Lakers continue to regress in latest loss to Bulls

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The latest drama surrounding your 2012-13 Lakers unfolded before the game in Chicago even began on Monday. But it was merely a distraction, and a meaningless one at that in the grand scheme of what is becoming more evident with each passing game that is lost.

The Lakers are getting worse, not better. And all of their flaws were on display simultaneously during a 95-83 loss to a Bulls team that was playing without its leading scorer.

L.A. is now just 17-24 on the season, and four games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.

Pau Gasol returned to the bench, head coach Mike D’Antoni announced before tip-off, in an effort to go with a smaller lineup that theoretically would be more conducive to running his offensive system.

As he did in Gasol’s first game back from a concussion that sidelined him for five games, D’Antoni played Gasol with the rest of the starters for the entire fourth quarter, so the thing about he and Dwight Howard being unable to play together clearly wasn’t what drove that decision.

Gasol was aggressive if nothing else, and provided a decent offensive spark while finishing with 15 points and 12 rebounds in 25 minutes of action. Earl Clark, who got the start in place of Gasol, finished with 12 and eight in almost 35 minutes.

On, then, to Howard, who gave the Lakers less than nothing on either end of the floor. He seemed to be laboring to get around all night long, with nonexistent defensive rotations and an offensive game that saw him stripped or unable to finish through contact time and again. Howard finished with eight points, nine rebounds, and two blocked shots in 30 minutes, but it’s hard to stress just how ineffective he was in this one.

Luol Deng was forced to miss Monday’s game for the Bulls with a hamstring strain, but Chicago didn’t miss his team-best 17.4 points per game. That’s because Kirk Hinrich got loose for a season-high 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, thanks in large part to pick and roll situations where Steve Nash continually got lost defensively.

It’s silly to pick on Nash individually, though, when the team defense overall was once again a real issue. The rotations and closeouts were brutal, and Chicago was able to knock down over 52 percent of its attempts from three-point distance because of it.

Add in another miserable shooting night from Kobe Bryant, who finished 7-of-22 from the field, including making just one of his seven attempts in the fourth quarter, and you have the game’s ultimate result.

The Gasol issue will play itself out one way or another; either he’ll come to terms with the way D’Antoni is currently choosing to use him, or he’ll cause problems to the point where the Lakers will have no choice but to deal him at the deadline.

But when peering through this mess of a season in Los Angeles, remember that these smaller issues are just a diversion from the greater one, which is this: The Lakers are getting worse, not better. And eventually, they will have to do something about it.

Knicks’ Courtney Lee denies report he wants to be traded to contender

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The Knicks have moves to make to ensure they have enough cap space to go big game hunting among free agents next summer. That means some kind of buyout/waive and stretch with Joakim Noah and making decisions on guys such as Lance Thomas, Emmanuel Mudiay, and Ron Baker.

Another idea that has been at least explored is trading Courtney Lee, although there was no real traction there this summer. That led to a report from Marc Berman of the New York Post that Lee wants to be traded to a contender.

Lee does not want to be traded, he made it clear to Ian Begley of ESPN.

There can be something to both reports. Does Lee want to be traded? No. He wants to stay a Knick. However, if they are shopping him, he’d probably rather land with a playoff team or contender than another rebuilding team.

Which is what the Knicks are this year with Kristaps Porzingis injured, it’s a season about new coach David Fizdale laying a foundation and starting to change the culture, not wins or the playoffs.

Whether he wants it or not, Lee’s name will come up in trade rumors this season. Whether the Knicks can ultimately find a deal is another question entirely.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.