt and Shawne Williams in the frontcourt. The return of power forward Jordan Hill is a positive. Then there’s Farmar, Jodie Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Ryan Kelly, Marcus Landry, Elias Harris and fan favorite Robert Sacre. One will have to go to get the roster down to the maximum 15.

Pedal to the metal? McGrady isn’t feeling it, apparently even after Kobe takes the wheel.

One Team, One Stat: No Howard = No Defense In L.A.

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Los Angeles Lakers, who could be in danger of missing the playoffs for just the third time in the last 38 years.

The basics
LAL Rank
W-L 45-37 t-11
Pace 96.8 5
OffRtg 105.6 8
DefRtg 103.6 19
NetRtg +2.0 10

The stat

107.8 percent - Points per 100 possessions allowed by the Lakers in 1,229 minutes with Dwight Howard off the floor last season.

The context

That number would have ranked 28th in the league over the full season. But when Howard was on the floor, the Lakers allowed just 101.7 points per 100 possessions, which would have ranked 10th in the league.

Though Howard was recovering from back surgery and dealing with a shoulder injury, he still made a huge impact on the Lakers’ defense. With him on the floor, their opponents shot worse, committed more turnovers, got to the free throw line less, and grabbed fewer offensive rebounds.

And Howard was clearly a rim protector. With him on the floor, L.A.’s opponents attempted just 31.7 percent of their shots from the restricted area. With him on the bench, their opponents attempted 37.3 percent of their shots from the restricted area. That’s a critical difference with restricted-area shots being the most efficient on the floor.

Here’s some action from a March game at Golden State in which the Warriors scored 74 points in 37 minutes with Howard on the floor and 35 points in 11 minutes (shooting 11-for-12 in the paint) with Howard on the bench…


Howard did have some help. The Lakers were much better defensively with both Howard and Metta World Peace on the floor than with just one of the two…

Lakers efficiency, 2012-13

On floor MIN OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg +/-
Howard + World Peace 1,876 106.3 99.7 +6.6 +201
Howard only 846 102.5 106.2 -3.8 -61
World Peace only 654 109.1 109.2 -0.0 -10
One of the two 1,499 105.4 107.5 -2.1 -71
Neither 573 103.8 106.2 -2.4 -35

Unfortunately for the Lakers, both Howard and World Peace are gone. In their place are Chris Kaman and Nick Young. And in terms of defense, those are two serious downgrades.

As the starting center, Kaman is the more important of the two. So it’s not a good sign that Dallas went from eighth in defensive efficiency (in 2011-12) to 20th (last season) with him replacing Brendan Haywood in the paint. Nor is it promising that the Mavs were better defensively with Kaman on the bench.

The Lakers were barely better than the Mavs last season, ranking 19th defensively. They lost their two best defenders, replaced them with bad ones, and have a coach that’s, ahem, not known to prioritize that end of the floor. This could get ugly.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

One Team, One Stat: Mavericks Shoot Bad Shots Well

From Media Day until opening night, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann will provide a key stat for each team in the league and show you, with film and analysis, why it matters. Up next are the Dallas Mavericks, who are, once again, putting new pieces around Dirk Nowitzki.

The basics
DAL Rank
W-L 41-41 17
Pace 96.2 8
OffRtg 103.6 11
DefRtg 104.0 20
NetRtg -0.4 16

The stat

32.7 - Percentage of their shots that the Mavs took from the restricted area or the corners, the lowest rate in the league.

The context

Shots from the restricted area and in the corners are the two most efficient shots on the floor, both worth about 1.2 points per shot across the league last season.

The Mavs have been unique in passing them up and mostly getting away with it. With Dirk Nowitzki leading the way, they’ve been a good and high-volume mid-range shooting team. And they had a top-10 offense for 12 straight years, beginning with Nowitzki’s second season in the league and ending with their championship season in 2010-11.

