Jeanie Buss says she ‘still doesn’t understand’ why Dwight Howard left the Lakers

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Jeanie Buss holds the title of president and co-owner with the Lakers, but her duties are 100 percent on the business side and have nothing to do with the team’s basketball operations.

After hearing her latest remarks on Dwight Howard, Lakers fans should be thankful that’s the case.

During an extended radio appearance on ESPN 710 in Los Angeles, Buss was open in answering all kinds of questions about the present state of the team, as well as how some things were handled in its recent past. The topic of Dwight Howard came up, and Buss really seemed to not have a clue as to why anyone would want to leave her beloved Lakers in free agency.

From Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times:

“I think the Lakers are a legacy franchise. I think that players know when they come here this is the ultimate platform. I really don’t think a free agent that’s going to come [will] not consider the Lakers. I’m not worried about that in any way, shape or form.”

But Dwight Howard bolted last July to sign a free-agent deal with Houston, taking substantially less money in the process.

“I still don’t understand why he left,” Buss said. “He had his own reasons. People I guess maybe would be talking [angrily] about the billboard. That really seemed to rub people the wrong way. I thought it was a good idea. It obviously didn’t mean anything to him.”

Buss was referring to the “STAY” campaign unveiled by the Lakers last summer around Los Angeles.

If Buss truly doesn’t understand why Howard left, then she should honestly consider another profession.

Just about every Lakers observer you could find understands the many reasons Howard had to want to bolt the Lakers in free agency just as soon as he had the chance. But in case you need it spelled out, here (in no particular order) are a few of the more obvious ones:

Dwight and Kobe are very different dudes. Kobe Bryant is the game’s fiercest competitor, while Howard has been known to want to have fun more than anything else. Howard and Bryant clashed from the start from a personality standpoint, and the prospect of three more years alongside Bryant before the team would truly be turned over to Howard wasn’t something he was willing to endure.

Dwight will never win a championship as a team’s best player. He had that responsibility in Orlando, and the pressure there was too much. Signing up for that role in Los Angeles for a franchise with the history that the Lakers have was of zero interest to Howard. He struggled to deal with the media scrutiny of winning alongside Bryant and Steve Nash; there was no way he was going to try to do that in L.A. all by himself. By joining the Rockets, James Harden would be the one to carry the load offensively and grab most headlines, while Howard could simply be an All-Star on both ends of the floor without having to carry the weight of the franchise and the entire city on his shoulders.

The Lakers were (and remain) a long way from a title. If Howard truly wanted to win now, then leaving the Lakers was the only option. Forgetting about the insane number of injuries L.A. has endured this season and last, the team wasn’t constructed to win a title even if everyone was healthy. With or without Howard in place, it was going to take some front office wizardry to add some additional pieces to make the Lakers ready to compete at a championship level, and Howard likely saw this as one of the more compelling reasons why he should go play somewhere else.

About that billboard campaign — here’s what I wrote about it at the time, and the same is true now. This was simply making sure the Lakers left no stone unturned in their courtship of Howard, so that they couldn’t be blamed for any missteps once he left.

The people in the know in Orlando will tell you that Dwight specifically referenced a lack of public support via billboards as a negative in his list of reasons for leaving Orlando, so the fact that the Lakers are going to these public lengths to impress Howard shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

The notion that the Lakers are too proud of a franchise to beg players to play for them in this way is sheer nonsense. If this is something a player of Dwight’s caliber requires, then the organization is doing nothing more than its due diligence in making sure that every base is covered where Howard is concerned, to the point where if he decides to leave Los Angeles, the decision will be 100 percent his, with no reason to blame the Lakers for any perceived indiscretions.

Again, Jeanie’s responsibility isn’t on the basketball side, and it’s hard to argue that from a business and a marketing perspective that the Lakers aren’t as savvy as any team in the league.

But seriously, we all know why Dwight left the Lakers; the reasons are as numerous as they are obvious.

Jimmy Butler says his meeting with Thibodeau, Timberwolves is Tuesday (today)

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There are a lot of questions surrounding Jimmy Butler‘s meeting with Tom Thibodeau and the Minnesota Timberwolves brass: Can the Butler/Karl-Anthony Towns relationship be repaired? Is Thibodeau the guy who could repair it, or is he entrenched on one side of that battle? Will the situation be resolved enough for Towns to sign the max extension to his rookie contract that has been sitting on the table since July? Will Butler asked to be moved?

That meeting had been reported to be Monday, but Butler said on Twitter it’s Tuesday, and did so in a snide way.

Who cares if the reporting (by Jon Krawczynski and Shams Charania of The Vertical) on the day was one off if the substance of the meeting is the same? It’s not some massive error that throws the entire reporting into question. This feels like a high school history teacher testing about the date for the battle of Gettysburg and not why it was a turning point in the Civil War — the substance is what matters more.

Butler doesn’t deny or get into the substance of the meeting, which is what matters.

What comes out of that meeting will have a significant impact on the Timberwolves one way or another this season. Minnesota won 47 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, but it’s hard to see how they take a step forward if the locker room remains this fractured (and in a very deep West they need to take a step forward to make the playoffs again this season).

USA rolls past Panama in World Cup qualifying, 78-48

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PANAMA CITY (AP) — U.S. coach Jeff Van Gundy came into the start of this second round of qualifying for the FIBA Basketball World Cup cautioning his players that they would face enormous challenges.

