Posts Tagged ‘Dave McMenamin’

Clippers Wise To Challenge Lakers Now





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What do you do when the bully is wounded, down on a knee and struggling to gain his equilibrium?

You pound on him. You take every shot you can to keep him down, to gain whatever measure of satisfaction you can. It’s the law of the jungle, as they say, the way it’s done in the cutthroat world of professional sports.

That’s why the Los Angeles Clippers are wise to strike their Staples Center hallway neighbors now. The Los Angeles Lakers are in a holding pattern with Kobe Bryant fighting his way back from a devastating injury, Dwight Howard gone and guys like Nick Young and Robert Sacre joining Steve Nash and Pau Gasol.

The Clippers had the upper hand last season, when Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and the rest of Clipper Darrell‘s favorite team won the Pacific Division. They served as the most exciting team in the Southland — though the Lakers still won the headlines battle because they generated the most drama in SoCal this side of the Kardashians.

Adding front office ace/coach Doc Rivers, sharpshooter J.J. Redick, utility man extraordinaire Jared Dudley and others bolstered the Clippers’ situation over the summer. Rivers helped make sure Paul’s free-agent frenzy ended before it got started, and that led us to this point:

The Clippers covered up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jersey numbers at Staples during a preseason game Friday night, a move initiated by Rivers. And that dials up the energy in the battle for Los Angeles to new levels:

“He can do that?” Young said after Lakers practice Sunday, the team’s first since returning from China. “For real? That’s disrespectful. We got to talk to Doc. He can’t have that. We got to do something about that.”

The Clippers revealed their Staples Center redecoration during a preseason game Friday, as they plastered giant posters of players Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jamal CrawfordMatt Barnes, Jared Dudley and J.J. Redick over the Lakers’ 16 championship banners and 10 retired uniforms.

“That’s a lot of pull y’all are giving Doc,” Young said, somewhat facetiously. “I think he shouldn’t come in and have so much pull like that. He’s got to earn his keep.”

I’m not saying what the Clippers did is right or wrong, but it is certainly understandable when you are battling for the hearts and minds of millions of Angelenos. The Clippers don’t have decades of credibility to lean on in this fight. They have a sliver of an opening to exploit while the Lakers are in flux. They have to go for the jugular.

Bypassing the Marquess of Queensberry Rules for the UFC playbook makes perfect sense. If you can’t win a fair fight (the Clippers are down 16-0 in the titles category and decades behind in the credibility department), it’s time for the by-any-means-necessary approach.

Rivers knows what he’s doing. He understands what it takes. He’s been a part of the only franchise that can rival the Lakers in terms of all-time success. He has a keen insight on how this works.

He knows that maintaining that elite level is just as pressure-packed a situation as trying to get to that level.  So while covering up a few banners and retired jerseys might seem like a stunt to some, it’s much more calculated than that from this perspective. The Clippers are firing shots at the Lakers. They smell blood. They are on the attack.

We’ll find out if they have what it takes to follow through on all of this or if the Lakers have what it takes to fend them off. Either way, fans of both franchises, in Southern California and around the world, will be the biggest winners. Because this sort of contempt only cranks up the level of competition. Just the way it should be.


Beasley, Lakers A Desperate Match?

HANG TIME, Texas – To paraphrase the line from the classic filmIt’s A Wonderful Life“, every time Michael Beasley rings an exit bell, Darko Milicic gets another set of wings.

How much longer will Millicic wear the infamous yoke of worst No. 2 pick of the past 10 years now that Beasley’s been bounced from his third NBA team in five seasons?

As well, what is Beasley’s next stop after being waived by the Suns barely 14 months after signing a three-year, $18-million contract?

Nobody’s ever doubted Beasley’s ability to score or rebound when motivated. The trouble is a penchant for trouble that comes from an attention span shorter than the 24-second shot clock, his arrest in August for marijuana possession only the most recent example.

The fact that a Phoenix franchise that won only 25 games last season and did not sell out a single date at home at US Airways Center would spend $7 million to kiss off a 6-foot-10, 24-year-old forward practically shouts warnings from the rooftop.

And yet.

This is the NBA, where there are more second-, third- and fourth-chance believers than the lottery machine at the corner convenience store.

Enter the Lakers.

