Posts Tagged ‘The Los Angeles Times’

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 123): Featuring Brad Turner Of The Los Angeles Times

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The 2012-13 season came to a spectacularly thrilling end on the court with the Miami Heat repeating as NBA champions by prevailing over the  San Antonio Spurs in an epic seven-game series, which is exactly the way you want a season to end.

But we are far from finished here at the hideout. Not only do we have to analyze what went on in The Finals (the legacies of LeBron James, Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Tony Parker, Chris Bosh and Manu Ginobili were all on the line, Gregg Popovich and Erik Spoelstra, too) we’ve also got the Draft on tap Thursday night from Brooklyn and the latest twists and turns on the coaching carousel (Doc Rivers from Boston to the LA Clippers as head coach and senior vice president of basketball operations, Brian Shaw from Indiana to Denver and Dave Joerger making the 18-inch move from assistant to head coach in Memphis).

Our main man Brad Turner, a HT fave (that’s him on the intro) and the Clippers beat writer for The Los Angeles Times, has been all over the Rivers/Clippers story and joins us to help break down how it all came together … why getting Doc is so crucial to the Clippers keeping Chris Paul in free agency and how this teams will morph from the talented but suspect group we’ve watched the past two seasons into championship material worthy of a city that recognizes rings and nothing less.

You get all of that and so much more on Episode 123 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.

Reports: Celtics-Clippers Deal ‘Dead’



.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Well, that was fun while it lasted.

But the proposed trade between the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, the one that would have sent Kevin Garnett, DeAndre Jordan and a couple of Draft picks, along with Doc Rivers in a separate scenario, across country in different directions is now “dead,” according to Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times:

Turner has more in his story for the Times, where he details what may have caused a breakdown in the potential blockbuster:

The final sticking point that stopped the deal was Boston president of basketball operations Danny Ainge insisting that Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks give the Celtics two No. 1 draft picks along with DeAndre Jordan, said league officials who were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Sacks was prepared to trade Jordan and one No. 1 pick for the rights to negotiate with Rivers and to acquire Garnett, but refused to add another first-round pick, the executives said.

The Clippers and Celtics started talks again early Tuesday morning, knowing that Eric Bledsoe wasn’t going to be in the deal, but were still unable to make a connection.

The Clippers now move on to having more conversations with Byron Scott and Brian Shaw, the executives said.

Further proof that the current deal is no longer in play comes from the Boston Globe, where Ainge confirmed to Baxter Holmes that the deal is indeed dead:

Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge confirmed to the Globe that the proposed Celtics-Clippers blockbuster deal that would have sent both Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett to the Clippers is, in fact, “dead.”

The Clippers began leaking word Tuesday that the Celtics’ asking price of DeAndre Jordan and two first-round draft picks in exchange for Rivers and Garnett was too steep, and they were set to move on and hire either Lionel Hollins or Brian Shaw as a new coach.

A league source confirmed to the Globe that the main hangup in the deal was that the Clippers did not want to give up a second first-round draft pick.

Now, Rivers is certainly in an interesting position.

Because of a non-compete clause in the five-year extension he signed in 2011, Rivers can’t coach anywhere else for the next three years unless the Celtics grant permission.

But Rivers, according to league sources, is not at all enamored with the idea of coaching a rebuilding team.

Did the Clippers get cold feet?

Did the Celtics?

Maybe Doc had second thoughts about being involved in this sort of bizarre trade scenario?

Whatever the breakdown, the deal appears to be dead … for now.

Let the finger pointing and speculation begin!

The Celtics-Clippers Saga Continues …





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Admit it, you’re going to miss DeAndre Jordan in a Los Angeles Clippers uniform. You’re going to miss the dunks and the off-court comic pairing with Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin.

But if we are reading this Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Clippers-Doc Rivers trade situation right, Jordan is headed to Boston in one part of a complex potential trade scenario that also will include Rivers departing Boston for the Clippers and the chance to chase championships with a few familiar faces (Kevin Garnett and perhaps Paul Pierce) as well as a few new ones (Griffin and potentially Chris Paul).

Monday’s hot name, Eric Bledsoe, the player both sides refused to budge on, is apparently out of the deal now.

