Posts Tagged ‘Mitch Kupchak’

Can Lakers Go California Dream Teaming?

ORLANDO, Fla. — Imagine it’s June 2014 and the Heat have managed to duck enough times to survive another championship parade with all of their heads still attached.

There’s a posh meeting room inside a swank Beverly Hills hotel and the heavily muscled security guard keeps stepping aside and opening the door for the guests who arrive one at a time.

Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

When they’ve settled into luxurious leather chairs and opened bottles of overpriced imported sparkling water, an NBA general manager arrives and points to a blank yellow legal pad in the middle of the conference table and five pencils.

“You guys divide it up anyway you want,” says Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak.

The Lakers are back. Instant Dream Team.

OK, maybe it’s not quite that easy. Or maybe it is. After all, to paraphrase Chevy Chase from a long time ago, they’re the Lakers and you’re not. And always will be.

Having salary cap space in Milwaukee, Charlotte, Salt Lake City or maybe a dozen other places in the NBA is just that — space. In L.A. it’s a magnet.

Walk the sidelines and the hallways of the Amway Center as the rookies and long shots of the Orlando Pro Summer League pour their perspiration all over the practice court, and the consensus is that even in the wake of Dwight Howard’s departure, the return to prominence of the league’s most glamorous franchise is no sweat.

“Don’t even think about them going into a long period of losing or mediocrity,” said one NBA general manager.

“For other teams losing Dwight would be a crippling blow,” said another. “They’d have to retrench, rethink their position and go into a long-term rebuilding plan.”

That’s the Celtics, where boss Danny Ainge decided to move on from the era of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and brought in 36-year-old Brad Stevens as coach/midwife for a new incarnation.

The Sixers new GM Sam Hinkie is stripping his roster down to the bone by trading All-Star Jrue Holiday and letting Andrew Bynum walk. It will be at least a couple of years before the plan bears fruit.

The Jazz and GM Dennis Lindsey have made no secret that the payoff is over the horizon as they enter a season where youth will be served from the menu no matter how difficult it might be to swallow at times.

“You don’t do that if you’re the Lakers,” said yet another GM, “because you don’t have to. OK, everybody has to take a deep breath for next season, but then they’re right back in it in a year. And if you don’t think they can think big, big and bigger, then you haven’t been paying attention.”

Who thought Miami was going to be able to reel in all of James, Wade and Bosh in 2010?

Why would LeBron even give a thought to teaming up with Kobe? Because it would actually add to his legacy to resurrect the Lakers and to be clearly defined as the lead horse pulling the wagon.

Why would Kobe consider it? One word: rings. Especially after spending a difficult season literally getting his legs back under him following the torn Achilles’ tendon and having the Clippers’ glare becoming blinding and annoying.

Wade? Anthony? Bosh? Didn’t those gold medals glitter just as bright from the Olympic experiences?

All five of them could even wear their old Team USA jerseys.

Let everyone else plot and scheme and draw up their recruiting pitches for the free agent lollapalooza of next summer.

All Kupchak and the Lakers need is an empty room and a legal pad.

“You guys divide it up anyway you want.”

Does Mike D’Antoni Help Or Hurt The Lakers’ Cause With Dwight Howard?



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Houston’s Kevin McHale got the first crack at making a lasting impression on Dwight Howard, and from all indications did exactly that. Golden State’s Mark Jackson and Atlanta’s Mike Budenholzer acquitted themselves quite well, too, in their face-to-face meetings with Howard.

Dallas coach Rick Carlisle, easily one of the league’s top coaches and one of the smartest and most accomplished basketball minds around, is up next when the Mavericks’ contingent makes its sales pitch to Howard this afternoon. Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has some ridiculously tough acts to follow. The fact that he’s one of the only coaches on Howard’s list of contenders who has actually worked with the prized free agent big man should be to his (and the Lakers’) benefit.

But if the rumblings about Howard and D’Antoni struggling to find common ground during their lone season together are true, D’Antoni’s seat alongside Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak, stars Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash and others at Howard’s final recruiting session this evening in Los Angeles might not be the trump card it should be.

