The Lakers drama always dominates the basketball landscape, led by Kobe Bryant and the Buss family, the team fills the airwaves with intrigue. Last year they dominated the league in headlines: traded for Howard, picked by many to win it all, fired Mike Brown five games into the season, Jerry Buss died, barely made the playoffs, and Kobe blew out his achilles.
But the Lakers biggest story of the year, relative to the Rockets, was Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak choosing Mike D’Antoni to coach the team instead of Phil Jackson. Anyone who knows anything about hoops knows this was the wrong decision (Phil has won too many rings to refute this). Lakers fans are still seething at the carnage and at the disrespect shown to Jackson.
The awkward start to the Lakers last season led to the pressure and unhappiness Dwight felt all year long. The Rockets have Buss and Kupchak to thank for creating the environment that led to the Rockets getting Howard. That decision led to the fracturing of the team, and their future. If Jerry Buss had been well, this never would have happened. He recognized that talent is what elevates teams to elite levels.
The Lakers aren’t sure what they have: they amnestied World Peace, Kobe (35) is out at least a couple more weeks and is willing to take a pay cut next year from his current salary of 30M, Gasol (33) is in the last year of his contract, and Nash (39) is signed for 9M for 2014.
The Lakers won’t make any moves before seeing what their aging three can do, but come the trading deadline, Gasol will go. They’ve been trying to trade him for years and in the final year of his contract, it will finally happen. Nash and his huge contract should go as well. Kobe seems untouchable, but if he returns at a high level after his injury, his hand will still be weak. It’ll be fun to watch Kobe try to put this team on his back for a run at the 8th seed.
The Lakers will play the D’Antoni version of hoops: lot’s of running, playing 11 in the rotation and no defense. They are giving up 109 points a game and currently rank 29th in the league. Ex-Rocket Jordan Hill is hustling in D’Antoni’s game and leading the league in FG% at 73.3%, and Xavier Henry looks promising, but where do they go from here?
Only four players are signed beyond this season. The plan seems to be, clear cap space and retool. Are they hoping Lebron or Carmello opt out early? Are they possibly tanking for the rich draft of 2014? Do they have anyone to trade besides Pau and Nash? The current team isn’t more than a low playoff seed and an out in the first round, at best.
Howard vs. The Lakers
The big story for this game is obviously Howard going against his former team. He had a monster game against the Blazers and is coming on. He’s rebounding, getting opponents into foul trouble, scoring and his pick and roll with Harden is formidable. I have a feeling he’s looking forward to this one. I’m hoping for a statement game, good energy, some smiles and a level of comfort that he didn’t exhibit last year.
The Rockets quick start, compared to the start the Lakers had last year, is a good omen. Chances are good the Rockets could be heading to Staples at the end of this year for some playoff games, so clear the decks and kick out the cobwebs of last year’s memories.
After the Clippers game this week, The Rockets moved from 6th in the league in points given up to 24th. The defense really looked bad as well in the first half of the game in Salt Lake. Utah’s big men hustled for numerous offensive boards and second chance points. Against the Clippers, the Rocket’s guards got beat up. The defense has to fight over the top of pick and rolls and contest threes. Thank heavens Beverley is back.
Marc Stein calls the defense impressive this year and is one of the reasons the Rockets moved to number 2 in this week’s power rankings (when is the last time you remember the Rockets being ranked that high?). But, we hadn’t seen the Rockets against anybody good yet, and after the Clipper game, that ranking was obviously too high.
The Rockets have to begin games stronger. The slow starts against the Clippers and the Blazers really upset McHale. Turnovers remain a constant battle. But it was good to see Harden making big shots against the Blazers, and the twin towers looked dominant in the 3rd quarter when the Rockets blew it open. Still a work in progress, the Rockets upside remains very promising.