Posts Tagged ‘Jordan Hill’

2014 Trade Deadline Wrapup


VIDEO: Trade Deadline: Pacers and Sixers Trade

The Indiana Pacers provided a little excitement at the end of what was an underwhelming deadline day. There was a flurry of action on Thursday, but none of it all that meaningful. But then, after the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline had passed, news broke that Indiana had acquired Evan Turner and Lavoy Allen for Danny Granger and a second round pick.

Now, Turner’s per-game numbers are somewhat inflated by the Sixers’ pace. They lead the league at 102.5 possessions per 48 minutes. He’s generally been a disappointment as a former No. 2 pick in the Draft. And though his efficiency has increased *this season, he still ranks 161st of 196 players who have attempted at least 300 field goals with a true shooting percentage of just 50.4 percent. His free throw rate has gone up, but is still below the league average, and he has shot 29 percent from 3-point range.

* Over the summer, we pointed out Turner’s ridiculous mid-range-to-3-point attempt ratio of 3.1 last season. It’s down to 2.3 this year. Still pretty bad (James Harden‘s is 0.5), but not quite as mind-boggling.

As much as Granger has struggled in his return from almost a full season off, he’s shot better (49.5 percent effective FG%) than Turner (47.1 percent) on catch-and-shoot opportunities.

But Turner can’t hurt the Pacers’ bench offense, which has struggled again this season. While Indiana’s starting lineup has scored a solid 106.4 points per 100 possessions, all other Pacer lineups have scored just 99.5. And with C.J. Watson (better suited to play off the ball) as their back-up point guard, they could certainly use another guy who can create off the dribble.

A few other contenders and next-level squads made moves at the deadline, but they were relatively minor. The Warriors added bench help, the Spurs added depth at the wing, the Rockets added some athleticism, the Clippers shed salary, and the Heat created an open roster spot. Nobody made a move that will move the needle all that much. Omer Asik, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Rajon Rondo are still where they were 48 hours ago.

And that’s good news for Miami, Indiana, San Antonio and Oklahoma City, who remain the clear big four in the NBA hierarchy.

– John Schuhmann

Below is a live blog of how things went down on deadline day.

Highlights: Pacers swap Granger for Turner | Spurs get a wing | Clippers shed salary | Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade | Andre Miller to Washington | Bucks, Bobcats make deal | Kings sticking with McLemore | Heat unload Mason | Hawes to Cleveland

Brooks approves move to Denver, 3:55 p.m.

Aaron Brooks had the ability to veto his trade to Denver, but he’s agreed to the deal.

Pacers swap Granger for Turner, 3:33 p.m.

Spurs get a wing, 3:09 p.m.

Clippers shed salary, 3:00 p.m.

Will Brooks approve trade?, 2:30 p.m.

From our Fran Blinebury

Aaron Brooks would have to approve any trade and said yesterday that he wouldn’t. He wanted badly to stay in Houston.

The Rockets have reportedly agreed to send Brooks to Denver for Jordan Hamilton, but because Brooks signed a one-year contract and his early Bird rights would disappear upon being traded, he can veto the deal.

Clippers anxious to deal, 2:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

The Clippers continue to be very proactive in hopes of closing a deal before noon in Los Angeles, with Reggie Bullock turning into a name of the moment around the league.

This is no surprise. For one thing, Bullock is one of the few available Clippers trade chips. For another, Bullock has a real future for a No. 25 pick, a rookie averaging just 8.5 minutes a game because he is a young wing on a team in win-now mode but a 6-7 guard-forward who improved his shooting every year at North Carolina and can defend. He is not an All-Star in waiting, but he is a legit prospect who can bring something in return when L.A. is not expecting to add a starter.

The quest is to bolster the rotation for the playoff push. The Clips are anxious to make a move. If they leave today empty, the next step will be to hope a player of value is bought out and can be signed as a free agent. That is one reason the basketball operations headed by Doc Rivers has kept the roster at 14.

Nuggets and Rockets make minor trade, 1:40 p.m.

Jack should have his bags ready, 1:10 p.m.

More from Scott Howard-Cooper

Still a strong sense from teams that Jarrett Jack, while not the big name of Luol Deng or the medium name of 2012 first-rounder Tyler Zeller, is the most likely Cavalier to be on the move today.

Jack has two more full seasons left at $6.3 million per, a big number for someone shooting 39.3 percent and probably a backup wherever he goes. But he has playoff experience, loves the big moment (sometimes wanting it so much that he forces it) and has the additional value of being an available point guard. There is also the versatility that Jack can play shooting guard.

The 39.3 percent? He was at 45 the last two seasons, in New Orleans and Golden State, and 40.4 on threes in 2012-13 with the Warriors. Interested suitors now have the easy explanation to write off the current troubles: He plays for the Cavaliers, so of course there’s going to be problems.

Andre Miller to Washington, 12:40 p.m.

The Washington Wizards’ offense falls off whenever John Wall goes to the bench. They’ve scored 104.5 points per 100 possessions with Wall on the floor and just 92.8 with him off the floor. So they were in the market for a back-up point guard, and they got one…

Bucks, Bobcats make deal, 12:37 p.m.

Kings sticking with McLemore, 12:35 p.m.