The season after the lockout, the Mavs fell to 20th offensively, but were still a top-five mid-range shooting team. The same was true again last season, but they had very little scoring inside. Shawn Marion‘s 188 baskets in the restricted area led the team, but ranked 63rd in the league. And in addition to Nowitzki (437/62), they had two bigs – Elton Brand (206/133) and Chris Kaman (296/193) — that took more mid-range shots than shots from the restricted area.

Both guys can knock ‘em down, and it certainly pays to have bigs who can step outside and shoot. But while there’s a positive correlation between offensive efficiency and mid-range shooting percentage, there’s a stronger negative correlation between offensive efficiency and the percentage of shots you take from mid-range.

Mavs shooting by area, 2012-13

Area FG% Rank %FGA Rank
Restricted area 60.9% 12 27.1% 29
Other paint 42.7% 3 17.8% 3
Mid-range 42.2% 3 31.4% 8
Corner 3 36.5% 23 5.6% 20
Above-break 3 38.0% 2 17.8% 11

Basically, it’s good if you can shoot 2-point jumpers well, but it’s bad if you depend on them too much. As we learned from Evan Turner, even if you shoot mid-range shots well, you can be more efficient by taking better shots.

The following video is from an April 2 game in L.A., one the Mavs really needed to have a shot at making the playoffs (they were just a game in the loss column behind the Lakers at the time). They shot a decent 42.4 percent from mid-range, but those shots accounted for 33 of their 81 shots (41 percent) . They took just 15 shots in the restricted area, just four from the corners, and just 12 free throws. So, even though their shooting wasn’t awful, they got held to 81 points by what was a below-average defensive team.


The Mavs were one of three teams — Cleveland and New York were the others — that shot better on above-the-break 3-pointers than they did on corner threes last year. So again, they shot the bad shots (above-the-break threes being bad relative to corner threes) well.

But that’s probably not sustainable. And the guy that led the Mavs with 64 attempts (71st in the league) from the corners was O.J. Mayo, who is now in Milwaukee.

It’s another fascinating supporting cast that Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have brought in this season. Monta Ellis ranked ninth in the league with 475 mid-range shots last season, and shot them worse than anyone else in the top 20. Jose Calderon, meanwhile, was one of the best mid-range shooters in the league and also a great 3-point shooter, but doesn’t shoot from the corners much.

Devin Harris will get to the rim, and there’s no worry about DeJuan Blair and Samuel Dalembert taking too many jump shots. But neither big will dominate down low .

More important will be how the bigs defend. After ranking in the top 10 in defensive efficiency each of the previous two seasons, the Mavs ranked 20th defensively last season. (Not breaking news: Kaman is neither Tyson Chandler nor Brendan Haywood on that end.)

If Nowitzki is healthy all season, the Mavs should be OK offensively. And they can be better than OK if they find ways to get better shots.

Pace = Possessions per 48 minutes
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 14

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kaman hurts finger in China | Burke may miss 3-6 weeks? | Adelman unhappy with Wolves’ effort | D-Will may miss season’s start

No. 1: Kaman injures finger while tobogganing in ChinaLakers big man Chris Kaman is one of the league’s more skilled post players and one of its most avid outdoorsmen. No surprise, then, that when L.A. landed in China to prepare for its preseason game against Golden State on Tuesday that Kaman ventured off to do some tobogganing. But while on that trip, Kaman suffered a minor injury to his finger that he doesn’t expect will hold him out of the game, writes Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

The Lakers have experienced Kobe Bryant‘s torn Achilles’ tendon, Pau Gasol‘s knee problems and Steve Nash‘s broken leg over the last year. Now there’s the tobogganing injury sustained by Chris Kaman at the Great Wall of China.

One of his fingers was squashed while he was sledding down a slippery concrete track after trekking along the wall for two hours Sunday with Lakers teammates and staffers.

His sled, essentially a wheeled cart with a brake, was rammed from behind by teammate Shawne Williams. Kaman instinctively put out his hand as he saw Williams careening toward him and, well, ouch.

Visitors to the Mutianyu portion of the wall take a gondola or cable car to the top of a hill where the wall is located. They can return the same way or take the toboggan down.

