Speculation about Del Negro’s future with the team has raged on for months, long before they faltered in the playoffs. With free-agent point guard Chris Paul still undecided about his future in advance of the July 1 free agent free-for-all, where Paul will be as sought after as anyone on the market not named Dwight Howard.
It should be noted that a Paul favorite and a man familiar to Los Angeles, Byron Scott, was on NBA TV’s airwaves Monday night and is available after being fired in Cleveland. The Clippers would be wise to think about coaches that could connect with their superstar point guard while pursuing Del Negro’s replacement.
There’s also the Phil Jackson factor to think about. If he’s interested in returning to the league in some capacity, but not as a coach, maybe the Clippers consider bringing him back and having him select the next coach.
In addition to Paul, the Clippers will have to take Blake Griffin‘s temperature to see what works for him moving forward. Because if Paul bolts in free agency, Griffin becomes the sole face of the franchise heading into the 2013-14 season.
This opening instantly becomes the hottest job on the market for coaches looking for work, especially if Paul remains with the franchise. And you should expect a whose who of candidates to be associated with the rumors in the coming days and weeks. Former Clippers and Suns coach Alvin Gentry, Scott, Golden State Warriors assistant Mike Malone, Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and even Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins will all be targets.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS –Kobe Bryant will never escape Michael Jordan‘s shadow, not as long as basketball fans from different eras continue to measure one superstar’s greatness against another’s.
The argument gets some unique spice this time around, though, from none other than Hall of fame coach Phil Jackson.
Jackson’s new book, “Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success,” addresses the MJ-Kobe topic head on. The book is set to be released Tuesday but The Los Angeles Times received an advanced copy and highlights the Kobe-Phil-MJ dynamic in detail. Phil sides with Jordan in basically every instance, which kicked off a Twitter back and forth between Kobe and Phil that is sure to gain more steam when the hoops loving public gets their hands on the book, and throughout Phil’s book tour.
Listen friends of bball; don’t get hung up on words. I was most fortunate to have the chance to coach two of the greatest gds. EVER MJ/Kobe— Phil Jackson (@PhilJackson11) May 17, 2013
In the book, Jackson finally details what separates Jordan from Bryant, comparing the two superstars with a perspective no one else can match. He won all 11 of his rings (six with Jordan and five with Kobe) coaching one of them. My main man Mike Bresnahan of The Times serves up the good stuff:
“Michael was more charismatic and gregarious than Kobe. He loved hanging out with his teammates and security guards, playing cards, smoking cigars, and joking around,” Jackson said in the book, which was obtained in advance by The Times.
“Kobe is different. He was reserved as a teenager, in part because he was younger than the other players and hadn’t developed strong social skills in college. When Kobe first joined the Lakers, he avoided fraternizing with his teammates. But his inclination to keep to himself shifted as he grew older. Increasingly, Kobe put more energy into getting to know the other players, especially when the team was on the road.”
While Jackson coached, he often jabbed at Bryant’s seemingly annual appearance on the NBA’s All-Defensive team. Now we know why.
“No question, Michael was a tougher, more intimidating defender. He could break through virtually any screen and shut down almost any player with his intense, laser-focused style of defense,” said Jackson, who coached Jordan to six championships and Bryant to five.
“Kobe has learned a lot from studying Michael’s tricks, and we often used him as our secret weapon on defense when we needed to turn the direction of a game. In general, Kobe tends to rely more heavily on his flexibility and craftiness, but he takes a lot of gambles on defense and sometimes pays the price.”
But the most interesting topic by far is his perspective on the differences between MJ and Kobe:
“Michael was more likely to break through his attackers with power and strength, while Kobe often tries to finesse his way through mass pileups,” Jackson wrote. “Michael was stronger, with bigger shoulders and a sturdier frame. He also had large hands that allowed him to control the ball better and make subtle fakes.
“Jordan was also more naturally inclined to let the game come to him and not overplay his hand, whereas Kobe tends to force the action, especially when the game isn’t going his way. When his shot is off, Kobe will pound away relentlessly until his luck turns. Michael, on the other hand, would shift his attention to defense or passing or setting screens to help the team win the game.”
