The Lakers and the high price of losing a sure-bet

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If you had asked any NBA fan, or expert, or even Lakers official back in June what they’d be doing two weeks before the start of the season, they’d say there’d be some drama. There always is. With Phil Jackson retiring and Jim Buss taking the reins over from his father, there were sure to be changes in the way that day-to-day operations and life of the league’s most prolific franchise. But no one could have foreseen this.

The Lakers’ attempts at restructuring a deal for Chris Paul fell apart Saturday night, two days after the league blocked an approved trade by all three parties in a three-way with Houston and New Orleans. As they pulled out of talks, leaving both Houston and New Orleans stranded, they shocked the world by trading Lamar Odom, Sixth Man of the Year and glue guy for two championship teams, to the Dallas Mavericks who just seven months ago knocked them out of the playoffs and set off this unraveling. In return? The Lakers get a first-round pick of Dallas’ choosing between now and a half-decade, and a traded player exception.

ESPN reports Odom demanded a trade Friday night. So hurt by the team’s decision to move him, the bridge was burned. He winds up on a conference rival. What’s stunning is not the move itself, this happens from time to time.

But not to the Lakers.

This is a franchise that has been largely untouchable. And under any other circumstances, their efforts in the Chris Paul trade would have paid off. They would then be in position to obtain Dwight Howard and complete the triad that would destroy the universe and reign for a thousand years. That’s the way it’s supposed to go. That’s what the Lakers do.

But they didn’t.

It took a confluence of events beyond description. George Shinn sold the team while having prostate cancer, essentially just giving up. A deal to sell the team had fallen through in the wake of the BP oil spill in the gulf, the same effects thereof kept a prospective buyer away. So the league bought the team. And held onto it for months, because of their desire to raise the value of the sale with a better CBA the league sacrificed 16 games for in a lockout. Then this happened, before they could. Had Shinn kept the team another year, had the oil spill not happened, had the league sold it before the lockout, had the lockout not occurred. Any of these things change, and the Lakers have Chris Paul in Lakers Gold right now.

But they did. The Lakers gambled big, but gambled on the fact that they have always succeeded. They should have pulled it off. They did pull it off. They talked the Hornets, facing the most massive rebuilding project of any team since… OK, well since Cleveland, into taking two guys over 30 with medium-to-large contracts and Kevin Martin who is a very specialized talent, along with a 20-ish pick from the Knicks by way of Houston in exchange for the best pure point guard in the league. Only the Lakers could pull this deal off, but they did it. Nothing could stop them…

Except the league.

And in doing so, by interjecting themselves where they were not wanted, by over-riding New Orleans GM Dell Demps who had been given permission to run the team along with Jac Sperling, the league has altered the course of Lakers history, interfered where it was not their place. If you don’t consider them a legitimate owner of the Hornets, as they are not the long-term owners of the team and as they have considerable conflicts of interest, then quite simply, the Lakers had the roulette ball land on their number, and yet the house took their bet with no return.

Without the trade, Odom is still obliviously happy in his natural environment, a hyper-media, reality-television, flashbulbs and confetti wonderland, instead of suiting up to hurt his former team. Pau Gasol isn’t emotionally scarred. If the trade had gone through, the Lakers have moved on to their next era of dominance.

Instead, it’s an uncertain future. Dwight Howard is still out there, even as rumors that they won’t trade Pau Gasol and Bynum for Howard percolate. And who knows, maybe the Lakers will return to chase Paul. But as it stands, they have a gaping hole in their front court, and a serious chemistry issue. Not one of their own design, but by consequence of the league’s interference.

It’s said that the Lakers don’t rebuild. They reload. But the league, in essence, has amputated a limb. They’ll likely figure a way out. But the result is the same.

The league vetoed a trade, and in doing so, have set off a set of consequences which turns a team that had every reason to believe they could return to challenge for a championship on the razor’s edge.

Good luck with that, Mike Brown.

Rockets bench hams it up over Andre Roberson missed free throw (video)

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Russell Westbrook might not want to talk about his supporting cast distinctively, but it’s a real issue for the Thunder, who trail the Rockets 3-1 in their first-round series.

Even Andre Roberson, who has impressively defended James Harden, brings a glaring weakness: free throws. Roberson is 2-for-17 from the line in the playoffs, including 2-for-12 in Game 4 yesterday. Houston even repeatedly intentionally fouled him late.

It was agonizing for all but the most partisan Rockets supporters – though even Houston’s bench, while at least implicitly mocking Roberson, appeared put off that he missed yet again.

Isaiah Thomas: ‘Mentally and emotionally, I’m not here’

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Isaiah Thomas previously explained his emotions in a statement, but the Celtics guard spoke publicly yesterday for the first time since the death of his sister in a car crash just before the playoffs.

Thomas, via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

“Mentally and emotionally I’m not here,” Thomas said after Game 4, the first time he has spoken publicly since his sister’s death. “So I just feed off of what the guys give me. They give me a lot of confidence. I can’t do it without those guys. They believe in me. Being here is what makes me sane and makes me feel somewhat normal through these tough times.”

Thomas has played well for Boston, which won twice in Chicago to even its series with the Bulls, 2-2. It’s remarkable considering the heavy emotional burden and extra travel, going to Seattle for his sister’s funeral then joining the Celtics in Chicago.

His teammates have clearly rallied around him, and that surely helps. But I can’t even imagine how he’s simultaneously handling such a tragic family situation and the biggest games of his career.

Kyrie Irving knocks flamingo from Pacers fan’s hands (video)

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Pacers super fan Matt Asen brings his lucky flamingo to each game.

He also annoyed the heck out of Kyrie Irving by trying to hand it, rather than the ball, to the Cavaliers guard.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.