Kobe says of Dwight Howard Lakers need to “keep him and lock him in”

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I’m not sure how good the Lakers will be with Dwight Howard next season — Lakers fans and players point to the 28-12 stretch and say they can sustain that, I’m not sold — but I know this:

Without Howard the Lakers will be a mess next season.

Kobe Bryant realizes that too and said in a radio interview on Wednesday the Lakers need to re-sign Howard, and that he would help the process. The interview was on ESPN Radio in Los Angeles, as transcribed by Eric Pincus at the Los Angeles Times.

“Those guys are hard to find, they don’t grow on trees,” Bryant said on 710 ESPN Los Angeles. “When you have someone like that with his talent level, you have to be able to keep him and lock him in with this franchise….

“I’ve spoken to him maybe a couple of weeks ago, just to check in with him,” said Bryant. “I haven’t spoken to him since. I know he’s got a big decision to make and I’m sure he’ll take the visits and talk to the players on the teams he’s considering. We’ll touch base a lot more.”

Howard is a free agent come July 1 and a number of teams — Houston, Dallas, Atlanta — are expected to make their cases to Howard.

Kobe has said before he wants to step in more as a closer after Howard has heard everyone’s pitch. That is what late owner Jerry Buss did when Kobe was a free agent, let him talk to other teams then come in and remind him all the advantages of being a Laker and how the franchise planned to build around him. It worked when Buss did it, we’ll see if Kobe can have that same success.

Kobe was also asked about his recovery from his torn Achilles. He said his goal is still to play at the start of season but said that it could be December before he is back. It’s a process.

“I’ve been rehabbing now for about a month, almost a month and a half,” Bryant said. “At the beginning stages, it’s really boring stuff. It’s really just trying to get out the inflammation, break up the scar tissue [and] make sure your toes are working.”

Watch the top 60 clutch shots from last NBA season

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It’s that time of the year when there is no basketball, so we fill the time with idle Kyrie Irving speculation and video highlights of last season.

Along those lines, above you can out the top 60 clutch shots from last season, as determined by the folks at NBA.com.

The great thing about the clutch shot list is the ball is in the hands of stars at the ends of games, so there is plenty of Russell Westbrook, John Wall, LeBron James, Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and more. Personally, I would have switch No. 1 and No. 2 on the list, but it’s all fun to relive.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert: Pacers ‘could have done better’ on Paul George trade

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Kyrie Irving has requested a trade. LeBron James could leave next summer. The Cavaliers keep churning through general managers, the newest – Koby Altman – the reason for today’s press conference.

But Cavs owner Dan Gilbert looked past his own team’s turmoil and potential turmoil to take a shot at the Pacers, who traded Paul George to the Thunder for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

“I will say Indiana could have done better than they did,” Gilbert said after Altman refused to directly address a question about George trade talks and shifted the discussion elsewhere.

This didn’t strike me as Gilbert trying to distract from Cleveland’s troubles. He just seemed to want to take a shot at a foe, something he’s no stranger to doing. The Cavaliers are particularly salty about their trade offer for George, which included Kevin Love, not being accepted.

For what it’s worth, Gilbert is right. The Pacers should have done better. Oladipo is now on a lucrative contract extension, and Sabonis spent his rookie season showcasing the reasons people doubted him the draft. That’s a piddling return for a star, even one on an expiring contract with dreams of joining the Lakers.

Report: Kings meet with former Magic GM Otis Smith about front-office job

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The Kings lost Scott Perry to the Knicks, so Sacramento is seeking someone else to aid Vlade Divac in the front office.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Former Orlando Magic general manager Otis Smith has met with Sacramento Kings officials about the franchise’s vacant vice president of basketball operations job, league sources told ESPN.

Smith has plenty of experience, which Divac lacks. But it’s not all good experience.

Running the Magic, Smith made numerous errors – including drafting Fran Vazquez (who has never played in the NBA) No. 11, overpaying Rashard Lewis and then trading Lewis for Gilbert Arenas’ even worse contract. If Smith’s Orlando tenure is predictive, he’ll indulge the Kings’ worst tendencies to mortgage the future for the present.

That said, Smith might have learned from his time with the Magic (though working under Stan Van Gundy with the Pistons the few couple years isn’t exactly the best place to hone long-term-planning skills). What amounts to an assistant general-manager role might be a better fit for him, too.

Usually, this opening wouldn’t garner so much attention. But Perry was lavished with praise for Sacramento’s offseason, raising the profile of this job – which already carried relative prominence. The No. 2 in the Kings’ front office is now perceived, somewhat fairly, as more important than the typical assistant general manager.

Lakers sign Tyler Ennis to minimum contract

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Jut before the trade deadline, the Lakers took a flier on Tyler Ennis, who had struggled in two-plus seasons with the Suns, Bucks and Rockets.

The former No. 18 pick finally looked like an NBA player in Los Angeles, so he’s returning.

Lakers release:

The Los Angeles Lakers have signed guard Tyler Ennis, it was announced today by General Manager Rob Pelinka.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

This is fantastic value for the Lakers. Ennis is probably worth a minimum salary, and if he is, they have him for two years at that price. If not, they can drop him for no cost next summer, when their cap room will be at a premium. This is the type of bet smart teams make, which bodes well for the Magic Johnson regime.

Ennis’ productivity in Los Angeles might not be sustainable. He shot well above his career marks on 3-pointers and free throws in a small sample. But he looked more comfortable on the court, showing some of the savvy he was expected to bring from Syracuse. He’s also just 22, and point guards tend to develop later than other positions.

The Lakers still have their room exception, which they could use on another point guard. So, it’s uncertain whether Ennis will back up Lonzo Ball or fall to third string. I’m not sure any remaining free-agent point guards – Ty Lawson, Deron Williams, Brandon Jennings, Ramon Sessions – will command more than the minimum or playing time over Ennis, though.