In fact, it’s not unreasonable to wonder: is D’Antoni helping or hurting the Lakers’ cause here? For all of the stars who have lined up to woo Howard, all of the owners, living legends, titans of industry and what have you, no one is more important than these respective coaches.

They have to be front and center during this process with a clear-cut plan that details exactly how they will take advantage of Howard’s skills and what they’ll do to exploit them in a way that leads to championships.

Given Howard’s recent past with coaches (see Stan Van Gundy, Orlando), it’s not hard to overstate the importance of the coach-player dynamic in whatever becomes his final choice.

The Los Angeles Clippers took care of that extremely important piece of business with their own free-agent star, Chris Paul, by dumping Vinny Del Negro after the best season in franchise history and pursuing and landing Doc Rivers to replace him and take over the role as the Clippers’ senior vice president of basketball operations. Via Twitter, Paul committed to the Clippers Monday morning and will sign a five-year, $107 million deal come July 10.

Howard is extremely sensitive about the sentiment that he’s some sort of “coach killer,” as he should be, because there are few tags more damaging to a superstar’s profile.

“That’s a tough thing to live down once you get it,” said one Western Conference executive. “That’s the knock on Dwight right now, whether he likes it or not. Everyone knows he’d had issues with his last two coaches and that’s why you know whatever is there with D’Antoni would have to be fixed before he could honestly think about staying with the Lakers. There’s no way around it.”

If Howard decides he’d rather play elsewhere, D’Antoni will get plenty of blame — deserved or not. And that’s what makes his role today so crucial. With Bryant and Nash (two of D’Antoni’s greatest allies) flanking him, he has a chance to clean up whatever mess is there and do his best to talk Howard back into the fold.

We might never get any real answers anyway. Howard has never come clean on what went down with Van Gundy, even though their disconnect led to the dissolution of a championship-caliber team in Orlando. He will have a chance to walk away from the Lakers this time without having to publicly address the D’Antoni situation. But that won’t stop any of us from speculating.

And it certainly won’t silence the Lakers fans who are already convinced that D’Antoni ruined any chance of Howard sticking around, even with the $30 million and extra contract year the Lakers can offer that no one else can.

One of D’Antoni’s colleagues came to his defense, insisting that if Howard chooses one of his other options, it won’t be because of any rift — real or perceived — between Howard and D’Antoni.

“Don’t make this about Mike, that’s not fair to him,” said an Eastern Conference coach who knows D’Antoni well and has coached against Howard for years. “This is [Dwight's] thing. He has to own it and make it right. Blaming Mike for anything that hasn’t gone his way the last couple of years is just wrong. This is Dwight’s choice, he has to make it, own it and get back on the floor and do what he does. And I know people are convinced that he’s already gone, but I’m not in that crowd. I think he’s going to stay in L.A.”

Rockets Make Their Pitch To Howard

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From NBA.com staff reports

No matter what team Dwight Howard chooses on July 10th (as reports indicate that is when he’ll reveal his pick), the Houston Rockets have to know they did all they could on July 1 to put their best foot forward.

The Rockets began their presentation to Howard last night/this morning (depending on your time zone), which started with a meeting at 9:01 p.m. PT. According to reports, the Rockets’ contingent traveled to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in a Mercedes luxury van where they met with Howard to begin making a formal pitch to him.

Houston also brought in several key decision-makers to the process (we understand now why the needed a van!), including owner Leslie Alexander, coach Kevin McHale, president Tad Brown, GM Daryl Morey, vice president and athletic trainer Keith Jones and executive vice president Gersson Rosas.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has details on the meeting, which included video messages from ex-Rockets Dikembe Mutombo and Yao Ming and Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler being face-to-face with Howard in the meeting as well:

They prepared information about the marketing potential that comes with playing for the Rockets, still wildly popular in China with its enormous and avid fan base. They were ready to present information about living and playing in Houston, about their new basketball facilities and the camaraderie and chemistry they believe they have with their players, past and present.

There were books and an Ipad with much of the information presented to be left with Howard and his representatives, along with video testimonials from, among others, Yao Ming and Dikembe Mutombo.

But the Rockets hoped their greatest advantage would be their potential to become contenders by adding Howard in the middle.