Jackson’s most scathing observation of the two men involves the leadership qualities they possessed, and in Kobe’s case did not possess, and what kind of impact that had on their respective teams (and granted, Kobe was a youngster on those Lakers teams with Shaquille O’Neal):
“One of the biggest differences between the two stars from my perspective was Michael’s superior skills as a leader,” Jackson writes. “Though at times he could be hard on his teammates, Michael was masterful at controlling the emotional climate of the team with the power of his presence. Kobe had a long way to go before he could make that claim. He talked a good game, but he’d yet to experience the cold truth of leadership in his bones, as Michael had in his bones.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Raise your hand, you twisted souls, if you’re ready for another episode of the Dwight Howard-Stan Van Gundy show.
Even Hawks fans, a group starved for both star power on the roster and stability with the coaching staff, are wary of the potential pairing of these former Orlando Magic stalwarts in the ATL. Their deteriorating relationship marred their final season together in a situation that was anything but magic in Orlando.
But when the coaching carousel kicks up this time of year, and a half-dozen or so different teams are picking over the same small pool of elite coaching candidates, all things are possible.
Van Gundy, and his brother, Jeff Van Gundy, are going to be on short lists everywhere, along with Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Larry Brown and whoever the assistant coach(es) du jour might be.
What looks good on paper and sounds sweet in theory, however, doesn’t always hold up in reality. Multiple reports of Stan Van Gundy being pursued by the Hawks, who have announced that they will explore all options in determining who replaces Larry Drew (if they replace him), make perfect sense. Hawks GM Danny Ferry is in the process of rebuilding his roster and needs a coach on board before the Draft.
“I have great appreciation and respect for Larry and how he led our team this season,” Ferry told Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Saturday. “At the same time, it is my responsibility and in the best interests of the Hawks organization to consider all of our options, and talk with other potential head coaches before making a decision about who will lead our basketball team. Larry and I have had open communication about this approach. If Larry and I continue to work together, we ultimately will be a stronger organization because of our discussions and this thorough process.”
That’s an eloquent way of stating the obvious: that the Hawks plan on moving on from the past nine years (Drew was an assistant under current Knicks Mike Woodson during his six seasons with Atlanta before Drew spent the last three season its coach). And it’s understandable. No one will blame Ferry for making a clean break from the Hawks’ recent past, provided he upgrades the coaching situation and the roster with all of that $33 million in cap space and the four Draft picks the Hawks will be armed with this summer.
The burning question remains, then, is Stan Van a legitimate upgrade?
He did take the Magic to The Finals in 2009, the Miami Heat to the Eastern Conference finals (2005) and did the same with Orlando (2010). But he was shown the door in both places after his star players grew tired of his grinding ways. Weighing the pros and cons of Stan Van being the face and voice of your franchise heading into a huge free-agent summer is a risky proposition for the Hawks, one that Ferry is surely aware of as he continues to sort through the process of finding the right coach.
There are five other current openings around the league, with another one (Los Angeles Clippers … ?) still looming. With a bevy of candidates, we take a look at who fits best where and why …
Atlanta Hawks: Mike Malone, assistant coach Golden State Warriors
In a realm where it’s often who you know as well as what you know, Malone can check those boxes with the Hawks. He’s done stellar work with the Warriors, helping guide them into a prime time position this postseason under Mark Jackson. He also worked under Mike Brown in Cleveland when Ferry ran that franchise. Malone is a nuts-and-bolts coach who won’t come with the baggage of some of the more recognizable candidates for the job. He’s universally respected and will likely be on the interview list for every opening out there.
Brooklyn Nets: Jeff Van Gundy, ABC/ESPN analyst
No available coach has a better handle on the rigors of guiding a team in the New York area. Van Gundy’s Knicks history, along with his work on ABC and ESPN broadcasts, has kept him in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds. He’s got the coaching chops required to manage a complex and talented roster that clearly needs a guiding force to reach its potential. His former partner in the booth, Mark Jackson, has done wonders in his first coaching stint in Golden State. Van Gundy could work similar magic with a Nets team that underachieved this season.
Charlotte Bobcats: Larry Drew, coach Atlanta Hawks
Drew worked alongside Bobcats owner Michael Jordan when they were both in Washington, so there is plenty of familiarity there. He also impressed many around the league with the work he did in an impossible situation in Atlanta the past three seasons. Even with constant changes on the roster and in the front office, Drew coached the Hawks to three straight playoff appearances. He would walk into a situation in Charlotte that looks a lot like the one he walked into with the Hawks nine years ago. That blueprint for thriving in the face of adversity could come in handy for the Bobcats.