It’s complicated, I know. But aren’t these blockbuster scenarios always a bit more complicated than the average trade?

The latest from around the basketball world on this saga …

Celtics ready to deal for Jordan and two first-round Draft picks …

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports: After pushing for the Clippers to take back long-term contracts, the Celtics relented and have shown willingness to complete the deal for DeAndre Jordan and two first-round draft picks, sources said. The Clippers are willing to give the Celtics Jordan and one draft pick, but were resisting a second future pick, sources said.

The two teams are planning to talk again on Tuesday morning, and the fragile negotiations could climax over the draft pick compensation, sources said.

If the Clippers become the championship contenders that they expected this trade will make them, the additional draft pick would likely be near the end of the first round.

 The financial investment in this deal for Los Angeles is unprecedented for the franchise, and it could be giving it 11th-hour pause. The Clippers must pay a $3.5 million trade kicker on Jordan’s contract and finalize an agreement with Rivers on a five-year deal worth approximately $35 million, league sources said.

Serious talks but still no deal …

Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com: Sources close to the process told ESPN.com that the Celtics and Clippers held “substantive discussions” Monday on the proposed multilayered transactions that would send Rivers and Celtics star Kevin Garnett to Los Angeles. But the teams, sources say, remain unable to agree on a final trade framework to go through with the two deals, even after Boston relented on its insistence that the Clippers include prized young guard Eric Bledsoe as part of the package for Rivers and Garnett.

Another element of the talks, sources said, is the negotiations between Rivers and the Clippers on a coaching contract. Rivers has three years left on his original five-year, $35 million deal with the Celtics and will be looking to stay in the same salary range if Boston ultimately receives what it deems sufficient compensation to let the 51-year-old out of that deal.

So the Clippers, in what NBA coaching sources are terming a “separate process,” have moved ahead with their coaching search just in case, for one reason or another, they’ll be unable to pry Rivers out of Boston. They’ve arranged sitdowns this week for Byron Scott (Tuesday) and Brian Shaw (Wednesday) with Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Lionel Hollins, the other finalist for the Clippers’ job before the pursuit of Rivers got serious, already met with Sterling.

Numerous sources connected to talks continued to express optimism Monday that the Celtics and Clippers will eventually agree to terms this week, with some interpreting the Clippers’ plans to resume talks with the likes of Shaw and Scott as their latest thinly veiled message to the Celtics that they aren’t afraid to walk away from the table.

“It’s a dance right now,” said one source close to the process. “I think it’ll eventually happen. They’re just staring at each other.”

Is Ainge satisfied with this haul?

Sam Amick of USA Today: The only question that matters at the moment is whether Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge eventually will decide that acquiring fifth-year center DeAndre Jordan and two future first-round picks is fair compensation for losing his coach and his 37-year-old big man.

If he does, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, this deal will likely get done. If he doesn’t, and instead insists that third-year Clippers point guard Eric Bledsoe must also be in the trade, then Rivers and Garnett would stay put and the Clippers would simply hire one of the coaching candidates who have interviewed for their vacant job (former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins and Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw lead that group).

While Celtics small forward Paul Pierce is not part of the trade talks, he could be bought out of the final year of his contract this July ($5 million of his $15.3 million) and join Rivers and Garnett with the Clippers as a free agent if this deal went down. The people spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of the talks.

While Rivers would not technically be part of the trade, the Celtics would allow the Clippers to sign him as part of the agreement. Rivers has a non-compete clause in his contract that would be nullified, and he would forgo the three years and $21 million remaining on his Celtics contract.The Clippers are prepared to pay him just less than $7 million annually, but only if they can bring him in without mortgaging their future by losing Bledsoe.

Yet if Rivers were willing consider giving back some of his earnings as a way to ease Ainge’s pain, that could be a way to nudge these negotiations along. The Celtics could move forward with a new coach whose salary would be, in essence, paid for by the old coach.

Rivers still grappling with his decision?

Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: If the Celtics plan to part with Rivers, they want a young piece, draft picks and salary cap relief. Realizing that signing [Jason] Terry and [Courtney] Lee to multiyear deals at the mid-level exception (5-plus million) was a mistake, the Celtics would prefer the Clippers accept those deals to facilitate clearance to negotiate a contract with Rivers.

