Lakers Face Another Summer Of Turmoil

Being ousted in the Conference Semifinals for the second consecutive season has thrust Lakers Nation into a state of turmoil.

“Sitting here at this point in the year is definitely not satisfying,” Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike Brown admitted to the media. “Under the circumstances, I feel like we got a lot accomplished and feel we learned a lot… but we can be better.”

One of the main ways the Lakers can get better is clarifying the roles of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum moving forward. With a new head coach added to the mix this season, Gasol struggled adapting and then he had problems getting used to being the third option on offence.

Sure, part of that is due to a compressed training camp, but the reality of the situation is Brown would like to see Kobe Bryant and Bynum get the majority of the touches on offence next season.

“With Andrew (Bynum) having a bigger role within what we do especially offensively, it made it a little tougher for Pau (Gasol), ” Brown explained. “With Andrew on one block and Kobe (Bryant) on the other, and Metta (World Peace), it was (tough to get opportunities at times). But I thought he adjusted really well.”

As great as Gasol has been for the Lakers the past few seasons, there is currently a shift in place to have Bynum become the focus of the teams offence in the low post instead of Gasol.

“I think (Andrew Bynum) can be a cornerstone to an organization,” Brown boasted. “But you have to remember that Andrew is still learning what he’s (eventually) going to be. He didn’t play near the minutes (as he did in 2011-12). He needs time and the commitment to want to get better every time he steps onto the floor. The sky really is the limit on how good he wants to be.”

This shift in focus by the coaching staff and touches for Gasol has resulted in him being unsure where that leaves his future with the Lakers.

“I wish I could have clarification (about his future with the team) but they can’t give it to me right now,” Gasol lamented. “I think management still has to talk to ownership to see what direction this team will be going next year. We really didn’t talk much about the future. We talked about this year, how things have gone. Everything was really positive and encouraging for (the) potential (of) next season.”

Hearing Gasol talk about the potential of playing for a team besides the Lakers next season can’t be what he or fans of the team want to hear. However, the Spaniard will be 32-years-old when training camp kicks off and he will have a lot of wear due to playing heavy minutes in the NBA and playing for the Spanish national team during the summer.

Plus, besides getting up in age, Gasol was confused at times this season as to what Brown and his teammates needed or expected from him on the court.

“It’s a little difficult,” Gasol admitted. “ I’ve always been a good passer and I facilitated from the most part from the post, which I’m very good at. It has been an adjustment for me, it has been difficult to be pretty much a third option, because I’ve never experienced that in my career since I was very young. I still gave it my best, but that was challenging at times.”

Regardless of the reason why the Lakers flamed out in the second round of the playoffs, it’s clear their general manager, Mitch Kupchak, isn’t content with standing pat with the roster as currently constructed.

“When you lose before you think you should have lost, you have to open up all opportunities,” Kupchak told the media during exit interviews.

One of the players being mentioned in a lot of trade talk, Pau Gasol, seems to be aware of this and the topic was brought up during exit interviews between himself and Kupchak.

“He’s the consummate teammate, consummate professional, but what took place is hard for a player to deal with,” Kupchak admitted. “I’m sure there’s a little bit of trust that’s not quite the same. But he understands … our exit meeting was really good. I think he and I are on the same page.”

Complimentary, sure, but not exactly a ringing endorsement for the Spaniard sticking around for next season in Los Angeles.

Despite the fact the Lakers failed to advance as far as the team or its fans would have liked, it’s clear there is still a lot of faith in the players currently on the roster.

“I just didn’t feel we really hit our stride,” Barnes explained. “I think at times we showed flashes of how dominant we could be, but we really didn’t reel off six, seven, eight or nine consistent, convincing wins that you kind of need to really feel good about yourself. Any time you have a big three like we have, you’re always going to have a chance, but it takes more than three guys to win and there wasn’t really that consistency.”

Steve Blake echoed those sentiments and pointed back to the lack of a true training camp after adding a new head coach as being the culprit for the team failing to live up to expectations.