They are, after all, a team that has pursued Beasley hungrily in the past, thinking a couple of times during the 2011-12 season that they might have had deals to pry him out of Minnesota.

The Lakers, too, in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure, are a franchise wearing the whiff of new cologne — Eau de Desperation — as they pray for an improbable Hollywood script mending of Kobe Bryant’s torn Achilles’ tendon and bide time until the next free agent auction in the summer of 2014.

As pointed out by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, if the Lakers could sign Beasley for the veteran’s minimum of roughly $1 million for the upcoming season, it would allow them to keep salary cap space open for next summer and give a boost to an offense that needs help.

This is a guy who has a career high of 42 points, a guy who once put up 22 points and 15 rebounds in a playoff game, a guy who has a 34.5 percent career mark from 3, but has shot 36.6 percent or better from deep in three out of his five career seasons.

Don’t discount the appeal of Beasley’s ability to shoot it, either. The Lakers drafted Ryan Kelly in the second round primarily for his ability to stretch the floor with his long-range accuracy, but the team has been discouraged by the rookie’s progress during the summer, according to multiple league sources. The Lakers doubt that Kelly, who missed summer league while recovering from multiple foot procedures, will be ready for the start of training camp.

There are certainly financial reasons for Beasley to choose to play someplace else, the $7 million buyout he received from the Suns notwithstanding. Teams such as Milwaukee or Philadelphia could sign him to get close to the mandatory payroll minimum. Could you see him getting thrown a rope by an unlikely savior such as Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, figuring the stable, solid, no-nonsense Spurs locker room kept one knucklehead — i.e. Stephen Jackson — in line and could do it again?

At this point, Beasley comes with his own loud warning siren and flashing red lights. Yet there are those 42 points he scored one night against the Kings, those 19.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 2.2 apg he averaged in the only NBA season he played more than 30 minutes a game. And for the Lakers, well, desperation has made stranger bedfellows.

Because of all the things he can do with the ball in his hands, it’s probably premature to say Beasley is down to his last chance, but Darko is over there in the corner flapping his wings.

Report: Dwight Howard To Reveal His Choice July 10


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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – At least we have a date now.

July 10, nine days after the NBA’s free agency free-for-all begins and the day the league’s moratorium on players signing new contracts is lifted, we should know exactly where Dwight Howard is headed.

The Los Angeles Lakers’ All-Star center, the top free agent target of the summer, will have his process wrapped up and a decision made between suitors that include the Lakers, Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks and others, per Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

A source close to the All-Star center told ESPNLosAngeles.com that Howard expects to be ready to choose his team as soon as the NBA’s moratorium on new business is lifted July 10.

That information jibed with [Lakers GM Mitch] Kupchak‘s thinking.

“It’s in everybody’s best interest, I think, to proceed in a timely fashion,” he said. “I don’t think it’s Dwight’s goal to drag it out. Whether he’s with us or with another team, everybody this time of year has business to take care of. If he’s here, he wants us to know that so we can build around him in this period of free agency, when it moves very quickly, and if he’s with somebody else, that team is going to want the same thing.

“If you’re Dwight, you would want the same thing as well. You would want to give your team notice as quick as possible so they can make the changes that they need to make to make your team more effective. So I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to move as quick as possible.”

Rumblings that Howard is not likely to return to the Lakers will no doubt intensify as he entertains his other suitors, but Kupchak does not sound like a man who is ready to surrender.

In fact, he’s seems far more confident than you’d expect, given the trail of crumbs that suggest Howard isn’t particularly fond of Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni and the way he was used in conjunction with Lakers’ stars Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol during the team’s tumultuous 2012-13 season.

But you’d be confident, too, with a $30 million card in your hand that no one else can play. Kupchak told ESPNLosAngeles.com that the team will continue their measured pursuit, which includes strategically placed billboards around the city encouraging Howard to stick around, in the days and hours leading up to the July 1 open of free agency:

“I don’t think anything dramatic is going to take place on June 30 at 9:01 [p.m. PT] regarding Dwight,” Kupchak said. “My understanding is there are several other teams that have great interest and he’s going to have a process that I understand to be pretty deliberate that he’s going to go through, and we’ll be involved in that process and we’ll see how it plays out.”

