Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Steve Nash

The Lakers are right on schedule, but is it too late?

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Picture this: Steve Nash dribbles up court, surveying the floor. As he crosses half court, he maneuvers towards the three point line. Once there, Dwight Howard comes and sets a pick and rolls hard to the basket but doesn’t get the ball. Nash probes the defense, dribbling into the paint and underneath the hoop, spotting Kobe Bryant open on the wing. Kobe raises to shoot a jumper but instead rifles a pass to a wide open Howard under the hoop who catches the pass for a dunk.

Or picture this: Kobe is hounding the opposing point guard full court. Before the ball handler gets to the timeline, he’s been turned multiple times, his pattern up the floor an inefficient zig-zag. With the shot clock winding down, the ball goes to the wing. That player, feeling pressure from Metta World Peace, tries to drive and get a shot off before the help arrives. But Howard swoops in, alters the shot, and then secures the rebound.

Or this: Nash is pushing the ball up court, looking to improvise. Defenders are retreating and recovering to the paint while still trying to find their men in semi-transition. On one wing is Kobe. On the other is Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark. Howard is trailing the action but running well, looking for the ball should the action slow. Nash veers left towards Kobe, but instead fires a pass to Clark. As a defender chases the ball, Clark instantly passes to Jamison in the corner who shoots, and sinks, an uncontested three pointer.

Actually, you don’t have to just picture them — these are sequences from the last three Lakers’ games. It’s the middle of January and they’re finally starting to get it. This is good news, right?

Before the season started, this was the timeline many thought the Lakers would be operating on. With a team of players turned over by half — including some big name acquisitions — they’d need time to find their collective stride. With Howard still recovering from his back surgery, the expectations were that the team would start somewhat slowly. Give them time to heal, to jell, to build up that familiarity that all teams need to reach their peak. Once that happened, they’d start to string together good performances and become a terror that teams would want to avoid.

The Lakers are getting closer to being that team. The defense is improving. The offense, though efficient for the entire season, is staring to show more fluidity. Players are communicating better and seem to be on the same page. And while there are still hurdles to clear — What to do with Pau Gasol? How to mix their lineups effectively? Do they sure up their bench?  — the list of positives with this team is finally starting to outweigh the negatives. They are making progress. Lots of it.

The only problem is the hole they’ve dug themselves in the process of getting to this point. The moral victories are piling up, but the Lakers need real victories to sustain them. They currently sit 5 games below .500 with 17 wins and 22 losses. They’re the 11th seed in the West with only a half a season left to play. So as much as D’Antoni would love to hit the reset button on this season, the Lakers’ season did not, in fact, start this past Sunday.

The time to turn their season around was weeks ago, but is only starting to happen now. Do the Lakers have enough time left?

Over the past 4 seasons, the 8th seed in the Western Conference has averaged 48 wins. For the Lakers to get to that mark, they would need to close with the season with a 31-12 push. Possible? Yes. Plausible? The friendliest response would say maybe. A neutral observer would say it’s pretty unlikely.

There is a formula for the Lakers to reach their goal of making the post-season. If they can get above the .500 mark by the all-star break they’d put themselves in position to make one last push to sneak in as the 8th seed. In Phil Jackson’s last year with the team, the Lakers came out of the all-star break winning 19 of 20 games before injuries saw them sputter into the playoffs. Is this team capable of making that type of push from the middle of February into March?

The way the team is playing now does make it seem anything is possible. If observed in a vacuum, their improvement on offense and recommitment to defense is the foundation of a team that can rattle off a bunch of wins in a short amount of time. Of course, this season isn’t taking place in a vacuum.

Funny how things work. The Lakers are starting to play well, right on the schedule we thought they would. But because of how bad they were to start the year, it may still be too late.

Bucks’ Greg Monroe says he’s not thinking of player-option decision

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 19: Greg Monroe #15 of the Milwaukee Bucks is defended by Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat during a game  at American Airlines Arena on January 19, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Bucks reportedly already planned for Greg Monroe to opt in after this season, a reasonable conclusion considering they tried to dump him in a trade all summer and found no takers.

But Monroe has quietly boosted his stock this season. Coming off Milwaukee’s bench, he’s still a skilled interior scorer. But he’s defending and rebounding better, using his quick hands to strip opponents and taking plenty of charges.

Could he even decline his $17,884,176 player option?

Monroe, via Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“I’m not thinking about anything like the off-season right now. There is a time and place for everything. If and when I have to make a decision, that time is not right now.”

The time might approach more quickly than Monroe expects. If the Bucks shop him again, potential trade partners will want to know Monroe’s intention. Some might prefer the flexibility created by him opting out, and others would like the certainty of having a productive player at a reasonable-enough cost next season. But all would want to know where they stand.

That said, it’s hardly a give Milwaukee moves Monroe. Though he has backed up John Henson and Miles Plumlee, Monroe (21.2 minutes per game) plays more than both. He’s a valuable contributor on a team jockeying for playoff position.

Most importantly, Monroe appears to complement Bucks franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo well. Antetokounmpo scores more (23.5 to 26.3 points per 36 minutes) and more efficiently (59.0% to 65.7% true shooting percentage) from when he plays without Monroe to when he plays with Monroe, and Milwaukee’s offense improves accordingly (104.3 to 114.6 points per 100 possessions).