“More time definitely would have helped us out, maybe (allowed us to) figure out certain areas of the game to make us better,” said Blake. “But you can’t blame (our not winning) on that. I do think having a longer camp next year, us being with this coaching staff and getting more comfortable with them, always will help you.”

Even though the players want the same crew back, they don’t have a vote in the process. The man in charge, Kupchak, talked openly with the media this week about being disappointed and it sounds like he’s ready to make some moves this summer.

“We’re disappointed,” Kupchak admitted. “We don’t grade ourselves on getting into the second round. We thought going into the season that we were one of three or four or five teams that could contend for a championship. It’s hard to get in that position with 30 owners that are very competitive, having to operate under (now different) rules. We felt we had a shot at it, so to watch the conference semifinals was a disappointing feeling.”

Still, despite some harsh words, the embattled general manager left the door open for the current roster returning.

“If we were just able to bring the players back next year and have a full training camp, we’d be one of those five or six teams with a chance to (win a championship),” Kupchak boasted. “ I can’t tell you if that’s going to happen. It’s not like we don’t have a group that’s talented, and that’s all you can really hope for.”

It remains to be seen if the Lakers stick with their currently roster of player, but, if I were a gambling man, I’d put money on the Lakers rolling the dice and making a deal involving Gasol.

How Much Will Orlando Clean House?

The rebuilding has begun. Orlando is heading in a new direction. What that direction will be is hard to say. But the one thing that is clear is that the Magic are done with Stan Van Gundy and Otis Smith and everything they built the last five years.

There are a lot of retrospectives.

Many applauding the job that Van Gundy did and lamenting the circumstances that led to his firing (ultimately agreeing that it was time one way or another with how stale the Magic had gotten the last two years).

There are many also giving rightful criticism toward Otis Smith. After all, things were going swimmingly until his tinkering became too ruinous for chemistry and he depleted his assets and the team’s talent level. A more full evaluation of Van Gundy and Smith’s tenure will be coming in the following days.

The more pressing and immediate concern is the Magic’s future. That is where the focus has honestly been since the beginning of the season and Dwight Howard announced his trade request. Even though he eventually waived his early termination option the feeling is that he has never really officially moved off his demand. He just believed in the team he was on or something.

In any case, Van Gundy and Smith’s firing have only spurred on rumors for what is next for the Magic. At this point, all anything is are just rumors. We have hit the point of the season where everything is based on a whisper and an agenda. There is nothing concrete, no matter how much everyone from management to the fan base wants some finality entering next season.

And, again, it all revolves around Dwight Howard.

The way the rumor mill is swirling, it is sounding like the Magic are preparing to completely clear the deck — coach, general manager and star player.

That seems to be what many people think. Ken Berger of CBS Sports reports that the firing of Van Gundy and Smith does not necessarily mean that Howard is staying, much like retaining one or both of them would have meant that Howard was gone.

There were rumors circulating throughout the season that there was something of a rift between Van Gundy, Smith and management. The rumor was that Van Gundy and Smith were ready to move on from Howard and expected him traded by the deadline. In fact, there were some who believed that Smith was ready to pull the trigger on a deal that would have sent Howard to the Nets at one point. Obviously Alex Martins and Magic management had the final say and they elected to keep Howard at, seemingly, all costs.

I am sure Van Gundy airing the Magic’s inner workings and dirty laundry virtually unprompted did not endear him to his bosses. And I am sure the bosses did not appreciate having their strategy disputed with their top basketball man. Otis Smith may actually have been doing his job right in trying to get the best deal for Howard in March or sooner. Who knows?

Now, it appears (if you believe certain reports) that Howard is still unsure of his future in Orlando.

Chris Sheridan of SheridanHoops.com reports Howard still wants out of Orlando. What is more, a source told Chris Bernucca of SheridanHoops.com that Howard wants out of Orlando “more than ever.” (h/t Evan Dunlap of Orlando Pinstriped Post)

Of course, Howard has yet to say anything more than the short comment-and-response interview he gave Ric Bucher of ESPN the Magazine. So, again, everything is just a rumor.

