NBA Season Preview: Los Angeles Lakers

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Last season: 57-25, top seed in the West, which they rode all the way to their second consecutive NBA crown. They came within half-a-quarter of losing to Boston on their home court in Game 7, but no Kendrick Perkins and no balloons in the rafters this time gave room for a dramatic comeback win.

Head Coach: Phil Jackson, who says that this is his last season coaching. Probably. Expect him to play with the media on that topic all season, but behind closed doors he will use it as motivation for the three-peat run. Because he wants to one more ring he won’t give to Jeanie Buss.

Key Departures: Jordan Farmar, who was always a poor fit in the Lakers system and talked of wanting more playing time and a starting job. For those reasons we’re not sure why he went to New Jersey to back up Devin Harris, but still not a big loss for the Lakers.

Aside that, DJ Mbenga and Josh Powell were allowed to walk.

Key Additions: Steve Blake comes in at point guard and is a perfect illustration of what GM Mitch Kupchak and the Lakers do well — get players to fit the system. Blake is a solid NBA point guard, one who struggled the second half of last season when the Clippers decided to get out and run and he had to handle the ball in space. What he does is shoot the three, not make mistakes and play reasonable defense. Which is exactly what the role of the point guard is in the triangle. Blake is an okay fit most places, but he is a guy that is exactly what the Lakers need — and he may get more minutes than the aging Derek Fisher this season.

Matt Barnes will come off the bench to spell Ron Artest and gives the Lakers a little more toughness and wing defense. He’s a guy that fits the Lakers because he is versatile — he can guard twos or threes, and if you want to go really small he can even play some four. Not that the Lakers go small much.

Also in are draftees Derrick Caracter, Devin Ebanks, free agent center Theo Ratliff, and also Shannon Brown and Derek Fisher were re-signed. (Fisher for three years, which is a little surprising considering the decline in his play.)

Best case scenario: They win a third consecutive NBA title to send Jackson off in style, and just before the end of the season the Lakers bring back Mark Madsen so he can dance at the victory parade.

For that to happen:
The Lakers need to play a little more consistently in the regular season then be healthy and stay healthy through the playoffs.

Here’s the bottom line — while everyone was looking at Miami, the two-time defending world champions got better and deeper. Their two biggest weaknesses — point guard play and depth on the wing — were addressed. This is still the team to beat in the NBA and if you think they aren’t still hungry you haven’t met Kobe and Ron Artest.

The Lakers had the best regular season record in the West last season, but they needed six dramatic Kobe game-winners to get that. Sure, that’s why you have Kobe on your team, because he is a walking highlight reel. But live by the game-winning jumper, die by the game-winning jumper. The Lakers need to rest Kobe more during the season (same with all their key players) and that means winning a few more games by 17 and not a last second shot. Which is easier said than done in a deep west when you have a target on your back, but that is the task.

Also, In the regular season last year, the Lakers got lax about ball movement on offense, if they do that this year they pay a bigger price.

Come the playoffs, the Lakers still have the most talented, well-compiled roster in the Association when they are all healthy. The key is the Lakers long and agile front line is unmatched — and it means big things on both ends of the court. On offense teams simply cannot matchup the length and quickness of Bynum and Pau Gasol (with Lamar Odom off the bench). That often leads teams to pack the paint to stop LA (or slow them, really) giving the Lakers good looks from the outside. Something the Lakers did not take great advantage of last season, but the addition of Blake and Barnes may change that. Even when teams know what is coming Gasol and Bynum still get theirs, especially when the Lakers execute the offense.

The bigger advantage is on defense — that long front line protects the rim and covers the problems the Lakers have defending quick point guards. The Lakers have three guys now — Kobe, Artest and Barnes — who they can sick on wing players to slow them, but that can be less effective with little point guards. However, everything is better when Bynum is behind the play using his long arms to erase mistakes.

More likely the Lakers will: Go back to the finals at least. Predicting who comes out of the East now and that matchup is impossible. But unless the Lakers come back to the pack in the West they are the best team by head and shoulders in the conference. There are a lot of interesting teams on the second tier in the West, but they are all on the second tier for a reason.

The finals is where health — particularly the health of Bynum — comes in. The Lakers got a title last season with Bynum dragging his leg through the playoffs, that will not happen this season. They need him to be healthier, because the task will be tougher.

Prediction: 58-24, first in the West and another trip to the finals. Then it will all be about health, because if they are the Heat are going to find the same problems with that long front line everyone else does. Well, the Heat will find problems with that and Kobe.

Spurs waive first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles before first NBA game, putting him in small club

San Antonio Spurs' Livio Jean-Charles, center, and Orlando Magic's Bismack Biyombo (11) go after a loose ball during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. San Antonio won 95-89. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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It took a few years, but the Spurs finally signed Livio Jean-Charles – the No. 28 pick in the 2013 draft – to a rookie-scale contract this summer.

The problem: Jean-Charles tore his ACL in Europe and hadn’t developed as San Antonio hoped.

So, San Antonio is cutting bait historically quickly.

Spurs release:

The San Antonio Spurs today announced that the team has waived Joel Anthony, Ryan Arcidiacono, Patricio Garino and Livio Jean-Charles.

