The Lakers and the high price of losing a sure-bet

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If you had asked any NBA fan, or expert, or even Lakers official back in June what they’d be doing two weeks before the start of the season, they’d say there’d be some drama. There always is. With Phil Jackson retiring and Jim Buss taking the reins over from his father, there were sure to be changes in the way that day-to-day operations and life of the league’s most prolific franchise. But no one could have foreseen this.

The Lakers’ attempts at restructuring a deal for Chris Paul fell apart Saturday night, two days after the league blocked an approved trade by all three parties in a three-way with Houston and New Orleans. As they pulled out of talks, leaving both Houston and New Orleans stranded, they shocked the world by trading Lamar Odom, Sixth Man of the Year and glue guy for two championship teams, to the Dallas Mavericks who just seven months ago knocked them out of the playoffs and set off this unraveling. In return? The Lakers get a first-round pick of Dallas’ choosing between now and a half-decade, and a traded player exception.

ESPN reports Odom demanded a trade Friday night. So hurt by the team’s decision to move him, the bridge was burned. He winds up on a conference rival. What’s stunning is not the move itself, this happens from time to time.

But not to the Lakers.

This is a franchise that has been largely untouchable. And under any other circumstances, their efforts in the Chris Paul trade would have paid off. They would then be in position to obtain Dwight Howard and complete the triad that would destroy the universe and reign for a thousand years. That’s the way it’s supposed to go. That’s what the Lakers do.

But they didn’t.

It took a confluence of events beyond description. George Shinn sold the team while having prostate cancer, essentially just giving up. A deal to sell the team had fallen through in the wake of the BP oil spill in the gulf, the same effects thereof kept a prospective buyer away. So the league bought the team. And held onto it for months, because of their desire to raise the value of the sale with a better CBA the league sacrificed 16 games for in a lockout. Then this happened, before they could. Had Shinn kept the team another year, had the oil spill not happened, had the league sold it before the lockout, had the lockout not occurred. Any of these things change, and the Lakers have Chris Paul in Lakers Gold right now.

But they did. The Lakers gambled big, but gambled on the fact that they have always succeeded. They should have pulled it off. They did pull it off. They talked the Hornets, facing the most massive rebuilding project of any team since… OK, well since Cleveland, into taking two guys over 30 with medium-to-large contracts and Kevin Martin who is a very specialized talent, along with a 20-ish pick from the Knicks by way of Houston in exchange for the best pure point guard in the league. Only the Lakers could pull this deal off, but they did it. Nothing could stop them…

Except the league.

And in doing so, by interjecting themselves where they were not wanted, by over-riding New Orleans GM Dell Demps who had been given permission to run the team along with Jac Sperling, the league has altered the course of Lakers history, interfered where it was not their place. If you don’t consider them a legitimate owner of the Hornets, as they are not the long-term owners of the team and as they have considerable conflicts of interest, then quite simply, the Lakers had the roulette ball land on their number, and yet the house took their bet with no return.

Without the trade, Odom is still obliviously happy in his natural environment, a hyper-media, reality-television, flashbulbs and confetti wonderland, instead of suiting up to hurt his former team. Pau Gasol isn’t emotionally scarred. If the trade had gone through, the Lakers have moved on to their next era of dominance.

Instead, it’s an uncertain future. Dwight Howard is still out there, even as rumors that they won’t trade Pau Gasol and Bynum for Howard percolate. And who knows, maybe the Lakers will return to chase Paul. But as it stands, they have a gaping hole in their front court, and a serious chemistry issue. Not one of their own design, but by consequence of the league’s interference.

It’s said that the Lakers don’t rebuild. They reload. But the league, in essence, has amputated a limb. They’ll likely figure a way out. But the result is the same.

The league vetoed a trade, and in doing so, have set off a set of consequences which turns a team that had every reason to believe they could return to challenge for a championship on the razor’s edge.

Good luck with that, Mike Brown.

San Antonio Spurs retire Tony Parker’s number

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Tim Duncan went up first. Then Manu Ginobili.

Monday night it was Tony Parker’s turn — all of the Spurs’ big three have now had their jerseys retired.

This is obviously well deserved.

The No. 28 pick of the 2001 NBA Draft, Parker went on to win four NBA titles, was named Finals MVP with one of those, plus was a six-time All-Star and four-time All-NBA player. He was part of core that turned the Spurs into a dynasty.

Everyone was on hand for the ceremony, with coach Gregg Popovich, Duncan, and Ginobili all speaking before Parker, and all of them talking about their bond.

It was an emotional and touching night.

The next stop for Duncan, Parker and Ginobili? The Hall of Fame.

 

Kings’ point guard De’Aaron Fox out at least 3-4 weeks with ankle sprain

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The Sacramento Kings — everyone’s League Pass favorites — have been snake bitten this season. First it was Marvin Bagley III, who broke his right thumb in the season opener.