The franchise has thrown itself into another round of silly season where rumors and whispers rule the day. Only Alex Martins and the people in power really know what is going on at this point. And so the decision lies squarely with them.

The first task, as Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel pointed out, is to find a new general manager to spearhead the NBA Draft preparations and hire a new coach. The first task of the new general manager is to get a feel for what Dwight Howard wants and try to build a relationship that will hopefully keep him in a Magic uniform.

This might be why the Magic are looking for someone with championship experience and someone who has been around the NBA. The hope, it seems, is to instill confidence that the franchise is moving in the right direction.

No matter what is reported, Orlando has committed itself to keeping Howard in uniform. That was the long-stated goal and it was supported by the franchise’s actions in talking to Howard and getting him to waive his early termination option. Even though the Magic appear unwilling to go through the will-he-won’t-he drama of the 2012 season again, the goal is still to have Howard in a Magic uniform for a long time. Clearing up the rumors stated above is job one for the new general manager.

The question then becomes in the hiring process which general manager that fits the Magic’s criteria would be willing to go through the rebuilding process if Dwight Howard elects to leave.

Donnie Walsh, a rumored candidate for the Magic’s open general manager job, just left a tumultuous relationship with New York. Does he want to enter a potentially similar situation and build from the ground up in Orlando?

And what about the head coach? The Magic want someone who will take the team to a championship. But many of the coaches with that championship experience are not the kinds of coaches that typically relate well to players — at least, not in the way that Dwight Howard seems to want. It would appear then, that a young coach like Brian Shaw who lacks experience could be on the way in.

That kind of a coach might be better suited to a rebuilding job then a “get us over the top” job. And what the Magic’s ultimate goals are depends, of course, on what Dwight Howard wants to do.

There is a lot on the plate for whomever the Magic decide to hire for sure. The future is quite clearly at stake with the decisions the franchise is preparing to make.

Toronto’s Offseason Starting To Take Shape

It has been an intriguing offseason thus far for the Toronto Raptors, that is to be sure. They haven’t even done anything yet and there has already been plenty of chatter surrounding the team and potential free agent signings since the day the season ended. Whether these rumours are based in truth or conjecture remains to be seen. Regardless of the eventual results, people are talking about the Raptors and fans are getting excited.

I’m not one to get caught up in rumours, but these rumours seem to have some weight to them and all of them could change the course of the Raptors hopes for next season as well as the long-term status of GM Bryan Colangelo, who has one year remaining on his contract.

First came the Steve Nash rumours. Now Steve Nash rumours are nothing new around these parts. He’s Canada’s greatest basketball talent ever and would look fantastic playing for Canada’s only basketball team. Over the years Toronto has heard lots about Nash coming to town, but there wasn’t really any way to get a deal like that done. But now the “Nash to Toronto” rumours have a certain weight to them.

He’s long been rumoured to be leaving the Phoenix Suns after this year and his recent appointment as President and General Manager of Canada’s Mens National Team would seem to indicate he wouldn’t mind spending more time closer to his homeland.

A Steve Nash arrival in Toronto would mean improved play on the offensive end and a whole lot of jerseys being sold at the ACC.

Nash would fit in swimmingly here in Toronto, despite the fact Jose Calderon already occupies the starting point guard spot. Calderon has been quite willing and ready to share time whenever necessary and the depth at point guard could give the Raptors a leg up on competition in the Atlantic division. Calderon seems better suited to the backup role anyway and could become valuable trade bait down the road with a large expiring contract.

The Nash rumours also have weight as his former Canadian National team coach, Jay Triano, is employed by the Raptors and Bryan Colangelo, the GM that drafted and then re-acquired Nash in Phoenix is currently the Raptors President and GM.

Nash has a knack for bringing the very best out of his teammates. Shawn Marion, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudamire, Channing Frye, Jason Richardson all owe much of their success (and large pay cheques) to the point guard that gave them the ball.

Nash has always put himself second and his team first. His teammates were the beneficiaries on and off the court. How much could a point guard like Nash improve Andrea Bargnani’s game? or DeMar DeRozan’s? Makes you wonder.

