Posts Tagged ‘Mitch Kupchak’

Blogtable: What’s Next For Lakers?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Kobe’s fate | Lakers’ plans | The blame game



VIDEO: The GameTime crew discuss effect of Kobe’s left knee injury

Given this news, what direction should the Lakers’ front office think about taking?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Forget the short term. This season is all about plucky overachievement now, not unlike Chicago’s a year ago. Plenty of moral victories, unexpected contributions from unlikely sources and a rare stretch of underdog ball for one of the NBA’s Big Kahuna franchises. Longer term – as in starting next season – the Lakers need to transition to a player who is Bryant’s equal or better and assume that, at most, Kobe will be 1A to whoever makes up that tandem. There’s no belly or time for a methodical rebuilding in L.A. but there doesn’t have to be, given its pull as a free-agent destination. This just has an Oscar Robertson-needing-young-Kareem feel to it for me.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The short-term plan should just be going back to work, sharing the ball and returning to the scrapping style that had the Lakers with a .500 record at the time of Kobe’s return.  It’s all they can do.  The long-term plan has to re-visit the decision not to move Pau Gasol before he becomes a free agent.  He is the only serious trade chip the Lakers currently have and they need to start thinking ahead to acquire young talent rather than continuing to hitch their prayers onto an old body.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: As for the franchise’s thinking both short-term and long-term, I don’t think it changes anything. Obviously they’ll need a fill-in point guard with Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar all out. Farmar is getting closer, but isn’t ready to play. A D-League guard such as former Suns first-round pick Kendall Marshall could be a short-term fill-in. Otherwise, this is their team, for better or worse, for the short-term. And that’s fine. This was not a title contender with or without Kobe, so let Mike D’Antoni coach these guys up, hope they can scrape their way to another 10-9 record or so without Kobe and see where they are when he’s ready to go. The reality is, and this has nothing to do with tanking, but if ever there was a year to have a season from hell, this is it thanks to the Draft we’ve all obsessed over for months already. The long-term goal was always to pursue free agents this summer and that will remain the plan. With any luck, Kobe is able to get fully healthy, the Lakers add a quality player in the Draft and then acquire more ammunition in July to give Kobe a two-year window to chase a sixth title.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Same as it was thinking before: Get the most out of this team as possible, hope the roster can keep the long-shot playoff hopes alive by staying close to .500 without Bryant just like last time, hope for a second-half push with Kobe back, and then have a championship summer. Consider trades, especially Pau Gasol, but don’t take on bad contracts just to get a deal and don’t cut into the war chest for July. All the things the front office knew before.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Same as they were before Wednesday. This team wasn’t going to be very good whether Kobe was healthy or not. They should certainly be exploring trades, looking to add assets (draft picks and/or young players), though they’re not likely to get much for anyone on that roster.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Kendall Marshall is obviously their short-term solution to a point guard problem Kobe was supposed to solve with his return. You shouldn’t make any long-term decision when you are dealing with any sort of traumatic incident, and make no mistake, after they hit him with that $48 million extension the Lakers are surely feeling a bit emotional about the future. What makes the process tougher is that now they don’t have a healthy Kobe to showcase to free agents they needed to impress in the league up to this summer’s frenzy. Anyone they try to lure to Los Angeles will have to show up and face the prospect of an ailing and fading Kobe as opposed to the league’s most feared performer. Someone send Mitch Kupchak and the Buss family a jumbo supply of Maalox for Christmas, because it’s going to be a rough winter and beyond.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com: That Parker kid at Duke is pretty good! Seriously, there were those heading into the season advocating holding Kobe out as long as possible and, ahem, perhaps focusing more on future draft position and roster flexibility than on trying to be a marginal playoff team in a stacked Western Conference. If anything this latest injury should make that choice much easier.

Blogtable: Thoughts On Kobe’s Extension?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Who is the East’s best PG? | Your advice for Chicago? | Thoughts on Kobe’s extension?


You’re the GM: Is that how you would have played the Kobe re-signing?


