Posts Tagged ‘Jim Buss’

Kobe criticism can’t all fall on Jim Buss

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Shaq weighs in on Kobe’s frustration with the Lakers organization

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Phil Jackson is gone. Mike D’Antoni remains, for now. Two parties at the top of the Lakers pyramid aren’t going anywhere: Jim Buss and Kobe Bryant.

The latter, reduced to six games this season due to injury but signed to a two-year extension for $48.5 million, last week turned up the heat on the former to put the broken Lakers back together. This summer.

As Kobe should know after signing his over-market deal, it’s easier said than done. Yet during his press conference to officially announce that his slowly healing knee will prevent him from playing again this season, Bryant dug into the late, great owner Jerry Buss‘ son-in-charge Jim – and to an extent Jeanie, Jim’s sister and Phil’s girlfriend — to set a distinct course for the future on everything from team culture to the team’s coach.

“You got to start with Jim,” Bryant said. “You got to start with Jim and Jeanie and how that relationship plays out. It starts there and having a clear direction and clear authority. And then it goes down to the coaching staff and what Mike is going to do, what they’re going to do with Mike, and it goes from there. It’s got to start at the top.”

Of course no one, not Kobe, was fanning distress signals at the start of the 2012-13 season when the conversation was whether the Lakers would win 70. They had pulled off a deal for Dwight Howard (no complaints at the time in Lakerland), a move the club had planned to come after trading for Chris Paul following the 2011 lockout, but everybody knows that story.

Then-commissioner David Stern, acting as decision-maker for the then-New Orleans Hornets because the league owned the team at the time, vetoed the trade that would have joined Paul with Kobe. A week later Stern stamped Paul’s ticket to the Clippers, leaving Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak fuming. The next summer, as consolation, the Lakers made the swap with Phoenix for Steve Nash, again prompting praise void of complaint.

Only nobody could foretell the freak leg fracture Nash would suffer in his second game in purple-and-gold, an injury that spawned relentless nerve damage and could well end his career next month.

Mike Brown was fired five games into the season. The hiring of D’Antoni over Jackson was, yes, mishandled, messy and ill-advised, deserving of criticism. The maniacal Kobe despised the happy-go-lucky Dwight. Dwight pouted over D’Antoni’s no-post offense. Then Kobe blew out his Achilles in the final days of the regular season. Conveniently lost in the clutter was the 28-12 finish to the season. Before Kobe’s injury and before injury would again force Nash to bow out, experts on TV, including the highly critical Magic Johnson, were calling the Lakers a serious threat to beat the Spurs in the first round.

Only now, as this injury-plagued disaster of a season limps to the end, it seems so long ago.

Now, as Jackson takes the controls of the Knicks to Kobe’s dismay, the Lakers’ future, as murky as it is, will have to unfold one step at a time, regardless of how quickly Kobe wants a contending team to magically appear around him.

Jim Buss might not be his father, but it’s also not the same NBA. The collective bargaining agreement doesn’t make a quick rebuild easy even for big-market, high-revenue teams. Kobe’s high-priced extension eats into this summer’s cap space, making it next to impossible to re-sign Pau Gasol along with a max-level free agent despite Kobe’s constant lobbying to the front office keep Pau on board.

In fact, Jim Buss believed he had already secured contending seasons for Kobe’s final years by securing the franchise’s next superstar in Howard.

Kobe had no tolerance for Howard’s playfulness nor did he hold an interest in convincing him to stay. And now Kobe is short on teammates, patience and time. He says he’s not interested in a drawn-out rebuild, even as few other choices are plentiful.

His turning up the heat on Jim Buss can’t come without also looking in the mirror. The Lakers will have cap space to work with this summer and next, and a high draft pick this June. That’s Jim Buss’ new starting point.

“It’s my job to go out there on the court and perform. No excuses for it, right?” Kobe said. “You got to get things done. It’s the same thing with the front office. The same expectations they have of me when I perform on the court is the same expectations I have for them up there. You got to be able to figure out a way to do both.”

Unfortunately for Kobe and the Lakers, it’s easier said than done.

PJax to the Knicks looks inevitable …




VIDEO: The Game Time crew talks Phil Jackson to the Knicks

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – All that’s left now is for Phil Jackson to send out the public smoke signal that he’s back, after all of these years, in the fold in New York.