“I didn’t hit the brake the whole time. Guys on the edge were yelling ‘Slow down’ and I just kept going,” Kaman said. “All of a sudden I catch up to this guy close to the bottom, so now I have to brake. Shawne Williams comes behind me without hitting his brake at all and just smashed right into me.”

Williams was going 20-25 mph hour and Kaman was going only about 3 mph at the time of the collision, Kaman said.

“My hand smashed right between the two sleds. I didn’t feel the end of my finger for, like, an hour,” Kaman said, extending a bandaged, swollen middle finger. “It’s starting to throb a little right now.”

***

No. 2: Jazz rookie Burke out 3-6 weeks?During the first quarter of Utah’s preseason loss to the L.A. Clippers on Friday, rookie guard Trey Burke fractured his right index finger in a play you can see here. Burke’s father, Benji, who is also his agent, doesn’t expect surgery to be in the cards for the young point guard, but may miss 3-6 weeks. That means the Jazz are likely looking at John Lucas III as the starter come opening night, writes Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune:

For now, John Lucas III is captain of the ship.

With rookie Trey Burke sidelined for an estimated 3-6 weeks after fracturing his right index finger, Lucas is easily the most accomplished point guard left standing in the Jazz’s training camp.

“I’m just going to play,” he said. “I’m going to come in and hold it down. My whole thing is to come in and play right away. Whatever Ty wants out of me, that’s what I’m going to do, no matter what.

“I live for this game and, when the opportunity comes, I’m going to step it up. I ain’t shying away from nothing. I’m just going to play hard, play tough and play with a lot of energy.”

Burke will be examined by a hand specialist Monday, when a decision on possible surgery will be made and his official time-frame for returning will be announced.

Burke’s father, Benji, is also his agent.

On Sunday afternoon, he sent The Tribune a text message that read, “Not sure on surgery. Looking at three to six weeks, guessing. [Trey] is in great spirits.”

***

No. 3: Adelman lays into Timberwolves — After a 2012-13 season marred by constant injuries and disappointments, the Timberwolves have gone through the preseason more or less unscathed (save for the injury to Chase Budinger). At 2-2, though, they aren’t drawing a lot of praise from their coach, Rick Adelman. He recently told the Star Tribune‘s Jerry Zgoda that he’s upset with Minnesota’s lack of consistency and bemoaned the team’s failure to cut down on turnovers thus far as well:

“They’ve got to figure out what they want to do as a team,” Adelman said. “I just told them, ‘What kind of season do you want?’ That’s really up to us to make what we want. They’ve got to figure out what they want to do as a team.”

He criticized their lack of concentration and preparedness and lamented a second consecutive game when his team had as many turnovers as assists. On Saturday, it was an even 16 in each category, a sure sign his players are not moving and sharing the ball.

“I don’t understand,” he said. “Like I told them afterward, we’ve played two games here at home and we’re acting like we’re just going through the motions. We aren’t the San Antonio Spurs and we aren’t Miami. We act like we have plenty of time.”

In fact, the Wolves have just three preseason games left before their Oct. 30 season opener. They do, however, now have more than a week before they play again.

“Maybe it’ll help us,” Adelman said about the upcoming break. “Maybe it’ll wake us up.”

The Wolves have played the last three of these first four games without starting shooting guard Kevin Martin, who again didn’t play Saturday because of a sore Achilles tendon. Alexey Shved started in his place and Adelman took good looks in both halves at a small backcourt that included starter Ricky Rubio and reserve J.J. Barea.

The rest: Rubio and Barea combined to shoot 2-for-17. Add Shved’s 0-for-4 night and the three made two of 21 shots.

“Awful, our guards went 3-for-whatever it was,” Adelman said, adding training-camp invitee Othyus Jeffers’ 1-for-1 night. “They’ve got to come in and they’ve got to make plays. It’s not just the guards. The shooting problems carry right to the same thing: What’s your mental attitude? How are you approaching the game? Are you really doing this thing all out or are you going through the motions?