From our Scott Howard-Cooper

Kings general manager Pete D’Alessandro, bothered to an extreme by the rumor, took the unusual step of going out of his way to speak to media members to shoot down a rumor, insisting they had not offered rookie Ben McLemore to the Celtics as part of a package for Rajon Rondo. In what has been a rough transition to the NBA, with McLemore shooting 36.5 percent and unable to hold the starting job earlier in the season, management didn’t want him to start wondering about the team’s commitment.

More than McLemore’s availability could have been shot down, though. Not only are the Kings fully invested in McLemore and rightfully see a high ceiling despite the slow start, there is no way a rebuilding organization gives up two first-round picks, their 2013 lottery selection and Isaiah Thomas, the reported offer, for Rondo early in the comeback from knee surgery and with one full season left on his contract. Whether bad rumor or Celtics dream, it was never going to happen.

Miller to Washington?, 12:15 p.m.

Clippers and Cavs talking, 11:50 a.m.

Sessions for Neal swap?, 11:45 a.m.

Heat unload Mason, 11:20 a.m.

Deng is available, 11:15 a.m.

Earl Clark, Henry Sims heading to Philly, 10:45 a.m.

Clark is technically under contract for $4.25 million next season, but that doesn’t become guaranteed until July 7, 2014. Sims’ $915 thousand salary is also non-guaranteed. So the Sixers are basically getting back two expiring contracts. Anderson Varejao‘s health was a reason for the trade…

Zeller on the block, 10:00 a.m.

Hawes to Cleveland, 9:55 a.m.

Cleveland is over the cap and doesn’t have an exception that can absorb Hawes’ $6.6 million salary, so there has to be a player or two heading back to Philadelphia.

Teams after Andre Miller, 9:45 a.m.

Jimmer on the block, 9:35 a.m.

Ainge talks, 9:30 a.m.

The Race For Jordan Hill, 8:50 a.m.

The Los Angeles Lakers have the fourth highest payroll in the league and are 18-36 after getting waxed at home by the Rockets on Wednesday. Dumping Jordan Hill for nothing can lower their luxury tax payments quite a bit, and there are a couple of teams willing to take Hill off their hands. As we wrote yesterday, the Nets are looking to strengthen their bench, and have a disabled player exception that can absorb Hill’s $3.5 million salary.

But so does New Orleans, whose frontline has been decimated by injuries.

The Gary Neal deadline, 7:50 a.m.

Gary Neal makes just $3.25 million and the Bucks don’t want him. Yet somehow, trading him is a complicated process.

UPDATE, 6:09 a.m.

Report: Rockets making push for Rondo: Like many teams in the league right now, the Houston Rockets are interested in acquiring Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. And, like a lot of teams in the league right now, the Rockets are having a hard time coming up with the framework for a trade that is to the Celtics’ liking. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that Houston’s potential unwillingness to give up Chandler Parsons is what may be hanging up a deal.

Report: Kings eyeing Cavs backup guard Jack: A day after sending shooting guard Marcus Thornton to Brooklyn for veterans Reggie Evans and Jason Terry, Sacramento might be looking to make another trade. According to ESPN.com’s Marc Stein, the Kings have expressed interest in working a trade for Cavaliers reserve guard Jarrett Jack.

Thibodeau would be surprised if Bulls make deal: Echoing the words of GM Gar Forman and team president John Paxson a little less than a week ago, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau tells the Chicago Tribune‘s K.C. Johnson he’d be stunned to see the team make a trade today.

Saunders shoots down talk of Love on trading block: A smattering of Kevin Love stories came out yesterday, from a snippet from a new GQ interview in which he talks about having fun playing for the Timberwolves to a tweet from Peter Vescey that made it seem as if the All-Star wants out from Minnesota. But Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders shot down all that talk with one tweet last night, writes Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press.

Report: Lakers’ Young safe from being dealt: ICYMI last night, the Lakers shipped veteran point guard Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors for youngsters Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks. In short, L.A. is continuing in its rebuilding efforts, but according to BasketballInsiders.com, it seems unlikely that the team’s No. 2 scorer, Nick Young, will be dealt today.

Players discuss their trade deadline-day experiences: The folks over at BasketballInsiders.com caught up with a couple of notable players — including Dwight Howard, Kyle Lowry and Chris Kaman — to have them share what it’s like for a player to go through trade deadline day. Nice little read here this a.m.

Nets Keep Looking To Spend, Improve

Brooklyn acquired guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

Brooklyn picked up guard Marcus Thornton from the Kings to increase its offensive production.

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – The first trade of deadline week went down Wednesday afternoon, with the Brooklyn Nets acquiring Marcus Thornton from the Sacramento Kings for Reggie Evans and Jason Terry.

The deal adds about $700,000 in salary and $2.7 million in luxury taxes to Brooklyn’s books this season. Next season, when all three guys are still under contract, it adds about the *same amount.

* More salary, less tax, because, at this point, Brooklyn is only in the third of five tax-payment tiers for ’14-15. Give ‘em time, though.

So, it’s a bit of an investment for Mikhail Prokhorov. But in theory, it should help the Nets continue to move up the Eastern Conference standings.

Brooklyn is 14-6 since Jan. 1, a stretch in which they’ve gone from 10th to seventh in the East. They’re just 2 1/2 games out of a top-four seed and need to keep moving up to avoid playing the Pacers or Heat in the first round and have a decent shot at the conference semifinals.