Jackson and the Knicks, according to multiple sources, are working through the sticky points of a deal that would bring him back to the league in a front-office capacity, and not as coach of the Knicks (a job, mind you, that is currently occupied by Mike Woodson).

The latest report says that Jackson and the Knicks are expected to come to an agreement by week’s end, as ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard reports Tuesday morning.

Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks are expected to finalize a deal that will give the legendary coach control of the club’s front office by the end of this week, according to a league source.

“Everything is pretty much done,” the source said. “There are just some little things here and there that need to be worked out, but the Knicks are very confident that this is essentially done.”

An official announcement may not come until next week, the source said.

Make no mistake, though: it’ll take all of the legendary coach’s Zen powers to help fix what ails the Knicks. In short, they are a mess right now. A lame-duck coach. A superstar (Carmelo Anthony) basically being forced to consider his free-agent options elsewhere this summer. And a roster bogged down with so many bad assets that legendary front office maven Donnie Walsh (the man who once tried fixing this mess) couldn’t fix it all.

Most of us have no idea how Jackson will fare in a job he’s never actually done before. But when you’ve accumulated the sort of championship hardware he has over the years — he played on the Knicks’ 1970 and ’73 title teams and won 11 more titles as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers) — the benefit of the doubt is included in the compensation package.


VIDEO: NBA TV looks back on Phil Jackson’s legendary career

If anyone alive who has had a hand in the NBA game can clean up the mess that is the Knicks, it has to be Jackson. Be it good fortune or shrewd calculation, or a healthy dose of both and plenty of blind luck, Jackson always seems to find himself in the middle of championship-level success. Why wouldn’t the Knicks want to find themselves affiliated with the same things?

Jackson was supposed to be the savior in Los Angeles, where Kobe Bryant and the Lakers could use some divine intervention these days. But Jim Buss had other plans, ones that didn’t include retaining the services of his sister Jeanie‘s boyfriend in any capacity. (Ask the Lakers how that worked out.)

Now he’ll get the chance to see if his magic works from a different angle, as the man pulling the strings from on high as opposed to doing it with direct contact with the players. I defy anyone to challenge Jackson’s coaching credentials.

For all the grief he gets for having won with the likes of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen in Chicago and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in L.A., among others, it should be noted that the only member of those Hall of Famers he coached that has won a title without him is Shaq. And remember, Shaq did so alongside Dwyane Wade and perhaps the only other coach (not named Gregg Popovich) of his generation to approach Jackson’s level, Heat boss and former coach of the Showtime Lakers, Pat Riley.

Jackson doesn’t have to sully his reputation by trying to salvage a Knicks team that is clearly beyond repair. But he could send his mythical aura into a new stratosphere if he were somehow able to clear the debris from the wreckage that is these Knicks and bring a championship flair back to Madison Square Garden.

That’s why Knicks owner James Dolan had no choice but to seek out the services of the one man whose name is synonymous with success, the one man whose mere mention sends fans into flights of fancy about championship parades … even when their haven’t been any such plans in the works for decades.

Anyone worried about this not working out for the Knicks in the long run clearly hasn’t paid attention to the tire fire that goes on in Manhattan on the regular. Everyone can worry about the minutiae later. Right now, it’s simply about convincing Jackson to share some of that good vibrations that have followed him throughout his career. If it ends horribly, as predicted here (and almost everything and everyone Dolan and the Knicks come in contact does), so what?

Jackson will still walk away unscathed. He’ll keep his spot on the Mount Rushmore of coaches in the history of organized sports and will still be a living legend in every corner of the basketball world.

Change isn’t always a good thing. But in this instance, it’s the only thing that can save the Knicks.

And the agent of that change, barring any last-minute surprises, appears to be none other than Phil Jackson, whose basketball life and career could come full circle with his reviving the franchise he helped win two titles a lifetime ago.

Driving Oscar To The Hoop


VIDEO: The Starters pick movie roles for some of the NBA’s biggest stars

It was just last week when LeBron James had to disappoint fans in the basketball and cartoon worlds by shooting down rumors that he was getting ready to star in “Space Jam 2″.

Oh, what heartbreak not to have LeBron and SpongeBob SquarePants go toon-on-toon against Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny to settle the G.O.A.T. debate once and th-th-th-at’s all, folks!