Howard has repeatedly insisted his primary objective in free agency is to find the team with the best championship potential. Considering themselves to be in the strongest position in that measure, the Rockets sought to make their case they also would be positioned to make improvements even after signing a second player to a max contract.

The youngest team in the NBA last season, the Rockets were prepared to argue they would keep their young core untouched and would have the salary-cap exceptions and first-round picks in coming seasons. The youth was expected to be a point of emphasis. James Harden will be 24 next season, Chandler Parsons 25.

Harden and Parsons, their best player and team captain, respectively, have become friends with Howard and were part of the presentation.

Hall of Famers Clyde Drexler and Hakeem Olajuwon traveled from around the world for the meeting. Drexler flew in from Taiwan, arriving after a 13-hour flight Sunday afternoon. Olajuwon traveled from Jordan for the meeting. (His appearance at the NBA draft in Brooklyn on Thursday was added to his itinerary after the Rockets let the NBA know they were flying him in.)

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo!Sports says the Rockets are in the lead now for Howard’s services after last night’s meeting focused on the championship-level team Howard would be a part of should he come to Houston:

The Houston Rockets’ dinner presentation to free-agent center Dwight Howard at the Hotel Bel-Air centered on the franchise’s championship history and an infrastructure designed to give Howard a chance at multiple titles, sources with knowledge of the meeting told Yahoo! Sports.

Houston has emerged as the frontrunner to sign the Los Angeles Lakers center, league sources said, and those close to Howard confirmed late Sunday that the Rockets did nothing to dampen Howard’s enthusiasm for the possibilities of playing for Houston.

“Hakeem didn’t say much, but what did he say was very impactful,” one source in the room told Yahoo! Sports. Olajuwon talked about the Rockets as a destination for championships and drew upon his own personal relationship with Howard, sources said.

Rockets stars James Harden and Chandler Parsons pitched Howard about how they wanted him as a teammate, how the chemistry of the locker room would welcome him. Without bringing up the Los Angeles Lakers, the Rockets could sell two things that the Lakers likely can’t: a chance for a close connection with the franchise’s star players; and an immediate chance to be a championship contender.

“His main focus was winning and we will give him the best opportunity to do that,” Parsons told Yahoo! Sports’ Marc Spears.

Howard was flanked with his agent, Dan Fegan, and Happy Walters, the CEO of Relativity Media and an agent in the company. What those close to Howard had been saying privately for months was clearly apparent through the probing that Howard did himself with Rockets officials: Winning was his most important priority in the process, and most of the evening was spent discussing how the Rockets had a history of constructing themselves around iconic centers in pursuit of championships.

McHale made it clear to Howard that he planned to build his system around him, and that, ultimately, he would hold Howard accountable every day in the franchise’s pursuit of a title. The Rockets had long believed that McHale, a Hall of Fame power forward, would be an immense asset in the recruitment of Howard. Howard had never had a head coach that could identify with him so well, who could literally look him in the eyes.

Agents talking to the Rockets about potential additions to the roster say they’re searching for shooters and complementary players to surround Howard. “They’re progressing on everything with Dwight in mind,” one prominent agent said Sunday night. “They seem very confident.”

After the meeting, things were pretty positive on the Rockets side as Morey tweeted out the following:

All that said, the Lakers weren’t about to be trumped by a Western Conference rival at the stroke of midnight, either.

According to ESPNLosAngeles.com, Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak met with Howard before the Rockets’ wooing of him began just after 12:01 a.m. ET:

The Los Angeles Lakers were assured they would get the last word when it came to Dwight Howard’s free agency pitch process. Turns out they got the first word as well.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak met briefly with Howard face-to-face shortly after 12:01 a.m. ET Monday night when NBA free agency officially opened up, a league source told ESPNLosAngeles.com.

The details of the meeting between Howard ans Kupchak are unknown, but according to Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com, it was a brief chat:

And there’s this as well from Kennedy:

The Hawks and Warriors are up next to make their pitches to Howard today, and the Mavs and Lakers close things out on Tuesday. Who knows where Howard will end up, of course, but here’s one important nugget (courtesy of Feigen) to keep in mind as this Howard-a-palooza rolls along:

With the lack of a state income tax in Texas, Howard would net more over four years with the Rockets or Mavericks than in the first four years of a contract with the Lakers.