This allows the Spurs to keep two players without guaranteed salaries, Bryn Forbes and Nicolas Laprovittola. A shooting guard, Forbes is a 3-point specialist who went undrafted out of Michigan State. Laprovittola, a point guard, will give San Antonio a second Argentinian with Manu Ginobili – though Garino could’ve been three.

Jean-Charles is just the fifth first-round pick in the rookie-scale era to be waived or renounced before playing in the NBA. The other four:

Royce White (No. 16 pick in 2012 by Rockets)

White and and Houston never got on the same page about how to handle his anxiety issues. The Rockets traded him in a financial move to the 76ers, who waived him. White later played three games with the Kings.

Frederic Weis (No. 15 pick in 1999 by Knicks)

Weis never came to the NBA from Europe, but he became infamous for getting dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. New York traded Weis’ rights to the Rockets (for Patrick Ewing Jr.) in 2008. Weis retired in 2011, and Houston renounced him.

Leon Smith (No. 29 pick in 1999 by Spurs)

The Mavericks acquired Smith in a draft-night trade, and the player who jumped straight from high school struggled in every respect. He clashed with coaches and management, attempted suicide and got arrested twice before being released during his rookie season. It’s a sad tale. Smith later had short stints with the Hawks and Sonics.

Travis Knight (No. 29 in 1996 by Bulls)

Knight never even signed a contract. Chicago renounced him rather than giving him the required three-year guaranteed deal. He signed with the Lakers and made the All-Rookie second team. That led to a more lucrative contract with the Celtics, and Knight also played for the Knicks in a seven-year NBA career.

Pelicans keep Lance Stephenson, waive Alonzo Gee

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 18:  Lance Stephenson #5 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 18, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Keep Alonzo Gee: $1,500,000.

Keep Lance Stephenson: $2,380,431.

The Pelicans opted for the more expensive – and more intriguing – option with their final roster spot.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has waived forward Alonzo Gee.

This drops New Orleans’ roster to the regular-season limit of 15 players, including Stephenson.

Teams rarely give someone a guaranteed, above-minimum salary and then waive him the same offseason. But that’s what the Pelicans did with Gee. At least he’ll take home $1.4 million, more than his $1,379,400 player option would’ve paid had he opted in last summer.

Stephenson – with just $100,000 of his minimum salary guaranteed – adds much-needed playmaking with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans both out. Though he has struggled since leaving the Pacers, Stephenson is still talented and relatively young. Maybe he re-finds his groove in New Orleans. It’ll at least be interesting to watch him try.

Report: Lamar Odom, Khloe Kardashian (engaged to Tristan Thompson) agree to divorce terms

Khloe Kardashian Odom, Lamar Odom
AP Photo/Evan Agostini
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Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian are reportedly engaged.

But some wondered: Isn’t Kardashian still married to former NBA player Lamar Odom?


Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom have officially signed off on their divorce, and all that’s left is a judge’s John Hancock … TMZ has learned.

Khloe and Lamar have reached a property settlement and each has now signed legal docs that were filed Friday.

Thankfully, that’s cleared up.

Report: Rockets management wanted to elevate Clint Capela over Dwight Howard last season, coach resisted

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 17:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets celebrates with General Manager Daryl Morey after they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 113 to 100 during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Toyota Center for the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 17, 2015 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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When he was starting at power forward next to Dwight Howard last season, Clint Capela looked like he could eventually supplant Howard as the Rockets’ starting center.

It happened this offseason with Howard leaving for the Hawks.

Houston apparently wanted it to happen even sooner.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Houston Rockets management repeatedly pushed for Clint Capela to get more playing time at the expense of Dwight Howard last season, sources told ESPN, adding to the disharmony that played a prominent role in the team’s disappointing 2015-16 campaign.

Former Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff resisted complying with the wishes of general manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander regarding a drastic reduction in Howard’s playing time. Team sources said Alexander never participated in the meetings with Morey and Bickerstaff but fully supported the general manager’s plan to prioritize Capela’s development.

League sources said input from face-of-the-franchise James Harden heavily influenced Houston management’s desire to decrease Howard’s minutes. However, team sources insisted that Harden was not involved in those discussions.

It’s believable Harden conspired against Howard. It’s also believable the Rockets covered for Harden.

Whoever was working against him, Howard clearly understood Houston planned to deemphasize him. Maybe he didn’t always handle that the absolute best way, but to a certain degree, he was just dealing with a difficult reality – one the Rockets should have foreseen.

It’s tough to tell an established star his role is being reduced. It’s far easier to tell a second-year player he must wait his turn. Houston’s management tried to take the harder path – and didn’t even get its own coach to comply, which only muddled the situation further.

The Rockets were coming off a run to the Western Conference finals, and amid so much chaos, still made the playoffs. This was a talented team that came too close to wasting a season due to internal dynamics.

And what does Houston have to show for its Howard plan? The Rockets didn’t trade Howard, didn’t get him to opt in (as they wanted him to do, according to MacMahon) and didn’t re-sign him. Capela will start now, but he’s not substantially more experienced playing center with other starters. Howard is in Atlanta, ready to help another team.

Prolonged breakups just aren’t healthy. Rip off the bandage or leave it on.