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New Sheridan Hoops column: Another Dwight Howard interview controversy, tense times in Golden State, and more

Posted by on Mar 7, 2013 in Dwight Howard, Lakers Analysis, Lakers News, Opinion |

Our new column for is up. In this week’s pass around the state’s NBA scene, we look at Golden State’s slide in the standings, and the homestand that could make or break their playoff hopes, ask how legitimate the Clippers’ title hopes might be, and more.

For the Lakers, AK looks at this week’s Dwight Howard Controversy. This one, not entirely his fault, but still one for which he bears some responsibility. Here’s his take:

“Because it wouldn’t be a week in Laker Land without Dwight Howard creating some form of controversy, eyebrows were recently raised by an exclusive interview Howard gave to Kristine Leahy of KCAL9 and CBS2 in L.A. During the conversation, Leahy asked about Howard’s jovial persona – which doesn’t really exist much these days, but why kill a good narrative – and the perception his smiles reflect indifference towards winning.

This was Howard’s response:

“I understand coming here to L.A., Kobe’s here and for 17 years, Laker fans, they just see Kobe as somebody who’s serious. He seems like he doesn’t fool around or whatever it may be. That’s his personality. And just because I don’t necessarily make a [snarling face] or do all that during games or on the bench, that doesn’t mean I don’t care about succeeding or wanting to win. I always tell people, my team in Orlando was filled with people nobody wanted. And I was the leader. And I led that team with a smile on my face.”

Howard’s ex-point guard Jameer Nelson didn’t take kindly to this sentiment.

Per Brian Schmitz, Orlando Sentinel:

“At some point, when are you [Dwight] gonna as a man, when are you going to take ownership and stay out of the media in a professional manner?” Nelson told the Sentinel after Wednesday’s shooatround in Miami.”

Howard clarified after Wednesday’s comeback victory over the Hornets, saying he was referencing how several of his teammates had been traded around (Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Vince Carter, Matt Barnes), and yet the Magic reached the 2009 Finals and 2010 Eastern Conference finals. However awkwardly phrased, his comments were meant to reflect how he proudly led an underdog team to success.

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Lakers bench: Modest numbers represent major improvement

Posted by on Mar 2, 2013 in Antawn Jamison, Lakers Analysis, Mike D'Antoni, Opinion, Steve Blake | 1 comment

Thursday against Minnesota, the Lakers were boosted by 52 points from the bench. 17 from Antawn Jamison, 16 from Jodie Meeks, 13 from Steve Blake, and then six more in garbage time from Robert Sacre and Devin Ebanks (who, as it turns out, is in fact allowed to enter a game).

Quite an outburst for a team averaging 27.4 a night off the pine, but not a total shock. As a group, over the last Since the All-Star Game, 33.0.

So the trend line is heading up.

That level of production — low 30″s every night — still won”t put the Lakers” bench near the league leaders (Dallas and the L.A. Clippers average 40.6 points a game), but represents a massive improvement over where they”ve been, certainly last year when they were the least productive crew of substitutes in the NBA measured in ppg, and had the league”s third-worst efficiency differential. The 31.1 ppg figure I mentioned? Good for 17th, and 20th in differential. Their collective numbers since the break, 16th in ppg, 18th in differential. Not exactly world-beating numbers, except on the season L.A.”s bench is ranked 27th in points per game, 28th in differential.

By jumping from the bottom third into the middle, the Lakers are actually making substantial progress. I”m willing to say there”s a relationship between these numbers and the 12-5 run since the Big Memphis Meeting.

Since the injury to Pau Gasol forced Earl Clark in to the starting lineup on a nightly basis, Mike D”Antoni has settled into a three-man bench rotation, and individually each performed well in February:

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Like the Sundance Kid, Antawn Jamison is better when he moves

Posted by on Mar 1, 2013 in Antawn Jamison, Kobe Bryant, Lakers Analysis, Opinion |

Antawn Jamison has turned things around this year for the Lakers.

Antawn Jamison has turned things around this year for the Lakers.

Generally speaking, for a professional athlete to be compared to a flamingo is a bad thing.

Certainly that was true earlier in the year when, in a discussion of Antawn Jamison”s defensive prowess, a veteran NBA assistant said his problems on that side of the floor weren”t a matter of effort, but physiology. Jamison, like the pink, shrimp-eating waterfowl, has skinny legs, a high ass (insofar as flamingos have asses) and tends to bend too much at the waist. I suspect in the grand pickup games of the wild, flamingos can”t guard, either, no matter how hard they try.

Getting upset about Jamison”s defense is a little like complaining snow is cold. Of course it is. What you hope is for enough upside (coating the side of a great sledding hill, adding buttery powder to your favorite mountain run, etc.) to counter the negatives (digging out the car, cold, slush, etc.). In Jamison”s case, the counterweight is scoring off the bench. It”s why he was brought to Los Angeles this summer, in the hopes of juicing what was the NBA”s least productive crew of reserves last season.