Howard has already received some backlash from Lakers fans who have taken a good-riddance attitude, but Kupchak said he believes that will change. Howard has already received some backlash from Lakers fans who have taken a good-riddance attitude, but Kupchak said he believes that will change.

“I’m not worried about that,” he said. “Kobe’s been back for seven or eight years now. What did people think about him? There was a period where Kobe was earning his stripes in Los Angeles. I think when he came back, he had to continue. Here it is, seven, eight or nine years later, and I think that’s what would happen with Dwight once he puts his roots down and says, ‘This is the place I want to be.’

“I think that’s part of the problem. I think the city feels they were renting him for a year. But the reality is he couldn’t sign an extension. Financially, the rules provide that he wait until July 1 to get the best deal he could possibly get. It was one of those situations where please tell us you want to be here and please show us you want to be here. But he can’t do it until July 1. I think that’s part of it. Of course the way the season went didn’t help things either.”

With the clock formally ticking for Howard’s services, you can bet the teams interested in moving him out of California will do what they can to sway him. This is already true for the Mavericks, whose superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, has talked with Howard on his own volition to gauge Howard’s interest, writes Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram:

On Monday, Howard will become one of the most coveted unrestricted free agents in NBA history. And the Mavs want to make him their new franchise player and turn their current franchise player, Nowitzki, into their No. 2 option.

It’s a philosophy Nowitzki, who turned 35 last week, has easily bought into. That’s why he’s already had a conversation with Howard about a union in Dallas.

“I reached out to him and told him we’d love to have him,” Nowitzki said. “It’s not like we call each other every day.

“I didn’t write him a letter. We just had a little phone contact. That’s about it.”

With Howard patrolling the middle for the Mavs, Nowitzki knows he would have an excellent shot at winning another NBA championship before he retires.

“To me, when he’s healthy he’s the most dominant big man in the league,” Nowitzki said of Howard. “He’s shown that at the end of the season when he was right what he can still do.

“He can dominate on both ends of the floor if he feels healthy, he can still use his athleticism. He’s a beast on both ends of the floor.”

“He’s the kind of guy you can just get the ball to in the post, and I’ll just spread the floor,” Nowitzki said. “On the defensive end, he’s a guy that can protect the rim and a guy that’s obviously a luxury.

“We’d love to have him, but so would all of the other teams with cap room. I’ll just wait and see what happens.”

The next 12 days should be an interesting ride for all involved, especially for the Lakers and their fans!

Report: Kobe Aiming For An Opening Day Return, Will Recruit Dwight Howard





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs occupy the minds of most NBA fans right now as the conference finals end and we get ready for The Finals, Kobe Bryant is quietly plotting his comeback in Los Angeles.

The Lakers’ superstar is deep into the rehabilitation process from season-ending Achilles surgery and has set his sights on an earlier than expected return to action, telling Dave McMenamin of the ESPNLosAngeles.com in an exclusive Monday interview that he’s hoping to return for the Lakers’ 2013-14 season opener:

“I hope so,” Bryant said . “That’s the challenge. With the tendon, there’s really only but so much you can do. There’s a certain amount of time that they deem necessary for the tendon to heal where you don’t overstretch it and now you never get that spring back.

“So, you just have to be patient, let the tendon heal and then when that moment comes when they say, ‘OK, we can take off the regulator so to speak and now it’s on you to train as hard as you can to get back to where you want to be,’ that’s going to be a good day.”

In addition to plotting his own return, Bryant plans on being an active recruiter for the Lakers’ biggest free-agent target, center Dwight Howard. Howard is sure to be entertaining suitors from coast to coast July 1 when free agency kicks off. Bryant and Howard got off to a rocky start as teammates this season but appear to have grown closer throughout the tumultuous ride.

Bryant said he’ll step in when needed and make sure to impress upon Howard the importance of the big man being a part of the master plan in Los Angeles:

“For me, you kind of let him do his due diligence and then move in and talk to him and figure out if this is a place he wants to be,” Bryant said. “We all want him here. But then that’s when the selling begins [after Howard is courted by other teams]. You don’t start the selling process right before he goes and does all this stuff. You want to get the last word. You want to have the final word and the closing argument.

“I’ll give him a little opening statement, but then I have to make sure I have the final word.”