After all the money they spent last summer, anything less than the second round would be a colossal failure. So hey, they might as well spend a few more million if it can make them better.

And as good as the Nets have played in 2014, they still have plenty of room for improvement. They rank 15th offensively and sixth defensively since Jan. 1. Given all their talent, they should be better at putting the ball in the basket.

That’s where Thornton comes in. Since Jan. 1, the Nets have scored 108.3 points per 100 possessions with Deron Williams on the floor (a rate which would rank fifth in the league in that time) and just 100.6 with him on the bench (a rate which would rank 25th). Though Williams hasn’t been at his best, he’s still the most important offensive player on his team.

Shaun Livingston has been one of the Nets’ bright spots and has worked well with Williams in the starting lineup, but the Nets’ second-unit offense could use a boost. Terry has been a disappointment, Alan Anderson‘s production has dropped off and, as brilliant as Andrei Kirilenko has been, he’s made two shots outside of the paint all season.

The problem is that Thornton has been having the worst shooting season of his career, with an effective field goal percentage of just 45.7 percent. That’s worse than Terry was shooting.

So, the hope for Brooklyn is that Thornton can find his shot again. It was less than a month ago that he tied a career high with 42 points (shooting 7-for-15 from 3-point range) against the best defense of the last 37 years.

While he’s been rather inefficient this season, Thornton gives the Nets a higher ceiling and more potency than they had with Terry. If he plays well, he certainly fills a need.

The same could be said about Jordan Hill, if the Nets can get him from the Lakers for their disabled-player exception. In the same way that their offense takes a hit when their Williams sits, their defense falls apart when Kevin Garnett goes to the bench.

But you wonder how Hill would fit in a second-unit frontline that already includes Kirilenko, Andray Blatche and Mirza Teletovic. Each of those guys brings something to the table, the Nets have outscored their opponents by 21.5 points per 100 possessions in 115 minutes with the three of them on the floor together, and at least one of them would see a decrease in minutes if Hill was brought on board.

And then there’s the money. The Nets wouldn’t be sending any salary to L.A. in exchange for Hill, so he would cost them about $1.3 million in salary ($3.5 million prorated for the remainder in the season) and a whopping $16.6 million in luxury tax, bringing their total tax bill to more than $98 million. Add that to their salaries and they’d be a $200-million team.

That’s a lot of dough for a squad that doesn’t stand much of a chance of reaching the conference finals. But you can’t say that the Nets aren’t afraid to make a move or spend some money to address their needs.

L.A.’s Stunning Role Reversal


VIDEO: Lakers at Bucks, Dec. 31, 2013

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Happy New Year, Mike D’Antoni. A”We Want Phil” chant, however silly, percolated through Staples Center in L.A. on Tuesday as the glamorous-turned-anonymous Lakers faded to black again in an ugly loss to the now seven-win Milwaukee Bucks.

Total bummer of a New Year’s Eve party.

Former Lakers coach Phil Jackson, of course, wouldn’t touch this sinking M*A*S*H unit with a bionic-kneed Andrew Bynum. At this point, any talk of the league’s worst teams has to include the purple and gold, who are 13-19, have lost six in a row (half of those by an average of 17 points) and show no sign of snapping back any time soon.

How could they snap back? Consider D’Antoni’s starting five in the 94-79 loss to Milwaukee: Jordan Farmar (who tore his left hamstring in the game and will miss a month), Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, Shawne Williams and Pau Gasol. His available bench was limited to: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly, Kendall Marshall, Robert Sacre and Chris Kaman (who has fallen so far he couldn’t even get in the game).

Look at it this way: These unidentifiable Lakers are closer to last-place Utah than to eighth-place Dallas in the Western Conference standings. That gap will either shrink or grow Friday night when the Lakers welcome the Jazz (10:30 p.m. ET, League Pass) – who, ahem, just beat L.A. in Salt Lake City a week ago.

When these two teams meet Friday, the most exciting player on the floor just might be Utah rookie point guard Trey Burke, who’s quietly making a major move in the Rookie of the Year race. No offense to the impressive Burke, but that’s how far the mighty Lakers have plummeted: A rookie on the opposing team — a team with 10 wins — is the most exciting player on the floor.

With Dwight Howard in Houston after turning his back on the Lakers in free agency, Kobe Bryant on the sidelines again with a fractured knee, Steve Nash still plotting some way to get back on the floor and Pau Gasol sniffling through recurring physical and emotional trauma, the Lakers’ star power is flickering like a faulty neon sign.

The Clippers, once known as the “other” L.A. team, are another story altogether.

We may never truly understand all the reasons that prompted outgoing commissioner David Stern, acting as the de facto head of the league-owned New Orleans Hornets two years ago, to veto the Chris Paul-to-the-Lakers trade.

(Stern said in a statement shortly after the December 2011 trade that he nixed it “in the best interests of the Hornets” and that he decided, without influence from other owners, that “the team was better served with Chris in a Hornets uniform than by the outcome of the terms of that trade.”)

