Lakers need to answer big questions: Is Howard the future? Can he co-exist with D’Antoni?

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The Lakers are not making the playoffs.

Some in Los Angeles probably think there is still a shot, but most of them also think their screenplay is just about to get picked up by a studio with Hugh Jackman attached to it. That and the Lakers in the postseason have about the same chance of happening.

With the trade deadline coming up in less than a month (Feb. 21), the temptation might be for the Lakers to make a move to bolster the team this season. They shouldn’t. Write this year off. They have to think long term. And I think the ever patient Mitch Kupchak or even Jim Buss are doing just that.

But that means they have some serious questions to answer about what kind of team this is going to be and whose team it is going to be. Any and all moves need to be based on the answers to these questions and to bring both the roster and coaching staff in alignment with these answers”

• What is the Lakers identity? Post players and defense? Up-tempo pick-and-roll heavy? Who are they?

• Can Los Angeles re-sign Dwight Howard and keep him as the future anchor of the franchise going forward?

• Can Howard co-exist with Mike D’Antoni in his system?

The Lakers want to keep Howard and sign him to a max deal this summer — even in an off year coming off back surgery he is as good as any big in the league. And he’s going to get back to his old self (or close to it) at some point. He is absolutely still a guy you anchor a franchise around. The Lakers are Kobe Bryant’s team right now, but they can be Howard’s in a couple years.

On the other side of that equation, Howard, following his ugly exit from Orlando, isn’t doing anything this season to repair that damaged reputation. Packing up and becoming a free agent again certainly doesn’t help that. He gets more money in Los Angeles and he can win there, he’s likely going to stay.

But can he coexist with Mike D’Antoni?

And with that, how committed are the Lakers to D’Antoni? And to Steve Nash? Because if they truly are committed them, the Lakers need to make a lot of changes to the roster to get more athletic, to get younger and faster. That likely means a Pau Gasol trade at least. And they have to convince Howard to run a lot of pick-and-roll — and even then does he fit or just clog the lane. Howard is not a classic D’Antoni player in the least.

But if Howard and D’Antoni can’t fit together, which side are the Lakers more committed to?

Adrain Wojnarowski reports at Yahoo that Howard is likely to re-sign in Los Angeles, but it is D’Antoni that gives Howard pause. And that D’Antoni has never been Howard’s biggest fan.

Frankly, in a star player vs. coach situation the player almost always wins because there just are not many of them in the NBA. There are maybe 10 guys who are true NBA franchise anchor players and Howard is one — you don’t trade him and you build around him with a system that fits.

There are a whole lot of unanswered questions in this post because there are a whole lot of unanswered questions about the Lakers. And there are many, many more but they are all offshoots of the big unanswered questions.

You can’t just slap a bunch of superstars together and call it a team, you need an identity to build toward. We don’t know what that identity is for the Lakers.

The Lakers need to go into the trade deadline and the summer thinking about next season and what they want the team to look like. You can’t build a skyscraper without a blueprint and right now the Lakers don’t seen to have one, just a lot of parts laying around the site waiting to be put together. Someone needs to be the architect.

Here’s LeBron James trying on Lonzo Ball’s weirdo jump shooting form (VIDEO)

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Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is shooting 37.3 percent from 3-point range this season. That’s up a little more than six percent from last season, and three percent better than his career average. He doesn’t need much help there this season, but you know that LeBron is always looking for ways to improve.

Including, apparently, trying on UCLA star Lonzo Ball’s shooting form.

During warmups on Thursday before the Cavaliers took on the Chicago Bulls, LeBron messed around with Ball’s awkward shooting form. If you haven’t seen it, it’s an odd draw from right-to-left, with the right-handed Ball almost shooting from the left side of this face.

Ball was a 41.3 percent shooter from deep during his one season at UCLA and will be a top pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, perhaps much to the chagrin of whichever team has to deal with his dad, LaVar.

Scottie Pippen throws blame for Knicks woes at feet of his former coach Phil Jackson

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Apparently, it’s not “be kind to your former boss month.”

Bulls legend and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen was on ESPN’s “The Jump” — the Rachel Nichols hosted NBA show on each afternoon — and the topic turned to how much the Knicks stink. And why. Of course, there’s plenty of blame to go around for just about everyone on that front, but Pippen threw his former coach under the bus (transcription via the New York Daily News).

“To be honest with you, I’m going to have to go at my old coach Phil Jackson,” Pippen said on ESPN’s “The Jump.” “I think he just hasn’t put the right pieces on the floor. I give a lot of credit to Carmelo who is being very professional in getting through these 82 game season. And now he’s being benched to some degree, they’re taking a lot of his minutes away. But this team just hasn’t had it. They haven’t had it since Phil Jackson landed there. There hasn’t been any upside.”

After saying “fans would love to see Carmelo in New York and Phil out,” Pippen was asked by host Rachel Nichols if he believes Jackson “should be out.”

“Yes,” Pippen replied emphatically.

Most of Jackson’s former players have his back, most recently Shaquille O’Neal who laid blame at the feet of the Knicks’ players. The ones that Jackson assembled into a mismatched team.

Phil Jackson’s record may be 77-162 since taking over the Knicks, but reports are he isn’t going anywhere. While owner James Dolan can flip like a pancake on a griddle, the sense is that Jackson will keep collecting his $12 million annual salary and will keep trying to build a triangle-offense team. That means Carmelo Anthony likely gets moved this summer.

Jackson has seemingly fallen into the trap the Knicks have been unable to climb out of for years — since James Dolan took over as owner seemingly — of not just picking a system, sticking to it, being patient and avoiding quick fixes. Triangle, Rhombus, pick-and-roll heavy, whatever offense the Knicks use should be built around getting Kristaps Porzingis touches and playing to his strengths. Get younger players who fit that system to go around him and let it grow together. Be patient. Instead, it’s Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Jackson deserves blame. A significant amount. So do the players. So does Jeff Hornacek as coach. But make sure Dolan gets a big slice too, this team has struggled since he was given control, and he is the one constant.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.