But with the Oscars ready to tip off Sunday night, it occurs to us that there were plenty of movies released in the past year that could use a slam dunking NBA touch:

Monuments Men — Who needs a fourth stone head to construct a Mt. Rushmore in Miami when more than enough in their own granite-hard trio to chase a third consecutive NBA title? Everybody from Indiana to OKC and points all around are trying to steal away with the priceless Larry O’Brien Trophy, but LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are counting not one, not two, not …


VIDEO: LeBron James makes his famous ‘Mt. Rushmore’ comments to Steve Smith

Frozen — After winning the MVP award in 2011, Derrick Rose has the next two seasons of a budding superstar career put on ice with major injuries to both knees. A hopeful city of Chicago that was ready to usher in the post-Jordan championship era has turned cold.

American Hustle — When Rose went down on Nov. 22 and was once again lost for the season, everyone expected his teammates to roll over. They even traded away a big offensive gun in Luol Deng, but producer Tom Thibodeau has done a combover and is pulling off the greatest con since ABSCAM with the Bulls sitting at No. 4 in the East with home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference.

The Lego Movie — First-year general manager Sam Hinkie arrives on the job in Philly and promptly locks himself in his room, where he spends all hours of the day and night trying to fit together dozens of little pieces into something that will one day look like a competitive basketball team. Or a rocketship.

Almost Human — He’s almost tall enough to bump his head on the backboard, but has 3- or even 4-point range from practically anyplace on the court. Not since the menacing Gort touched down in “The Day The Earth Stood Still” has anyone appeared as unstoppable as box-office smash Kevin Durant.


VIDEO: Kevin Durant has simply been on fire in February

Vampire Academy — The front office in Brooklyn hatches a plan for world domination by forming an army around the walking undead creatures of 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry and 37-year-old Kevin Garnett. But rather than biting opponents on the neck, they were mostly toothless, ineffective and scared nobody.

Paranormal Activity — It was one to thing leap over a Kia at All-Star weekend and turn every game into a slam dunking highlight reel. But Blake Griffin eventually tired of being typecast and under new director Doc Rivers has worked on his shot, expanded his repertoire and now does unearthly, inexplicable things that nobody thought possible just a couple of years ago.

Dallas Buyers Club — For all the money, all the bombast and all the talk about positioning the Mavericks to be big players in the free-agent market and getting Dirk Nowitzki a superstar playmate after dismantling his 2011 championship, Mavs owner Mark Cuban struck out on Chris Paul and Dwight Howard. Right now, he’s where he used to be: stuck in the sale aisle at Sam’s Club.

Gravity — He’s 35 years old, has played 17 full NBA seasons, has more miles on his odometer than a hand-me-down pickup truck and is trying to come back from a torn Achilles tendon and a fractured knee. Yet, 16-time All-Star Kobe Bryant simply won’t acknowledge what Isaac Newton learned sitting under the apple tree — what goes up, must come down.


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks during the All-Star Game about being a spectator this season

Philomena — When the losingest, ugliest, most painful season in modern team history finally and mercifully limps to the end, executive VP of player personnel Jim Buss fires Mike D’Antoni and at a star-studded Hollywood news conference. Buss then introduces a 68-year-old Irish widow with a vaguely reminiscent limp, wearing a gray wig and with a familiar twinkle in “her” eye and says Phil-omena is back to put everything right with the Lakers.

I, Frankenstein — Team president Larry Bird wasn’t happy enough with having the best record and the most fearsome, downright scary defense in the league that was sewn together with Paul George, Roy Hibbert, David West and Lance Stephenson. He performs more surgery in his lab by adding Evan Turner to bolster his Pacers bench and now thinks he’s ready to take down that other monster: the Miami Heat.

The Nut Job — Everybody in the world thought Dwight Howard was out of his mind for the way he slow-walked his ugly departure from Orlando and then bolted out the door of the royal Lakers, leaving $30 million on the table. But who’s crazy now as Howard rides tandem with James Harden and has the Rockets looking like one tough nut to crack in the playoffs?

Despicable Me — As if he hadn’t done enough already to polish his reputation as someone who cannot be trusted as the cornerstone of a franchise and leader to take the Kings back to the playoffs, DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t even bother to get one of his minions to slug Patrick Beverley in the stomach and just does it himself, earning a fine and one-game suspension.