Detroit Pistons: Jerry Sloan, former coach Utah Jazz
The Pistons have a roster filled with talented young players in need of guidance and direction. That’s the idea fit for a disciplinarian like Sloan, who could work wonders with bigs Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond in particular. Sloan’s Jazz teams were known for being the model of consistency. He won with superstar talent (Karl Malone and John Stockton) and kept on winning after they retired. The Pistons have had their greatest success in recent years under another veteran coach, Larry Brown, and could return to relevance under Sloan.
Milwaukee Bucks: David Fizdale, assistant coach Miami Heat
With the Big 3 in Miami, most of the attention has been strictly on the players. But Erik Spoelstra‘s key hire since taking over as coach in Miami was luring Fizdale away from the Hawks. He’s considered one of the brightest up-and-coming coaching candidates in the league and has done fantastic work with the continued development of both Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Luring him away from a championship situation in Miami won’t be easy for the Bucks or anyone else. But Fizdale has designs on running his own team and working with Bucks GM John Hammond would be a good place to get that first shot.
Philadelphia 76ers: Stan Van Gundy, former coach Orlando Magic
After the emotional roller coaster that was the Doug Collins experience, Jrue Holiday, Evan Turner, Thaddeus Young, Spencer Hawes and the rest of the Sixers’ young core need a savvy veteran to deal with, not a first-time coach who would have to transition to a new gig in a city known for chewing up the strongest of personalities. Stan Van gives the Sixers a bold personality to lead the way and an absolute technician of the game to help push the right buttons for a team that needs the sort of stewardship he tried to provide in Orlando.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Dominique Wilkins is living life young hoop dreamers fantasize about. High school and college star, NBA superstar and eventually a Hall of Famer.
The Atlanta Hawks’ vice president of basketball joined us on Episode 116 of the Hang Time Podcast to talk about his journey as well as the path his Hawks are walking now as they embark upon a huge summer rebuilding project.
And he takes our advice and makes sure that Hawks GM Danny Ferry places a call to Phil Jackson (why not? Everyone else is calling the Zen Master these days), the Hawks could be on the cusp of the greatest stretch in franchise history. They’d have to pull off the stunner first, however, and actually get Jackson to take the call and even entertain the possibility of joining the Hawks in some capacity (which is longtime Hawks fan Lang Whitaker‘s hoops fantasy). And that would require some serious lobbying on the part of Rick Fox, who played on championship teams coached by Jackson with the Los Angeles Lakers.
In the meantime, we’ll continue to keep an eye on the playoffs and awards season and continue to debate which is more unpredictable. The Chicago Bulls and Indiana Pacers both won Game 1 on the road in their respective Eastern Conference semifinal series, while the Memphis Grizzlies won Game 2 and the Golden State Warriors will attempt to match that feat tonight in San Antonio (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT). We discuss how big a deal the shakeup has been on LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony (the top three vote-getters in the KIA NBA Most Valuable Player race).
We also got off into a heated debate about the merits of each candidate in the Coach of the Year race and whether George Karl’s runaway win makes sense with his team already gone fishing and other worthy candidates such as Tom Thibodeau, Mike Woodson, Mark Jackson, Lionel Hollins and others still working this season. (Trust me, it gets plenty messy … especially when we try to rationalize Vinny Del Negro getting a first-place vote and finishing ahead of both Doc Rivers and Scott Brooks).
You get all of that and much more, right here on Episode 116 of the Hang Time Podcast …
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The sting of blowing a Game 7 on their home floor will linger for a while in Brooklyn. There is no way to dress up that debacle.
A new coach, though, one with a high profile and Hall of Fame credentials, is a good place to start. And from all indications the Nets are setting their sights high. Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Jeff or Stan Van Gundy and even Larry Brown‘s name has been mentioned by a few league executives who are watching the Nets and waiting to see where they go next.
They are all on the Nets’ short list as of this afternoon.
What makes the Nets search for a replacement for the replacement is that Sloan, who coached with and clashed, at times, with Nets star Deron Williams in Utah, is on the list of candidates to fill the job.