Report: Dwight Howard To Reveal His Choice July 10


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Hang Time Podcast (Episode 115) Featuring Michael Lee and Rick’s Lakers Rant!

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — A groundbreaking revelation from Jason Collins. A season-ending defeat for the Los Angeles Lakers, with reactions from Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and others included. And season-best rant from Rick Fox.

You get all of that and more on Episode 115 of the Hang Time Podcast, a discussion, debate and a diatribe from our very own resident Lakers expert.

Collins coming out as the first openly gay professional athlete in one of the four major American sports is a topic that certainly deserves our attention. What his coming out means for the rest of the league and the future was a discussion we had to have with the man, Mike Lee of The Washington Post, during what could very well have been his final NBA season.

Magic Johnson, James Worthy, Shaquille O’Neal and nearly every other Lakers great of note has weighed in on Dwight at one time or another this season. The reviews have usually been pretty harsh, too. But no one has been as consistently pointed in their analysis and criticism of the young(er) Superman in his lone season in Lakerland.

Rick pulls no punches in his latest, raw assessment of what Dwight did in LA this season (not much, according to Rick), what he needs to do to repair the damage (take the Lakers’ $119 million max deal and now) and what his legacy will be (damaged forever) if he can’t find a way to finish what’s been started in purple and gold.

It’s a must listen, right here on Episode 115 of the Hang Time Podcast …

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.


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.

Lakers’ Future On Hold As Contradictory Dwight Howard Takes Step Back

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LOS ANGELES – Is this how Dwight Howard’s L.A. story ends?

Does it finish with two technical fouls and an automatic ejection with 9:51 left in the third quarter of a second consecutive home blowout? Is this how the future of the franchise, as general manager Mitch Kupchak called him a few months ago, exits — walking off through the tunnel to a golf clap before much of the sold-out crowd had even made it back to their seats?

And then, like ships passing in the night, the Lakers’ royalty of past and present emerged from the tunnel for the first time during these two playoff games at Staples Center. Dressed in a black suit and moving slowly on crutches, Kobe Bryant chose that very moment to make his appearance, to wave to the crowd, as if to reinforce whose hands still cradle this proud franchise. He took a seat behind the bench, serenaded by the familiar chant of “M-V-P” as action on the court played on.

Howard said he somehow missed Kobe coming in as he was heading out.

“I didn’t see anybody,” Howard said in hushed tones. “I didn’t even know he went out there.”

Bravo, Lakers. No one does drama like you.

Meanwhile, the always sympathetic 7-footer, Pau Gasol, remained as last star standing to finally bury this tragic season. If this was to be Gasol’s last stand as a Laker, at least the faithful sent him on his way with a heartfelt standing ovation with 3:08 left in the game.

“I guess there’s a sense this is a possibility,” Gasol, with the topic of his departure sensitive, said after producing 16 points, eight rebounds and five assists.

Gasol and the ragtag Lakers that mopped up this season were no match for the San Antonio Spurs, who are headed for an extended layoff after finishing off the depleted, and now officially defeated, Lakers with a first-round sweep. Sunday’s Game 4 was never in doubt with Tony Parker, Tim Duncan & Co., going wire-to-wire for the expected 103-82 thumping.

And so here we go dashing into your offseason story, L.A. — Lakers held hostage: Day 1.

Three seasons removed from their last title and anything more than a first-round series win, the Lakers’ future is now trapped inside Howard’s head. And after the loss, he was at his contradictory best while talking about this lost season and the season to come, wherever that may come for the free-agent-to-be.

Howard, almost comically, used the word “nightmare” to describe this season in its entirety, an unintentional nod to the “Dwightmare” moniker that media types dubbed Howard’s final, maddening, flip-flopping season with his old team the Orlando Magic. And, on a beach somewhere, those bums he used to call teammates are laughing so hard they’re spitting up their Mai-Tais.

“It was like a nightmare. It’s like a bad dream and we couldn’t wake up out of it. That’s what it felt like,” said Howard, who settled for seven points, eight rebounds and five turnovers in 20-and-a-half minutes before frustratingly getting a second technical. “It seemed like nothing could go right from the start [of the season], injuries and all that stuff.” (more…)

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…)