Endless Love — Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager team up for a buddy movie where they criss-cross the country in an old VW bus, stopping at thrift shops to buy old horse blankets and bedsheets while exchanging long hopeful questions and grumpy one-word answers.


VIDEO: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has some good-natured fun with Craig Sager

The Wolf Of Wall Street — He bats his eyes at the Lakers. He flirts with the Bulls. He head fakes in the direction of any other would-be suitor that will glance his direction and then, Carmelo Anthony decides he’s got the world on a string living the high life … and hungrily signs on for a repeat performance of his lone wolf act. Then, the reviewers in the New York media give him a standing ovation and immediately declare the Knicks contenders.

Pompeii — After Isiah Thomas and Jerome James and Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton and Andrea Bargnani, a massive volcanic eruption like the one that came from Vesuvius in 79 A.D. hits Madison Square Garden. The past is finally buried under a blanket of lava, giving away at last to a new beginning.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 139) Featuring Dr. Derek Ochiai And Trail Blazers’ Radio Voice Brian Wheeler

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — One superstar (Derrick Rose) is lost for yet another season while another (Kobe Bryant) is eyeing his return, after signing a robust contract extension that has set off a mini-controversy about how these things should be done.

Even in the midst of the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trail Blazers putting on an absolute show during their respective win streaks, it’s hard to ignore the bigger issues facing both the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers on Thanksgiving Eve (yeah, we know it’s not an actual day but we make our own rules around here).

That’s why we didn’t on Episode 139 of The Hang Time Podcast, where we delve into the Rose drama with leading sports medicine doctor and surgeon Dr. Derek Ochiai and Brian Wheeler, the radio voice of the Portland Trail Blazers. We took care of the Kobe debate, of course, with a spirited conversation about the merits of paying an aging superstar like he’s in the prime of his Hall of Fame career.

We also delve into the long road ahead for Rose with Dr. Ochiai, the Arlington, Va, – based specialist whose insights into exactly what a torn medial meniscus injury means for an elite athlete like Rose as opposed to someone who is not of that ilk, you have to hear. And few people have a better perspective on the Trail Blazers and the rise of LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and the crew than Wheeler, who chronicles their every move on the air night after night.

You get all of that, plus Sounds of the Game, our this week’s installment of Braggin’ Rights (the champ is back on top this week) and Rick Fox‘s twisted Turkey Dynasty Call on Episode 139 of The Hang Time Podcast featuring Dr. Derek Ochiai and Trail Blazers’ radio voice Brian Wheeler:

LISTEN HERE:


As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best engineer in the business,  Jarell “I Heart Peyton Manning” Wall.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


Kobe: Injury, Rehab ‘Relit Fire in Me’




VIDEO: Kobe talks extension about the process that led to his extension

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For a player whose Hall of Fame career has been defined by personal defiance, it shouldn’t shock any of us to hear Kobe Bryant talk about what motivates him now.

That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the Los Angeles Lakers’ star at his most defiant, in the wake of the backlash from him signing a two-year, $48.5 million extension Tuesday. That signing that brought out all sorts of non-believers and folks who don’t think he can come back completely from the Achilles tendon surgery cut short his 2012-13 season.

Defiant Kobe is far more entertaining than any other incarnation of the man who has been, in my opinion, the most polarizing NBA superstar of his generation and one of the most polarizing superstars ever.

It’s music to my ears to hear Kobe laugh off his haters and remind us all that no matter how bleak the outlook, he has the utmost confidence in himself and his ability. Even at this late stage of his career, he refuses to conform to conventional wisdom, the first step in trying to do the unthinkable and become exactly what he set out be many years ago: one of the NBA’s all-time greats.

So when he explains, to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, what keeps him going now, nearly two decades in and coming off of perhaps the most challenging obstacle in a career filled with them, it’s hard to be anything but intrigued by what makes the man tick:

“The Achilles, the rehab, it relit a fire in me, that’s for sure,” Bryant told Yahoo Sports. “I had been going so long, so long, putting in work – 17 years – and never taking a break, never taking time off. That’s a long time to push your body, especially the way I pushed mine.

“Every time I had to find that drive, I would eventually find it … somewhere. But it took a toll. Every summer, I’d finally find that push that would get me there. But it was getting harder to do.”

