NBA season preview: L.A. Lakers

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Last Season: Failure. For a team that measures success in terms of championships, especially when it has enough talent on paper to compete at that level, 2012 just wasn’t good enough.

The Lakers struggled with depth and exited the playoffs in the second round for the second straight year, this time to a younger, more athletic, and more explosive Oklahoma City Thunder squad. This came after going a longer-than-planned seven games in the first round against a talented, yet inexperienced Nuggets team that shouldn’t have been able to push L.A. that far.

Key Departures: There were departures, though not many close observers of this Lakers team would choose the word “key” to describe them. Ramon Sessions departed for a bigger role in Charlotte, Matt Barnes switched to the less glamorous locker room down the Staples Center hallway, Josh McRoberts is now in Orlando, and Troy Murphy is just gone.

The Lakers did, of course, lose their All-Star center from a season ago in Andrew Bynum, but they acquired a replacement whom they hope will be one of the keys to returning to championship relevance.

Key Additions: Here’s where things start to get interesting. L.A. helped end our long national Dwightmare by trading for one of the game’s top-five players in Dwight Howard, giving up Bynum in the process. Howard for Bynum on its own is an improvement on paper, but not one large enough to tilt the championship odds immediately in the Lakers’ favor. The acquisition of Steve Nash, however — a two-time MVP, a master conductor of the offense and one of the game’s best shooters — might have done exactly that.

Antawn Jamison was added for some scoring assistance off the bench, and backup two-guard Jodie Meeks should provide some productivity when Kobe Bryant is getting some rest.

Three keys to the Lakers season:

1) Kobe thriving without the ball in his hands: Nash is one of the best point guards in the game, but to do what he does best, he’ll need the ball to open possessions. With Howard and Pau Gasol on the floor at the same time, there should be a number of successful offensive possessions where Bryant doesn’t even see the basketball. Obviously, this will be a major adjustment. Will Bryant choose to adapt to the new offense — one that, much like the Triangle, features motion and multiple options at every turn — or will he resist and revert to old habits of forcing isolation situations with the shot clock winding down, while his teammates stand around and watch? There’s a time for that, certainly, but with all of the weapons on this year’s roster, those situations should be the exception to the rule, rather than the rule itself.

2) Will the bench be enough? A starting five featuring Bryant, Howard, Nash, Gasol, and Metta World Peace should provide plenty of punch on both sides of the ball to win on most nights. But regular season achievements are not why this core was assembled, nor will finishing the regular season with the league’s best record mean anything if the starters are gassed for the playoffs. Bryant and Nash need to save themselves somewhat for the postseason, and limiting their minutes will only be possible if the bench doesn’t blow huge leads which force the team’s veteran stars to sub back in early in the fourth quarters of games which should have already been decided.

3) The correct utilization of Pau Gasol: From a numbers standpoint, Gasol appeared to be every bit as effective as he’d been in his seasons in L.A. that resulted in championships. But to those who watched the majority of the team’s contests, Gasol seemed uncomfortable, under-utilized, and out of place in head coach Mike Brown’s attempt at an offense.

The Lakers need to find a way to maximize Gasol’s talents, and the new Princeton offense that the team is implementing this season should go a long way in doing so. Gasol has great court awareness and is able to make the smart pass, but is also a deft scorer — both on the low block, and from mid-range distance on the perimeter. The team needs to recognize this, and perhaps watch some film of the gold medal game of this past summer’s Olympics to truly see what a force Gasol can be when given the right opportunities.

What Lakers fans should fear: Two words: Mike Brown. L.A.’s head coach used the lockout-shortened season as a constant excuse last year, lamenting the lack of practice time available for him to get his new systems installed. Well, no such excuse will be available this season, as Brown has had all summer and a full training camp to design and implement sets which will maximize his team’s talents.

The team added former NBA head coaches in Eddie Jordan and Bernie Bickerstaff to assist Brown, who has always been described as a defense-first coach. If the defense is top-five in the league, that’s great. But last year’s Lakers were middle-of-the-pack defensively, and the offense never gained the necessary cohesion to contend deep into the postseason. With all of the talent assembled for the 2012-13 run, the blame will undoubtedly fall on Brown’s shoulders if he’s unable to bring this group to the level of champions.

Prediction: Dwight Howard is an upgrade over Andrew Bynum, but the basketball IQ and shooting prowess of Steve Nash is what pushes this team over the top. Anyone predicting anything other than a trip to the Finals for this stacked Lakers squad is being delusional at worst, or contrarian at best. The Thunder return essentially all of their important pieces, and LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will be waiting in the East. But the amount of talent in the Lakers’ starting lineup is too much to dismiss, and they should ultimately take home the title if things go anywhere near as planned.

Jimmy Butler shows up in Minnesota wearing a fanny pack and holding a football (PHOTO)

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Jimmy Butler is now a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves, reunited with former Chicago Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau. A draft day trade between the Bulls and the Timberwolves saw Butler head to Minnesota in exchange for the No. 7 pick in 2017 NBA Draft, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn.

Butler and Thibodeau get along quite well, and there’s little doubt Butler will be one of the league leaders in minutes played for the Timberwolves next season. With the trade finalized, Butler showed up in Minnesota this week alongside Thibodeau wearing a very Butler-esque outfit.

There’s no good way to describe it other than by looking at it.

Via Twitter:

The Bulls got hosed.

Big3 begins: 3-on-3 league has close games, not much Allen Iverson

AP
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NEW YORK (AP) Allen Iverson plans to be more spectator than scorer in the Big3.

The Iverson of old might be the only thing Ice Cube’s new 3-on-3 basketball venture can’t deliver.

The rapper-actor’s league of former NBA players got off to a strong start Sunday, with the first two games both decided on winning shots in front of 15,177 fans.