That has to be music to the ears of Lakers fans. Having the man who has served as the face of the franchise for much of the past decade and a half work this hard to make sure Howard serves as his eventual franchise successor speaks volumes about where Bryant is in his career.

With the Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, Atlanta Hawks, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers are  all reportedly preparing recruiting pitches for Howard (who, along with Chris Paul and Josh Smith, are the headliners in the free-agent class), the Lakers have to be prepared with a pitch of their own. The more input and influence from Bryant it seems, the better.

Only time will tell if it works out for Bryant on both fronts. We’d be foolish to doubt his resolve as he attempts to come back earlier than expected from his injury. In fact, convincing Howard to stick with the Lakers might be the more difficult of the two tasks.

Howard has managed to avoid doing any interviews since the Lakers were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Spurs, so anyone assuming what he might do is going off of sourced information and little else.


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!


Kobe, Lakers Won’t Go Without A Fight



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers are a must-watch down the stretch of this season, for reasons that were ridiculously obvious during a historic (for Bryant) Wednesday night in Portland.

Bryant played the entire game, scored a season-high 47 points and finished with an unprecedented stat line as the Lakers rallied from an early 10-point deficit to beat the Trail Blazers 113-106 and move a full game ahead of the idle Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoff chase with just three games to play.

The Lakers have won four out of five to continue their season-defining playoff stand, a charge led by the wicked Bryant, who torched the Blazers with 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals — filling the box score in a way that no player before him has. (He also outdueled Portland Rookie of the Year favorite Damian Lillard, who was spectacular himself with 38 points and nine assists.)

Whether the Lakers make the playoffs or not, Kobe is going to make sure their final three games are played with an intensity and at a pace that is playoff-worthy. That’s just who he is and has been his entire NBA career. There have been times when his individual drive and focus have been detrimental to his team (early in his career for sure and again later, when he and Shaquille O’Neal battled for control of the team). There’s no Phil Jackson around this time to balance the scales.

All that said, there is no player I’d rather watch under these extreme circumstances. The Lakers’ season goes into the category as one of the greatest crimes against the game if a crew with Kobe, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash doesn’t find its way into the postseason.

Would it have been nice to see the same sense of urgency in December that we all saw last night? Of course. In or out the postseason, a CSI crew will be needed to comb through the scattered wreckage of the Lakers’ regular season. There’s no way it was supposed to go down the way it has.

Kobe’s fingerprints will be all over the wreckage, along with those of Howard, Gasol, Nash, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak and just about anyone else inside the organization you want to throw in the mix.

Even after Bryant saved the Lakers’ bacon in Portland, the reviews seemed somewhat mixed from some of his teammates, per my main man Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:

“It’s bittersweet,” Pau Gasol said when asked about Bryant’s dominating performance against the Blazers, in which he played all 48 minutes in a non-overtime road game for the first time in his career. “Because, I think it’s spectacular and it’s very impressive and it’s remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That’s incredible. On the other hand, I’m a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I’ve always been [like that]. That’s just how I perceive this game.

“But again, he was incredible tonight. He scored a tremendous amount of points that I never scored in my life. So, like I said, it was very impressive and it’s not something that you do every night, of course.”

It wouldn’t be necessary every night if the Lakers had worked these issues out earlier in the season. They’ve been riding this roller coaster since training camp, with established veterans trying to sort out their roles — first under Mike Brown and since those first five games under Mike D’Antoni. (more…)

Jordan At 50: Could He Just Do It?

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HANG TIME, Texas – It starts out like the beginning of an old joke.

You know, somebody says that as great as Bill Russell was in winning 11 championships with the Celtics, he’d have difficulty winning even one against today’s class of NBA athletes.

Of course, goes the punchline, Russell will turn 79 on Tuesday.

But Antawn Jamison wasn’t kidding when he told Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com that Michael Jordan could still play effectively in the league right now.

Jordan turns 50 on Feb. 17, coincidentally the day of the NBA All-Star Game.

“I wouldn’t doubt that in the right situation with a LeBron (James) on his team or with a Kobe (Bryant) on this team, he could get you about 10 or 11 points, come in and play 15-20 minutes,” said Antawn Jamison before the Lakers played the Bobcats on Friday. “I wouldn’t doubt that at all, especially if he was in shape and injuries were prevented and things of that nature.”