“I know it’s the exhibition season, but we’re trying to get better and we really can’t get better if we don’t go out with better effort than we’ve shown.”

***

No. 4: D-Will could miss start of seasonDeron Williams continues to deal with a nagging right ankle injury that could last into the season, says Nets coach Jason Kidd. Williams hasn’t played in any of Brooklyn’s preseason games thus far and has been ruled out (along with Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry) for the next preseason game against the Sixers. If anything, writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com, the timetable for Williams’ return remains iffy at best:

Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd left open the possibility that point guard Deron Williams could miss the start of the regular season due to an ailing right ankle.”This is going to be a question that we’re probably going to have to deal with every day until he does get the green light to go,” Kidd said Saturday.

“But we’re not rushing him. So if we have to start the season with him still trying to get better, I think we all feel comfortable, but we would feel a little bit more comfortable if he was starting.”

Williams, on Sunday, said there was no definitive timetable for his return.

He felt Kidd’s comment was overblown by the media.

“I’m not going to respond to anything about yesterday, about this stupidness,” Williams said. “That’s just how somebody worded a question, and you guys just write it the way you want to, so I’m not going to respond to that.”

Kidd, asked after Saturday night’s 99-88 preseason loss to the Pistons about Williams possibly being out the first regular-season game and how it would change the mindset of the team in its next five preseason games, said, “I didn’t know he was out so … “

Kidd later added: “I don’t go on ifs … right now we are playing with the guys that are dressed, and he is a day by day situation. If he is ready to go, he will play. We will just take it one day at a time. We got to focus on Sunday.”

Williams sprained his right ankle during an offseason workout in Utah.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Corey Maggette will retire if he doesn’t make the Spurs … Nuggets point guard Andre Miller, 37, believes he can play until he’s 40 … Cavs still searching for a capable starting small forward … Pelicans should have their full roster ready to play by this week … Evan Fournier still an unknown quantity for Denver

Mavs’ Carlisle Rolls With Plan B, Revolving Roster

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DALLAS –
 Rick Carlisle earned his reputation as one of the game’s top coaches by bending, flexing and adjusting all the way to a six-game championship take-down of the Miami Heat in 2011.

Recall 5-foot-10 point guard J.J. Barea as an NBA Finals starting shooting guard?

The Dallas Mavericks have since gone 77-72 and haven’t won another playoff game. And despite a roster that’s read like a well-worn Rolodex, Carlisle has seemed only to enhance his image as an elite tactician and motivator. Carlisle’s agility will be put to the test again this season in guiding a team that again barely resembles the one that preceded it.

From the 2010-11 championship team only Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion remain. From the revamped squad insufficiently stocked to defend the title, add only Brandan Wright and Vince Carter as keepers. And from last season, add draft picks Jae Crowder and Bernard James. It’s doubtful any coach, especially one that won a ring with the same franchise just three Junes ago, has witnessed such roster upheaval in three consecutive offseasons, and particularly so in these back-to-back summers.

“Back-to-back, probably not,” Carlisle admitted. “But look, we’re living in a different time. We’re living in a time now where there’s going to be more one-year deals, there’s going to be more turnover, so everybody adjusts to the dynamics of the new CBA, and I don’t know that that’s going to happen for another year or two, at least. That said, if you’re going to be a head coach in this league you’ve got to be very open-minded, you’ve got to be open to change and adaptation. You always want continuity, but you’re not always going to have it.”

The Mavs suffered the indignity of a lockout and the ratification of a game-changing collective bargaining agreement on the heels of their championship parade. On the fly, owner Mark Cuban championed new roster-building strategies that entailed allowing key members of his title team to walk. Plan A, to create cap space and lure max-dollar free agents to crowbar Nowitzki’s championship window, hasn’t panned out and Dallas has instead scrambled the last two summers to produce competitive rosters.