This is less about Kobe adoration — his legion of fans already have well under control — and more about the appreciation I have for a guy who continually finds new ways to motivate himself.

With all of his career accolades, Bryant could have easily walked away one title short of catching Michael Jordan. He could have said enough is enough, that his body had endured more than enough punishment. He’s already among the top four scorers in the history of the game. He has the titles and the individual and team achievements that would make some of the league’s greats jealous.

But that’s not enough for Kobe. It just doesn’t quite do it for him, which speaks to a level of competitiveness and (and, some might argue, borderline-crazy) focus that elevates him into a realm that only a few players with the talent, desire, work ethic and good fortune have ever possessed.

The Lakers — from Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss to GM Mitch Kupchak to the millions of fans in and around the Southland and around the world — recognize that laser focus. They’ve witnessed it for years. They understand that the $48.5 million Kobe will earn in his extension is a relatively reasonable price tag for qualities that are priceless in most any other walk of life.

Kobe is a revenue-generator the likes of which few franchises, cities and their fan bases have ever experienced. (Lakers fans from the Showtime era, Boston Celtics fans from the Larry Bird era and Bulls fans from the Jordan era certainly know what I’m talking about.)

He toils in an environment where the folks who pay extremely large sums to watch him are the only people who can truly comprehend what it’s like to entertain the way he’s asked to. While the other non-NBA Hollywood types might be lucky to star in one or two movies a year or on a TV show that runs 10-12 episodes a season, Kobe is expected to be a star 82 nights a year.

Ultimately, it’s not about the adoring public, the haters or what either of those groups think. It’s not my money or yours. The Lakers are the ones on the hook for paying Bryant, whether he comes back as a shell of the player he was or as the “Black Mamba” we all know. They’re the ones who have to, as Rasheed Wallace infamously said, “cut the check.”

And as Woj pointed out, they didn’t flinch (publicly, at least):

The Los Angeles Lakers still believe in Kobe Bryant, and this means the world to him. Of course, the money matters, and it always will to him. He hadn’t come to Washington, D.C., to make a concession speech, only to thank the Busses for the leap of faith and declare himself closer to his return. Between a news conference and the next steps in his rehab on Tuesday night, Kobe Bryant was still raging over the response to his contract extension. This wasn’t a noble gesture to awaken his peers, but simply a visceral reaction to the way the NBA has slowly, surely eroded the superstar’s standing in the sport – and the way the players have allowed it to happen.

“Bull—-,” Kobe Bryant finally again said on his way back to the locker room. “Pure bull—-.”

Defiant Kobe at his best!

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.”

Buss, Lakers Need To Let Dwight Go



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Sooner or later, the Los Angeles Lakers will move on from the pain and suffering associated with the brief Dwight Howard era — later being the operative word here. Because once again, the drama is being stirred by someone in the Lakers’ camp in regards to Howard and just how authentic a Laker he was in his one season in L.A.

Lakers executive vice president Jim Buss fires the latest verbal shot at Howard in an article in The Hollywood Reporter by Ric Bucher that examines the fabled franchise and their current state of affairs in the post-Dr. Jerry Buss era. Times have certainly changed:

Jim insists he’s just following his father’s blueprint, but the Howard situation suggests he missed a page. Instead of Jim spending time with Howard, the team launched a widely derided media campaign that implored “Stay” on billboards. After Howard bolted, Jim turned on his former star, saying he wasn’t surprised or dismayed. “He was never really a Laker,” says Jim. “He was just passing through.”

Those close to Howard say the Lakers could have persuaded him to stay. Even Jeanie believes that if her father had not been sick, he would have sealed the deal like so many before it. “It’s disappointing that Dwight isn’t here,” she says. “I feel like we failed him.”

Clearly, Jim, Jeanie Buss, Kobe Bryant, Magic JohnsonPhil Jackson and anyone else who has ever been associated with the franchise is being asked about Howard incessantly. A simple no comment is in order now. The continued examination and assault on Howard’s character has bordered on ridiculous for weeks now.

Bottom line: the Lakers aren’t doing themselves any favors by answering every question about Howard. He’s moved on to whatever the future holds in Houston. The Lakers need to move on as well. They need to let him go, set themselves free from this drama and concentrate all of their effort on the very real rebuilding campaign that needs to be begin with training camp.