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Kobe Bryant’s new two-year contract extension

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: For one thing, I would have waited to see how Bryant’s physical capabilities might have changed since the Achilles injury. What was the rush? Also, I wouldn’t be looking at his extension as “good business” relative to a new TV contract or some sort of tribute to Bryant and the Lakers’ aura. The NBA remains a salary-cap sport, so the primary concern has to be what this means to L.A.’s ability to fit pieces around him. That’s harder at $24 million than it would be at, say, $18 million. Maybe the Buss family will spend itself into Mikhail Prokhorov tax territory but if it does, don’t blame some backup power forward for any multiplier effect — Bryant’s contract will be the driver of that.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: Yes. The Lakers definitely need his alpha dog personality and, despite any doubts about his ability to come back after a torn Achilles’ tendon, he keeps them relevant in the Western Conference. While his $48.5 million extension means the Lakers will not have room to add two max-level free agents next summer, that was likely a pipe dream anyway. And if LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony are so inclined, there is still room for one of them to climb aboard. If I’m the Lakers, I’m not expecting that to happen and might have my sights set on the summer of 2015 when Kevin Love could return to California and Kobe is just a year away from being ready to finally pass the baton.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: In an ideal world, I would have sat down Kobe and said, “Kobe, my man, you’re the greatest. We’ve paid you nearly $300 million over 18 mostly glorious seasons. Let’s get you to about $12 million a season, and believe me, once you’ve retired, we’ll continue to pay you handsomely as the franchise’s No. 1 ambassador. One day, you’ll probably even own a chunk of this thing. But, look, if a sixth title is really important to you, let’s get that salary down, because we all know the modern-day NBA is not the spend-till-you-bleed MLB your pal Magic is tinkering with. Believe me Kobe, we want to give you the moon, but the CBA says we can only afford the crescent part if we want to end up with a full moon that can really contend.” That’s the ideal world. The reality is what played out, and Kobe, the living legend, in taking $48.5 million over two years, cost his team the flexibility to rebuild as thoroughly as it might, if not this summer, than in 2015 as well.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I would have gone one season. That’s a reasonable approach as a show of confidence Kobe has earned and a benefit to the organization that will be able to play and market one of the all-time greats. But two seasons before he gets through a month of games while returning from a serious injury at 35 years old? That’s very steep. And as I wrote Monday, there is also the human cost. The Lakers will be trying to recruit superstar free agents while also telling them that arguably the strongest personality in the league will still be a prominent presence.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: No. I understand the loyalty aspect of it, as well as Kobe’s impact on the Lakers’ revenue, no matter how many games they win or lose. But they probably locked themselves into two more years of not contending for a title by handing him that contract. Salary aside, I’d rather have Tim Duncan than Kobe going forward (for a variety of reasons), and Duncan will get paid less than half of what Kobe’s getting paid. In fact, Kobe’s getting paid more than Duncan and Tony Parker combined each of the next two years. And that puts the Spurs in a much better position than the Lakers in terms of contending for a championship.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’ve already gone on record several times about this one. I have no quarrels with Mitch Kupchak and how the Lakers’ front office “played” this one. I’d have played it the same way, all the way down to making sure to pose and smile in the picture of everyone sitting around the signed contract extension that was tweeted out before the ink was dry. You can argue that business trumped basketball sense in this case, as it often does in this profession. Sometimes that is just the way the game is played. And there is no guarantee that if Kobe had decided to give the Lakers the home franchise discount that they’d have found a way to lure anyone better than Kobe to serve as the face and backbone of the franchise moving forward (just ask Dwight Howard how that works).

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: You know, I get it. The Lakers can’t just be the Lakers, they need to be The Lake Show. They are Hollywood, and they have to have megawatt star power, a BIG name to put up there on the marquee. And in the NBA today, other maybe LeBron James, there’s no name bigger than Kobe Bryant. He’s been a Laker for life, and with this new extension in hand, he will likely retire as a Laker. That’s a great storyline and a terrific career ending to one of the greatest NBA careers in recent memory. The real question is: Is all of that worth nearly $50 million for two years, for a veteran player coming off what has historically been a tough injury for players to overcome? And in some circumstances — different cities, with different financial models — there is no way this could be considered a viable deal. But this isn’t some city, this is Los Angeles. And in L.A., the stars shine brightest. Always have, always will.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Yeap! The Lakers made the choice to build their future around Kobe Bryant over the past few years and they have to stick to their plan. Meaning that Kobe is Kobe. In him, you know that you get a superstar, a great leader, a one-of-a-kind scorer, a player that will push himself and the team to its limits. Having Kobe around alters the way you have to built a team. You don’t need a Big 3 plan on the horizon (like the Heat, the Celtics, the Knicks, or now the Nets). The safest way to success is to find the right tools to set along the court next to him. So, I don’t think that losing the chance to lure another superstar is something necessarily bad. As the Greek saying goes “where there are many roosters, the dawn breaks late.”