Nash makes good players great. He brings the best out of his teammates and could certainly benefit some of the underachieving Raptor players.

Nash would therefore seem to be a perfect fit in Toronto. Unless, of course Jeremy Lin is. Lin is a restricted free agent and there are now reports from a host of sources claiming the Raptors will be very much in the mix for his services, should the Knicks decide to let him go.

Lin is much younger than Nash, could be cheaper and may fit better into the core that is developing in Toronto.

Jeremy Lin is a rumoured Raptor target this offseason. His acquisition could be the spark this young Raptor team needs.

He is a restricted free agent, so how much stalk can we put into these Lin to Toronto rumours? It is very possible that the Knicks get out-priced for his services. Lin is not a player that has been around long and therefore may not have earned the lucrative deal he seeks in the eyes of NBA GM’s. His stats are good, but the sample size is small, and he was never really able to mesh with franchise player Carmelo Anthony suggesting he may need to be a number one option.

Lin, who missed the Knicks’ run to the playoffs, could be the odd man out in New York, making him very much available to Toronto. A move for Lin would be very reminiscent of Colangelo’s other signing of a young point guard that changed his Phoenix Suns back in 2004. That, of course being, Steve Nash.

Lin has shown he can be a game changer, a superstar, a go-to guy. At the point guard position that is simply something the Raptors have never had.

It is clear that Lin’s stats are a small sample size and his median numbers are not nearly as good as his 2011/12 stats, but he could be worth the risk.

He is explosive and can certainly shoot the ball with confidence. He can drive the net and get his teammates involved in the offense. His defensive ability is weak but his deficiencies could be fit into Dwane Casey’s system. If Calderon worked out, Lin likely could too.

He would also become a big fan favourite here in Toronto, a city with a large Asian fan base. It could be a big marketing opportunity that the new owners at Rogers and Bell, simply cannot pass up.

Still, the odds of landing Lin rest in the hands of Glen Grunwald and the New York Knicks and what they are attempting to do this offseason. The Knicks maintain the right to match any offers the young point guard gets, meaning the Raptors will likely have to overpay to get him.

Lin presents an interesting option for the Raptors, but one that they ultimately don’t have complete control over.

Then there are the murmurs about Nicolas Batum. Now, none of these rumours are anything but pure and utter speculation, but he would fit very nicely into the Raptors lineup. A small forward with that kind of ability has alluded the Raptors since the days of Tracy McGrady. Batum would instantly become one of the best small forwards the franchise has ever seen. A great fit for the short and long-term. Plus his European background would be a plus in the locker room. He certainly won’t be cheap and the Blazers are very unlikely to let him go for nothing. Expect the Blazers to match everything and anything for Batum and then work out a trade with a team if they have to.

If the Raptors are serious about acquiring Batum, which they should be in my opinion, then they are going to have to put together a trade package that will make it happen. That is much more difficult than just signing a player, but if anyone knows how to work out a complicated off-season trade it’s Colangelo.

So despite the fact the Playoffs are going on without the Raptors, there is plenty for a fan to sit and ponder. This summer will be another chapter in the remaking of this Raptors team and it is exciting to imagine the possibilities. So far three of the most solid offseason rumours would offer the Raptors definite upgrades in talent at two key positions. All three rumoured acquisitions are big name players that would raise the talent level and profile of basketball in Toronto.

Like most Raptor fans, I can’t wait to see what happens on July first. Judging from the early offseason rumours, it is likely to be one of the more exciting ones yet.

Grizzlies: Requiem For A Season

It really wasn’t supposed to end this way. This early.

I know how strange that sounds. I mean, we’re talking about the Memphis Grizzlies, the team that waywardly wandered away from Vancouver and seemed as out of place in the NBA as a Grizzly bear in the city of Memphis , but this season was supposed to be different.
Yet here we are – mere weeks removed from the “Western Dark Horse” and “Think About How Dangerous They’ll be With Rudy Gay” talk – and the Grizz are cleaning out their lockers prematurely, again, with plenty of question marks and a 27-point cumulus cloud hanging over their offseason.

