Posts Tagged ‘Chuck Person’

Dwight, D’Antoni And The Lakers’ Big Rift?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For months it appeared the Los Angeles Lakers’ free-agent summer plans would hinge on the relationship between two men, Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant.

The Lakers’ two biggest stars had to find common ground if this multi-million dollar experiment is going to bear fruit in the future. They had to be on the same accord going into the summer for Howard to ignore the other options he has as an unrestricted free agent and stick with the Lakers after a tumultuous first season in Hollywood.

Not everyone is convinced that the Howard-Bryant dynamic is the linchpin to the Lakers’ plans, though. Another man, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, could very well be the central figure on the Lakers’ side. Perhaps it’s his relationship with Howard, and not Bryant, that holds the key to the future between the All-Star big man and the franchise known for Hall of Fame big men.

As folks in Orlando can attest, this could be the start of Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak‘s very own Dwightmare!

While Howard hasn’t so much as spoken a word publicly about his future, there are rumblings in Los Angeles that he plans on entertaining free-agent pitches from the Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks, as well as the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, instead of simply agreeing to the $118 million offer the Lakers have planned for him on July 1 when free agency opens.

Howard’s rationale for listening, however complex, apparently has as much to do with his murky relationship with D’Antoni than any of the other factors, according to Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, part of the discussion between Howard and Kupchak centered around Howard’s frustration with D’Antoni — particularly how the center felt marginalized as the coach looked to Bryant and Steve Nash for leadership and suggestions and discounted Howard’s voice.

Every player was afforded the opportunity to meet with Kupchak individually after D’Antoni left the room, but few spent as much time as Howard and Kupchak did together. Antawn Jamison also had a separate meeting with Kupchak without D’Antoni present, but that was because of a scheduling conflict.

Kupchak left the meeting with Howard undeterred, telling reporters he was “hopeful” and “optimistic” that Howard would be back with the Lakers next season and beyond, yet there have been several developments in the last couple weeks that could have an effect on Howard’s decision.

D’Antoni chose not to retain assistant coach Chuck Person, a Howard confidant, on his staff for next season. Also, Lakers assistant coach Steve Clifford, who was with Howard in Orlando for five seasons before both of them came to L.A. last year, has become a hot head coaching candidate, interviewing with Milwaukee and receiving interest from Charlotte.

One source described the potential departure of Clifford, coupled with the loss of Person as “removing the buffers,” between Howard and D’Antoni, “which is a bad thing.”

Howard’s relationship with Bryant seemed much healthier at the end of the Lakers’ season than it did at any other time throughout the season. He visited Bryant at the hospital after he’d had Achilles surgery and Bryant spoke glowingly of Howard during his exit interview.

Bryant is going to do his best to mend fences and rebuild bridges this summer for the Lakers in what is truly a colossal summer for the franchise. The NBA’s social media king took to Twitter to spread that message to the masses:

But if there is a rift (spoken or not) between Howard and D’Antoni, even Kobe might have a hard time fixing it. Especially with all of the other options that will be presented to Howard in about six weeks.

The Lakers cannot afford to enter the 2013-14 season with Bryant still on the mend from that Achilles injury and only Nash and Pau Gasol as headliners in a Western Conference that could be as deep as it’s been in years. Having Howard on board would keep the Lakers among the playoff crowd. Without him, there is no telling where the Lakers land.

While the situation seems dire to some, Kupchak believes he has a better grip on things than the rest of us think. More from McMenamin:

Kupchak did not seem worried about any potential rift between player and coach.

“I think Dwight likes winning, he likes performing at a high level,” Kupchak said. “I think he’s fine with Mike D’Antoni, but I’m not really concerned if players like a coach, so I don’t ask that question. Our coaches are evaluated by wins and losses.”

Kupchak was further pressed about the possibility of a coaching change being dictated by a player.