But by now, we certainly grasp how drastically that decision altered both franchises’ outlooks. Remember, the Lakers thought they had Kobe’s future sewn up: CP3 in a deal that shipped out Gasol and Lamar Odom, followed by getting Dwight in a deal for Bynum. It’s hard to imagine a Kobe-CP3-D12 trio going up in flames like last season’s Howard-Kobe-Nash gathering did. Or like this season’s team has. The Lakers were 10-9 without Kobe to start this season and have gone 3-10 since his brief return and subsequent exit.

The Clippers (22-12) haven’t been nearly as consistent as coach Doc Rivers would like. But they are fourth in the West playing without injured sharpshooter J.J. Redick. They have won seven of their last 10. They’ll try to move 11 games over .500 Friday night at Dallas (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

Off the court, the Clippers have been even better. Every second commercial on TV has Paul selling insurance with his equally assisting faux-twin brother Cliff, or a white-caped Blake Griffin saving us all from buying a lame automobile.

Meanwhile, the best news about the Lakers, off the court, is what they’re trying to do to fix their on-court woes. They are paying about $6 million more in payroll this season than their co-tenants, with close to $50 million wrapped up in Kobe and Gasol. The rest of the roster accounts for nearly $30 million. It’s why a rumored Gasol-for-Bynum swap with the Cleveland Cavaliers — followed by waiving Bynum — would be so attractive to Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. It would wipe out millions in salary and costly luxury tax from the Lakers’ 2013-14 slate.

Whether that happens or not won’t change the Lakers’s fortunes any time soon. They’ll still be the talk of L.A. They are, after all, still the Lakers.

But until further notice, the star-studded Clips carry the bigger stick.


VIDEO: Bobcats at Clippers, Jan. 1, 2014

Goal For Celtics, Lakers Should Be Same

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant's return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Lakers have gone 2-4 since Kobe Bryant’s return. ( Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Lakers and Celtics own one of the most glorious rivalries in all of sports. Through the decades they’ve battled one another with teams as different as their respective coastlines.

Yet this version of the Lakers just might be better off accepting the Danny Ainge philosophy: “Making the playoffs is not a goal.”

The Celtics’ president of basketball operations said he needed to explain that a little bit, so I will, too.

Yes, the franchises’ strategies seem completely at odds. Ainge made the tough call to finally bust it up and trade Kevin Garnett and Boston’s beloved Paul Pierce and start from scratch, even with a new rookie coach. Ainge’s commitment to recovering All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo is even in question. The Lakers meanwhile locked up their living legend, Kobe Bryant, for another two years and $48.5 million.

But just as Ainge is looking forward, it’s Kobe’s next two years I’m looking at, not this one. It’s during this time that I implore Kobe to not go nuts trying to sneak into the postseason as he did a season ago. But, as was predictable, that will be difficult.

After the Lakers pulled out an 88-85 win at Charlotte on Saturday night, their first W following three consecutive Ls with Kobe back from his awful April Achilles injury, No. 24 went all anti-Ainge, tenfold.

“I want to win a championship,” he told reporters. “I want to be playing in June.”

The inconvenient truth — and it’s really no secret to most — is that these Lakers are no closer to contending for a championship than Brad Stevens‘ plucky squad. They don’t defend or rebound well and they’re not exactly an offensive juggernaut either (ranking 20th in offensive efficiency). Tuesday night’s narrow win at Memphis, a struggling team playing without Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, made the Lakers 2-4 with Kobe and 12-13 overall. Essentially the same record as the 12-14 Celtics.

Ainge views the Celtics’ applaudable start (and his comments came when they were 10-14, still a better mark than most expected) as a byproduct of a laughable Eastern Conference and Atlantic Division, which they somehow lead and therefore occupy the No. 4 seed. Boston is 9-7 against the East and Ainge cringes thinking about making the playoffs with a losing record in this anomaly of a season and losing out on Draft position, in this coveted Draft.

The Lakers, predicted by most to miss the playoffs with or without Kobe, should view their 12-13 mark as a byproduct of a rugged West. L.A. is 5-3 against the East and 7-10 in its own conference after nipping the depleted Grizzlies.

It can even be argued that when Rondo, Boston’s last remaining player from its recent glory years, returns from his ACL injury that he will join a more talented collection of teammates than the ragtag bunch Kobe inherited. That’s bad news if you’re in the West.

Think about Kobe’s crew: Jodie Meeks, Xavier Henry, Wesley Johnson, Nick Young, Jordan Hill and conflicted pal Pau Gasol, the only other remaining member of the 2010 title team. Jordan Farmar (a role player on the ’10 team left before re-signing this season) could return from injury soon and Steve Blake will be back in a month or so. No one can be sure about Steve Nash. To think this crew can leap into the West playoff fray with any hope of advancing would seem reckless California dreaming.

Rondo, if he’s not already traded, will join Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Jared Sullinger, Brandon Bass, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk. Depending how Ainge proceeds with the roster, Brooklyn would seem the only hope from keeping his team built for the lottery from maddeningly backing into the division title.

Ainge knows, and Kobe should, too, that the 2008 and 2010 Finals aren’t walking through that door.

But Kobe doesn’t do lowered expectations, not when he’s got five rings and hungry for a sixth. But for this one season, making the playoffs at all costs can’t be the goal.

“We will get better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the 122-97 loss at OKC, Kobe’s third game back. “Just check in on us in a couple weeks and see where we are.”

