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 Their personnel has been depleted and [research] infrastructure is outdated.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.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter: ‘I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship’

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.

That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.

Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.

Dwane Casey: Masai Ujiri assured me I’ll return as Raptors coach

(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Galit Rodan
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Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.

It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.

But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.

Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):

I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.

We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.

The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.

The big question: What does Toronto do about that?

It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.

The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.

Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.

Kevin Durant: Don’t blame me for Nets, Magic and other teams stinking

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For the first time in NBA history, the NBA Finals will feature the same matchup for three straight years.

Among those responsible: Kevin Durant, who sunk the title-contending Thunder and gave the Warriors an even stronger grip on the Western Conference.

But don’t blame him for a lack of parity league-wide.

Durant, via Sam Amick of USA Today:

“Like I’m the reason why (expletive) Orlando couldn’t make the playoffs for five, six years in a row?” he said. “Am I the reason that Brooklyn gave all their picks to Boston? Like, am I the reason that they’re not that good (laughs). I can’t play for every team, so the truth of the matter is I left one team. It’s one more team that you probably would’ve thought would’ve been a contender. One more team. I couldn’t have made the (entire) East better. I couldn’t have made everybody (else) in the West better.”

Some teams will always be better than others. The Magic, Nets and more were mis-managed before Durant left Oklahoma City.

But I’m not even sure this is the right debate.

Does the NBA even have a parity problem to blame on Durant?

Cleveland and Golden State aren’t traditional powers. Before 2015, the Warriors hadn’t won a title since 1975 and the Cavaliers had never won one. Their ascension is proof of parity – that sound management and a little luck can lift teams from the basement.

Report: Clippers take Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor ‘very seriously’

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Want to laugh off that Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumor?

The Clippers aren’t joining you.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The Clippers should be concerned. Losing Paul would unravel their entire foundation, dropping them from the fringe of championship contention to out of the title picture completely. It could even help usher out Blake Griffin, who will also be an unrestricted free agent this summer. (To be fair, Paul leaving could also help convince Griffin to stay.)

About a month ago, the Clippers reportedly expected Paul to stay. They even reportedly struck a verbal agreement with him to re-sign before that. But they can’t officially sign him until July, and that leaves the door open for him to leave.

The Clippers should be heartened by their advantages – a prime market and a projected max offer of $205 million over five years.

The most another team projects to be able to offer is $152 million over four years, and San Antonio will have a hard time doing that. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to shed two of those players to clear max cap space.

So, never say never, but the Clippers’ concern might be rooted more in the dire consequences of Paul leaving rather than the likelihood of it.