Meanwhile, a source close to Rivers told the Globe that Rivers is still grappling with the decision, especially as the trade gets more complicated and negotiations more contentious. The talk of the Clippers acquiring Paul Pierce in the trade are remote, especially since the Celtics would have to honor his deal and send him to the Clippers with a $15 million salary.

And don’t expect the Celtics to waive Pierce just to see him sign with the Clippers during free agency. If they decide to trade Pierce, and NBA sources said the team is open to the possibility, they want a return for his services unless waiving him will allow him enough salary cap space to sign a solid free agent.

The consensus around the league is that a decision on this has to be made this week and Rivers is looking worse by the day because of his indecisiveness.

Key decision makers, Ainge and Sacks, stuck in neutral … 

Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times: The main characters are Boston Coach Doc Rivers and All-Star forward Kevin Garnett, trying to get to the Clippers as a duo. The men calling the shots — Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and Clippers vice president of basketball operations Gary Sacks — can’t seem to reach agreement on a mutually satisfactory deal.

So both organizations were stuck in neutral by Monday evening after player names were tossed back and forth, the talks at a standstill but not completely over, according to NBA executives who did not want to be identified by name because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the situation.

The two sides intend to keep the talks alive Tuesday. But the Clippers also plan to have coaching candidates Byron Scott and Brian Shaw meet with owner Donald Sterling this week in case the team can’t make a deal to get Rivers, executives said.

Shaw, associate head coach of the Indiana Pacers, on Tuesday is scheduled to meet for the second time with the Denver Nuggets about their head-coach vacancy. Then Shaw is to meet with Sterling on Wednesday. Shaw interviewed face to face with the Clippers last week, but this will be his first sit-down with Sterling, executives said.

Scott, former coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, New Orleans Hornets and New Jersey Nets, is scheduled to meet with Sterling on Tuesday afternoon, the executives said. Scott also met with the Clippers last Tuesday but didn’t talk with Sterling.



Marquee Coaches, Players Continue To Rule NBA’s Bizarro World



.

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Good luck deciphering what’s real and what’s patently absurd in regards to the on-again, off-again saga that is the Los Angeles Clippers’ pursuit of Doc Rivers as their next coach.

Franchises making trades to appease coaches, who in turn will walk away from one team to coach another … it’s news from basketball’s bizarro world. And free agency is still two weeks away.

As of this morning, Rivers remains the Boston Celtics’ coach, with three years and $21 million on a contract that the Celtics would love for him to see through. The Clippers have two other prime choices, Indiana Pacers assistant coach Brian Shaw and former Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, ready and willing to take over the reins of a franchise coming off its finest season in history.

But how long Rivers remains the Celtics’ coach could be up in the air, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports. The sides have reportedly rekindled talks that stalled over the weekend and trying to put the finishing touches on a deal that would send Kevin Garnett and Rivers to the Clippers in a deal that would include Eric Bledsoe and perhaps DeAndre Jordan, along with other assets:

Discussions over a blockbuster deal reached an impasse on Saturday when Boston general manager Danny Ainge held firm that Bledsoe had to be a part of package that included DeAndre Jordan and a first-round pick, but sources say that Boston has shown a willingness to find another asset to supplant Bledsoe and complete the complicated deal, sources said.

 The Clippers are prepared to give Rivers a five-year deal to coach and believe acquiring Rivers and Garnett – who will waive his no-trade clause – will lock up the re-signing of free-agent superstar Chris Paul, sources said.

The prospects of bringing Rivers back to the Celtics have become less appealing for Boston, who understand, as one league executive said, “There’s no putting the genie back in the bottle. You can’t pretend this didn’t happen and just go back to work.”

Even if we are to believe that a Clippers-Celtics trade is contingent upon the Celtics getting their hands on Bledsoe, we all have to swallow the reality that this is still a system where marquee coaches and players continue to rule the world. Because no fringe player should ever hold up a slam-dunk deal that involves a franchise starving for direction and leadership missing out on a leader like Rivers.

The complications arise when you try to figure out what Rivers has in mind without hearing him explain it. He hasn’t uttered a public word about his intentions, leaving others to speculate about what it is he plans to do regarding his future — with the Celtics and in coaching altogether.