Andre Iguodala: Jealous media tries to make players ‘feel less than what we are’

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 11:  Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors spwaks in overtime the media after Game Four of the 2015 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 11, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Stephen Curry is having a down year relative to his last two seasons.

That shouldn’t qualify as a controversial statement. Curry won MVP the last two years. There wasn’t much room to go anywhere but down. Adjusting to playing Kevin Durant has taken time, and Curry might have been due for regression to the mean, anyway. It isn’t as if Curry is having a bad season. He remains a superstar, and I haven’t seen anyone credible unfairly admonish Curry for his production slip.

Yet, the slightest sniff of Curry criticism prompted teammate Andre Iguodala to unload on the media.

Iguodala, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“I be like, ‘What are y’all even talking about.’ Like, why? That’s just the world we live in,” Iguodala told ESPN. “It’s like, whatever. You can be on the best team and winning the most games and they’ll try to find something. It’s almost sad because they look for things to say negative. They just look [for] something, anything.”

He blames the media for reaching for a narrative.

“I think they’re just looking for something,” Iguodala continued. “It’s not just that he set the bar so high. I don’t think it’s that. It’s just the hate. That’s just how they’ve been since the beginning of time. And you’re not going to write that, but that’s just how they are. Since the beginning of time, it’s some things that we can do that they can’t do. And they’ve been trying ever since to either try to do it, which they can’t, and they figure that out, and to make us feel less than what we are.”

There is some truth to that. Most media members at one point dreamed of playing in the NBA, and none of us can do it. Otherwise, we would be doing it.

Nearly all of us learned long ago we’d fall far short of playing in the NBA, so I don’t think there’s such a direct jealousy as Iguodala paints. It’s just not something most of us are dealing with.

That said, some reporters can be overly negative for varying reasons. I caution against speaking as broadly as he does, but Iguodala certainly has a right to express his opinion.

Perhaps, Haynes negating Iguodala’s prediction that his comments won’t be written up shows that we’re not all so bad?

Carmelo Anthony: I’d consider waiving no-trade clause if Knicks want to rebuild

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 13:  Kristaps Porzingis #6 and Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks reacts during the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 13, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Knicks 113-111 in overtime. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Carmelo Anthony told Phil Jackson he wanted to remain with the Knicks.

Case closed?

Anthony holds a no-trade clause and, therefore, all the leverage. He has repeatedly publicly stated his desire to remain in New York, and this was just the latest example of that commitment.

But apparently he’s open to being dealt under the right circumstances.

Anthony, via Al Iannazzone of Newsday:

“I think it will be more on the front office,” Anthony told Newsday this week. “I have the power, but still I would talk to them. We would be in communication if they feel like they want to go in a different direction, they want to start rebuilding for the future. If they tell me they want to scrap this whole thing, yeah, I have to consider it.”

Anthony, 32, made it clear he isn’t thinking about going anywhere, nor does he allow himself at this point. He and his family love it in New York, and his son is in school here.

The Knicks’ fundamental issue: Anthony is 32, and Kristaps Porzingis is 21. Their timelines just offer little to no overlap. New York might be better off building around Porzingis.

But the Knicks have already given lucrative long-term contracts to 31-year-olds Joakim Noah and Courtney Lee. Noah’s deal – worth more than $72 million over four years – is particularly onerous. It would be difficult for New York to pivot into rebuilding – and that starts with Anthony.

He’d like be choosy about where he’d go in a trade, and contenders will be reluctant to part with significant pieces for an aging scorer with few complementary skills. And it’s hard to fit Anthony’s salary, either into cap space or through salary matching, without surrendering key players.

So, there are significant roadblocks to the Knicks ever actually trading Anthony. But that he acknowledges hypothetically accepting a deal means something.

Report: Danny Ferry not expected to supplant Dell Demps as Pelicans GM

CLEVELAND - JUNE 02:  General Manager Danny Ferry of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates after the Cavs won 98-82 to win the Detroit Pistons in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2007 NBA Playoffs on June 2, 2007 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Pelicans general manager Dell Demps has repeatedly failed to build an adequate supporting cast around Anthony Davis, keeping Demps on the hot seat.

Meanwhile, former Hawks and Cavaliers general manager Danny Ferry – still respected in many circles, despite using “African” pejoratively to describe Luol Deng – is working in New Orleans’ front office.

You can see where this is going…

Or not.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Don’t look for Danny Ferry, currently an advisor to the front office, to take over in any shakeup, sources say.

I’m skeptical. Nobody wants to acknowledge an internal coup before it’s executed. Doing so would create a terrible workplace environment until it happens or if it doesn’t.

The Pelicans’ ownership situation makes this a little more tricky. There’s an apparent desire in New Orleans to win quickly for an aging Benson, and that directive has limited Demps’ flexibility.

Still, Demps’ plans have mostly busted. Eventually, he’ll run out of chances to try new ones.

If that happens soon, when the Pelicans search for a replacement, Ferry will be right there with an impressive record building up Atlanta and no stains that make him unhirable to New Orleans. Would the Pelicans, who thought enough of him to hire him once already, really not consider promoting him?