Much like the other candidates on the Nets’ list, Sloan’s name tends to come up whenever there is an opening. This Nets opening, however, appeals to him. He said as much to Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com:
“I’m open, I would listen,” Sloan told CSNNW.com via phone. “I haven’t done the research on their roster, but I would definitely listen if they called.”
Already linked to the Milwaukee Bucks Head Coaching gig, Sloan admits he’s interested in getting back to roaming the sidelines, but only under the right circumstances and conditions.
“According to reports, I’m interested in every job that’s out there,” Sloan said. “That’s just not the case. I don’t like being linked to every opening. If the right situation presented itself, I will look into it.”
Sloan dropping his John Deere cap and days spent on his tractor for the sideline in Brooklyn has movie of the week potential. But any team could use his wisdom and guidance, provided the players on the roster are willing to listen.
The Nets won’t have the flexibility to tinker with their roster this summer, so the most significant change they’ll make will be in the coaching ranks. There is also a temperament change that is needed, one highlighted by many in the immediate aftermath of that lackadaisical Game 7 effort.
Williams has his own ideas about what the Nets need in a new coach and it’s all about someone who demands his team play with the intestinal fortitude to win a Game 7 on their home floor in the playoffs, based on what he told Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com:
Williams was asked what quality the Nets need more of.
“Toughness,” he replied. “I think that’s what we’ve used a lot. Toughness. I think we got out-toughed in that last series, especially [Saturday], so I think that’s the main thing.”
Williams thinks a coach like his former one in Utah, Jerry Sloan, could get toughness out of his players.
“When I played for Coach Sloan, I think he had that effect — just the way he coaches and the way he talked to us every day and the way he prepared us for games kind of rubbed off,” Williams said.
Would Williams want to play for Sloan again?
“I would love to,” he replied.
And Phil Jackson?
“Who wouldn’t want to play for Phil Jackson?” he replied.
Regardless, Williams believes the team’s next coach needs to be experienced.
“Yeah, I think so. I think somebody that’s creative on offense and has a good system on defense,” he said. “I haven’t really thought much about it. I think we just need somebody that’s going to lead us, somebody everybody respects for sure; it’s tough.”
That “somebody” could be anyone on the Nets’ short list.
But the description sounds an awful lot like Sloan …
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 …
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.
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.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Despite our best efforts to convince him to do so, Kobe Bryant did not live Tweet Episode 114 of the Hang Time Podcast.
Apparently, the injured Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar was serious about curbing his enthusiasm for 140 character bursts of his insights after his work in Game 1 of the Lakers-San Antonio Spurs series caused an uproar (even Phil Jackson got in on the Twitter fun).
Seriously, though, if ever there was a time for some instant analysis on what’s going on in the NBA, it’s the first round of the playoffs, when the chatter on and off the court comes in constant waves from one side of the country to the other.
Can Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks finish off the Boston Celtics as we’ve known them in their series? Can the Chicago Bulls, sans Derrick Rose, upset the Brooklyn Nets and move on to a second round date against LeBron James and the Miami Heat? How in the world did Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors shoot a mind-boggling 65 percent from the floor (57 percent from deep) in a playoff game?
And how exactly did the Cleveland Cavaliers convince Mike Brown to come back to them for a second go around as their head coach (there are $20 million reasons that forced him to say yes)?
We discuss answers for all of those questions and plenty more on Episode 114 of the Hang Time Podcast: Playoff Chatter!
If the Cleveland Cavaliers have their way, that won’t just be a question … it’ll be a reality. The Cavaliers’ coaching search shifted from reuniting with former coach Mike Brown to focusing on another, much more accomplished former Los Angeles Lakers coach.
The Cavs have entered the Zen Master’s zone, per a report from ESPN.com, as they reached out to the “retired” Jackson to gauge his interest in coming aboard to help revive the franchise. It’s not the first time the Cavs have approached Jackson:
Jackson interviewed with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert in 2005, when Gilbert was looking for a coach. That year, Gilbert ended up hiring Mike Brown.
Brown and the Cavs have mutual interest in a reunion. Gilbert and Brown met over dinner Sunday night, a league source confirmed.
Jackson is considering other coaching options, sources said. The Brooklyn Nets and possibly the Sacramento Kings – if they relocate to Seattle — are two teams likely to appeal to Jackson more than the Cavaliers, according to sources close to the situation.