That can be a disheartening road for a coach who is just one of four currently in the league with a ring. Carlisle, though, has consistently endorsed his boss’ decisions. Entering his sixth season in Dallas and the second year of his second four-year contract, Carlisle seems to embrace the challenges he inherits under Plan B. Of the four active championship coaches — including Miami’s Erik Spoelstra, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Doc Rivers, now in charge of the Clippers – Carlisle’s task is by far fraught with the most uncertainties.

“I just made a conscious decision that I’m not going to be a coach that’s limited to a certain system,” Carlisle said. “I’m hanging my hat on my ability to adapt each year to potentially a roster that’s quite different, and with the new CBA we’re going to have more of that in this league. I’ve done a lot of it in my career leading up to now anyway, so it’s always challenging in those situations, but it’s also exciting.”

Just look at the players that have come through Dallas since the lockout ended: Kalenna Azubuike, Yi Jianlian, Lamar Odom, Delonte WestSean Williams, Eddy Curry, Troy Murphy, Elton Brand, Darren Collison, O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman, Jared Cunningham, Derek Fisher, Mike James, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Morrow, Chris Wright, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Justin Dentmon and Josh Akognon.

And here’s the players new to Dallas for this season: Monta Ellis, Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, DeJuan Blair, Gal Mekel, plus draft picks Shane Larkin and Ricky Ledo.

Last week Cuban set the bar for this team: The playoffs, and capable of doing damage once there. Carlisle didn’t flinch.

“I think you have to view it that way,” Carlisle said. “And, you’ve got to be careful. You’ve got to eliminate the external noise and the doubters and the naysayers and all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to have just a real positive enthusiasm and focus on your group, and you’ve got to see in your mind how they can get better. Then you’ve got to facilitate that.”

Among Dallas media, at least, Carlisle was hailed as a Coach of the Year candidate for guiding last season’s mismatched squad out of a 13-23 hole, one dug mostly without Nowitzki. Dallas finished 28-18 and was in the thick of the playoff chase almost until the end.

“Actually, I think Rick’s system is just very comprehensive and he lets the players pick up as much of it as they can and so I think rather than try to force-feed things that they might not be able to do, Rick, I think, is more accommodating,” Cuban said. “But I don’t think he really changes his system, per se, or changes what he does. I think he just recognizes the skill set of his players. Like, he went from calling plays to just playing ‘flow’ all the time [with Jason Kidd]. That’s his preference more than anything else, just let guys play basketball, and hopefully that’s what we’re going to be able to do a lot more of whereas last year we had to call plays every possession. This year I don’t think we’ll have to.”

Last season’s backcourt of Collison, who couldn’t hold down the starting job, and Mayo never clicked. Fisher ditched the team after a month and James was erratic. Cuban believes this team offers Carlisle more raw material with which to work.

He believes it will be collectively smarter and less turnover-pron with Calderon at the controls, Harris backing him up and the speedy Ellis being able to get to the hole with a frequency the Mavs just haven’t seen. All that, Cuban surmises, should play into the hands of a healthy and motivated Nowitzki.

“Each team is different, each team has different needs, each team develops differently and has to make different kinds of adjustments mid-stream,” Carlisle said. “All that stuff is one of the real intriguing things about coaching. It’s one of the reasons I love it. And one of the reasons I love working in this organization is we’ve got an owner with a fertile mind that likes the right kind of change.

“I’m down with that.”

D’Antoni Drinking From Kobe’s Full Cup

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HANG TIME, Texas – It turns out Kobe Bryant isn’t the only one thinking the experts will be eating crow when he and his teammates report for duty in the playoffs next spring.

While he isn’t quite cackling on national TV with Jimmy Kimmel, coach Mike D’Antoni insists that the Lakers can improve on their 45-37 record from last season. At least that’s what he told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “I think we can be better because I don’t think we reached our potential last year. Our lack of defense came mostly from lack of energy from guys that didn’t feel right in their place on the team. Defense is energy, concentration and the desire to do it.

“If something is sapping that energy — distractions, injuries, not feeling good about the team — then you’re not going to put your heart and soul into it and it comes out on the defensive end. They just didn’t feel each other.”