With a report surfacing that Rivers could opt for a return to the broadcast booth either way, the Clippers and Celtics could be going through all of this for nothing (according to A. Sherrod Blakely of the CSSNE.com):

The potential trade with the Los Angeles Clippers that would have freed up Doc Rivers to coach them is still considered a no-go.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Rivers will be back on the sidelines as the Celtics head coach this season.

A league source tells CSNNE.com that Rivers has not entirely ruled out taking some time off to resume his broadcasting career and return afterwards to coach.

“You guys (media) have been around Doc long enough to know that’s always been something he’s talked about,” the source said. “So it shouldn’t come as a surprise. And frankly, now is probably as good a time as any for him to go that route.”

If Rivers needs an escape route for the rebuilding process that seems inevitable in Boston, rekindling his broadcast roots might be the best route. The ill will a potential move to the Clippers’ bench will foster in Boston will be severe.

But if the Clippers are serious not only about acquiring Rivers, Garnett and Paul Pierce to pair with Paul, but also pursuing and eventually adding Dwight Howard, who is central to Phase II of this fantasy basketball plot, consider me impressed by the audacity of the Clippers to dream this big.

Never mind that the Lakers still believe that Howard will stick around. Building a future around the game’s best big man is much easier to do than building around an All-Star like Blake Griffin, who would have to be a part of any theoretical sign-and-trade deal.

(The Lakers doing this sort of business with the Clippers is yet another patently absurd idea that, in this environment, is every bit as plausible as anything else we’ve heard.)

If all of this hinged on the return of an injured stars like, say, Kobe Bryant or Rajon Rondo, all of the hand-wringing over the minutiae would make a little more sense. Any time there is a potential blockbuster deal to be made, you have to be willing to listen. Ainge has always been willing to do so and the Lakers and Clippers have not been strangers to the blockbuster in recent seasons (both Paul and Howard were acquired via blockbuster deals).

But for all of this to rest on the shoulders of Paul’s backup, albeit a talented young player in his own right, just doesn’t seem right.

CP3 Steamed At Clippers, As He Should Be!





HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – If this is the Los Angeles Clippers’ way of wooing Chris Paul, they might want to come up with a new strategy.

Hanging your superstar out to dry by indicating he’s the reason coach Vinny Del Negro was not retained and that whatever other decisions are made rest on his shoulders is not a sound strategy. That’s especially true with Paul just a month away from the full-court press of free agency from suitors around the league.

Paul is reportedly upset about being thrown into the middle of this Del Negro mess, by Clippers owner Donald Sterling of all people, and he should be upset. CP3 has been mindful throughout this entire process to stay clear of any controversy regarding the Clippers’ front-office plans. Both he and All-Star forward Blake Griffin have been thrust into this drama, as the main culprits in the decision-making process that they are believed to have influenced, despite no evidence to support this.

Chris Broussard of ESPN The Magazine reports, via sources, that Paul is upset that he’s being portrayed as some sort of coach killer:

“He’s angry right now and his anger is directed toward the Clippers organization,” the source said. “Chris is a man of principle and if he feels like you’ve gone against his principles, it will affect how he feels about you. He’s very agitated that his name has been put out there as the reason for Vinny’s firing. He had nothing to do with it.”

This fire started last week, when Del Negro was fired and T.J. Simers of The Los Angeles Times put Sterling on the hot seat about the decision. Sterling didn’t name names, but he made it clear that the wishes of the players were a part of the process:

“The coach is a wonderful man, and I’m sad about the whole thing,” Sterling said.

“Was this done,” I asked, “just to hang on to Chris Paul?”

“I always want to be honest and not say anything that is not true,” Sterling said. “So I’d rather not say anything.

“But you know, the coach did a really good job. I think he did. And I liked working with him. There are just factors that make life very complicated and very challenging.”

So the Clippers are trying to hang on to Paul.

But don’t they already have him locked up? The team has done everything to make him comfortable, even hire his favorite PR guy from New Orleans.

Do the Clippers really think he would accept almost $28 million less to sign elsewhere?