It’s hard to see these Lakers in the top eight, whether in a couple weeks or a couple months. The roster presents little opportunity to make a blockbuster, game-changing-type trade. If L.A. did sneak into an eighth or seventh seed like last season, it would only serve as first-round fodder for the Thunder or Spurs, while valuable ground would be lost in the race that matters more — Draft slotting.

L.A. has already accomplished its two prime goals for this season: Kobe is back, and his autograph is fresh on a new contract. Now general manager Mitch Kupchak and D’Antoni must make sure that his raging competitive drive doesn’t take him off the cliff of physical limitation. They must evaluate their young talent and determine who can help most over a two-year championship push.

Then, with a stroke of Laker luck, nab a difference-maker in the Draft and follow with smart free-agent acquisitions to form a solid nucleus for Kobe’s sunset drive.

These are the goals. Making the playoffs is not.

Suspense Runs High As Kobe Returns


VIDEO: Rick Fox analyzes the impact of Kobe’s return

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the great Kobe Bryant rescues his flapping No. 24 jersey from all manner of inclement weather with tonight’s triumphant return, are his surprisingly buoyant Los Angeles Lakers really in need of a rescue mission? Or more a celebrated captain to take the wheel?

Staples Center will go goo-goo tonight as Bryant officially begins his 18th season against the wrong-place, wrong-time Toronto Raptors (pregame, 9 E.T., NBA TV). Kobe will be announced to the sell-out crowd and the roof will blow like Mt. Vesuvius. He’ll take his spot around the jump circle and it’ll be so electric in there it’ll feel like the Lakers are back in the NBA Finals, where so many predicted they would be last season before that star-studded roster quickly became as unhinged as characters in a Quentin Tarantino film.

Once the ball is in the air, once the juices start coursing through Kobe’s veins, what happens tonight and over the next 62 games that follow will be as riveting to watch as a Stephen King novel is to read. After all, the king of suspense joined Twitter (@StephenKing) the same day as the Lakers’ dramatic flapping-jersey video revealed Kobe’s return. Nothing in Hollywood is by coincidence, right?

Here’s the thing with Kobe’s return essentially one quarter into the season: For the first time in his career he starts a season a month late, on a team with multiple unfamiliar parts and, most notably, has established something of an identity and definitely a working chemistry without him.

Don’t get that confused with suggesting this team doesn’t need Kobe. That’s preposterous. Kobe’s capabilities coming off a torn Achilles tendon last April, and his adaptation to the team’s style of play, will dictate the level at which this otherwise off-rack roster can truly compete. Without him, as intriguing as they’ve been, the playoffs are as unlikely as Jack Nicholson gifting tonight’s courtside seat to Justin Bieber.

How Kobe chooses to assert himself will be fascinating to watch. Does he acknowledge this season’s progress and work to get his from within the framework and flow of the system, or does he try to strong-arm it?

The Lakers enter tonight’s game against a team Kobe once dropped 81 points on with a 10-9 record compared to 9-10 a year ago with he and Dwight Howard and the once-twinkling images of 70 wins and a championship already extinguished. Collective optimism has replaced pessimism this season as guys named Meeks and Young and Hill and Henry and Farmar have played hard and embraced camaraderie in a way last season’s Lakers team never could — or would.

What have the Lakers become without Kobe?

Surprisingly, an entertaining team whose performances can fluctuate wildly, and, stunningly, a team that is hard to hate, even for the most ardent Lakers haters. They’re playing in the mold of Mike D’Antoni – himself suddenly elevated from the echoes of “We want Phil” chants to early coach of the year consideration. They’re sharing the ball, quickening the pace, hustling and mostly having fun and enjoying each other. They’ve managed to be OK on the road — 4-5 — and hang in enough games to hold up their end of the bargain of hanging near .500 without Kobe despite scoring fewer points than they allow.

No other team in the league has a negative differential and a winning record.

Here’s two key stats that demonstrate D’Antoni’s system at work: The Lakers rank fourth in assists at 24.1 a game (they were 17th last season at 22.2); and they’re third in 3-point percentage at 40.7 (a significant upturn from last season — 35.5 percent to rank 19th) while putting up 26.3 attempts a game, third-most in the league.

Kobe’s buddy Pau Gasol is averaging 3.1 apg along with team highs of 14.5 ppg and 9.8 rpg. Jodie Meeks is shooting 47.3 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 13.5 ppg. Steve Blake is averaging 7.8 apg with 10.2 ppg. Before his injury, bench spark plug Jordan Farmar was dishing out 4.4 apg in 18.9 mpg. Xavier Henry provided an early season boost. Jordan Hill is bringing down 8.5 rpg in 21.6 mpg, including 3.3 on the offensive glass. Nick Young is as swaggy as ever, launching a high rate of bricks in Friday night’s comeback win at Sacramento until tossing in the dagger — a crunch-time scenario he might not see again with the Black Mamba’s return.

No Laker is averaging more than Blake’s 31.8 mpg and 10 are logging at least 17.3 mpg (excluding Steve Nash, who has played in just six games). Last season, Kobe averaged 38.6 mpg, a red-flag number some blamed for his Achilles blowout in his 78th game of the season, but also a number that Kobe, now 35, insisted on playing as the Lakers fought for a playoff spot.