It’s a simple recipe, really. You simply subtract a seven-time All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time NBA rebounding leader — including last season when he wasn’t fully fit — and the kumbaya spirit of cooperation lifts the entire boat.

Of course, D’Antoni didn’t mention Dwight Howard by name and we think that’s a good thing, since there has been far too much dredging up the pains of the past by everyone in the Laker organization from team president Jim Buss down to the valet parking attendants at the Staples Center. It is time — way past time, in fact — for the Lakers to move on and part of that has to be adopting the old Stuart Smalley from the long ago days of Saturday Night Live: “We’re good enough.”

Can the Lakers be good enough in a Western Conference where they had to go to the final night of the regular season in 2012-13 to finally secure the No. 7 spot in the playoffs and where Houston (with Howard) and Golden State (with Andre Iguodala) would clearly rank ahead of them now in the pecking order. Then there’s the matter of teams such as Minnesota, Portland and New Orleans coming up from behind. The Timberwolves are rebounding from a season fraught with injuries, while the Blazers and Pelicans have made moves to improve their talent.

The Lakers still have the biggest question mark in the league on their side of the ledger, wondering when — and really if — at age 35, Bryant can return to his Black Mamba form. Until that time, they must rely on 39-year-old Steve Nash and 33-year-old Pau Gasol  to carry the load with aging bodies that both broke down last season. D’Antoni’ said he believes that Nash and Gasol will be 100 percent healthy heading into training camp, but this is certainly a time, for their own good and that of the team, that their minutes will have to be monitored closely and likely limited. The defending Western Conference champion Spurs have been able to get away with fewer minutes from Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili because young guys such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are rising through the pipeline. That’s not quite the case with the Lakers, whose offseason additions have been Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman.

D’Antoni says he’s not going into the season looking over his shoulder in terms of his job security, especially after surviving a summer of blood-letting in the NBA coaching ranks.

“I’m sure it’s out there. If you don’t win, it’s there,” he said. “If you’re coaching in Fort Wayne, it’s going to be the same thing. I think the Lakers are a special case because they’re the No. 1 team that’s on ESPN. You just do the best job you can do and go on. If you get caught up in what they’re saying, you can’t do your job.”

Then he mentioned his peers in what was a surprisingly cranky, impatient off-season.

“Look at what happened to coaches this year. Eleven get let go. And three or four of them had the best years the franchise has ever had,” D’Antoni said. “So who am I to say they’re treating me bad? What about all those other guys?”
D’Antoni never feared for his job security despite the first-round playoff flameout.

“No, because Mitch [Kupchak] and Jim Buss were really supportive and great,” he said of the team’s front-office executives. “I couldn’t ask for anything better from the staff and franchise. I don’t want to be flippant, but you also have to have an attitude of, ‘To hell with everything. Concentrate. Go forward.’ You can’t get distracted by the noise.”

Can Dwight-less L.A. Actually Be Better?

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Don’t go misinterpreting the headline as this somehow trumpeting the Los Angeles Lakers as a serious challenger for the West crown, let alone a threat to unseat the Miami Heat.

The NBA still wants L.A. showcased on Christmas Day, but this isn’t 2012-13 after all. That fantasy ended, a certain center did say, as a nightmare.

Still, there is the 2013-14 season to play before the Lakers can go LeBron and ‘Melo hunting next summer. In a loaded West where San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers, Houston, Golden State and Memphis look like playoff locks before the first tip, and Minnesota and Portland could be fast-risers, the mighty Lakers could again be scraping for a playoff berth come mid-April.

But is there a chance that this re-tooled Lakers roster will be better off than last year’s dysfunctional bunch? This entire discussion begins and ends with health, starting with Kobe Bryant‘s unpredictable return from Achilles surgery at 35 (Aug. 23), Pau Gasol‘s feet and knees at 33 and Steve Nash‘s back and body at 40 (Feb. 7). Another injury return, and a significantly underestimated one, is power forward Jordan Hill, 26, coming back from a torn labrum in his hip. He played just 29 games last season.