Where did it all go wrong? Unfortunately for Memphis’ intensely passionate fans, there’s no obvious scapegoat; no clear target for index fingers, other than the one no team can avoid: fate.

It was obvious that the Grizz were going to have to make some adjustments in welcoming back a dynamic talent like Rudy Gay back to a system that propelled them past the Spurs and to within a game of the Western Conference Finals last spring. But the full-on identity crisis Memphis was set up for when Darrell Arthur, and then worse yet Zach Randolph, went down for large stretches, would ultimately condemn their season.

Like any self-respecting, competitive team, they didn’t roll over; they adjusted, adapted, but hardly evolved. Despite Marreese Speights’ solid efforts to fill the rebounding and scoring voids left in the frontcourt, the team was thinner, weaker; forced to stray from the post-oriented offense and punishing transition game that defined their success.

They were winning games; staying above water for Randolph’s return, but they were also getting comfortable outside their own skin. Grizzlies in sheep’s clothing. Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo were scoring most of their points; Marc Gasol was shouldering more of a load on the glass, facing more attention on defense than he ever had, and fighting off even more bodies for rebounds (and still made the All-Star team); Mike Conley got more comfortable looking for his shot than looking for a man on the block; and the vaunted energy of their bench looked suddenly languid.

In what was already a season of many adjustments for every NBA player and team, the Grizzlies had to re-create themselves yet again when Randolph returned – this time to share the scoring load with Gay – just in time for the playoffs.

That the postseason began with a completely anomalous, unlikely, historic, and utterly soul-crushing collapse (one that was cued by Chris Paul forcing Vinny Del Negro to put him back in the game during the 4th  quarter, to be fuelled by series of three-point bombs from Nick Young and gritty hustle from Reggie Evans, two noted playoff assassins) didn’t help matters.

Starting a series with such an epic swing of momentum surely took the wind out of their lungs, but the Grizzlies weren’t ever truly out of it, only they waited until their backs were against the wall, down 3-1, to move their attack closer to the hoop and truly abuse their edge. They managed to force Game 7, but couldn’t close the deal; it wasn’t too little, just too late.

The obvious dilemma going forward will be Rudy Gay’s role and presence on this team. As recently as 18 months ago, he was given a generous contract and pegged as their franchise guy; there’s no denying Gay’s talent. You also can’t deny this truth; the Grizzlies – with largely the same lineup – went a fair bit deeper in the playoffs, against tougher competition, without him last year. And in the games that saved Memphis’ season, Gasol and Randolph carried the bulk of the load.

Logic would certainly point to moving Gay; he’s versatile, he’s athletic, he performed well last season and probably hasn’t hit his cieling yet; but he’s like Memphis used to seem in the NBA: just out of place. His trade value might never be higher again, there’s a ton of money tied up in him, and when you consider what he could bring back: a more functional upgrade at the point, bench scoring that isn’t OJ Mayo (who the Grizz seemingly can’t wait to get rid of), a legit post presence to shore Randolph and Gasol (hell, bring Mayo/Conley into the fold and Chris Wallace could probably get all of the above) it’s hard to ignore.

It would be a dramatic move, but “dramatic” could also describe the 27-point meltdown that arguably could’ve cost Memphis a trip to the Second Round. To quote a sage old man (Jaffar from Aladdin, don’t sleep): “Desperate time calls for desperate measures”. The Thunder aren’t getting much older anytime soon.

So the offseason looms, with much at stake. The return of Darrell Arthur will only help bolster Memphis’ questionable bench and restore the swagger that once took the NBA by storm, but if the Grizzlies want to stop swimming upstream, he shouldn’t be the only thing to change about this roster. Maybe trading Rudy Gay isn’t the way the franchise wants to go; I called Wallace crazy when he gave Pau Gasol away, but that seemed to work out, so who knows what he has up his sleeve.

One thing’s for sure: After a season of adjustments that moved them backwards, it’s time to adjust again, and hopefully continue to move forward.