Basically a lot of players are doing a lot of different things pretty well.

So what does Kobe do to make this team, one many pundits predicted would fail to make the playoffs, better? This is truly new — and fascinating — territory for Mr. Bryant.

Apologies, Mr. King, but the suspense is already killing me.

Hill’s Rise Great For L.A., Bad For Kaman?


VIDEO: Jordan Hill talks about his career night against Detroit

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – For Chris Kaman, what goes around is coming around, meaning he could be sitting down, a lot.

When Kaman returned to Dallas earlier this month as a newly minted member of a barely recognizable Los Angeles Lakers team, the loose-lipped veteran center decided to vent. He had pent-up anger toward Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle after the pair had their differences during Kaman’s lone season in Big D.

Kaman started 52 of the 66 games he played, but he averaged a career-low 20.7 mpg and his playing time often fluctuated. During the Lakers Nov. 5 shootaround in Dallas, Kaman ripped Carlisle for playing games with players and he scoffed at Carlisle’s use of him: “They’re going to play me five minutes a game? That’s not going to work.”

Then came Sunday night and the Lakers’ 114-99 win over the Detroit Pistons. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni, who Kaman lauded that day in Dallas for being more appealing to players, played Kaman a season-low five minutes — 5 minutes, 24 seconds to be exact.

It could become more of a trend than a blip for Kaman, who is averaging only 17.3 mpg anyway under D’Antoni, less than he played in Dallas. On a makeshift Lakers roster still void of Kobe Bryant and thin on the back line, Kaman, 31, hoped to play a bunch alongside four-time All-Star Pau Gasol. But physical, high-intensity power forward Jordan Hill is beginning to claim that spot as his own. In his fourth consecutive start Sunday, the 26-year-old Hill turned in a career game against the massive front line of the Pistons with 24 points and 17 rebounds in almost 36 minutes.

Hill has logged more than 30 minutes in his last three starts. He’s posted three double-doubles, averaging 18.8 ppg and 12.0 rpg with 16 offensive boards, in the four starts. He’s shot better than 50 percent from the floor and is 17-for-19 from the free throw line as a starter after going 6-for-17 as a reserve. He has seven blocked shots and five turnovers, and is a plus-21.

Before D’Antoni inserted him into the starting lineup, the muscular, 6-foot-10, 235-pound Hill was averaging 6.3 ppg and 6.6 rpg in 16.1 mpg. He had scored in double figures once, 12 points in the season opener, and had one double-digit rebound game. On Sunday, Hill made a career-best 11 shots on 16 attempts, killing the Pistons in the paint.

Afterward, highly regarded Pistons center Andre Drummond liked what he saw from the hard-charging Hill: “He runs around, rebounds and plays hard, so it was like playing a clone of myself.”

Kaman and Hill obviously bring decidedly different styles. Hill punishes inside and a scraps for everything. He delivers the hustle plays a team like the Lakers, especially without Bryant, must have to win games. On many nights, L.A. will be outmanned by more talented teams and often the difference between winning and losing will come down to elbow grease.

The 7-foot Kaman, on a one-year, $3.2 million deal with the Lakers, is more finesse and can extend out of the paint with a good mid-range jumper. He’s not a superb defender, but will get his share of blocks and rebounds. Hill, though, adds a fierceness and routinely launches his body to secure rebounds or loose balls, or what are often referred to as 50/50 balls, plays that are up for grabs and will either end the opponent’s possession or prolong his team’s possession.

Hill’s offensive rebounding percentage (the percentage of offensive rebounds a player gets while on the floor) is 18.1 percent compared to 8.3 percent for Kaman. Hill grabs 61.5 percent of his team’s offensive rebounds when he’s on the floor. Kaman gets to 34.6 percent. Hill has nearly doubled Kaman this season in second-chance points and points in the paint.

“He’s a bruiser down there,” Lakers point guard Steve Blake told the the Los Angeles Times. “He goes out there with reckless abandonment and throws his body around and he’s strong. That’s just the way he plays and I think he’ll continue to do that.”

Hill hasn’t had a stellar start to his career. The former Arizona Wildcat is on his third team in now his fifth season. Drafted eighth overall in 2009 by the Knicks, New York traded him later that season to Houston. He didn’t earn much more playing time with the Rockets, who traded him to the Lakers in March 2012 for Derek Fisher and a 2014 first-round draft pick.

Hill showed flashes early last season, but was lost for the season after 29 games to a hip injury that required surgery.

Only now are the Lakers starting to see what Hill might be. That’s great news for L.A. Perhaps bad news for Kaman.

Lakers Grind While Waiting On Kobe




VIDEO: Rick Fox sits down for an in-depth interview with Kobe Bryant

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant comeback playbook is written in pencil for a reason. For starters, no one knows for sure when Bryant, who returned to the practice floor in limited fashion over the weekend, will make his official return from the Achilles injury and surgery that ended his 2012-13 season prematurely.

The other variable in this situation is the work being done by Bryant’s healthy teammates. Guys like Steve BlakeXavier Henry, Jordan Hill, Jordan Farmar and Nick Young have had to carry the mantle for Bryant, Steve Nash and even Pau Gasol in early on this season. And they’ve done an admirable job, given the circumstances.

