Kobe Bryant Dwight Howard

Lakers might only get one shot to win a championship with Dwight Howard


For the majority of NBA teams and their respective fan bases, each season is all about the journey. Only a select few have a real shot at winning a championship, so success is relative and can be judged on everything from individual player improvement to year-over-year win totals, or on whether or not a team simply made the playoffs.

In Los Angeles, for the Lakers, the opposite is true. The journey does not matter; it’s all about the result.

Dwight Howard has finally been added to the star-studded Laker lineup, essentially in exchange for Andrew Bynum. With Howard in the fold alongside Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Metta World Peace, L.A. has the best starting five in the league, and it isn’t close. With that great power comes great responsibility, of course, in that anything less than a Lakers championship next season will be considered a disappointment, and rightfully so.

Now, championship-or-bust isn’t exactly a fun way to go through an entire season — just ask the 2011 Miami Heat about that. The Lakers may, however, have to deal with something that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh didn’t in that first season together in Miami: the added pressure of having to win a title in their very first season together, if they want to stay together.

Howard is an unrestricted free agent after next season, and will sign nothing less than a max contract once he hits the open market. While the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement would allow him to net in the neighborhood of $30 million more over the life of his next deal if he stayed in L.A., money may not be everything to a player who already will have over $100 million in career earnings — even before we count endorsements — when the time comes for him to decide where he’ll play next. Additionally, let’s not forget that Howard is recovering from back surgery, and we have yet to see how quickly he may or may not return to form following his rehabilitation.

Besides the injury issue and the fact that Dwight can simply up and leave at the end of the season if he feels like it, the Lakers may think very carefully about wanting him back at the price he’ll command if he can’t mesh with the rest of the roster, pulls any of the bad teammate routine we saw from him last year in Orlando, or ends up being less than 100 percent of the player we’ve seen him be in the past.

While it seems likely that the Lakers would try to keep Howard in order to have a star in Los Angeles to build around once Bryant retires, nothing is guaranteed there because L.A. has legitimate salary concerns after next season. In 2014, Bryant is slated to make over $30 million, and Gasol will be in the last year of a deal that will pay him greater than $19 million. If Gasol doesn’t bounce back from a disappointing season, it’s reasonable to believe that the Lakers may look to move that expiring contract to cut payroll and avoid having to pay him big dollars in free agency.

All of this is to say that for the Lakers, the time is now. The acquisitions of Howard and Nash have put the team in the enviable spot of being one of the favorites to take home the title. And while the team’s journey should certainly be compelling, if the end result is anything less than a 17th NBA championship, it may be the only chance given to the team’s core to win it as currently constructed.

It’s time: Russell Westbrook looks to fill void after Durant’s exit

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4), head coach Billy Donovan, guard Russell Westbrook (0) and center Steven Adams pose for a photo during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — There were few indications before August that Russell Westbrook would be so willing to be the hero downtrodden Thunder fans needed.

For years, the sometimes combustible Westbrook toiled in Kevin Durant‘s shadow. He often was viewed as the talented, selfish player who was as likely to get in Durant’s way as he was to make a winning play. His flashy style seemed at odds with small-market Oklahoma City so when Durant, who seemingly was a better fit in OKC, left for rival Golden State, fear that Westbrook would bolt for a larger market increased.

He didn’t. He chose to re-sign with the Thunder and now that he has answered the call, it’s time to deliver.

“We know a few things about Russell at this point,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “He’s going to bring his lunch pail every day. He’s going to compete. He’s going to inspire. He’s going to show great conviction and courage to his teammates, to the city, to the organization. And from there, we have to figure out how that comes together.”

That trek begins Wednesday in Philadelphia when Oklahoma City officially tips off the post-Durant era in its season opener against the 76ers.

Westbrook is now the unquestioned leader of the Thunder and player folks behind the scenes knew – the thoughtful, humble, giving man – has more readily come to the surface. He has gone to great lengths to connect with Thunder fans in recent months.

Among other things, he unveiled his new line of True Religion clothing near downtown Oklahoma City and he attended an Oklahoma home football game against Louisiana-Monroe wearing a custom-made Sooners jersey. When he was introduced to the crowd before the Thunder’s preseason home opener, he got the kinds of cheers normally reserved for a return from injury.

Westbrook seems more at ease on the court, too. His preseason play seemed more effortless than electric, with an occasional flourish.

“I want the team to play how they want to play,” Westbrook said. “I mean, it’s not totally up to me how we play. You have to adjust to the team you have and adjust on a night-in, night-out basis on how you want to play. You want to play fast some nights and you want to play slow. I think it depends on the game, on the situation, who is on the floor.”

He is poised to put up astronomical numbers this season as he tries to keep the Thunder among the NBA elite.

Last season Westbrook averaged 23.5 points and career highs of 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds. He posted 18 triple-doubles, the most for a player since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. The two-time All-Star MVP and former scoring champion could do more damage without Durant, but the Thunder don’t want too much pressure on him.

“I think we have to be able to play in a way that’s not just relying on him to do everything and create every single shot, whether it’s him making the shot or making the play for another guy,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said.

Westbrook already has left an impression on his new backcourt mate Victor Oladipo, who was acquired in the trade that sent defensive enforcer Serge Ibaka to Orlando.

“After working with Russ, I can see the intensity in how serious he was about his craft,” Oladipo said. “But one thing that I realized that after guarding him for three years – I can see why he’s so effective at what he does. I definitely stole that from him, and I’m going to take it and run as fast as I can with it.”

How Oladipo and the rest of the Thunder do in keeping up with Russell will determine how much success the team will have. Oklahoma City is no longer considered the team to beat in championship conversations, and that’s fine with Westbrook. He said the team embraces the underdog role.

“I love it,” he said. “I love it, man. I think it’s a great challenge, not just for myself, but for our whole team. I think just from talking to the guys throughout the summer, they understand that. They want to win. They want to get better.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP .

Memphis’ Chandler Parsons says he’s playing 5-on-5, hopes to be on court soon

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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When the Memphis Grizzlies get their full starting five on the court, that lineup is going to be a handful.

But the Grizzlies enter their opener Wednesday night likely without Tony Allen and certainly without Chandler Parsons.

Parsons is being brought along slowly following his latest knee surgery, but in an update on the team’s Twitter account notes he is now playing 5-on-5 and hopes to be on the court “soon.”

Parsons also says he hasn’t lost a step. We may need to see that before we fully buy in.

Memphis needs him — and Allen — on the court as soon as possible. While their starting five can be a force, there is not a lot of depth on the Grizzlies’ roster. Plus Parsons provides the floor-spacing shooting and second shot creator the Grizzlies desperately need.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant


You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee


This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.