And for the record, they knew that there was a very real possibility that Dwight was “just passing through” when they acquired him via that blockbuster trade last summer. There was always that inherent risk with a player with Howard’s track record. Their miscalculations, their choices (Mike D’Antoni over Jackson to replace coach Mike Brown) are what made the situation untenable for Howard when free agency hit. So blaming him in hindsight for not falling for the disingenuous “stick around, we love you” campaign is weak.

This talk now is just as beneath the Lakers as the whole billboard campaign was when they were trying to convince Howard to stay.

To her credit, Jeanie Buss takes a much more measured approach to this whole thing and it is her words, her tact and, ultimately, her voice that should rule the day inside the franchise on Howard. I’m sure her sensibilities were offended when Howard spurned the Lakers for the Rockets. But you can tell by her response. She insists that the Lakers somehow didn’t handle their business the way should have, the way they would have if her father was spearheading the recruiting charge.

She’s right. Things likely would have been different.

But the Lakers cannot dwell on what might have been anymore. They have to move on and get back to the grind, the same way Howard has in Houston with Hakeem Olajuwon and Kevin McHale.

The Lakers need to let Dwight go once and for all.

Front Office Phil (Jackson) Headed North?



HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – You need a passport for this week’s stop on the Phil Jackson rumor train.

Cleveland is history, Mike Brown‘s the new (old) coach there. The Seattle situation, complete with Chris Hansen and his affinity for Jackson, took a serious hit Monday when Sacramento prevailed in its bid to keep the Kings in California. The Los Angeles Lakers’ situation is still in flux as no one knows what is going to happen with Dwight Howard (free agency looms), Kobe Bryant (rehabilitation from Achilles surgery is underway) and coach Mike D’Antoni (good for next season as coach), but they will all certainly be in the crosshairs this summer.

So the attention to Jackson has shifted north, to Toronto, where reports have the Raptors exploring the possibilities of trying to woo Jackson to be a part of their front office structure. Since he’s made it clear that he has no interest in returning to the league as a coach, the ideal situation for the Zen Master is to return as Front Office Phil.

Jackson’s relationship with new Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment boss, Tim Leiweke, presents the Raptors with an opportunity to pursue Jackson in ways that didn’t seem possible before, as Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com detail here:

One source said that Leiweke’s “vision and energy” and history of shared success at Staples Center with the 11-time championship coach ensures that Jackson will give the pitch strong consideration despite skepticism around the league about his willingness to relocate to Canada.

Amid its pursuit of Jackson in the wake of Leiweke’s arrival, Raptors president Bryan Colangelo is scheduled to meet with the MLSE board next week in hopes of convincing his bosses to pick up the option year on his contract. The 2013-14 option in coach Dwane Casey‘s contract was picked up by Colangelo before this season, but Leiweke’s arrival has thrown both of their futures into some immediate doubt.

In an interview last week with the San Francisco Chronicle, Jackson said “three or four teams” have already expressed interest and that “none of it involves coaching.”

“There are some interesting situations that are presenting themselves, but I really haven’t made up my mind yet what I’m going to do,” Jackson told the Chronicle.

Jackson also confirmed to the newspaper he’s interested in a developing team “where you’d have the influence in [selecting the] coaching staff and the kind of culture that goes along with it.”

It makes sense, until you remember that Jackson’s ties to the Lakers remain extremely strong. And until the Lakers make some concrete decisions about their future, there always be those who hold out hope that Jackson (alongside his fiancée Jeanie Buss) will return to the Lakers and help fix all that’s gone wrong since he departed two years ago.

That reconciliation seems impossible as long as Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak remain at the controls for the Lakers. Quite frankly, they have more pressing matters to tend to, namely what Howard will do in free agency. Having him in the fold with Pau Gasol makes the Lakers’ recovery from their ragged 2012-13 season one of the most crucial stretches in recent franchise history, considering they’ll have to do it without a healthy Bryant to shoulder the bulk of the responsibility.

There remains another potential option in Jackson’s preferred Southern California, one that Lakers faithful fear above all others, and that’s Jackson working down the hall at the Staples Center in the Los Angeles Clippers’ locker room. What better way for the Clippers to cement their takeover as the city’s top basketball outfit than to lure Jackson over to their side in his return to the NBA?