The Lakers are hovering near .500 after Sunday night’s win over the visiting Detroit Pistons. And with Bryant making his way back and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni getting more and more comfortable with his pieced-together bunch, a season-long fight for that eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference is not totally out of the question for the Lakers.

Kobe told NBA TV’s Rick Fox that if he the playoffs were going on right now he’d be ready to play. That’s a bold statement for a guy who is reportedly just now cranking up his rehab work to the point that he can eye a legitimate timetable for his return. But bold is what we all expect from Kobe. How realistic his stance is, however, is certainly up for debate. Kobe has chosen wisely when pressed for a concrete return date.

“It’s tough because once I’ve set that as a target then I’m hell-bent at doing it at all costs, even to the detriment of the damn Achilles,” Kobe told Fox. “I try to just stay in the moment and really try to listen to my body. The biggest thing is I have not done anything athletically for six months, seven months. You got to get your body back in shape. And doing that, if I was healthy — completely healthy — you have that much time off and get back in shape and your knee is going to ache, your ankle is going to hurt, your back is going to be out. So you got to go through your progressions as you normally would over the course of a summer.”

What cannot be disputed is the Lakers’ relevance if and when Kobe returns to action. If he’s even a reasonable shell of the Kobe Bryant we’ve come to know over the past two decades, he’ll add an element to this team that allows them to compete with the any of the other fringe playoff-chasers in the West.

If he’s the Kobe Bryant we’re used to, then things should heat up considerably for L.A. when he returns. The supporting cast will have to adjust to having him back in the lineup and the entire focus changes with his reintroduction to the flow of this current group.

Unlike last season, when the Lakers struggled to come up with a clear-cut identity with Kobe, Nash, Gasol and Dwight Howard as headliners in D’Antoni’s system, there are no misconceptions about this team. They know exactly who and what they are, relative to what Lakers fans have been used to throughout the Kobe era. They are a blue-collar bunch that awaits the return of the ultimate competitor, a white-collar superstar whose always been a blue-collar worker at his core.

“The identity is going to be: We have to play full-out for 48 minutes,” DAntoni told ESPN.com’s J.A. Adande when asked about the adjustments that will have to be made by all upon Kobe’s return. “And then Kobe comes back and now the identity changes, so we’re OK.”

Everything changes when Kobe comes back.

In the meantime, the blue-collar Lakers have to continue to keep grinding …

Wait, Were D’Antoni’s Lakers Having Fun?


VIDEO: Lakers surprise Clippers in season opener

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As joyless and soulless as last season was, the new crew wearing Los Angeles Lakers purple-and-gold — hardly the typical who’s who, but rather who’s that? — needed one energetic, bubbling, pinch-me performance to prove that there is always next season.

Maybe Tuesday night’s jaw-dropping development, a 116-103 going-away win for L.A.’s castoffs over its star-crossed (for one night anyway) Clippers and their $7 million coach, means there is a next life for beleaguered Lakers coach Mike “We want Phil” D’Antoni. A reset button for a bright career gone dim since the day he left Steve Nash and his rocket ship in Phoenix for the empty promise of New York.

With rehabbing Kobe Bryant dressed in all black and watching from the second row of the Lakers’ bench, D’Antoni’s boys played their butts off at both ends. They exchanged jabs with the glamour Clips in the first half to set up Jordan Farmar (16 points, six assists), Xavier Henry (career-high 22 points) and Jordan Hill (12 points, eight rebounds) for one humiliating haymaker after another in a vibrant, hustling and wholly unfamiliar fourth quarter that required not one second from Nash (20 minutes in all) or Pau Gasol (13 of 15 points came in the first half, plus 13 total rebounds).

When Bryant returns from an Achilles tear is anybody’s guess. Even he couldn’t give TNT’s Craig Sager an answer. In the meantime, D’Antoni has a marvelous window to reconstruct his reputation as one of the game’s best innovators. It’s his shot to go roots hoops, back to chalkboard coaching, experimenting and molding a team whose only expectation outside its own locker room is failure.

D’Antoni’s clay is two selfless future Hall of Famers with built-in motivators and an assortment of loose parts — mostly fresh, young legs as opposed to last season’s aging ones — playing with a chip and for a contract. This might as well be a gritty mid-major ready to crash the March party. Those teams typically take on the personality of their coach.

So with a starting lineup of Shawne Williams at power forward, Nick Young giddy to play the role of Kobe — maybe he will one day in the movie — and veteran backup Steve Blake next to Nash, arises this unforeseen, golden chance for D’Antoni. He can re-boot, erase images of the rigid, inflexible, insufferable coach who couldn’t make it in New York, who infamously emasculated Pau and ran off Dwight.

Tuesday’s opener should have been a slaughter the other way around. Chris Paul and company, with those darned golden banners beaming down, should have snarled like a pitbull as the reigning Pacific Division champs with bolder goals ahead. Instead they walked away droopy-eyed and tails hidden between their hindquarters.

It was just one night, but for the Lakers, it revealed more joy, unity and spirit than all of last season combined. D’Antoni clearly had buy-in. His team was running (more than 100 possessions) and gunning (14-for-29 from deep, 93 total shot attempts). They also relished in the dirty work, outrebounding the Clips 52-40 and 18-10 on the offensive glass. Williams and Chris Kaman swatted away more shots — four to three — than DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin.