“Here you have two inexperienced people running your basketball operation in [GM] Gary Sacks and [son-in-law] Eric Miller,” I told Sterling. “And Andy Roeser doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to basketball personnel decisions.

“So I wonder, is this decision being made because the players are now calling the shots? Am I off base?”

“No, you’re not off base,” Sterling said. “This is a players’ league, and, unfortunately, if you want to win you have to make the players happy. Don’t you think that’s true?”

I answered: “No. Money makes players happy.”

As stated, the Clippers can offer Paul more money than any other suitor that will chase him in free agency. Anyone assuming they’ll be able to buy their way out of this mess with Paul doesn’t really know the man.

Del Negro isn’t the first coach (and he won’t be the last) thrown in the trash bin because he didn’t get a ringing endorsement from his star players. Paul didn’t force the Clippers’ hand in this matter and didn’t have to. Trying to make Paul the scapegoat for the fact that Del Negro’s ego is bruised because his stars didn’t lobby on his behalf is childish at best.

It’s a cheap shot for a franchise that can’t afford to squander the opportunity it has with this star-studded core capable of leading the organization to new places — namely on the right side of the divide in a city practically painted in Lakers’ purple and gold.

The fact the franchise is throwing Paul under the bus long before free agency begins only reinforces the belief that the Clippers often serve as their own worst enemy in the court of public opinion. There have been rumors that Del Negro was going to be fired from the moment he was hired by the Clippers. To lay it all on the doorstep of Paul and Griffin after the fact is disingenuous to say the least.

Paul has every right to be upset about the way he’s being portrayed. He was going to weigh all of his free-agent options anyway, including the rumored joining of forces with Dwight Howard (and Al Horford) in Atlanta, where there is cap space galore and the chance to for the Hawks what he did for the Clippers.

If Del Negro is such a wonderful man and coach, Sterling should have stood by his guy and then allowed Paul to make a decision on his own future without the sort of foolishness that will be involved in the process now.

Phil Jackson: MJ Over Kobe!


x

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.

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.”

Jackson made many of these same points during a Thursday night appearance on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” He also talked about his near return to the Lakers after Mike Brown was fired, the ill-fit that he believes Mike D’Antonio to be as Lakers coach and his desire to return to the league as a front office executive and not a coach.

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.”

You better believe we’re going to quiz Jackson on this topic on the Hang Time Podcast, he is scheduled to drop in for Episode 119 on May 29 with the crew, yours truly along with Lang Whitaker of the All Ball Blog and NBA TV’s Rick Fox.

In the meantime, there should be no shortage of debate fodder for everyone to chew on!

Bledsoe Holds The Line In Paul’s Absence






HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With point guard superstars (Chris Paul) and luminaries (Chauncey Billups) on the roster, it must be tough for a youngster like Eric Bledsoe to find time to shine.

He’s also operating on a team that features the one-man, crossover freakshow that is Jamal Crawford, whose exploits on a nightly basis inspire these sorts of tweets:

But with Paul (knee) joining Billups on the Los Angeles Clippers’ bench the past two games, their young apprentice has been at the controls and the Clippers didn’t slow down one bit.

They followed up a 26-point rout of the Memphis Grizzlies Monday night with another solid thumping of the Houston Rockets last night. Bledsoe was fantastic in both, dropping 14 points, four assists and three rebounds on Mike Conley and the Grizzlies and then a season-high 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists on Jeremy Lin and the Rockets.

Bledsoe knows he has to bide his time behind his more heralded teammates, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have plenty of ambition to fuel his fire in the meantime. He couldn’t have two better tutors. And he’s already formulated his plan, according to my main man Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times:

“I’m just preparing for that moment,” Bledsoe said in his typically quiet voice. “I’m still learning behind Chris and Chauncey. Hopefully, we win a championship and if I do get that chance, I can lead a team.”

Bledsoe started for the second consecutive game because Paul was out because of a bruised right kneecap. Bledsoe finished with a season-high 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists in the Clippers’ 117-109 victory over Houston.

But Bledsoe knows that Paul is an All-Star point guard who is just 27 years old.

If Paul re-signs with the Clippers over the summer as most people expect, it will mean Bledsoe may have to leave the Clippers to become a starter.