Any setbacks or new injuries to any of the “Big Three” for an extended stretch will sink the season. The roster is way too thin to cover for the heavy lifters. Deep into the luxury tax for next season, the Lakers had no way to substantially upgrade the roster even after Dwight Howard bolted. They opted for a bit of financial relief and used the amnesty provision to part with a slowed-down Metta World Peace. They let a handful of free agents go and replaced them with Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row.
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2013-14 ROSTER 2012-13 ROSTER
PG: Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar PG: Nash, Blake, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris
SG: Bryant, Jodie Meeks SG: Bryant, Meeks, Andrew Goudelock
SF: Nick Young, Wesley Johnson SF: Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Devin Ebanks
PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly PF: Pau Gasol, Hill, Earl Clark
C: Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre C: Dwight Howard, Sacre

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“We’re excited to see what we can make of ourselves,” Nash recently told reporters. “We really are going to try for the second consecutive year to find chemistry and identity, but we’re excited for it, so we’ll see.”

Not exactly a title guarantee, but at least it’s a roster full of players, both young and old, with something to prove. That goes for coach Mike D’Antoni, too, who needs to prove he can stretch and grow with a team not stocked with youthful gazelles to carry out his high-octane offense.

So here’s why this Lakers team, as unimpressive as it might look on paper, can be better:

No more Dwight tension: The charade is over. There will be no more microscopic Dwight-Kobe relationship introspection, no more D’Antoni railing against utilizing the strengths of two low-post players, no more Gasol groveling about standing 18 feet from the basket. There should be plenty of fresh air here. Gasol will start at center where he will be more comfortable and presumably more effective, and Kobe won’t get rankled day-in and day-out by Howard’s playful ways.

Nash back to being Nash: Assuming he is healthy, Nash should more resemble the player we know, the one who creates for others and doesn’t stand off in the corner. L.A. will still be big with Hill likely starting alongside Gasol, but Young will spread the floor better than MWP and should be a consistent 3-ball threat. Wes Johnson can also run the floor as well as the 6-10 Hill, so this should help Nash push the ball more. And with Kobe coming back from the devastating Achilles injury, perhaps he’ll be more accepting of playing like a traditional shooting guard and be less commanding of the ball, as he said was the plan when the Lakers traded for Nash last summer.

Offense was already pretty good: Despite all the dysfunction and injury issues, the Lakers still averaged 102.2 points, sixth-best in the league. They’ll miss Howard’s 58.7 field-goal percentage, but their middle-of-the-pack 3-point shooting should improve. It’s still up to D’Antoni to coach to his personnel’s strengths and not what he would like their strengths to be. While this group should be able to run sporadically, Kobe isn’t exactly prepared to do that and the high-mileage Gasol isn’t Amare Stoudemire in his prime. Still, the offense should be able to create an identity starting in training camp, run efficiently and score at a high rate.

Rambis’ mission: Defense. The Lakers were horrible last season, playing as if they had never heard of a rotation. So in one of the more interesting hires of the season, D’Antoni reached out to Kurt Rambis, a former Lakers blue-collar forward and assistant under Phil Jackson. As an analyst on Lakers broadcasts and nationally for ESPN, Rambis was a harsh critic of D’Antoni, specifically how he used his personnel. Now Rambis must find a way to make a starting five that includes Nash, Young and a recovering Kobe to D-up. When Howard was on the bench last season, the Lakers were abysmal defensively. Hill’s return will help on the boards and defending the paint. With a training camp to implement a scheme and, Rambis hopes, an identity — something the Lakers never attained last season — it is possible to turn a porous defense lacking great individual defenders into a pretty decent team defense. Still, it is not a job for the faint of heart.

So what does it all mean for the Lakers? Are they destined for the lottery or can they be one of the season’s surprise teams and make it back to the playoffs?

Houston, L.A. And Dallas Post-Dwight

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The dust is settling and rosters emerging after the biggest free-agent move of the summer came down one week ago. Dwight Howard has positioned the Houston Rockets as Western Conference contenders while creating altered realities for the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks.