Of course this mishmash collection of mostly low-rent role players will never be D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Suns and they certainly won’t look like Phil Jackson‘s Triangle Lakers. But Tuesday’s eye-popping opener suggested this group can do what those great teams did and what last season’s thought-to-be-great team failed at miserably — creating an identity and forging a bond.

The energy was undeniable, on the floor with Farmar’s stunning blow-bys and the front line’s determined board work; and on the bench with Nash and Gasol flashing disbelieving smiles and clapping and cheering as their backups bullied the Clippers’ starters. Where there is energy and hustle and camaraderie, there is a way.

In the unlikeliest of twists, the 16-time champion Lakers emerged on this night as the capable underdog we love to see succeed.

Who knows what happens at Golden State tonight (10:30 ET, NBA TV) or two weeks from now or by the time the Heat visit on Christmas Day? Who knows how things change once Kobe, a different Kobe, comes back? A loaded Western Conference ensures a tough fight just to make the playoffs.

But for one night, D’Antoni proved he’s coaching again. And his team showed that maybe this season can be what likely few among those awe-struck fans Tuesday night believed.

Fun.


VIDEO: Xavier Henry on his breakout performance vs. the Clips

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

a

a

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

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

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

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

Any setbacks or new injuries to any of the “Big Three” for an extended stretch will sink the season. The roster is way too thin to cover for the heavy lifters. Deep into the luxury tax for next season, the Lakers had no way to substantially upgrade the roster even after Dwight Howard bolted. They opted for a bit of financial relief and used the amnesty provision to part with a slowed-down Metta World Peace. They let a handful of free agents go and replaced them with Jordan Farmar, Nick Young, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman. Not exactly a Murderer’s Row.
.

2013-14 ROSTER 2012-13 ROSTER
PG: Nash, Steve Blake, Jordan Farmar PG: Nash, Blake, Chris Duhon, Darius Morris
SG: Bryant, Jodie Meeks SG: Bryant, Meeks, Andrew Goudelock
SF: Nick Young, Wesley Johnson SF: Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison, Devin Ebanks
PF: Jordan Hill, Ryan Kelly PF: Pau Gasol, Hill, Earl Clark
C: Gasol, Chris Kaman, Robert Sacre C: Dwight Howard, Sacre

.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All That Jazz Puts Heat on Lakers

HANG TIME, Texas — As Dean Wormer might have once said to Flounder in “Animal House”: “Losing nine out of 11 games is no way to make the playoffs, son.”

But here are the Jazz, back up and dancing like Otis Day & The Knights are playing at a toga party, suddenly the owners of a three-game winning streak and… wait for it… a road win.

When Utah won at Portland for its first victory on the road since Feb. 13, it jumped the Jazz over the Lakers and back into the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

According to Bill Oram of the Salt Lake Tribune, the chatter was back in the Jazz locker room after they rallied from nine, 14 and nine down again in the fourth quarter on Friday night.

“Winning does that,” Mo Williams said. “Winning puts you in a good mood, especially when you care. Top to bottom, people care here, when you lose you feel down. It’s not so jolly, it’s not so loose.”

Earlier in the evening, Williams was far from happy. The 30-year-old point guard, in his second stint with the Jazz, was benched by coach Tyrone Corbin in the second quarter. In the final minutes of the game, Williams carried the Jazz to the win, scoring 14 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth quarter and spearheading a 25-6 run in the final six minutes.

“You get pissed off,” Williams said. “Instead of feeling sorry for yourself, you come out and be aggressive.”

The Jazz come home to close out a back-to-back tonight against the Nets and there is light again after it had appeared for weeks that Utah was going to do everything except lift the Lakers up onto their shoulders and carry Kobe Bryant & Co. into the postseason.

Now the two teams are in the stretch run and for the first time in a while, the Jazz might have a leg up in getting to the finish.

Let’s break it down for final nine games:

Jazz

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining: 0

Tonight — vs. Nets

Mon. — vs. Blazers

Wed. — vs. Nuggets

Apr. 7 — at Golden State

Apr. 9 — vs. Thunder

Apr. 12 — vs. Timberwolves

Apr. 15 — at Minnesota

Apr. 17 — at Memphis

The Jazz hold the tiebreaker over the Lakers and if they can take care of business at home, where they’re 26-9 on the season, will be tough for the Lakers to beat out.

Lakers

Home — 6

Road — 3

Vs. playoff teams — 5

Back-to-backs remaining — 1

Tonight — at Sacramento

Tues. — vs. Mavericks

Fri. — vs. Grizzlies

Apr. 7 — at L.A. Clippers

Apr. 9 — vs. Hornets

Apr. 10 — at Portland

Apr. 12 — vs. Warriors

Apr. 14 — vs. Spurs

Apr. 17 — vs. Rockets

Of the 14 players on the Lakers roster, seven are listed on the injury report for tonight at Sacramento, though Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and Antawn Jamison are probable, with Steve Nash questionable and Metta World Peace and Jordan Hill out. Of the Lakers’ three remaining road games, they won’t have to leave their own building to play the Clippers and that next-to-last game against San Antonio could catch them another break if the mercurial Gregg Popovich decides to rest up his veterans for the playoffs.