HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With the Los Angeles Lakers dominating the headlines in the Southland this summer after their high-profile additions of Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, it’s easy to forget that it’s been an interesting offseason for the city’s other NBA franchise.
The Clippers didn’t make the same splash in free agency or with a trade, but they will welcome back a key figure in their operation when veteran point guard Chauncey Billups finally returns from the left Achilles injury that cost him everything after Feb. 6.
The Clippers survived without Billups, but there was a lingering feeling that a healthy Billups could have helped lengthen the Clippers’ postseason run. And now comes word that he’s healing faster than perhaps anyone thought possible, a development that is sure to bring a smile to the face of Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (who is on the mend from knee surgery himself).
“When my body feels right, that’s when I’ll be back,” he said. “That being said, I’m far ahead of schedule.
“It’s not even like I had a summer. I’ve been on the whole time, doing rehabbing and other work every day. I’m looking forward to getting back to playing and being with the guys and resuming my normal life as a player.”
Billups became the Clippers’ glue in his 20 starts before his injury, adding poise and experience to the 14.9 points, 2.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists he averaged over 30.4 minutes. He was a leader on the court and in the locker room, providing guidance to Chris Paul and a voice of knowledge for Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Eric Bledsoe.
Even after his Feb. 15 surgery left him to clomp around in a protective boot, he dispensed advice and analysis from a seat near the bench.
“He has very good insight, great experience and he’s been successful at every level,” Coach Vinny Del Negro said. “Some of our younger players, by the way he approaches them and gets things across, it’s very easy for them to accept and listen to.”
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – We don’t need a specific date or even a time and place we need to be when it happens, just the news that the Los Angeles Lakers plan to unveil a statue for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at some point during the 2012-13 season (per The Los Angeles Times) is enough for us here at the hideout.
This notion that Abdul-Jabbar is being thrown a bone by the Lakers to pacify him or to quiet him, after years of public rancor between the two sides and other outside observers, is for someone else to argue.
We’re focused solely on the fact that he remains the NBA’s all-time leading scorer and should be prominently featured in any historical basketball text as the greatest big man and arguably the greatest player of all time.
We have no problem with the Lakers honoring others ahead of Abdul-Jabbar. Magic Johnson, Chick Hearn and Jerry West deserve whatever praise and hardware comes their way in Los Angeles. Whatever they do for Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal will be well-deserved as well. But if they want to make sure Star Plaza at Staples Center is legitimate, Abdul-Jabbar must be a part of the montage.
We are talking about a man who played 14 of his 20 NBA seasons with the Lakers before retiring in 1989. He also spent four years in Los Angeles before entering the NBA, leading UCLA to three straight NCAA titles (the school could have beaten the Lakers to the punch and come up with some way of honoring their greatest hoops legend by now, but that’s a conversation for another time).
As The Times story points out, things haven’t always been smooth between Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers in recent years:
Abdul-Jabbar publicly criticized the Lakers last year, saying the failure to erect a statue of him sooner was a show of disrespect. His contract as a special assistant coach ran out in 2011 and he voiced various complaints: He had been asked to take a pay cut, the Lakers had not awarded him playoff shares as a coach, and he cited his reduced role as a coach for Andrew Bynum from 2005 to 2009.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s still not clear what is more surprising: Lakers coach Mike Brown benching Kobe Bryant late in Sunday night’s home loss to the Grizzlies or Bryant’s (non)reaction to being benched.
“There was not one particular thing. I just made the sub, went with Metta, sat [Bryant] for a couple of minutes and tried to go back to him. But it didn’t work.”
Bryant was clearly upset about being benched, and we’re certain it wouldn’t have mattered who he was benched for. He chose to try to take the high road, refusing to criticize Brown’s decision while clearly frustrated with the move:
“It’s his decision to make. He’s the coach. If you guys are looking for a story, I’m not going to contribute to it,” Bryant said. “I can’t sit here and criticize his decisions. Leading this ball club, that’s not something I can afford to do. I had his back the whole season. I can’t start doing something crazy now. It would make no sense.”
Of course, punching a chair on the bench in frustration during a timeout and then walking out of the huddle while the coaches were still drawing up a play could be seen as “insubordination” on many levels.
ORLANDO – When the man many people consider the greatest Laker of them all reaches out to the man everyone else considers the greatest Laker of them all in an effort to mend fences and heal the franchise, you know things are serious.