“This organization has a precedent with that kind of a situation and I think we learned our lesson,” Kupchak said, referring to when Paul Westhead was fired in the early ’80s and the decision was tied to Magic Johnson‘s wishes. Whether that was the real story or not, both Johnson and the Lakers organization took a hit for how it was perceived.

We’ll know better in six weeks just how big a rift there is, if at all, between Howard and D’Antoni.

In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your latest Dwightmare!


Howard: I’ll Shoot Free Throws My Way






OKLAHOMA CITY –
Dwight Howard was last man standing at the free-throw line following Friday morning’s shootaround. As the big man shampooed, rinsed and repeated, so to speak, Steve Nash looked on and at one point motioned his hands as if shooting an invisible basketball, presumably giving Howard a tip to follow through.

“He was just suggesting some things,” Howard said. “It’s not something we already talked about or anybody else has suggested, but my mind cannot get clouded with everybody telling me how to shoot a free throw. I just have to go up there and shoot it my way and not get caught up with what everybody else is saying because that’s when I miss.”

Howard is the league’s most scrutinized foul shooter and having been the victim of a recent string of Hack-a-Dwight or Hack-a-Howard or Hack-a-whatever, the heat’s been jacked up on his wretched 46.9 percentage — and falling — from the stripe.

And boy, whether it’s Los Angeles Lakers assistant and designated Dwight free-throw coach Chuck Person, a 72.3 percent free throw shooter in his day, or Nash, who rarely misses unguarded from 15 feet, Howard seems to be ready to shut it all off.

He seems so frustrated by a virtual encyclopedia of mechanical adjustments and ever-changing deliveries fogging his mind that he feels like a 6-foot-10 pretzel when he tries to implement it all at the stripe.

Teammate Kobe Bryant suggested that Howard must face this daunting issue and take it on “head first,” as in, “This is something that I have to conquer; this is something I have to master.”

Kobe expressed confidence that Howard will figure it out, just as he said Shaquille O’Neal worked hard on his free throw struggles: “It really meant a lot to him and he took on that responsibility.”

A gentle message to Dwight? There’s more. Kobe delivered the next passage to the entire Lakers team, whose collectively poor foul shooting, 66.7 percent, ranks dead last in the NBA and has cost them at least a couple of games.

“I think it’s taking a responsibility when you’re at the free throw line: ‘I’m bearing the responsibility of my team on my shoulders at this moment,’ ” Kobe said. “It’s holding that significance when you step to the free throw line every single time.”

Kobe also provided an interesting take on the root of Howard’s miserable, career sub-60 free-throw percentage. It hardly goes down as law, but it’s as good as any other theory:

“I think it all depends on how you were raised, how you’re taught the game from the beginning,” Kobe said. “That’s why it’s such a critical thing in how we develop our players growing up, whether it’s AAU and all these other camps. I think they pretty much wanted [Howard] to play inside the paint his entire career. Ever since he was 12 years old they wanted him to dunk everything and finish everything at the rim; didn’t want him shooting because he was bigger than everybody. As a consequence they left out the shooting aspect of his game.

“That’s in contrast to some of the European players who are taught at an early age how to play all aspects of the game, the ball handling, the shooting. I think it’s really just about our system here in the States and how we teach kids how to play.”

Perhaps.

For now, Howard, 27-for-66 (40.1 percent) from the free-throw line in his last five games, will step up tonight in OKC determined to shoot ‘em his way.

Dwight’s Free-Throw Clangs


HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –
 Dwight Howard was asked the other night for his favorite all-time Laker. It didn’t take him long to pick Wilt Chamberlain.

Good choice. So, too, would have been Shaquille O’Neal. Fortunately, he didn’t say Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Lakers’ lineage at the center position is mind-blowing and the newest one certainly bears some similarities to those past Laker greats. One glaring blemish, however, particularly mirrors Wilt and Shaq: Howard is horrible from the free-throw line, that unguarded real estate that legendary Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn, for obvious reasons, called the charity stripe.