For a while, save a few outbursts here and there — most notably a 33-point effort against Denver on Nov. 30 — Jamison wasn”t putting up enough points to overcome defensive shortcomings and keep him on the floor. So he wasn”t. Over 10 games between December 14 and January 6, Jamison, who before this season had never averaged fewer than the 22.5 minutes a night he played as a rookie in Golden State back in “98-”99, played a grand total of 26.

After a fifth straight DNP-CD, Jamison, long considered one of the better locker room guys in the league, popped off. He would later apologize for making himself a distraction, but the relationship between Jamison and Mike D”Antoni was tense. Like a lot of things, it has improved since that air-clearing January team meeting in Memphis.

“Me and him talked,” Jamison says of D”Antoni. “It was tough at first, but now we have a relationship where if I see something, I can talk to him. He has no problem coming to me like, “Look, your minutes might go down in this game,” or “I”m going to try something new.” That”s what I”ve been accustomed to.”

Since making is way back into the rotation, Jamison has looked much more like the guy management expected. In January, he shot nearly 50 percent from the floor, and in 13 February games averaged 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 48.5 percent shooting, including 43.2 percent from downtown. Despite his defensive shortcomings, Jamison is boosting the bench, and D”Antoni is frequently keeping him on the floor late in games, with good cause. A lineup of Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Dwight Howard, Metta World Peace and Jamison has,

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Nash: He and Howard need to become a better tandem

Posted by on Feb 21, 2013 in Dwight Howard, Steve Nash |

After Tuesday’s win over the Celtics, there was (not surprisingly) a great deal of focus on the performance of Dwight Howard who, particularly in the first half, was as active as he’s been all season.

Maybe it was the five days off, though in Howard’s case the rest was tempered by his All-Star activities. Maybe he’s feeling healthier. Maybe over the break he had some sort of epiphany. Whatever the reasons, 24 points and 12 boards (seven offensive), along with his impact defensively, were huge contributing factors in the victory.

Boston had nobody capable of keeping Howard off the block or the offensive boards, and Dwight took advantage. (Keeping the headband off probably helped, too.)

But there was more to it.

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The lesson Jim Buss needs to learn from Jerry

Posted by on Feb 20, 2013 in Jerry Buss, Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak |

In the aggregate, I’d say Jim Buss has taken more flak than deserved over the last few years, or at the very least that some of the criticism has been misguided. Still, there has always been one thing about Jim Buss’ role with the Lakers sending up massive red flags for me, something I’d believe whether I thought he was an excellent basketball executive or a horrible one. (For the record, I think he’s somewhere in between.)

In professional sports, it is almost always a bad thing for the man who signs the checks to be directly involved in choosing who gets them. Ask Cowboys fans with Jerry Jones, or Redskins fans with Daniel Snyder, just to name a couple.

As Mitch Kupchak noted Tuesday meeting the media in El Segundo, Jerry Buss was active in the organization. Nothing, certainly nothing of substance, happened there without his approval. You’d expect that of a man at the head of a business about which he cared so deeply. Nonetheless, one of his defining characteristics was a willingness to trust the people who worked for him.

“He allowed the people that ran the day-to-day business to hire the people and keep the people as long as you felt they should be kept. He had a vision. He got involved in the big decisions. Whenever there was an issue, he would be involved in it. But he hired people, and he let them hire other people,” Kupchak said.

“Dr. Buss always gave his opinion, but most of the time he would say, “That’s how I feel, Mitch” or “That’s how I feel, Jerry,” but as you know I’ll defer to you.”

Jim Buss came up through the organization over the last six or seven years as a personnel guy. Jeanie ran the business, he learned the basketball end of things. Or at least that was the blueprint. I don’t see his scouting reports, I don’t know the internal conversations that have taken place over the last few seasons, so I can’t say with precision whether he’s actually good at it or not. I can say, particularly in his early days in the department, he was very lightly regarded. Kupchak has an enormous amount of respect around the league. As does Jeanie.

Jim? Eh…

I noted yesterday how late Jim Buss was in introducing himself to the Lakers public, and how the organization has both helped and hurt him by noting that Jim Buss wasn’t making any major decisions without Jerry’s final approval.

Now it’s Jim who has the final say, and how much of his father’s ethic of deference to the experts he inherited will almost surely be a determining factor in the team’s success.

If Kupchak is to be believed, there is reason to be encouraged.

“He’s very strong in his opinions, yet after an hour or two or three, if I feel as strongly, he’ll defer. And that’s what his dad did,” Kupchak said.

Nobody should expect Jim Buss to take a passive role in how the team is run, what players populate the roster, or what man stands on the sidelines. This is his family’s business, and he cares deeply about the team. But ironically, now that he has more control over the decision making process on the basketball end, he should exercise less of it.

Hire excellent people, and let them do their jobs. It was a guiding principle of Jerry Buss, one Jim would be wise to follow.

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