Kobe Bryant Dwight Howard

Did the Lakers just become the NBA’s best team? Looks like it.


Four years ago at the trade deadline, the Los Angeles Lakers made what was considered a blockbuster move — they traded a package centered around Marc Gasol (although at the time we thought it was Kwame Brown) for Pau Gasol. Pairing him with Kobe Bryant led the Lakers to three straight finals and two NBA titles.

After tonight, Pau Gasol may be offensive option No. 4 on the Lakers.

To what is certainly the frustration and consternation of Mark Cuban and other owners (nice competitive balance), the Lakers have had the best offseason they have had since 1996 (getting Shaquille O’Neal and drafting Kobe Bryant). The Lakers were able to work trades for both point guard Steve Nash and the most dominant center on the planet today, Dwight Howard.

The Lakers are now the team best positioned to challenge the Miami Heat for the NBA title, they can match up in raw talent. And with real strengths at point guard and center — the two weakest links of the Heat — Los Angeles may well be the best team in the NBA.

We have 82 games and a long playoff run to formally answer the question of who is best, but the Lakers are in that conversation. Yes, the Oklahoma City Thunder certainly are as well. But the Lakers suddenly look like the team to beat. Again.

Their starting five will be Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard. That can compete with the Heat and Thunder, and Howard instantly improves the Laker team defense dramatically. The bench isn’t terribly impressive — Antawn Jamison, Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts, Jordan Hill, Chris Duhon and Earl Clark (the later two filler on the trade) — but it doesn’t really have to be.

There will be a lot of burden on coach Mike Brown’s shoulders to fit it all the pieces together. The Lakers have talked about running a Princeton style offense and those kind of sets certainly can work, Gasol passes well as a big and in the Olympics we have seen Kobe work well from off the ball on the weak side.

But if you have Steve Nash with Dwight Howard and you don’t run a lot of 1/5 pick-and-rolls you are a fool.

It is a massive and stunning overhaul and improvement of what was already a good roster. Other owners like to complain about the Lakers advantages of market and money — and those exist — but the Lakers also just tend to be both more patient and smarter than other front offices. This doesn’t keep happening by accident.

Getting Howard does not assure the Lakers of an NBA title.

But they may just have become the team to beat. Even for the Heat.

Kobe Bryant went from DeMar DeRozan’s idol to his friend

Kobe Bryant, DeMar DeRozan
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TORONTO (AP) — DeMar DeRozan was 16 when he was invited to Kobe Bryant‘s camp for the top 25 American high school shooting guards.

A friendship grew between the youngster who would become an All-Star for the Toronto Raptors and the player who would become the third-leading scorer in NBA history.

DeRozan talked at length Sunday night about Bryant, who announced on The Players’ Tribune that he’ll retire after the season, capping a 20-year NBA career.

“The knowledge that he tended to give me every time I got the chance to be around him, especially at a young age, carrying over to the league, it was definitely an honor,” DeRozan said after the Raptors’ 107-102 loss Sunday night to Phoenix. “I tried to listen as much as possible, soak in as much as I could all of the time. It’s crazy how much time flies.”

Bryant was DeRozan’s favorite player while growing up in Compton, Calif.

“I’ve tried to emulate and learn so much from him ever since I was a kid, watching every single game growing up in Los Angeles, having a chance to get with him and learn from him, from conversations even when I was in high school from playing against him, completing against him, being in big games with him,” said DeRozan, who scored 29 points in Sunday’s loss. “It’s definitely a sad, sad day, but he’s been in the game a long time.”

Bryant’s announcement came just before the Lakers’ game against the visiting Indiana Pacers. Fans at the game received a letter of thanks from the 37-year-old player in a black envelope embossed with gold.

Bryant has struggled mightily with injuries the past several years, and is shooting a career-worst 32 percent this season.

“It don’t matter. That man has five rings, 17 all-stars, MVP,” DeRozan said. “There’s nothing he hasn’t done. It’s just father time catching up with him, injuries catching up with him this past year. People will appreciate it when he’s away from the game.”

DeRozan has his favorite Kobe memory – Bryant scoring 81 points against Toronto in 2006. DeRozan, who would join the Raptors as a rookie three years later, said he felt as if he was playing a video game watching the high-scoring spectacle unfold on TV.

DeRozan is in his seventh season with Toronto. He can’t imagine playing 20 years.

“Especially playing at a high level, doing the things he was doing … people don’t understand how hard that is,” DeRozan said. “Even now, a lot of us find ourselves tired (on) back-to-backs. It’s tough. It’s really tough. To do it 20 years at a high level, you have to give that man every credit in the world.”

Hornets’ Al Jefferson out 2-3 weeks with strained calf

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The Hornets have been playing well of late, going 7-3 in their last 10 and outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. They are solidly in the playoff picture out East, in the six slot right now.

This is not going to help matters.

The team announced that an MRI confirmed center Al Jefferson will be out two to three weeks with a strained left calf muscle, suffered during Charlotte’s 87-82 win over Milwaukee on Sunday.

Jefferson missing a few weeks due to injury at some point during the season is an annual event, like the Rose Parade or the Head of the Charles Regatta — but this year the Hornets are better prepared to deal with it. This is the deepest Charlotte team in recent memory.

Tyler Hansbrough, Cody Zeller, and Frank Kaminsky will get more run — plus Spencer Hawes may be back in the rotation — and if they can step up the Hornets will not slow down much.

This season the Hornets defense has been downright stingy when Jefferson is on the bench, giving up 94.2 points per 100 possessions (which is 10 better than when he is on the court). However, the Hornet offense and rebounding efforts are stronger when he plays.

PBT Extra: How did Thunder, Pacers move up in PBT Power Rankings?

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As they do every Monday during the season, the PBT Power Rankings came out and while the top three remained the same there were some climbers.

Specifically, the Thunder at No. 4 and the Pacers at No. 5.

Why they are there is the latest PBT Extra topic with Jenna Corrado. The simple answer is they are both excellent teams. Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and Paul George are all playing like Top 10 players.

PBT Podcast: We’re back talking Kobe, 76ers, Warriors, Pistons, more

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The ProBasketballTalk NBA podcast is back.

Sure we’re a month into the season, but we’re going to get this podcast rolling again and you can expect us on each Monday and Thursday, with a variety of guests talking everything around the NBA.

Today NBC’s own Dan Feldman joins Kurt Helin to talk Kobe Bryant‘s retirement announcement, and what that means both for the Lakers going forward this season and beyond, but also what that could mean for Byron Scott’s future as the Lakers’ coach.

We also delve into the “showdown” between the Lakers and Sixers on Thursday, talk about the job Brett Brown is doing there as coach (a good one), we talk some Warriors, some Draymond Green, Pistons, Spurs and Pacers to round it all out.

Listen to the podcast below or you can listen and subscribe via iTunes.