Magic Johnson‘s message to Kobe Bryant is simple … go to the source!
“I think first of all we have to remember now it’s not Mitch’s situation anymore. He’s not running the team,” Johnson, a Lakers vice president said yesterday. “Jim Buss is running the team. So Mitch has to follow the direction of Jim Buss and what he wants. I wouldn’t say Mitch is the problem or anything. He’s going to do his job. But I think it’s great that you can see that Kobe is supporting his teammate. That’s a great thing.”
Folks who had a problem with Kobe blasting the front office earlier this week, and suggesting they either move Gasol or leave him alone so he can get back to playing comfortably and without the drama swirling around him, have to be furious with Magic for taking it a step further.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Well, Kobe Bryant has apparently had enough.
He’s fed up with the Los Angeles Lakers’ front office and their handling of the trade rumors surrounding Pau Gasol, rumors that have been swirling since before Christmas.
With the Lakers suffering an ugly loss to the Phoenix Suns Sunday and Bryant’s mood darkening with every underwhelming performance by his team, he clearly cannot take it anymore. He lashed out at Lakers’ management and defended Gasol, who was almost traded in that three-team deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers that was later squashed by NBA Commissioner David Stern.
“I wish management would come out and either trade him or not trade him,” Bryant said crisply after the Lakers’ 102-90 loss Sunday. “It’s just tough for a player to give his all when you don’t know if you’re going to be here tomorrow. I’d rather them not trade him at all, but if they’re going to do something, I wish they would just … do it.”
Bryant sympathized with Gasol, sprinkling in expletives while talking about the situation of the four-time All-Star.
“If they’re not going to do it, come out and say you’re not going to do it,” Bryant said. “This way, he can be comfortable and go out and can perform and play and he can invest all of himself into the game. You can’t have one of our pillars not knowing if he’s going to be here or not. Do something. One way or another, do something.”
With the March 15 trade deadline fast approaching and the Lakers in the middle of the playoff pack in the Western Conference, Bryant knows that the window of opportunity for these Lakers is narrowing.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Like any player making a major transition at this stage of his career, Lamar Odom is still trying to adjust to his new environment in Dallas.
He’s still trying to figure out where he fits on a Mavericks team that vanquished his Lakers in the playoffs last season, still trying to understand how best to utilize his vast array of skills in the same role that earned him Sixth Man of the Year honors last season in Los Angeles, but on a team that already had its own explosive sixth man in Jason Terry.
He’s averaging a career-low 6.8 points per game, basically half of what he produced last year for the Lakers, while playing a career-low 20 minutes a night. He also averaging 5.0 rebounds and shooting a meager 31.2 percent from the field and a putrid 18.9 percent from beyond the 3-point line while trying to find minutes in a crowded small forward field that also includes Shawn Marion and Vince Carter
It’s clear Odom is still trying to make sense of the sudden nature of it all … the trade, the game and where he fits into it all now that the Lakers are in his rear view. Well, except for tonight, of course, when the Mavericks hit the floor at the Staples Center to face off against his former team (10:30 p.m. ET on TNT).
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – It’s been so long since the Clippers cashed in on their promise — or had promise to begin with — that sometimes even the smallest step gets magnified. Was Wednesday one of those times?
Yes, the Clippers finally beat a team of significance when they outlasted the Heat in overtime. It was a bigger game for the Clips than Miami, if only because Chris Paul and crew had something to prove, not only to the league and the starry crowd that limo’d in for the game, but to themselves. The season was rather mundane until now; they’d lost to the Spurs, Bulls and Blazers and desperately needed a pelt to put on the wall. Well, that stuffed LeBron head and D-Wade scalp will look awfully nice in the den.
Of course, the Clippers’ work is only beginning. They’ll fill out the month with games just as meaty, starting Saturday with the Lakers, and then: Dallas, Wolves, Lakers again, Nuggets and Oklahoma City. We’ll all have a better idea of this team then, and how much Paul’s addition is helping. You see, that’s the challenge of trying to elevate yourself from decent team to contending team. That stairwell can be quite oily. One big win doesn’t make for a celebration. Maybe in the past, it did. Not now. The Clippers are beyond that, or so it seems, all because of CP3 came along and raised expectations.
