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.

Timberwolves purchase Iowa Energy D-League team

Fort Wayne Mad Ants v Santa Cruz Warriors - 2015 D-League Finals Game Two
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Minnesota Timberwolves have purchased the Iowa Energy and will begin a direct affiliation with the NBA Development League team next season.

The Timberwolves announced the agreement on Monday. Owner Glen Taylor is purchasing the team, which previously had a hybrid partnership with the Memphis Grizzlies. The Wolves will become the 18th NBA team to have a direct affiliation with a D-League team.

It’s a growing trend across the league for franchises to use the minor league teams to help develop young players, coaches and executives and help players rehab injuries.

The Timberwolves were looking for a team close to the Twin Cities to allow for easy back-and-forth travel. Energy owner Jed Kaplan will remain with the team and partner with Taylor.

Denver reportedly claimed Mo Williams off waivers. Again. Then will waive him. Again.

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 22:  Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 NBA Championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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This is starting to make Vanilla Sky easy to follow.

It’s all about the dead-money contract of Mo Williams, and the Sixers and Nuggets trying to save a few bucks. Everything starts with Williams being owed $2.2 million this season, however, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore and didn’t show up to Cleveland’s training camp. The Cavaliers kept Williams on the roster — and more importantly the financial books — in case they could use his salary in a trade. Which they did, shipping him to Atlanta as part of the Kyle Korver deal. Atlanta quickly traded Williams to Denver, because the Nuggets wanted to add $2.2 million to their payroll and bring them closer to the salary floor. However, the Nuggets didn’t want him on the roster, so they waived him. Then the Philadephia 76ers claimed Williams off waivers — that moved them closer to the salary floor and negated the Nuggets savings. But we’re not done yet, the Sixers didn’t want Williams soaking up a roster spot, so they waived him.

And now we’re back in Denver, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

That would be Alonzo Gee, who they have already signed to one 10-day contract (he can have two before Denver has to make a decision on keeping him).

Why are Denver and Philly doing this? To save a little money. The NBA doesn’t just have a salary cap, it has a salary floor that is 90 percent of the cap, which means this season it is $84.7 million. Teams that don’t reach the floor — and with the fast rise in the salary cap last summer, there are a few teams in this boat — have to pay the players on the roster the money they are short of the floor (for example, if a team is $10 million, short of the floor, the $10 million gets divided up among the players on the roster). For Denver, they can shave $2.2 million off that bill by being the last team to waive Williams. Philly wanted the same thing.

Salary cap guy Albert Nahmad explained on Twitter who saved how much with all these deals.

Will Philly just claim Williams again? They can, Nahmad explained why they probably will not.

What would be funny now is another team to step in and claim Williams. Okay, it’s not really that funny.

Report: Magic offered first-round pick, Nikola Vucevic to Heat for Goran Dragic

ORLANDO, FL - OCTOBER 26: Goran Dragic #7 of the Miami Heat goes to the basket against Elfrid Payton #4 of the Orlando Magic on opening night on October 26, 2016 at Amway Center in Orlando, 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. (Photo by Manuela Davies/Getty Images)
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We already knew the Magic were interested in Heat point guard Goran Dragic.

Orlando has an excess of power forwards and centers (or players who should be at those positions) – Serge Ibaka, Bismack Biyombo, Nikola Vucevic, Aaron Gordon, Jeff Green – and have been better with an offense-first D.J. Augustin starting and Elfrid Payton coming off the bench. Dealing a big man for Dragic would be logical.

This isn’t that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Orlando, according to league sources, recently tried to engage Miami on a Goran Dragic deal in which the Magic were said to be offering center Nikola Vucevic and a future first-round pick.

Dragic is on the wrong side of 30 and due more than $54 million over the next three years. The Magic are 18-28, 4.5 games and four teams out of playoff position.

Why would they want a player like Dragic?

Orlando should focus on building for future seasons, which means not swapping first-round picks for veterans. There will probably be better avenues for a point guard upgrade offseason. If not, the Magic can always get a solid point guard for one of its bigs and a first-rounder. There should be no rush to pursue a deal like that now, because a late playoff push is impractical.

Perhaps, the protections on the pick are strong enough to make this deal palatable for Orlando. But this just reeks of general manager Rob Hennigan mortgaging the future to show progress now, even if that’s foolish for the organization.

Miller family transfers ownership of Jazz to trust that will keep team in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - NOVEMBER 4: General view of the former EnergySolutions Arena which has been renamed Vivint Smart Home Arena, where the Portland Trail Blazers will play the Utah Jazz on November 4, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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Since Larry Miller died back in 2009, there have been some around the league that thought the Jazz might eventually be sold out of the family, most likely to an owner looking to move them out of Utah. The Miller family has denied that vehemently, and there has been not even a step that direction, but it’s easier to kill Freddy Krueger than an NBA rumor.

Monday, the Miller family killed that rumor for good, taking an unprecedented step that will keep the Jazz in Utah for a long, long, time.

Gail Miller has transferred ownership of the Utah Jazz and Vivint Smart Home Arena into a Legacy Trust that will keep the Jazz in Utah for what she said would be “generations.”

“As a family, we have always considered the Utah Jazz a community asset and it has been our privilege to serve as stewards of this team for more than 30 years,” Miller said. “There have been many opportunities to sell and move the franchise, but from the day Larry and I purchased the Jazz our goal was to keep the team in Utah. The Legacy Trust will help to ensure this commitment is kept for generations to come.”

The Miller family will continue to manage the trust (along with a board of directors) as well as the Jazz the organization. However, the Miller family will not profit from the running of the team as it had before. That eliminates the profit motive for selling the Jazz.

“As a family and company, we have always been committed to doing things the right way and working to achieve our mission of enriching lives and giving back,” said Miller. “This trust and our new corporate structure will continue this important legacy in perpetuity and represents our commitment and deep love for the State of Utah.”

Jody Genessy, Jazz writer for the Deseret News, added these notes from the press conference for the announcement.

This is a huge win for the fans in Utah. It’s also a win for the NBA — billionaires buying up teams with the promise/idea of moving them is not good optics for the league. Adam Silver has favored stability (he was one of the key reasons the Kings are still in Sacramento), and this is a step in that direction.