Philipp Dornhegge, NBA Deutschland: First of all: You can’t blame Kobe for getting paid. Second, no. As GM of the Lakers, I probably would have insisted on less money. I don’t mind the two years at all. But to deserve $24 million a year, Kobe would have to make the Lakers a sure-fire playoff team on his own. And I’m not sure he will. We don’t even know if he’ll ever be truly back. A torn Achilles is no joke. Maybe he’ll be good for only 18-20 points from now on, maybe even less. And then the Lakers would have one third of their salary committed to a second-option type of player.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA Brasil: You know what? I might have tried to spend a little less, but I would have probably done the same. First, I’m a lousy negotiator, so I would eventually cave in to his demands, and second, he does mean a lot to that franchise. Sure, it puts the Lakers in mediocrity for the next two years, but that guy not only helped bring five championships to L.A, he also will keep that building full until he retires. People have been saying Boston played it smart by trading Paul Pierce, but P.P. doesn’t mean to them half of what Kobe means to the Lakers. I get it. I’d do the same, start scouting 2015’s draft and start planning for free agency in 2016.

Kobe: Injury, Rehab ‘Relit Fire in Me’




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defiant Kobe at his best!

D’Antoni Drinking From Kobe’s Full Cup

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HANG TIME, Texas – It turns out Kobe Bryant isn’t the only one thinking the experts will be eating crow when he and his teammates report for duty in the playoffs next spring.

While he isn’t quite cackling on national TV with Jimmy Kimmel, coach Mike D’Antoni insists that the Lakers can improve on their 45-37 record from last season. At least that’s what he told Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

“I don’t see why not,” he said. “I think we can be better because I don’t think we reached our potential last year. Our lack of defense came mostly from lack of energy from guys that didn’t feel right in their place on the team. Defense is energy, concentration and the desire to do it.

“If something is sapping that energy — distractions, injuries, not feeling good about the team — then you’re not going to put your heart and soul into it and it comes out on the defensive end. They just didn’t feel each other.”

It’s a simple recipe, really. You simply subtract a seven-time All-Star, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, five-time NBA rebounding leader — including last season when he wasn’t fully fit — and the kumbaya spirit of cooperation lifts the entire boat.

Of course, D’Antoni didn’t mention Dwight Howard by name and we think that’s a good thing, since there has been far too much dredging up the pains of the past by everyone in the Laker organization from team president Jim Buss down to the valet parking attendants at the Staples Center. It is time — way past time, in fact — for the Lakers to move on and part of that has to be adopting the old Stuart Smalley from the long ago days of Saturday Night Live: “We’re good enough.”

Can the Lakers be good enough in a Western Conference where they had to go to the final night of the regular season in 2012-13 to finally secure the No. 7 spot in the playoffs and where Houston (with Howard) and Golden State (with Andre Iguodala) would clearly rank ahead of them now in the pecking order. Then there’s the matter of teams such as Minnesota, Portland and New Orleans coming up from behind. The Timberwolves are rebounding from a season fraught with injuries, while the Blazers and Pelicans have made moves to improve their talent.

The Lakers still have the biggest question mark in the league on their side of the ledger, wondering when — and really if — at age 35, Bryant can return to his Black Mamba form. Until that time, they must rely on 39-year-old Steve Nash and 33-year-old Pau Gasol  to carry the load with aging bodies that both broke down last season. D’Antoni’ said he believes that Nash and Gasol will be 100 percent healthy heading into training camp, but this is certainly a time, for their own good and that of the team, that their minutes will have to be monitored closely and likely limited. The defending Western Conference champion Spurs have been able to get away with fewer minutes from Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili because young guys such as Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green are rising through the pipeline. That’s not quite the case with the Lakers, whose offseason additions have been Nick Young, Jordan Farmar, Wesley Johnson and Chris Kaman.

D’Antoni says he’s not going into the season looking over his shoulder in terms of his job security, especially after surviving a summer of blood-letting in the NBA coaching ranks.

“I’m sure it’s out there. If you don’t win, it’s there,” he said. “If you’re coaching in Fort Wayne, it’s going to be the same thing. I think the Lakers are a special case because they’re the No. 1 team that’s on ESPN. You just do the best job you can do and go on. If you get caught up in what they’re saying, you can’t do your job.”

Then he mentioned his peers in what was a surprisingly cranky, impatient off-season.

“Look at what happened to coaches this year. Eleven get let go. And three or four of them had the best years the franchise has ever had,” D’Antoni said. “So who am I to say they’re treating me bad? What about all those other guys?”
D’Antoni never feared for his job security despite the first-round playoff flameout.

