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Mike Brown can win with Lakers if Kobe buys in

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Mike Brown was hired because he was not Phil Jackson.

That’s not all of it — all accounts around the league are that Mike Brown gives good job interview, and his defense-first philosophy is a good fit — but not being part of the Phil Jackson coaching tree mattered. This was Jim Buss’ move to assert himself in the organization, to make his mark. And part of that was breaking from Jackson, who Buss did not get along with. At all. Jackson said they spoke once all season.

That doesn’t mean this can’t work for the Lakers.

But all that hinges on Kobe Bryant buying in. Completely.

There needs to be more, too — roster changes including a new point guard, for one — but it starts with Kobe. This is his team, he is the leader. Someday it will be Andrew Bynum’s team (he is Buss’ boy and if you think the Lakers are trading him you are mistaken) but right now it’s all about Kobe Bryant.

If he leads, others will fall in line. If he doesn’t, drama will ensue. As will losses.

Officially the Lakers are saying Kobe is on board, and during a halftime interview on ESPN Wednesday night Mike Brown said he has had a couple of texts with Bryant.

But when the Los Angeles Times reached Bryant to ask him about Brown, he had no comment. What is clear is that as part of Buss — both Jim and Jerry — reasserting themselves Kobe was not consulted on the hire. That’s not really a huge shock, the Buss family has done things like this before, but it chafes at Kobe.

Which brings us back to him buying in.

At the end of the day, he will (if he hasn’t already). Because he wants to win, and mutiny is not going to get him another ring. And not only will he fall in line, the team will come with him.

With Kobe onboard, this can work for the Lakers. Mike Brown is a good defensive coach and that is the end of the court where the Lakers need work. With Bryant, Pau Gasol, Bynum, Lamar Odom and others scoring points was never going to be the Lakers issue. Their offense was sixth in the NBA in points per possession last season. They will be fine.

They also have the sixth-rated defense in the league, but it was inconsistent. By the Dallas series it had collapsed, nobody helped the helper, guys just seemed to float through plays. Brown can change that. Will change that. If Kobe buys in.

There will need to be changes on the offensive end. Derek Fisher sort of worked as a triangle initiator. Barely. But as a traditional point guard he did not impress in Golden State and Utah — and that was five years ago. Steve Blake can be a backup, but the Lakers need to get a new, solid point guard. Not a ball-dominating guy, but a guy who can set the table and knock down shots, plus play a little defense.

They need a more athletic roster. They need to buy in fully for whatever offense Brown brings in. They have to play as a unit.

They know how to do it. They have done it. And if they buy in they can be contenders again under Brown.

But it all starts with Kobe.

Likely top-10 pick Dennis Smith Jr. of North Carolina State declares for draft

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This had long been expected, but now it is official.

North Carolina State freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. has declared for the NBA Draft. He made the announcement on ESPN saying playing in the NBA is his dream, reports the News & Observer.

“It was definitely an obtainable dream for me,” said in an interview on SportsCenter. “I knew I would chase it with all of my might.”

Smith is considered a top-10 pick (DraftExpress.com has him going seventh currently).

Smith had missed his senior year of high school ball with an ACL injury, but was named ACC Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.1 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. He had two triple-doubles as a freshman. He was also inconsistent. Smith had brilliant games and ones where he looked disinterested.

Smith is unquestionably explosive and athletic, and that makes him a threat both in the open court and getting to the rim off a pick-and-roll. He’s got good handles, he knows how to draw fouls, and you can see his potential to get buckets at the next level. His jump shot needs to be far more consistent to thrive at the next level, however. The questions about Smith are more about his ability to make good decisions and be a floor general. He knows how to survey the floor and create for himself, but can he figure out when to pass to set up teammates? Can he defend consistently? He needs smooth out the rough edges of his game, but the potential to be very good is there.

James Harden says playing in every game should matter in MVP voting

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James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.

When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….

“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”

Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.

This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.

In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.

However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).

Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.

That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.

Rajon Rondo is hilarious (photo)

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Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.

Is he petty? Yes.

Is he harsh? Yes.

But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.

 

Sean Highkin of The Athletic:

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek: “We can use some more defensive players”

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For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).

The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.

Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.

“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”

Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.

The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.

It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.

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