A Meeting Of The Minds In Orlando

The Magic’s season is not a week over, and uncertainty regins at Amway Center an in the Magic offices. Really, uncertainty has reigned in the Orlando Magic front office since early December when Dwight Howard formally requested a trade and perhaps even before that when the franchise had no idea what Howard wanted or his position on his future with the team.

With the team facing and dealing with a second straight first round exit, the Magic have questions to answer as they try to figure out what lies in their future.

Alex Martins said earlier this week at the team’s exit interviews that the team will take some time to decompress before beginning postseason evaluations. He would not put a time table on when that process would begin or would result in a decision to retain or release the team’s head coach and the team’s general manager.

I have learned that this process is expected to begin this week when Magic ownership meets to evaluate the season. My source told me that the feeling is this meeting may result in a final decision concerning Stan Van Gundy’s future with the team by the end of the week.

There is no guarantee that there will be action coming out of these initial meetings between Magic CEO Alex Martins, Magic chairman Dan DeVos, owner Rich DeVos and the others involved in this meeting of the Magic’s ownership and management group. But the postseason evaluations have begun in earnest. And certainly the Magic would like to have some things resolved with the coach and general manager before the team enters full NBA Draft preparations ahead of the June 28 NBA Draft.

“We’re going to start a full evaluation process of our entire organization. That’s what we do at the end of each season,” Martins said at the Magic’s exit interviews last week. “We base everything that we do on trying to win a championship. So we’re going to do that this offseason like we do every offseason. Everything will be evaluated so that we get to next season and we will be in a better position than we are today to have won a title.

“Everything we have done over the years is about getting to win a championship. Unfortunately getting to the Playoffs is just not good enough. We have to find a way to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals and back to the Finals and have an opportunity to win a championship. Everything has to be evaluated.”

Nobody was very happy with how the Magic ended this season. As I noted earlier, Martins, Otis Smith and Stan Van Gundy were sure to mention that the team was 32-18 at the 50-game mark and looking to take the third seed in the Eastern Conference before Dwight Howard was lost for much of the end of the season with a back injury. Nobody faulted the team’s effort on the floor in the Playoffs, but there was certainly a sense that the team is going backward.

Throw in the constant drama surrounding Dwight Howard and his request to management to fire Stan Van Gundy and it is not hard to sense the uneasiness around the franchise.

“At some point in the future, hopefully the near future, they’re going to decide one way or another and you go with it,” Stan Van Gundy said at exit interviews last week. “It doesn’t weigh on me. There’s only two things that can happen. There’s not a menu of options here. You fire me or you don’t fire me.”

Van Gundy said then that he has “several meetings planned” including some time sitting on his back porch, spending time with his family (for real this time, not the Miami “spend time with his family”) and visiting friend and Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez when the Braves play the Tampa Bay Rays next weekend. It was a trying season for everyone in the franchise and regardless of his future with the team, Van Gundy deserves some much-needed rest and relaxation.

But certainly by sticking with Howard through the trade request and past the trade deadline and convincing Howard to waive his opt-out clause, the Magic seem to have put themselves in the “keep Dwight at all costs” camp.

If that means that the Magic will look for a new coaching staff both Van Gundy and Martins hopes that decision comes sooner rather than later. Martins said he does not want to leave anyone on the coaching staff “in limbo” and they hope to have a final decision made in time for the assistant coaches the team chooses not to retain to go out and find other coaching positions.

Van Gundy said he would be fine with management taking the time necessary to make a decision. In the end, he is the employee.

Orlando wants to move forward and begin aligning the pieces to build back up for a championship run in 2013. That is the unequivocal goal for the franchise at the moment. This week’s meeting will be the first step in solving that puzzle.

This is a team. This is an organization that focuses itself on a team and everybody working together,” Martins said. “When you talk about team, that takes a lot of different pieces. Dwight is just one piece of the big puzzle. Stan is a piece. Otis is a piece. Our ownership is a piece. Every single other person on that roster is a piece.

“It takes a lot to win a championship. Less than half this teams in the league have won a championship in the history of this league. Obviously it is not easy to do. We’re going to look at every single piece and make sure we put the right pieces together to have that chance next season.”