It’s amazing how many points great scorers, yet putrid foul shooters, leave at the free-throw line. Howard, despite the patient work of coaches such as Lakers assistant Chuck Person, still flicks straight-legged efforts from above his head that more often than not clang off the rim — or in the case of last week’s game against Brooklyn, laughably never draw iron — at a confounding rate.

Howard, in his eighth season, is actually getting worse. A career 58.5-percent foul shooter, he’s made just 72-of-145 free throws this season (including 3-of-14 in a loss to Dallas and 7-of-19 in a slim win against the Nets) for 49.7 percent. Last season he posted a career-low 49.1 percent. For now, Howard has at least made more free throws in his career than he’s missed (3,438-2,434). Both Shaq and Wilt cut it remarkably close.

Shaq, a 52.7-percent career free throw shooter, made just 618 more free throws (5,935) than he missed (5,317). Wilt, a 51.1-percent foul shooter made just 252 more (6,057) than he missed (5,805).

Kareem serves as the Lakers’ legacy benchmark. The game’s all-time leading scorer helped himself at the charity stripe, banking 72.1 percent of his free throws. Of his 38,387 total points, 6,712 (17.5 percent) came at the free throw line. Had Kareem suffered at Dwight’s 58.5 rate over his 20-year career, the goggled-one would have left approximately an additional 1,262 points at the line.

And had that been the case, Kareem’s scoring record would stand at around 37,125 points, or less than 200 points more than No. 2 Karl Malone. And had that been the case, would Malone have pushed for the scoring title in a 20th season following the knee injury that derailed his one-and-done title chase with the Lakers in 2003-04?

Amazingly, of the four players in the NBA’s 30,000-point club (Kobe Bryant, with 29,860 points, will soon make it five), two are Lakers centers — No. 1 Abdul-Jabbar and No. 4 Wilt.

Shaq, had he matched Kareem’s 72.1-percent free-throw rate over his 19 seasons, would have placed three Lakers centers among five 30,000-point scorers. Shaq finished his career with 28,596 points. At Kareem’s free-throw rate, he’d have around 30,781 points and would still be ahead of pal Kobe at No. 5 for just a bit longer.

As for Wilt with 31,419 points, he would be No. 3 with around 33,917 points had he shot free throws as well as his successor. It would have given him some 1,900 more points than the current all-time No. 3 scorer, Michael Jordan.

For the record, Jordan shot 83.5 percent from the free-throw line.

And now back to Howard. He hasn’t produced the massive scoring totals through his first eight seasons like Wilt, Kareem and  Shaq, so at his current career scoring average of 18.4 points a game, reaching 30,000 will take many more highly productive seasons. Still, whenever Kobe retires, and assuming Howard remains with the Lakers long-term, his attempts and scoring could soar. There is little doubt that Howard, who turns 27 in less than two weeks, will one day rank as at least a top-15 scorer.

He enters Tuesday game against Indiana with 11,687 career points, already having left about 745 points at the free throw line when extrapolated to Kareem’s 72.1 percent. If Howard stays at his current career average of 58.5 percent — and remember he’s getting worse — as opposed to matching Kareem’s career percentage over the next 10 seasons, he would leave more than 1,000 additional points at the free-throw line.

In the short term, that’s a lot of potential bricks that can alter ballgames and even ruin championship runs. In the long-term, it means spots on the NBA’s all-time scoring list might never be attained because of points left at the line.

Rounding Up Usual (And Unusual) Suspects For Lakers Job

Considering how much of what the Los Angeles Lakers do is driven by entertainment, more than any of the other NBA teams, there’s a must-see moment waiting to happen as the team scouts for a replacement for Mike Brown, fired Friday as head coach after a disappointing 1-4 start.

The Buss family that owns the team ought to bring in Stan Van Gundy for an interview, then set up hidden cameras for the moment when it leaks to the players.