“No, because Mitch [Kupchak] and Jim Buss were really supportive and great,” he said of the team’s front-office executives. “I couldn’t ask for anything better from the staff and franchise. I don’t want to be flippant, but you also have to have an attitude of, ‘To hell with everything. Concentrate. Go forward.’ You can’t get distracted by the noise.”

New Breed Of GM Ushers In New Coaches

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HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – At NBA.com, the eight men who will make their NBA head coaching debuts next season are being profiled. Today’s feature is Boston Celtics youngblood Brad Stevens.

Eight rookie head coaches in one season is a notable development in a league known for recycling the position (depending on Philadelphia’s hire the number could reach nine).

Consider that last season’s Coach of the Year and 25-year bench boss, George Karl, is out of work, as is Lionel Hollins, who molded a 24-win team when he took over into a Western Conference finalist last season. In Denver, Brian Shaw has been awarded his first head-coaching gig and in Memphis, Hollins’ top assistant, Dave Joerger, is being given his first shot.

So why are teams suddenly investing in new blood? Is it simply cost-cutting? Is it a belief that new ideas, concepts and techniques are needed to sustain success in today’s game?

“For me, as a first-time GM, and where we are, we need to build something in Phoenix and I wanted to give a guy a chance who maybe hadn’t  been a head coach before,” said recently hired general manager Ryan McDonough, who chose Jeff Hornacek to lead the Suns. “I considered guys who had been coaches before, but the vast majority of candidates I interviewed had assistant coaching experience, but had never been NBA coaches before.”

The words to highlight: “…as a first-time GM…” This summer’s coaching evolution is due, in no small part, to a mounting front-office revolution. More franchises are handing the keys to bright, young minds to make decisions on player evaluation and acquisition.

McDonough, 33, represents the next-generation of NBA general managers — or perhaps more accurately, the now-generation. They’re salary-cap educated, savvy, motivated and highly invested in advanced metrics and new technologies sweeping the league. They don’t have on-court pedigrees like their predecessors, but they have tirelessly worked their way up through video rooms and scouting departments of NBA franchises. Evaluating a player’s skill, versatility and potential goes hand-in-hand with assessing his dollar value under today’s salary-cap, tax-heavy collective bargaining agreement.

McDonough hired assistant GM Pat Connelly, the younger brother of Tim Connelly, the recently hired 36-year-old executive vice president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets. Tim Connelly hired the first-timer Shaw, a tag-team that will learn the ropes together.

“I don’t think it will be a difficult transition,” said Tim Connelly, who replaced Executive of the Year Masai Ujiri, just 39 when the Nuggets promoted the former international scout to general manager in 2010. Ujiri now heads the Toronto Raptors’ front office. “There’s only 30 people with these jobs and we’re both [he and Shaw] fortunate to take over a team that’s had a lot of regular-season success.”

Of the eight rookie head coaches, three were hired by first-time general managers. In the case of Sacramento’s Mike Malone, he was hired by still-newbie owner Vivek Ranadive, who then hired first-time general manager Pete D’Allesandro, 45.

“When I was in Boston,” said McDonough, who worked under Celtics general manager Danny Ainge for a decade, “I kind of always had it in my mind that if I got a GM job I would give a first-time head coach a chance.”

In Memphis, CEO Jason Levien, 40, took control of personnel decisions last season. He parted ways with Hollins and promoted Joerger. Last summer, Orlando chose Rob Hennigan, 31, as GM to consummate a trade for Dwight Howard and reshape the team. Hennigan hired first-time coach Jacque Vaughn. Hennigan’s former boss is Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti, who was also 30 when he took charge of the then-Seattle SuperSonics. Presti hired first-time coach Scott Brooks to lead the Thunder.

In Dallas, owner Mark Cuban and president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson, the longtime Mavericks decision-makers, surprisingly hired Gerrson Rosas, 35, away from Daryl Morey‘s front office with the Houston Rockets to serve as general manager.

Major League Baseball first embraced the analytics movement so prevalent in today’s NBA, and also seems to have cracked the door for the NBA’s front-office youth movement. The Boston Red Sox made then-28-year-old Theo Epstein the youngest GM in baseball history. Epstein built a powerhouse that ended the infamous “Curse of the Bambino” with two World Series titles. The Texas Rangers soon hired Jon Daniels, who was also 28 when he took control. During his tenure, the Rangers made both of the franchise’s World Series appearances.

The old-school GM played the game and then moved “upstairs.” As precision dollar allotment continues to play a larger role in overall player evaluation, the position is trending toward sharp, young minds, students of the game who never actually played in the NBA, and were only learning how to read when Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak was in his prime.

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!