Lakers biggest challenge: Adapting tradition to changing times

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The legend, the tradition of the Lakers is not in question. In the past 14 years the Lakers have seven trips to the finals and five titles, and since the Buss family took over it is up to 10 titles. In the past 30 years they have simply been the best run, most successful franchise in the NBA — they had both the spending power to overpower the competition but they used it wisely.

But times, they are a changin’.

The newest Collective Bargaining Agreement was much more what middle and smaller market teams wanted — they tax on high spending teams is much more stiff, plus when you are over the tax apron your hands become much more tied on moves you can make. Many of those smaller teams have gotten smart with the use of analytics and they have become more formidable. The advance of social media, and NBA games that stream on your phone anywhere, are altering the marketing rules for players.

Can the Lakers adapt to that?

While we brought you the sexy quote out of a fantastic Ric Bucher piece for the Hollywood Reporter on the Lakers (Jim Buss saying Dwight Howard was never a Laker) that is not the thrust of the article.

Rather, it was about the challenges that face Jim and his sister Jeanie, as well s the rest of the Buss family, as they try to keep the Lakers on top in a new era.

But the Lakers need to acquire more than salary-cap room if they want to be in play for the league’s biggest superstars. “They’re living on the History channel,” says one free agent, meaning the team remains convinced that the attraction of playing for the Lakers in L.A. is enough. As one NBA agent notes: “The Lakers were built for a different era. Their personnel has been depleted and [research] infrastructure is outdated. It’s important to be in a major market, but not as important anymore. And they were always able to spend more than other teams. Now they can’t.” A longtime opposing assistant coach adds that free agents feel the Lakers’ track record is impressive but the team is not on the cutting edge when it comes to marketing, physical therapy or analytics. The sense is that institutional arrogance has caused a slow but evident decay. “It hurts to hear that,” says Jeanie, without contesting it.

The Lakers have one huge advantage — Los Angeles. It’s a place players want to be and it provides more marketing opportunities off the court for most players. Look at it this way: If you are an international brand like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James it may not matter where you play because you’ve risen above that level, but do you think there is a Cliff Paul/Chris Paul commercial series if he is still in New Orleans?

Plus, the Lakers will have only $11 million on the books for next season and are in position to chase big free agents. (It’s not that simple, but the Lakers have space to make moves.)

L.A. and tradition count for something, but if you get left behind as the game and how it is run moves forward you become the Oakland Raiders. Tradition can only take you so far.

Jim Buss has make some smart moves with the Lakers in his control, including the trade that sent the damaged goods of Andrew Bynum out and brought in Dwight Howard. That could have worked long term (injuries and the in-season radical coaching change killed the chances last season).

But Buss talks in Bucher’s article about being private, and that cost them with Howard. Kobe told Bucher about how twice (2004 and 2007) he considered leaving the Lakers but his personal relationship with and trust he had with Dr. Jerry Buss prevented the move. When Howard was looking to bolt, the Lakers simply didn’t have that kind of personal relationship to fall back on. There wasn’t any trust — Kobe believed Dr. Buss would build a winner around him again (and he did), Howard did not have that faith in Jim Buss.

That’s not about Howard not being a Laker, that’s on the Lakers. While times change on thing that doesn’t is the power of personal relationships — why do you think Tim Duncan is still a Spur?

The Buss family is smart (that includes Jim, people who deal with him will tell you that) but you can’t be so rooted in a “this is how we do things” mindset to not challenge your own notions. The world of basketball and the NBA is changing.

The Lakers have built-in advantages that no CBA can ever wipe out. As executives around the league — who are thoroughly enjoying watching the team struggle — and they say they expect the Lakers to bounce back.

The question is when. Because times are changing and we will have to see if the current Buss family can adapt to this brave new world.

James Harden reveals he’s playing through ankle injury

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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James Harden didn’t lead the Rockets in scoring in their Game 4 win over the Thunder yesterday.

He didn’t even rank second – or third.

Nene, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each outscored Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 on 3-pointers.

What happened to the Houston star?

Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

Houston Rockets star guard James Harden said he has been hobbled by an ankle injury that occurred in Game 3 of this first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Harden made the revelation to ESPN’s Lisa Salters after the Rockets’ 113-109 Game 4 victory on Sunday afternoon.

“It was pretty tough; we don’t make excuses,” Harden said in a news conference when asked about his health. “We just try to go out there and get the job done. You build trust, and trust in your teammates all year long. When there’s moments like this, guys step up and they did tonight. We have another opportunity in a few days to go out there and win on our home court, and we’re going to have to get off to a really good start.”

Many players are grinding through injuries this time of year. Is Harden’s exceptionally bad? There’s no way of telling from the outside.

But he didn’t look quite right in Game 4, and if he’s hobbled, that opens the door slightly wider for Oklahoma City to come back from its 3-1 deficit.

Video Breakdown: Rockets launch Eric Gordon from 3-point range against Thunder in Game 4

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The Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday, 113-109, and now the series heads back to Texas with the Rockets in the lead, 3-1.

Houston and OKC played a weird game, with Nene scoring 28 points off the bench for the Rockets and serious mischief in the final moments. The end of the game included a purposely missed free throw by Steven Adams that allowed Russell Westbrook to grab a quick 3-pointer and a missed call when James Harden shoved Alex Abrines out of the way like an NFL tackle.

While the Rockets didn’t shoot a stellar percentage from 3-point range — just 31.5 percent — they still knocked down 11 buckets from deep. Part of that action was a play run for Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon that included a little semi-Pistol action, and a stagger screen that allowed Gordon to work his way free.

I picked this play to go over this week because it exemplifies just how committed to the 3-point shot the Rockets are. Plus, Gordon ran around three screens just to get this one bucket, which is always fun to see.

Watch the full video breakdown above.

Jimmy Butler on Marcus Smart dustup: ‘He’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down’

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Marcus Smart and Jimmy Butler had to be separated during the Celtics’ Game 4 win over the Bulls after Smart pushed Butler, who was hounding him defensively in the backcourt.

Butler:

As far as the Marcus Smart situation goes, he’s a great actor. Acting tough, that’s what he does. But I don’t think he’s about that, and I’m the wrong guy to get in my face. So, he needs to take it somewhere else because I’m not the one for that.

Was that their first run-in? Butler:

That’s the first time. Last time, too. We’re not going to sit here and get in each other’s faces like that. Like I said, he’s not about that life. So, he’s calming down.

The Bulls, who’ve lost two straight to allow Boston to tie the series 2-2, is angling for any edge. Butler tried to intimidate Smart on the court, and the Chicago wing might actually rattle the too easily shakable Smart with his postgame comments.

The irony: Some might say Butler, who did come up hard, lost touch with his roots as he entered stardom. I don’t buy that, at least not majorly.

But even if both – or neither – are posturing to any degree, this will be a matchup to watch in Game 5.

Remembering former NBA official Jess Kersey, who passed away Saturday

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Jess Kersey, who officiated more than 2,200 NBA games, including being part of 19 NBA Finals, passed away over the weekend, losing his battle with cancer at age 76.

Kersey was a well-respected official who feared nothing. Maybe the most remembered image of Kersey is him trying to break up a fight between Mitch Kupchak and Hakeem Olajuwon, essentially trying to tackle Olajuwon with his head in Olajuwon’s chest and his arms wrapped around him. Kersey got in the middle of everything if that was what was required.

Our thoughts go out to the Kersey family for their loss.