The list of “Who’s” was instantaneous Friday, compiled in pieces or in full on the Internet almost as swiftly as word of Brown’s firing spread. Here is a quickie list of candidates with HTB assessments of their pros and cons:
(more…)

A Peek at Howard’s Lakers Workout

 

There wasn’t much, just 26 seconds of video as posted on the Los Angeles Lakers’ team Web site. But that was Dwight Howard. On the Lakers’ practice floor in El Segundo! WEARING FORUM BLUE AND GOLD!

The All-Star center, whose trade from Orlando to L.A. was the cornerstone of what might be a championship tilt from East to West this season, went through a workout that had to whet the appetite of NBA fans across the land. Mike Trudell of Lakers.com was there to chronicle the activity, rehab from back surgery for Howard, tantalizing taste of things to come for everyone else:

On Wednesday afternoon, Howard continued to make progress, focusing on upper and lower body strengthening, core stabilization, light running plus some basketball activities.

Assistant coaches Darvin Ham and Chuck Person went through low post moves with the six time All-Star center … with Howard adding some shooting from the paint and the free throw line.

Howard dropped in a high percentage of his patented baby hooks with either hand, spinning either to the baseline or the middle depending on Ham’s defense, and showed his quick first step getting to the hoop when Ham closed out.

There still are miles to go. Howard isn’t being counted on for the start of training camp, the preseason opener Oct. 7 or any specific return date at all. But reports from the Lakers’ training staff say there have been no setbacks for Howard. He is right on schedule! THIS REALLY IS HAPPENING!

Kobe Feeling The Heat? Not!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Ignoring Kobe Bryant for as long as we have here at the hideout is a crime against basketball that should not be excused.

With Bryant rehabbing a knee and not playing particularly well, he’s been a bit out of sight and out of mind throughout the preseason (there’s also that crew down in Miami that has kept us all busy).

That’s still no excuse for ignoring the reigning back-to-back NBA Finals MVP, who insists that he is not feeling the heat just because there is a new challenger for the title.

In fact, Bryant sounds as calculated as always in his approach (check the video above) and seems to be in his usual Mamba Mode, complete with Lakers coach Phil Jackson using his own techniques to keep his star on top of his game.

Bryant insists he doesn’t need an extra motivation, per my main man Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times, who details exactly what the Lakers need from Bryant:

What he needs is to rediscover his shot and strength in the knee, something that will presumably happen a few weeks into the season. The Lakers begin the regular season Oct. 26 against Houston.

Bryant made only two of 10 attempts Wednesday against Sacramento and stuck around to shoot after Thursday’s practice with assistant coach Chuck Person.

“I don’t think it’s ever been frustrating. It’s just understanding that it’s a process. I’ve been through it before,” Bryant said.

Bryant was slow to come back from off-season surgery on the same knee in 2006. He sat out the first two regular-season games and scored fewer than 20 points in four of his first eight games.

Things turned out all right for him that season. He ended up making a historic run in March 2007, becoming the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1962 to accrue four consecutive games of at least 50 points.

For now, however, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson couldn’t remember a player of Bryant’s stature (think Michael Jordan, or, to a lesser degree, Scottie Pippen) struggling so badly with accuracy in exhibition play.

“I don’t think so,” Jackson said. “He’s playing without being quite ready. He’s trying to get some of it in game situations rather than having the ability to practice and do all the things that build up to that where he’s going to be in rhythm and shooting the ball right. We’re taking a little bit of a shortcut.”

No offense to Phil here, but we’re going to let history be our guide.

Bryant still in the prime of his career, despite all the hot air about him regressing and taking a step back (surely you remember that preposterous argument made by many last season, before he led the Lakers on their march to the title).

Click here to check out all things Lakers in the NBA.com season preview of all 30 teams in the league.

Bryant will be at his big game best this season, especially against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Heat!