That’s saying a lot, considering Jamison has Bryant on his team, and only averages 8.1 points per game in 20.5 minutes per game and he’s “only” 36 years old.

Jordan averaged 20 points in 37 minutes per game in his 15th and final season in the league before retiring for good at age 40.

Would it ever happen? Could it ever happen? Other than Larry Bird actually sprouting real wings, is there anything you might imagine that is more preposterous?

Remember, it was Jordan himself who raised the possibility near the end of his challenging, often vitriolic speech at the 2009 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

“One day you might look up and see me playing the game at 50,” Jordan said. “Oh, don’t laugh. Never say never. Because limits, like fears, are often just an illusion.”

We know that on the court there were never any limits or fears to Jordan, only challenges — some real, some imagined — that he used to constantly lift himself to a higher plane.

That is precisely the reason I have a standing bet with my good friend Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle that was made when Jordan hung up his Wizards jersey. I said then I didn’t believe His Airness was finished and one day we’d see him back on the court in an NBA game. At the start of each new season, Jonathan tries to get me to surrender. Then along comes word that the owner of the Bobcats showed up at practice one day in December to show them how it’s done. Or maybe just to feed his ego.

But after taking on some of his kids — Gerald Henderson, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bismack Biyombo — in a little one-on-one, it’s always clear that the competitive spark is just below the surface and the skills are still there.

“He’s still got it. He can still shoot,” Henderson said. “I don’t know about his defense, but he can still score.”

Biyombo: “He’s pretty good.”

So we mark down Biyombo for understatement of the year, consider the opinion of Jamison and ponder the possibilities.

I once asked Hakeem Olajuwon, who just turned 50, if he thought he could still play in the league.

“Not full-time. But for a few minutes, yes,” he insisted. “ I’m in shape.”

When a 50-year-old Clyde Drexler was asked the same question, he nodded his head. “Absolutely. I could go out there and run up and down the floor with those guys one night,” he said laughing. “Then the next day I’d be in traction.”

So what do we do with the Jordan question? Could he? Would he? Should he, as the old Nike slogan said, just do it?

I’ll tell you one thing I’m not doing: Paying off Jonathan. Yet.

Kobe Playing ‘The Right Way’





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Our sample size is just two games, so we know our science is a bit limited in this latest theory on how to cure what ails the Los Angeles Lakers (if that is indeed still possible).

Twice this season Kobe Bryant has finished games with 11 or more assists and the Lakers are 2-0 in those games, including Friday night’s trouncing of the Utah Jazz, and won by a combined 29 points.

Even for the math-challenged members of our hoops tribe, that essentially means a giving (assists) Kobe is much more beneficial to the  Lakers than a taking (shots) Kobe. He only had 10 shot attempts in the win over the Jazz to go along with his season-high 14 assists, one shy of his career-high set in (wait for it) 2002.

Kobe’s near triple-double in the win over the Jazz inspired some interesting praise/feedback from Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni (above), who described the performance as Kobe “playing the right way.”

Even Bryant admitted as much (via Twitter):

But will he be able to resist his scorer’s instincts every night for the good of the rest of the team? That remains to be seen. This afternoon’s matinée against the Oklahoma City Thunder (3:30 p.m. on ABC) will provide our first glimpse into whether or not Friday night’s game was just a temporary statistical anomaly or if it is indeed a fresh and new approach to things for the man called Mamba.

His teammates, one large one in particular, know which way they’d like to see Bryant’s game trend. My main man Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com explains:

Bryant’s 10 shot attempts also tied a season low, but by limiting his shots, it spread out opportunities to Dwight Howard, who was 8 of 12 from the floor for 17 points, after totaling just 19 shots combined during the Lakers’ four-game losing streak entering Friday.

“I think for a lot of bigs, when we’re fed and we eat a little bit, we’re happy,” Howard said on Saturday. “Just like men. Give us some food, we’re good. We don’t eat, we’re grumpy.”

Howard said Bryant’s adjustment on offense helped not just him, but the entire team.

“We have to play for each other to win,” Howard said. “All of us have to sacrifice part of who we are, part of who we’ve been, especially on the offensive end for the team. Still bring the same kind of energy, but we have to figure out a way to all put it together. I’m sure everybody on this team wants to be the guy to score, make plays and all that stuff, but we have to figure out ways to do it together. If you get everybody else involved early and throughout the game, it just makes it tough for teams to guard.