“I’m just focused on winning,” Bledsoe said. “I’m just focused on winning and learning how to win right now. For the most part, I’m just continuing working and building, learning how to run a team. The other stuff will take care of itself.”

The Clippers are deep enough at every position that they should be able to resist any urge to dangle Bledsoe in the trade market this season, preserving their right to groom him for a bigger role in the event that Paul’s decides to go elsewhere (which seems implausible, considering the way the Clippers are playing this season).

Bledsoe is a luxury that not every team in the league has, a youngster with superstar potential that they can take their time grooming for bigger and better things.

In a league filled with young, talented point guard prospects, Bledsoe might very well be the most underrated due to his current circumstance. He also has one of the highest ceilings.

Gasol Ready, Christmas For Nash?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The days of both Pau Gasol and Steve Nash rocking high fashion on the Los Angeles Lakers’ bench are coming to an end.

Gasol is reportedly ready to make his return to action tonight against Charlotte, provided he gets medical clearance after this morning’s shootaround practice, ending his eight-game injury hiatus (knees) just in time for Christmas. Nash joined him on the practice floor Monday and is expected back in action for the Christmas Day showdown at Staples Center against the New York Knicks.

His return will end a near-two month stint of inactivity after Nash suffered a small crack in his fibula on Halloween.

“It’s starting to get exciting just because I’m able to do some things,” Nash told reporters after that practice. “The majority of the last six weeks have been pretty inactive. So it’s nice to be able to get out there with the guys and just see some light at the end of the tunnel.

“It’s definitely sore and it’s definitely going to be a process — not just to get back to complete health but also to get back into shape. But I have to take what I can get. To be on the court sweating and playing and just working on my game a bit is important to me.”

No one is more excited about the return of these two than Lakers’ ironman Kobe Bryant, whose averaging 42 minutes a night in his past six games in an effort to will the Lakers out of their funk and back into the mix with the other contenders in the Western Conference.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni would love to unwrap a fully healthy roster against his former team on Christmas, as well. The 3-5 record the Lakers have compiled since Gasol went down has given fuel to the critics who say that this team and coach are a mismatched fit and destined to disappoint a fan base that prepared itself for a championship parade.

As much noise as we’ve made here about the Lakers’ ineptitude early on this season, there is plenty of time for them to turn things around. And it could start in the next seven days with a healthy and rejuvenated Gasol back in the fold and an inspired and crafty-as-ever Nash finally at the controls of D’Antoni’s offense. That leaves us with the same dilemma the Lakers have been facing since D’Antoni took over; how to utilize two 7-footers in the post in a scheme that requires just one.

And that’s why the only man capable of fixing this problem is D’Antoni himself, as Ben Bolch of The Los Angeles Times explores:

“You know, we can’t put 15 guys down there in the post,” D’Antoni said. “We can’t do it. It doesn’t work. Because if you’re posting him up, it means you’re not posting Dwight [Howard] up and then you get criticized for not posting Dwight up.

“We play Laker basketball. That ball is shared, that ball moves, we’ll score in the first 16 seconds and then after that we’ll post people up, we’ll get people in the right spots to finish off the shot clock.”

Gasol has long talked about his desire to handle the ball more near the basket during a season in which he has averaged a career-low 12.6 points while twice being benched in the fourth quarter. Is he clear about his role upon his return?

“Still a facilitator,” Gasol said with a chuckle. “Still just giving balance to our team out there and making good decisions, whether it’s scoring, passing or penetrating.”

Is that OK with him?

“Yeah,” he said. “As long as we win, as long as it works, I’m OK with everything. When it doesn’t translate to wins, when it translates to the team struggling, then I’m not that OK with it.”

I’ve said from the beginning that the Lakers would need time, and lots of it, to work through their issues. The injuries to Nash and Gasol, not to mention the coaching change, have only added to that need. Christmas was the initial target date for them to show what they were truly about, if they were going to be legitimate contenders or just play that role on paper.

So the deadline is being extended for these healthier Lakers. A few weeks to get everyone acclimated in the new system with the ideal point guard to run said system buys them a little more time.