Iverson’s team won the third game, though as player-coach he only put himself in for 9 minutes. At 42 years old, the former NBA MVP said he doesn’t expect to be playing heavy minutes in the 10-game season.

“But I think the best part about this game here tonight and all the other games, it was exciting all throughout,” Iverson said. “It didn’t need Allen Iverson the player, per se.”

The quality of play was spotty, as players had to shake off sometimes years of rust. But it was certainly competitive.

“I think it’s going to be incredibly good. The games are exciting, the players are still talented and they’re fun to watch,” said Hall of Famer Clyde Drexler, who coached Power to a 62-58 victory over Tri State in the second game on DeShawn Stevenson’s 3-pointer.

Entertainers such as LL Cool J and NBA All-Star James Harden were in the crowd for the first two games before Iverson, the main attraction among players, took the court following a concert.

He may be the biggest name in the league, but his role on the court will be minor.

“I signed up to be a coach, player and captain. Coach part is going to go on throughout the game,” Iverson said. “Playing part is not going to be what you expect.

“You’re not going to see the Allen Iverson of old out there.”

He can’t be blamed, given the risk of injury for players way past their primes. Jason Williams, the flashy point guard nicknamed “White Chocolate,” went down with a right leg injury late in the opener, and Corey Maggette had to come out of the second game. Both were expected to be OK.

And that might not stop more players from wanting to play. Recently retired Paul Pierce was in the crowd and Andre Owens, the star of Iverson’s 3’s Company, said Kevin Garnett might want to play.

“Sky’s the limit. Obviously you see the debut,” Iverson said. “I didn’t even expect it to be like this, and then obviously guys that’s retired now, to see the outcome of this situation right here, probably are going to get that itch.”

Games are played to 60 points but teams have to win by two, and getting to 60 wasn’t enough in either of the first two games.

In the opener, Rashard Lewis made a three-point play with his team facing game point as 3 Headed Monsters edged Ghost Ballers 62-60.

The game has gimmicks – Lewis made the first 4-point shot and teams had 14 seconds to shoot. Team names included 3’s Company and Killer 3s and some players wore nicknames on their jerseys, with Jerome Williams going with “Junk Yard Dog” on his.

Cube vowed the games would be competitive – players are vying for a revenue share based on final league standings. There was pushing and shoving in the post and a few hard fouls, and the physicality and trash talk appeared to heat up as the games went on. With hand checking allowed, the games looked nothing like today’s NBA game.

“Some people like that style, some people don’t,” Trilogy’s Kenyon Martin said. “So we’re here to fill that void for the people that appreciate the way the game has been played forever, you know what I’m saying? Basketball is a contact sport.”

The eight-team league will play on 10 weekends, culminating with the Aug. 26 championship in Las Vegas. Games are shown on Monday nights on Fox Sports 1.

3 HEADED MONSTERS 62, GHOST BALLERS 60

The 3 Headed Monsters blew a late lead after Williams went down and the Ghost Ballers went ahead 60-59 before Lewis scored and drew a foul, making the free throw to finish the game.

Lewis finished with 27 points and former No. 1 pick Kwame Brown had 17 points and 13 rebounds for the 3 Headed Monsters. Ricky Davis led the Ghost Ballers with 23 points.

POWER 62, TRI STATE 58

Stevenson finished with 20 points for the Power, making five 3-pointers. Maggette scored 15 and Cuttino Mobley had 14.

Jermaine O’Neal scored 18 points for Tri State, coached by Hall of Famer Julius Erving. Mike James had 13 points and 12 rebounds.

3’S COMPANY 61, BALL HOGS 51

Andre Owens had 20 points and 15 rebounds for Iverson’s team. DerMarr Johnson added 14 points and Al Thornton scored 13.

Iverson finished 1 for 6 with two assists.

Rasual Butler made six 3-pointers and scored 22 points for the Ball Hogs. Derrick Byars chipped in 19.

TRILOGY 60, KILLER 3’s 45

Al Harrington scored 25 points as Trilogy cruised in the final game of the day. James White added 16.

Reggie Evans scored 18 and Stephen Jackson 17 for the losers.

Watch Draymond Green name all 34 players drafted before him in 2012 (VIDEO)

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Is Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green a petty guy? I will leave that for you to decide.

He is certainly determined, a characteristic that has led him and the Warriors to two championships in the last three seasons.

Green was famously a second round pick, drafted No. 35 overall in the 2012 NBA Draft. And according to the video I’m about to show you, Green can recite the name of every single player who was drafted before him in 2012.

No, seriously.

Via twitter:

This might be the best video I’ve ever put on this website.

DeMarcus Cousins has dropped a ton of weight this offseason already (PHOTO)

AP
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New Orleans Pelicans DeMarcus Cousins has been known to carry a bit of weight on his frame. He is currently listed at 6-foot-11 and 270 pounds.

It appears that last bit has significantly changed over the off-season.

Cousins has reportedly dropped quite a bit of weight during his off-season regimen, eating right and even hiring the personal trainer who made Julius Randle look so good in just a short amount of time for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Speaking to WDSU, Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry Said cousins was primed to take a new role for the pelicans next season, taking on a bit of a ball handler role as a point center. That should be easily done now that cousins has gained a little bit of mobility by shedding some weight.

Via WDSU:

When I saw DeMarcus, his body looked great. He invited us to his house for lunch; he’s eating really healthy — he’s got a chef that he’s hired. I was really, really excited about what he’s taken from the standpoint of trying to get himself ready for the season and obviously he feels like this is a very important season for him.

Looking at Cousins’ Instagram, you can clearly see the results of his eating and training regimen. He looks damn near svelte.

The newly-formed Pelicans had a disappointing end to the season, but with more time together they will certainly be one of the teams to watch in the Western Conference.