“(Bryant) did a great job of that (Friday) night. When he plays that way, it makes it tough for teams because he’s passing. He’s throwing lobs. He’s picking the defense apart. Now he can get the chance to go one-on-one, where he’s dangerous.”

After the game on Friday, Bryant told reporters that the passing plan was premeditated.

“I tried to make a real concerted effort to force the game upon my teammates a little bit and just have them play with confidence,” Bryant said. “Even the shots that are not going in, just try to push it on them a little bit.”

If Facilitator Kobe was as deliberate as we’re being told it should be easy to recognize against the Thunder, who will no doubt challenge Kobe’s ego in a matchup against two of the league’s other elite scorers in Thunder All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russel Westbrook, who much like Bryant has never met a shot attempt he couldn’t justify one way or another.

As much as D’Antoni and others would have led us to believe that Steve Nash (and not Kobe) would serve as the director of on-court operations for this team, we’ve seen enough now to know better than that. As long as he draws breath in a Lakers uniform, this is Kobe’s team and only Kobe’s team.

And we are talking about a player, in Kobe, who hasn’t exactly given up the ball at a record clip in the name of the greater good. Per ESPN Stats & Information, Friday night’s game marked just the fourth time in his 17-year career that Kobe played 30 or minutes and finished a game with more assists than field goal attempts.

Stunner, the Lakers are 3-1 in those games.

Again,we’re working with a terribly small sample size. But there’s a Hollywood saying that dates back decades, one that is regurgitated from time to time when convenient and appropriate, that might apply in this case.

“Big things,” it’s been said, “have small beginnings.”

The Curious Case Of The Lakers And Spurs






HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – History will decide whose era (and empire) reigned supreme over the NBA and ultimately which franchise — between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs — gets to stamp this generation in the league as “theirs.”

The case for each franchise is strong. There are Hall of Fame players, all-time great coaches, championship banners and lasting memories on both sides of the divide. It’s up to each observer to make their own determination as to whose body of work is stronger.

At a legends brunch during All-Star Weekend years from now, you’d love to be at the table with Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan as the conversation cranks up (with Duncan no doubt choosing to opt out of the conversation and Bryant no doubt proclaiming the dominance of his Lakers).

But there is no doubt that one outfit is handling the final years, months and, perhaps days, of their dominant era much better than the other. The Spurs remain mighty, among the Western Conference and NBA’s best while the Lakers are in the midst of one of the biggest meltdowns we’ve seen of a proposed championship team.

The two teams we’ll see on the floor tonight in San Antonio (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. The Spurs are going about their business as always, oblivious to the outside world that loves to ignore them this time of year, all while plotting another deep playoff run in the twilight of the Duncan-Manu Ginobili-Tony Parker-Gregg Popovich era.

Bryant and his crew, two-time MVP Steve Nash and injured bigs Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, are limping through the meat of their season and staring at the very real possibility that this superstar experiment could end up with a burned down laboratory and a trip to the lottery. That’s a fate no one expected when the Lakers’ front office put this group together.

Yet that potential outcome has to be acknowledged at this stage of the season by the most experienced members of the Lakers’ contingent, as Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com details here:

The 38-year-old Nash also admitted he has seriously considered the possibility that the Lakers, despite all their preseason hype and championship aspirations, might not even make the playoffs this season.

“That motivates me every day,” Nash said. “There’s no guarantee [that the Lakers make the playoffs]. I think three or four weeks ago, people would have said, ‘Ah, it will get better.’ Now I definitely don’t think there’s a guarantee it will, so the only remedy is continue to work hard and give yourself a chance for it to get better.

“I obviously think with time, and that might mean through the summer, we can get better. But for this season, it’s definitely going to be a challenge to turn this around. … We got a number of things we got to try to improve on to get better, but one thing that we can’t accept is to take our foot off the gas and accept things. We got to continue to fight.”

Kobe Bryant, who entered the NBA in the same 1996 draft class as Nash, can commiserate.

“We were walking around at shootaround, and we just kind of looked at each other, and I said to him, ‘We thought it was going to be easier this year for once,'” Bryant said with a laugh.

Bryant refused to succumb to the circumstances, however.