Because of their high-priced payroll, the Lakers have limited flexibility to strengthen their roster for the 2013-14 season. To lessen some of its financial burden, L.A. made it official on Thursday that it will use the amnesty provision to cut loose Metta World Peace, a move that Kobe Bryant made clear he’s not thrilled with on Twitter:

Had Howard remained with the Lakers, Pau Gasol might have been on the wrong end of the amnesty, but now he’ll be the Lakers starting center. L.A. has added Nick Young, Chris Kaman and Jordan Farmar to a roster that certainly has talent, but isn’t even expected to make the playoffs by some. 

The Mavs will scale a considerable mountain to not be lottery-bound in consecutive seasons. Dallas missed out on Deron Williams a year ago and watched Dwight pick their division rivals this time around. To make Mavs fans feel even worse, Andre Iguodala told the San Francisco Chronicle that he almost signed with Dallas an hour before committing to the Golden State Warriors. Dallas met with Andrew Bynum, but passed on making an offer.

Dallas was extremely high on Iguodala as an anchor for the future with Dirk Nowitzki in the case that Howard said no. The Mavs are in difficult spot now with a hodgepodge, guard-heavy roster that bears almost no resemblance to last season’s team that failed to make the playoffs for the first time in 13 years. It includes newcomers Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, Wayne Ellington and a couple of rookies in Shane Larkin and Israeli free-agent Gal Mekel.

At least Nowitzki kept a sense of humor after missing out on the prime DH target and signing another one:

Meanwhile in Houston, with Howard joining All-Star guard James Harden and emerging sharpshooter Chandler Parsons, the front office went to work to add more shooters around their new center, bringing back Francisco Garcia and agreeing to a deal with Reggie Williams.

Here’s how the Rockets, Lakers and Mavericks have filled out their rosters and who else each might be looking at:

HOUSTON ROCKETS (14)

PG: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan

SG: James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Reggie Williams, James Anderson

SF: Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi

PF: Greg Smith, Terrance Jones

C: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Donatas Motiejunas

Possibilities: Trade Lin and/or Asik

LOS ANGELES LAKERS (12)

PG: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar

SG: Kobe Bryant, Jodie Meeks

SF: Nick Young, Chris Douglas-Roberts

PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly

C: Pau Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre

Possibles: Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic

DALLAS MAVERICKS (11)

PG: Jose Calderon, Gal Mekel, Shane Larkin

SG: Devin Harris, Vince Carter, Wayne Ellington, Ricky Ledo

SF: Shawn Marion, Jae Crowder

PF: Dirk Nowitzki

C: Bernard James

Possibles: C Samuel Dalembert; C Greg Oden; C/F Brandan Wright; F/C Elton Brand

Report: Lakers To Amnesty World Peace



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Metta World Peace era in Los Angeles has apparently come to an end. The colorful Lakers small forward could be the first casualty of the Dwight Howard decision to go to Houston with the Lakers prepared to waive him, according to Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.

MWP, formerly Ron Artest, has been a staples in the Lakers’ lineup for the past four seasons. He played the hero in Game 7 of The Finals in 2010, knocking down the clutch 3-point shot (above) to help the Lakers survive the Boston Celtics at the Staples Center.

But he’ll exit in the fallout of a lost season and free agent summer that saw the Lakers strike out in their recruitment of Howard, who chose to chase his championship dreams with the Rockets instead of sticking around to see if he and Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Steve Nash, MWP and the rest of the Lakers could get it right during a second season together.

The Lakers are cutting ties with MWP on the same day they agreed to terms with center Chris Kaman on a one-year deal to help shore up the frontcourt rotation with Howard out of the picture.

There is still a hole at small forward, though. MWP was one of the only regulars to make it through the 2012-13 season healthy for the Lakers. He played in 75 regular season games, starting 66 of those. At 33, he surely has a few good years left in him. They just won’t be with the Lakers.