The Nets reached out to Jackson before even firing coach Avery Johnson last fall and are expected to check his interest again following the season. The Seattle-based group attempting to purchase and relocate the Kings, led by investor Chris Hansen, is interested in bringing Jackson on board in an executive role if it wins approval for the deal, sources said.
Jackson is believed to be looking for a similar situation as Pat Riley has with the Miami Heat– oversee personnel moves and mentor a head coach. To land and keep Riley, the Heat gave him a deal that included an ownership stake in the franchise.
Jackson entertaining an offer to get back into coaching is one thing. To dive into a situation in need of as much rebuilding work as the Cavs require, however, seems like a longshot. All-Star Kyrie Irving is a promising young talent and the Cavaliers will have financial flexibility this summer, but they just don’t fit Jackson’s usual profile.
With a number of potential coaching vacancies this summer, and Jackson high on the wish list in each and every instance, it makes sense for the Cavaliers to be proactive in their pursuit of arguably the best coach in NBA history.
Whether or not that pursuit produces anything other than interesting headlines and lots of chatter remains to be seen.
HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Let the singing of the praises begin. The Los Angeles Lakers are in the playoffs and in this strange season, that’s no small feat.
May it start with Dwight Howard. He was demanded to be dominant without Kobe Bryant by analysts such as Magic Johnson and more, and for those two must-have games he delivered: 42 points, 35 rebounds and seven blocks while playing 82 of 96 minutes.
“Everybody counted us out, but one thing that I told the guys tonight was that we’ve been through so much as a team this year, from the injuries to the rumors and everything that has happened,” Howard said after the Lakers rallied to defeat Houston 99-95 in overtime and pass the Rockets for the seventh seed. “It could have made us separate from each other, but we stayed strong, stayed together and we won for each other tonight. So we’re happy that we’re in the playoffs, but we’re not done yet.”
Next up for a golf clap is coach Mike D’Antoni. He’s absorbed tidal waves of criticism since taking over — including from right here — as the fans’ distant second choice to jilted Phil Jackson. Sure, Kobe’s season-ending Achilles injury might have finally forced D’Antoni to bend and feed his two bigs, Dwight and Pau Gasol, as so many have screamed for months, but he did.
Dwight’s 30 shot attempts over the last two games are his highest two-game total since March 6-8. At the other end, he reminded us why he was the three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Orlando before the back injury last season derailed a shot at four in a row. His two defensive gems against a driving James Harden late in the game were marvelous.
Gasol, dogged by injuries and an intellectual basketball divide with D’Antoni, came through in the last two games with 24 points, 36 rebounds and 13 assists, with a number of nifty passes going to Dwight.
The bottom line is the Lakers were written off and easily ridiculed. On Jan. 2 they were 15-16 and in 11th place. On Jan. 24 the Lakers hit rock-bottom, in 12th place at 17-25. Since then, through the death of beloved owner Jerry Buss and injuries to Gasol and Nash and Metta World Peace and now Kobe, they finished 28-12.
With the season on the line every single day in April, the Lakers won eight of nine.
“Obviously I’m really proud the way for just a month they had to just play in elimination-like games every night, and I think Steve Nash said it best, or Dwight, I forget which one said it, but after they [Houston's Chandler Parsons] threw in the 3 to tie the game and it went into overtime, he said, ‘It’s been hard all year, this stuff’s happened all year, so why was this any different, and it’s not going to be easy and let’s go out and win it,’ and they did.
“The great thing about it was everybody contributed, somebody did something that we got the win, because you can’t shoot 36 percent and make it easy, it’s going to be tough. So we didn’t shoot the ball well, but other than that I thought we had good shots and I thought the guys obviously played hard and we played well defensively again.”
It has been a team thing. Steve Blake has been off the charts with back-to-back 20-plus-point games. Antawn Jamison had 31 points and 10 rebounds, and shot 5-for-10 from beyond the arc.
While Utah’s loss at Memphis just before the Lakers tipped off against the Rockets got them in the playoffs, the gutsy win made sure they’d snag the unforeseen seventh seed and avoid Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Blake said. “I’m just proud to be a Laker.”
Now these Lakers will take their cuts, with the pressure eased and nothing to lose with Kobe on crutches, against a disciplined and proficient San Antonio Spurs team. However, it is a Spurs team that limps into the postseason and isn’t immune to an early postseason upset.
In this strange season, anything, it seems, is possible.