They clearly heeded his words, and the Americans are now closing in on a trip to China next year.

Reggie Hearn scored 12 points, Dwayne Bacon added 10 and the U.S. easily got past Panama 78-48 in a qualifying game Monday night. The Americans have won both of their second-round qualifying games so far, winning them by a combined 87 points.

“It’s just an honor to be able to go to another country and wear this jersey,” said U.S. forward Henry Ellenson of the Detroit Pistons. “It’s just something really special and I love doing it. I was so excited to get the invite. This was a blast and a hell of an experience.”

The U.S. outrebounded Panama 50-34, held the hosts to 31 percent shooting and trailed for only 67 seconds in the early moments. Van Gundy went to his bench early and often, rotating players throughout in part because of a steamy feel inside the arena named for Panama’s boxing legend Roberto Duran.

“I think our greatest strength is our depth,” Van Gundy said. “Again, we’ve pretty much done this throughout. We play 10 or 11 guys, anywhere from 10 or 11 minutes up to the low 20s. We try to take advantage of our depth. Tonight, the crowd was good, but it was warm in there.”

And now, Nov. 29 – the next day of qualifying games in the Americas Region – sets up as enormous.

The U.S. and Argentina are tied atop Group E with 7-1 records and will play that day with outright control of first place in the group standings up for grabs. Uruguay and Puerto Rico will meet that same day, each entering with 5-3 records, meaning the loser there will be three games behind the U.S.-Argentina winner with three games left in qualifying.

The top three teams in Group E are guaranteed spots at the World Cup, which starts in China on Aug. 31.

After the way they played Monday, it seems like only a staggering collapse would keep the Americans from qualifying.

The U.S. used a 16-0 run – needing only about two minutes – in the fourth quarter to turn what was a relatively one-sided game into an even bigger rout. Chasson Randle, Hearn and Travis Trice all made 3-pointers to get that spurt going, and Ben Moore‘s layup with 6:30 left gave the Americans a 73-40 lead.

“It feels great. It moves us that much closer to qualifying,” Hearn said. “It moves us that much closer to the U.S. getting to the World Cup and getting the whole thing.”

The U.S. got an ideal start in a hostile arena, running out to a 16-3 lead as Panama opened 1 for 11 from the field.

The Americans were in control throughout, though there was a brief stretch late in the first half where the U.S. grip on things seemed to slip ever so slightly. Panama got within 31-23 with 2:04 left in the half on a jumper by Tony Bishop Jr. before Hearn and White combined to score the final five points before the break and send the Americans into intermission with a 13-point lead.

When the second half started, the U.S. resumed pulling away. Frank Mason, Dakari Johnson and Bacon scored the first six points of the third quarter, and the Americans’ lead was quickly pushed out to 42-23.

 

Report: Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins to take front office job with Clippers

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Selfishly, this makes me sad because I’m not going to get to read more of his work now.

Lee Jenkins is more than just one of the best NBA writers out there, he is one of the best sports journalists out there. A fantastic reporter with a great eye, Jenkins is an artist of a storyteller. He’s the guy other NBA writers are in awe of. He’s the man who co-authored LeBron James“I’m Coming Home” about his return to Cleveland, and more great in-depth stories than there is room to mention here.

And he’s about to leave Sports Illustrated for the Los Angeles Clippers, a true WojBomb from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Jenkins commented to Sports Illustrated.

“Sports Illustrated called on my 30th birthday, the greatest gift of my professional life,” Jenkins says. “I was one of those kids who grew up running to the mailbox on Thursday afternoons. SI taught me to read, and then, to write. With dream jobs, reality often disappoints, but everything about SI only exceeded my imagination. I’ve worked alongside my idols, Tim Layden, Tom Verducci and S.L. Price, and with my friends, Michael Rosenberg, Chris Ballard and Greg Bishop. There is no honor in this business like sharing a page with them.

“SI remains the ultimate platform for sportswriting and I would not leave for another media outlet. But I was offered an extraordinary opportunity to work in the front office of an NBA team and see the league I cover from a different angle. I’ve been privileged to tell a lot of triumphant basketball stories over the past decade. With Steve Ballmer and Jerry West, Lawrence Frank and Michael Winger, Doc Rivers and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, I’m going to try to help build one.”

I’m not sure exactly how they will define Jenkins’ role with the Clippers, but I have no doubt he will do it well. Plus, inter-office emails for the Clippers are about to take a ridiculous leap in quality.

 

League sends out updated salary cap projections, jump coming in future years

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The past two seasons, the free agency market has been tight. Following the drunken-level spending spree of 2016 — the year that gave us the Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, and so many more anchor contracts — teams were cautious and out of money.

That’s about to change, because the salary cap is about to jump next summer, and some of those terrible contracts are starting to come off the books. This week the NBA updated its salary cap projections to teams, and Shams Charania of The Vertical got ahold of the memo.

For comparison, the cap is at $101.9 million, with the luxury tax is at $123.7 million.

With nearly half the players in the NBA as free agents next summer — did you notice all the one-year contracts this summer? — and the jump in cap space, about 20 of the NBA’s 30 teams could have cap space for a max player. Next summer is going to be wild.