On the odd chance some fans hadn’t yet started seeing the Lakers’ world for what it currently is, Wednesday was a stark, unpleasant, steaming plate of reality. One symbol of last season’s failure returned to Staples to a strong chorus of boos (kudos to fans in the building, who kept up the enthusiasm for heckling Dwight Howard longer than I figured, given the score) and a very strong performance. The other symbol, Steve Nash, was not in the building. The Lakers said he had an upper respiratory infection, probably because like everyone else they need a little variety and are tired of writing “nerve root irritation” on the injury sheet.
Meanwhile, as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches, the Lakers were busy with the completely unglamorous business of (hopefully) stripping the house down to the studs, selling off the fixtures, all the copper wiring, and anything else the market might absorb. First to go: Steve Blake, sent to Golden State for MarShon Brooks, Kent Bazemore, and a cleaner payroll.
And, predictably given the players available, the Lakers proceeded to get shit-canned by the visitors. Howard’s Rockets are rising in the standings, while the Lakers lost for the eighth time in 10 games and continued their frontal assault on last place in the Western Conference. That their struggles are in big picture terms properly categorized under “NBA Circle of Life” doesn’t make it any easier for fans to watch. Wednesday was as painful an evening as the Lakers have had this year, which is saying something.
A few more postgame thoughts…
- The Lakers need to make sure Blake isn’t the only guy moved before noon Pacific, Thursday. All signs point to Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman following him out – for what, it’s impossible to predict, though reports indicate at least some sort of competitive market might be forming for Hill – and if the Lakers can squeeze anyone else (Pau Gasol?) into that parade, they should.
- It took too long when stacked against the total life of his contract, but I’m glad Blake turned into a productive player in L.A. At the risk of sounding cliche (mostly because what follows is essentially a string of them), Blake was one of those guys every team would love to have. Nobody is tougher or plays harder, and while he’s not exactly a sterling interview, Blake is unquestionably a stand-up guy willing to take responsibility for poor play, even when he’s not the one at fault. That his first thoughts after being rescued from this train wreck of a year and sent to an exciting playoff squad was sadness at being away from his family says a lot his character, as well.
- For much of the year, the Lakers have struggled mightily to find someone, anyone, capable of staying healthy in the backcourt. Meanwhile, they had far more forwards than space to play them. Now, assuming Kaman and Hill (and perhaps Pau) are soon gone, they’ll have the opposite: A glut of guards/wings and nobody to stick in the frontcourt. Strange season, to say the least.
- In a perfect world, I’m sure the front office would have preferred to collect picks for Blake, but overall they did good work shedding payroll, getting closer to the tax threshold while obtaining at least one semi-intriguing young player in Bazemore. The Lakers can look at him over the final 20-something games and keep Bazemore cheaply next year with a qualifying offer just north of $1.1 million should they choose. He’s a good athlete with freakishly long arms, profiles as a good defensive player, and for what it’s worth (not necessarily much, by the way) has had great moments in the D and Summer Leagues. I’m more skeptical of Brooks, who has cratered since a promising rookie season, but there’s no long term commitment, and who knows? Maybe the Mike D’Antoni Reclamation Machine can do Brooks up.
- It’s a great deal for the Warriors, who have needed to fill the void left by Jarrett Jack for most of the year. Assuming Blake stays healthy, he’ll help them a lot.
- Wednesday should have served as a reminder that for all his faults as a player and teammate, there were no compelling basketball reasons for Howard to stay in Los Angeles. Houston is a much better team with a younger core and more assets to continue building. They don’t have an owner struggling to project legitimacy or an aging superstar who, thanks in large part to a mountain of well-earned equity with the city and fan base, is enormously difficult to play with. Beyond any requisite ring-kissing (no small thing for alpha dog NBA stars), when things go wrong, Kobe isn’t the guy who will get blamed. Dwight was a bad messenger for a very important message. As Andy and I have talked/written about, the Lakers can’t expect their history to carry them successfully into the future. They have some real advantages (a willingness to spend, a great climate, excellent brand recognition) but none (save climate, as @KeithKesler rightly notes) are as strong as they once were.
We’ll see how things go Thursday. Our plan is to record a post-deadline podcast, so stay tuned for that. Hopefully, it’s a busy day for the Lakers. If not, there could be some ‘splaining to do.