Now point guard De'Aaron Fox will be out at least 3-4 weeks (that’s when he’ll be re-evaluated) after suffering a grade three ankle sprain in practice Monday. From the official Sacramento press release:

An MRI conducted this afternoon on Kings guard De’Aaron Fox confirmed that he sustained a left ankle sprain at the end of practice on Monday. He will be re-evaluated in 3-4 weeks and his status will be updated as appropriate.

After a breakout season a year ago, this season Fox had come back to earth a little in new coach Luke Walton’s system — his turnovers were up and his efficiency had slipped, a 52.8 true shooting percentage that is close to the league average, for example — but he was still putting up 18.2 points and dishing out 7 assists a game. He has been the focal point of the Kings’ offense.

This is a blow to the Kings and their development. Sacramento had won 3-of-4 and seemed to be finding more of a groove.

Sacramento does have depth at the point guard spot, however. It signed Cory Joseph over the summer to a three-year, $37 million contract, plus it picked up a team option on Yogi Ferrell. They have some depth at the spot.

However, those players do not have Fox’s explosiveness. The Kings just will not be the same until he returns.

Greece coach Rick Pitino plans to enter 2020 Olympic qualifying without Giannis Antetokounmpo

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) Greece coach Rick Pitino is planning on trying to qualify for the 2020 Olympics without Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Pitino officially took over as coach of the Greek national basketball team on Monday. He said he would leave a roster place open for Antetokounmpo in qualifying games but is not sure if he will be able to rely on his best player.

Greece will try to reach the Tokyo Olympics by winning a qualifying tournament. But the dates could clash with the NBA schedule, probably ruling out Antetokounmpo.

“It is a possibility he will not be playing with us in the qualifying round if he goes far (in the playoffs). I understood that coming into this situation, and that’s why it’s such a high mountain to climb,” Pitino said. “But Giannis is something, it’s a bridge we have to cross later on. But we are going to leave a roster spot even if he has to take my place.”

Pitino said he hoped to meet Antetokounmpo and his brother, Milwaukee teammate Thanasis Antetokounmpo, in March when the Bucks travel to Miami.

The 67-year-old Pitino is a veteran of the college game and the NBA, coaching the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks as well as Kentucky and Louisville. He has returned to Greece after coaching Athens club Panathinaikos last season and remains popular.

Pitino said he also felt that attachment.

“(Coaching Greece) is the crown jewel for me as a basketball coach,” Pitino said. “This is one of the greatest honors I’ve had as a coach. I consider this so special because it’s a mountain that is so worth climbing.

“And for the next eight months. I’m not American. I’m not Italian. I’m Greek. And that’s the way I’m going to carry myself. You won’t see anybody who will bleed every possession like I will bleed to try and win a game.”

LeBron James rips AAU workload: ‘AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid’

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Last week, during the pointless debate about Kawhi Leonard missing a game for load management, the most salient point came from former Suns coach Earl Watson.

He echoed a must-read story (from Baxter Holmes at ESPN) that reverberated around the NBA this summer (but for many fans got lost in the shuffle of player movement): How NBA team medical staffs — as well as just doctors working on young athletes — were noticing the extreme wear and tear on the body of AAU basketball players. The volume of games, often without enough training and conditioning to properly strengthen their young bodies or let them recover, sets young players up for injuries later in their playing career. NBA teams and doctors, with their load management techniques, are trying to make up for damage that started long before.

LeBron James, with two sons playing AAU ball right now, is in full agreement.

LeBron ripped the volume of games played in the youth basketball culture, speaking to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

“These kids are going into the league already banged up, and I think parents and coaches need to know [that] … well, AAU coaches don’t give a f***,” James told Yahoo Sports. “AAU coaches couldn’t give a damn about a kid and what his body is going through…

“I think [AAU] has something to do with it, for sure,” James told Yahoo Sports. “It was a few tournaments where my kids — Bronny and Bryce — had five games in one day and that’s just f- – -ing out of control. That’s just too much… So, I’m very conscious for my own son because that’s all I can control, and if my son says he’s sore or he’s tired, he’s not playing.

“Because a lot of these tournaments don’t have the best interest of these kids, man. I see it. It’s like one time, they had to play a quarterfinal game, a semifinal game and a championship game starting at 9 a.m., and the championship game was at 12:30 p.m. Three games. I was like, ‘Oh, hell no.’ And my kids were dead tired. My kids were dead tired. This isn’t right. This is an issue.”

It is an issue. A big issue. The NBA can talk about reducing the number of games — they are, and they should, the season is too long, but cutting the number of games becomes a complex financial issue — but it goes beyond just the NBA level.

There needs to be fundamental changes in youth basketball in the NBA, down to the AAU level. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has talked about this.

“So, where historically it’s been an area, particularly AAU basketball, that the league has stayed out of, I think these most recent revelations (from the NCAA scandal) are just a reminder that we’re part of this larger basketball community. I think ultimately, whether we like it or not, need to be more directly involved with elite youth basketball,” Silver said a couple of years ago. Since then, the league has taken steps in that direction.

However, like shortening the NBA season, there are a lot of competing interests in a complicated situation. A lot of people are making money the way things are now and don’t want them to change.

For the health of players, it needs to.