A team with a nucleus of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan with Jackson working behind the scenes (or as coach/executive, if things don’t go Vinny Del Negro‘s way during this postseason) has all sorts of possibilities. Same goes for the Brooklyn Nets, who could have a coaching vacancy this summer, barring a surprise championship run during these playoffs.

So much of this is speculation at this point, with everyone believing that they have the perfect situation for Jackson to walk into and craft to his liking, it’s hard to know what’s a legitimate possibility and what’s just hot air.

But as long as Jackson is reportedly interested in making a comeback, in whatever capacity, there will be suitors lined up to pitch him and plenty of fans anxious to see if he bites.

D’Antoni Must Step Into The Void … Now!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – As much as the rest of this season for the Los Angeles Lakers is about Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, Steve Nash and Metta World Peace, the responsibility for how the Lakers finish sits squarely on the shoulders of one Mike D’Antoni.

The Lakers’ coach lost the cloak of Kobe Bryant, who is recovering from Saturday surgery to repair his torn Achilles and will be out for at least the next six months. D’Antoni no longer has the option of allowing Bryant to answer for the Lakers basketball sins this season. He can’t ease into the background as Bryant explains away one of the great botched chemistry experiments in pro sports history.

All of that internal security from doubters, both near and far, evaporated with just over three minutes to play Friday night at Staples Center, when Bryant’s season came to an abrupt end.

This season’s defining moment will come without Bryant in uniform, it could come as early as tonight’s showdown with the San Antonio Spurs (9:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV), with D’Antoni clearly at the controls of a team he had no says so in building after taking over for Mike Brown in November.

The style disconnect that has existed all season can no longer be used as an excuse, not with both Howard and Gasol playing their old selves in recent weeks. Nash is a non-factor and has been for much of the season, due to injuries, and World Peace is going to bring the same frenetic energy he always does, regardless of who is and is not in uniform.

D’Atnoni is now the wild card. Can he cajole this team into the playoffs, making good on Bryant’s guarantee, and ensure that they make the noise Bryant swore they would once they got in? D’Antoni’s future with the Lakers depends on it. D’Antoni has a chance to reintroduce himself to this team in ways that he simply could not when Bryant was at the center of all things.

Unlike some, I don’t blame D’Antoni for pushing Bryant too hard, playing him a merciless amount of minutes as the Lakers clawed their way back into playoff contention after the All-Star break. There’s enough of Southland bashing of D’Antoni, Lakers’ owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak to fill every minutes of every day until Bryant returns, and you know he’s coming back from this.

Bryant was in the midst of a seven-game stretch where he was averaging 46 physically taxing minutes a night trying to rescue a team that plenty of us feel has been mismanaged since Bernie Bickerstaff‘s brief tenure at the helm, he bridged the gap between Brown and D’Antoni. Even a freak injury like the one Bryant suffered looks a bit curious to those of us who don’t buy into the conspiracy theories.

I blame D’Antoni for dropping the ball and not being able to reign in Bryant’s wicked competitive streak at a time when it was clear the seemingly ageless wonder was laboring. I blame him for being too stubborn to adjust his own philosophy to fit the talent on the roster he inherited. Game after game Bryant was forced to carry the Lakers in ways that were really unnecessary, given the fact that remain the only team in the league with two elite 7-footers at their disposal.

Lucky for D’Antoni, he has a chance to make it all right. If can guide the Lakers past the Spurs tonight, he could set up a weekend date with Gregg Popovich, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and the Spurs. Or maybe it’s Scott Brooks, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

There is room for redemption if D’Antoni can claw his way out of this weekend’s and this season’s mess. But it has to include the Lakers finishing this playoff fight with the Utah Jazz right and following it with a playoff run as spirited as anything Bryant did during his one-man rescue of the Lakers before Friday night.

We can all agree that D’Antoni is an offensive genius and visionary in a league filled with followers. But if he can’t engineer the Lakers’ rise from this latest fall, if he can’t go back to the drawing board and pull out the motivational tactics to inspire this team, then he might very well be devoured by the Lakers’ season on the brink.

But if he wants out of Phil Jackson‘s shadow and wants to write his own chapter in Lakers’ lore, he has to step into the void now and run with it for as long as humanly possible.

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…)