“[Nash] is a little more reasonable than I am,” Bryant said. “That’s how we kind of bounce off of each other. I’m as stubborn as a mule. I’m going to keep driving this thing forward and so is he, but he tends to have more perspective than I do.”

It’s fair to say that Kobe’s stubborn streak might have cost the Lakers several more titles than the five they’ve accumulated during his time with the franchise. Had the Lakers kept their hoops trinity of Shaquille O’Neal, Bryant and Phil Jackson together as long as the Spurs have maintained their championship nucleus, there wouldn’t be an argument as to whose era it was.

The Spurs stuck to their beliefs — that you keep the core intact, exchange the periphery pieces when needed and always keep an eye out for young and emerging talent. The Lakers, meanwhile, have never been afraid to gamble big on the quick fix, cashing in at times (with the acquisition of Gasol, which led to back-to-back titles) and eating it at others (like now).

History will document both sides, their moves and each and every respective success and failure.

But right here, right now the verdict seems simple.

Kobe: ‘Big-Boy Pants’ For Pau!


HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –
Pau Gasol keeps finding himself on the end of the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench at crunch time, a strange place for one of the world’s best post players. But that’s exactly where Gasol was with the game on the line Sunday at Staples Center, for the second time in just five games.

And if you thought things couldn’t get any worse, now Kobe Bryant is dishing out his own brand of public advice/motivational talking points to … help inspire Gasol to keep himself on the floor?

The Lakers’ dysfunction has run deep this season, but perhaps never more than it did Sunday night after a despicable 113-103 home loss to the Orlando Magic, Dwight Howard‘s former team, when Bryant told reporters:

“Put your big-boy pants on,” Bryant said. “Just adjust. Just adjust. You can’t whine about it. You can’t complain about it.”

You don’t have to read between any lines to figure out that Kobe is calling Gasol out in the best/worst way (depending on your perspective). Demanding that Gasol man up and take responsibility for his own game and his own transition from Phil Jackson‘s system to Mike Brown‘s system and now, Mike D’Antoni‘s system, is exactly what you’d expect from a team leader.

This isn’t the first time someone has felt the need to light a fire under Gasol. Jackson had to do the same on several occasions when he coached the Spaniard, famously poking him in the chest during Game 3 of that playoff series they lost to the Dallas Mavericks in 2011 in an effort to challenge Gasol’s toughness in a critical situation.

The specifics of this latest late-game benching, provided by Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, highlight a disturbing trend where Gasol is concerned:

Gasol was subbed out with 6:07 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up 84-83. Orlando outscored L.A. 30-19 the rest of the way. Gasol ended his night with 11 points of 4-for-11 shooting, seven rebounds, two assists and a block in 29 minutes.

“I don’t get irritated,” Gasol said of the benching. “I like to be out there. It’s upsetting for me as a player but I won’t allow it to irritate me.”

It was the second time the benching occurred with Gasol’s family in the building. The first time came against Marc Gasol and the Memphis Grizzlies and Gasol’s father and younger brother, Adria, were at Staples Center for the game Sunday.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni downplayed the difficulty of getting Gasol back on track.

“Just talk to him,” D’Antoni said. “There’s no magic words out there. He’s going to have to play. He still had 11 and seven and he’s playing, but we just have to be a more dynamic team. We’re slow right now. It’s just athletically, we’re struggling.”

D’Antoni added that he didn’t want to “lose Pau,” but Bryant assured that would not be a problem.

“We’re not going to lose him,” Bryant said. “That’s just not going to happen. I’ve been around him long enough. I know how to deal with him.”

The Lakers need to worry about losing games right now, too. They’re 8-9 after dropping this game to the Magic, a 6-10 team that had won just three times in its last 13 outings prior to Sunday.

Every time it seems the Lakers are getting on track, like they appeared to do in Friday’s win over Denver, they follow it up with a nasty fall like we saw against the Magic. This uneven approach under D’Antoni is not what anyone expected and certainly not what Bryant said we should expect after the coaching change.

And yet here they are, still struggling with their own identity while serving as the punchline for jokes league-wide because they can’t find a way to manufacture wins with one of the best rosters on paper.

If they keep this up through Christmas, calling for “big-boy pants” for Gasol will only be a small part of the barking Bryant is doing as the Lakers head into 2013.