I’d say the Clippers are definitely intriguing, and in spurts do have the look of greatness, but they still need to demonstrate it over a longer stretch. And they’ll have that chance. In the meantime, they can’t afford many if any sloppy losing streaks if they want to be taken seriously by the basketball world. Good teams find a way, even when they don’t look too sharp.
But we’re also well aware of what goes on when a true superstar is added to the mix of an up and coming team and just how important it is to have the right quarterback in today’s NBA. That’s why we’re still watching the Clippers’ every move, and ignoring the venom.
Sunday’s Clippers-Trail Blazers game offered up the perfect case study on the importance of the right point guard for the right situation, as both Chris Paul of the Clippers and Raymond Felton of the Trail Blazers displayed their wares, and why the Clippers must be taken seriously with Paul at the helm.
Paul has the ability to take over games in ways that only a select few players in the league can. He was brilliant down the stretch against the Trail Blazers, executing on both ends of the floor as he and his crew handed the Trail Blazers’ their first loss of this season.
Faced with losing a 17-point lead over Portland on Sunday in a game the Clippers considered a measuring stick of their progress after being spanked by San Antonio and Chicago, Paul simply took over and refused to let them lose.
He steadied his teammates’ nerves with his poise, elated them with his shotmaking and wowed them with his ability to win a crucial jump ball against a five-inches-taller Jamal Crawford with 4.3 seconds left.
If not for his leadership the Clippers would not have celebrated their first home victory this season, a gutsy 93-88 decision over the Trail Blazers that inspired the crowd to chant his name in tribute for what figures to be the first of many times.
“Great players can not only make shots but, more importantly, make plays,” Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said, “and Chris can do both. That’s what makes him special.”
Lost in the aftermath of Paul’s dazzling performance is the fact that Felton has provided the perfect match for Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan, who has run through a long list of point guards during his tenure. It’s one of the only criticism we have of McMillan, a longtime HT fave.
It would be a travesty to allow the Lakers to acquire Chris Paul in the apparent trade being discussed.
This trade should go to a vote of the 29 owners of the Hornets.
Over the next three seasons this deal would save the Lakers approximately $20 million in salaries and approximately $21 million in luxury taxes. That $21 million goes to non-taxpaying teams and to fund revenue sharing.
I cannot remember ever seeing a trade where a team got by far the best player in the trade and saved over $40 million in the process. And it doesn’t appear that they would give up any draft picks, which might allow to later make a trade for Dwight Howard. (They would also get a large trade exception that would help them improve their team and/or eventually trade for Howard.) When the Lakers got Pau Gasol (at the time considered an extremely lopsided trade) they took on tens of millions in additional salary and luxury tax and they gave up a number of prospects (one in Marc Gasol who may become a max-salary player).
I just don’t see how we can allow this trade to happen.
I know the vast majority of owners feel the same way that I do.
When will we just change the name of 25 of the 30 teams to the Washington Generals?
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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS: We expected fireworks right around midnight.
They came a few hours early, though, and not in the form of some blockbuster deal or some superstars being swapped in a mega-trade or even some high-profile free agent being the first one to put his signature on the dotted line.
Instead of a jaw-dropping deal taking center stage, the deal that died will be the one remembered from this night. The league squashed a three-team blockbuster that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers.
That makes what should officially be the first day of the 2011-12 NBA season seem almost anti-climactic. The start of training camps all around the league is just hours away. And there will be plenty of free agent signings announced between now and then. There will be a few trades, too.
But nothing on the level of the blockbuster that almost was. And the confusion and craziness that the scuttling of the Paul deal has wrought will no doubt linger. Luis Scola,Goran Dragic and Kevin Martin will join their Rockets teammates at training camp in Houston. Instead of heading to training camp in a new city, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom will join their Lakers teammates in Los Angeles and figure out a way to make it through what will have to be an awkward day.
“When a team trades u and it doesn’t go down? Now what?
That’s what Odom tweeted after the deal disintegrated.
Lamar Odom is still a Laker, but he doesn’t sound completely thrilled about it.
Odom admitted that he was “shocked” and “surprised” when told Thursday afternoon that the Lakers agreed to trade him to the New Orleans Hornets as part of a deal for point guard Chris Paul. But this evening when he heard that the NBA had killed the trade, Odom said he was in “total disbelief” over these new developments.