But if they don’t have it together by Martin Luther King Jr. Day …

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 92) Championship Or Buss …




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Mike Brown out. Mike D’Antoni in. Phil Jackson still on the sidelines. And (Jim and) the Buss family in the crosshairs until further notice. Those are the main plotlines for this week’s episode of  “As The Los Angeles Lakers Turn.”

We’ve gathered our own panel of experts, insiders and observers of the situation to try to help you make sense of it all on Episode 92 of The Hang Time Podcast, featuring super agent Warren LeGarie (who represents both Brown and D’Antoni) and Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times (who had an afro when the first Shaquille O’Neal/Kobe Bryant/Phil Jackson era began, and currently sports a skin-tight dome these days after 17 years of drama).

We broke down the situation from every angle and ended up in the same place as everyone else — totally confused at how this all went down and convinced, as our resident Lakers expert put it, that this season is “Championship or Buss” for these Lakers.

Check out all that and more on Episode 92 of the Hang Time Podcast, with your hosts Sekou Smith, Lang Whitaker and Rick Fox.

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Lang Whitaker of SLAM Magazine, Sekou Smith of NBA.com and 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.

Sorting Out The Lakers’ Mess




HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – This story gets better by the hour.

Barely a day after the Los Angeles Lakers’ stunning move to hire Mike D’Antoni instead of Phil Jackson, both men have expressed their own complete and utter shock at the choice the Lakers made.

D’Antoni, as bright a coach as the league has seen in his generation, was genuinely stunned to beat out Jackson, telling the New York Daily News all about it. His first reaction … “Are you serious?”

Jackson was blindsided as well and his version of how things went down, courtesy of our main man Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times, might serve as the most compelling narrative to date, complete with this statement:

“Saturday morning, [Lakers executive] Jim Buss called to ask if he could come and visit. I didn’t solicit or ask for the opportunity but I welcomed both him and [team executive] Mitch Kupchak into my home to discuss the possibility of my return to the Lakers as head coach,” Jackson said.

“We talked for over an hour and a half. No contractual terms were discussed and we concluded with a handshake and an understanding that I would have until Monday [today] to come back to them with my decision. I did convey to them that I did have the confidence that I could do the job. I was awakened at midnight Sunday by a phone call from Mitch Kupchak. He told me that the Lakers had signed Mike D’Antoni to a three-year agreement and that they felt he was the best coach for the team. The decision is of course theirs to make. I am gratified by the groundswell of support from the Laker fans who encouraged my return and it is the principal reason why I considered the possibility.”

It’s a fitting next step in a saga that promises to provide headlines and plot twists between now and whenever the Lakers’ season ends. That might be in the first or second round of the playoffs for the third straight season or perhaps it ends later, provided the masses of fans and pundits are wrong and the D’Antoni-in-Los Angeles experiment actually works.

Buss and the Lakers better be right on this one. Because it’s clear they played Jackson for a fool, undercutting him before he could react to an offer that technically was never made. It’s a public and disgraceful play by the Lakers and absolutely no way to treat a coach of Jackson’s stature. It’s also a move that could backfire on the Lakers even worse than the Brown hire.

While we wait for this thing to play out, we’re left to continue our deconstruction of the carnage that was the Lakers’ firing and hiring process, both of which seemed to have been done in extreme haste.

We’ve heard Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol‘s feelings about D’Antoni and what they hope becomes of this team in the near future. And we’ve read Kobe Bryant’s 53 words of wisdom on Facebook (complete with the “Mamba Out” sign off). We love the part where he tells us all that despite of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, the Lakers will be fine defensively and he cannot wait to get started with D’Antoni.

You’ll have to forgive me (and I’m not speaking for everyone here at the hideout on this) for being fed up with the complete and utter arrogance of not only Bryant, but also the Lakers’ front office. Bryant issued similar love for Brown and his staff, eventually, after he got over the sting of not being consulted on Jackson’s replacement. And we all know how that played out.

The Lakers can tell whatever white lies they want to make themselves feel better about the way this went down. But don’t expect me to swallow any more of it. Ill will between Jackson and the Lakers’ front office should never affect what is best for the team, the franchise and its devoted fans. If the Lakers really believe D’Antoni is the best choice, he wouldn’t be nearly as surprised as he is.