Unexpected Winners and Losers from Lakers Struggles

Howard RubenContributor IJanuary 25, 2013

Unexpected Winners and Losers from Lakers Struggles

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    In this most disastrous of NBA seasons for the Los Angeles Lakers, not everyone has their head buried in the sand or is sitting alone in some bar, despondent over the team's major struggles.

    In fact, outside of L.A., there are plenty of NBA fans who are downright giddy with delight over the plight of Mike D'Antoni's band of basketball misfits. 

    Following a horrible 0-3 road trip, the Lakers of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash are an anemic 17-25 and in very real danger of being virtually eliminated from serious contention by the All-Star break next month.

    For a super power like the Lakers, accustomed to getting whatever players they covet and getting to the Finals on a pretty regular basis, a season filled with injuries, dissension, coaching upheaval and continual drama is looked upon by detractors with glee and contempt.

    Since winning their 17th championship in dramatic fashion in 2010, the Lakers have struggled and finally, this year, succumbed to the ravages of time.  They are old and they are slow. 

    They still have some of the game's marquee players, but they've had the misfortune of injury (the list is endless) and a lack of a cohesive offensive and defensive philosophy that is tailored to their current abilities.

    Opponents are taking advantage of a Lakers team that has trouble guarding quick point guards, speedy wing players, perimeter shooters and just about anyone who hustles after loose balls.

    Players, teams and fans are benefiting from the Lakers' misfortunes.  And, they are offering no apologies.

Cleveland Rooting for Lakers to Make the Playoffs

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    It's one of those confusing, mind-numbing draft scenarios that determines whether a team made the right choice in sending its No. 1 pick to another club in exchange for their backup point guard, who then suddenly left for free agency two months after joining the team.

    It's otherwise fondly remembered as the Ramon Sessions trade. 

    The Cleveland Cavaliers are hoping the Lakers make the playoffs but as a lower seed, eighth being preferable. 

    The Cavs own Miami's first-round pick but if the Lakers finish with a worse record than the Heat (almost guaranteed at this point), then Cleveland can swap first-round picks, giving their Miami pick to L.A., who would then be obligated to send that to Phoenix (part of the Steve Nash deal).

    Any questions? 

    The bottom line:  Cleveland has first-round draft picks from other teams, while the Lakers have nothing.  No Sessions and no No. 1 pick.

    Cleveland wins, L.A. loses.

Somewhere, Mike Brown and Phil Jackson Are Secretly Smiling

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    It's hard to imagine Mike Brown or Phil Jackson being happy about the way they've been treated by Lakers management in the past six months.

    Despite going 41-25 in his first year with the team, Brown was in the hot seat after getting bounced in the second round of the playoffs by the Thunder.  He was unceremoniously shown the exit just five games into the regular season.  The Lakers ate more than $10 million in guaranteed money to send Brown packing.

    Jackson is a whole other story.  His ego was badly bruised after being wooed and all but rehired before getting a midnight phone call from GM Mitch Kupchak to tell him the Lakers were going in another direction with their coaching hire.

    If they gave awards for dumbest bonehead move by management in team sports, then the decision to hire Mike D'Antoni over the legendary Zen Master would surely take home the trophy.

    With all the drama once again percolating around Staples Center and Lakers headquarters in El Segundo, Phil Jackson may be feeling fortunate to be on the outside looking in.

    Executive vice president Jim Buss allowed his ego to get in the way and hired the wrong coach for a team of aging superstars and future Hall of Famers.   It's one thing to dream of reinventing Showtime, but when your starting lineup includes four guys north of 32, you might want to think instead of playing Slowtime.

    At least Mike Brown had the Lakers playing better defense.  And Phil Jackson would have provided this Lakers team with the kind of leadership and basketball acumen that only an 11-time World Champion could bring.  And more food for thought: PJ has an all-time winning percentage of .704.

    Somewhere, Brown and Jackson are smiling and cringing at the same time.

The Clippers Are Absolutely Loving Life

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    L.A.'s other team has been a doormat for decades.  You can't blame the L.A. Clippers if they want to gloat a little bit, now that they boast the NBA's third-best record just behind the Thunder and Spurs.

    The Clippers were down for so long the Lakers never considered them a serious threat, let alone a cross-town rival.  While the Lakers were winning championships, the Clippers were having trouble giving tickets away to home games.

    Owner Donald Sterling finally had the good sense to leave his team to the experts and that resulted in management drafting and trading for some of the league's best and brightest talent.

    And, if it wasn't enough that the Clippers were getting younger and better with the likes of Blake Griffin, they lucked out in also getting point guard extraordinaire Chris Paul to come play in L.A. after the league nixed a deal that would have put him in a Lakers uniform.

    L.A. is still a Lakers town.  But, from the looks of their "rivalry," the Clippers are clearly painting the town red.

Will Time Warner Cable Suffer as a Result?

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    Time Warner Cable is spending about $3 billion, or $150 million per year, over the next 20 years to televise Lakers games. 

    Considering this is their first season broadcasting over the new TWC SportsNet and TWC Deportes, the company couldn't have picked a worse time.  Or, maybe not.

    One might think that ratings and advertising revenue for the cable network might be way below projections, given the Lakers dismal record.  But, for those who don't know the fans' love affair with the Lakers, this team draws attention and passion even when they are bad.  Which isn't very often.

    Although no ratings numbers were immediately available, a spokesperson for TWC SportsNet said the channel is doing just fine in its inaugural season. 

    According to Amy Summers, a spokeswoman for TWC Sports: "Ratings for our network are strong across the board, for pre- and post-game shows, games and original programming."

    The Lakers are a train wreck.  Hollywood loves train wrecks and, apparently do fans of the team.  If the Lakers continue to slide, the network may eventually lose viewers.

    There's also the postseason to consider.  TWC never would have anticipated the Lakers not being around for the playoff season, which can run for two months if you make to the Finals.  This particular team could be done playing by April and that would mean lost revenue for the network.

Orlando and Denver Front Offices Looking Like They Got the Better of Lakers

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    Andre Iguodala is not the player he was from 2006-10, when he averaged between 17-20 points for the 76ers.  But, his 13.3 points and five assists per game have given the Nuggets a nice shot in the arm.

    Denver is 26-18, including 16-3 at home in the Mile High City.  Only the Spurs, at 19-2, has lost fewer games on their home court.

    Orlando also fared pretty well in the deal last summer that sent Dwight Howard packing.  Despite the fact that D12 was injured and still recovering from major back surgery, the Magic managed to secure a boatload of talent and draft picks that should help them return to contender status in the next couple of years.

    Orlando landed guard Arron Afflalo (17 points) and forward Al Harrington from Denver, forward Moe Harkless and center Nikola Vucevic from Philadelphia, and both Christian Eyenga and Josh McRoberts from the Lakers. 

    Harrington, 32, is recovering from a staph infection on his surgically repaired right knee and should be ready to play next month.    He averaged 14 points on 45 percent shooting last season.

    The Magic also picked up second-round draft picks from Denver and Los Angeles as well as a first-rounder next year from Denver or New York, a conditional first-round pick from Philadelphia in 2015 and a conditional first-round pick from the Lakers in 2017.

    As much as Dwight Howard was the centerpiece of their deal, the diamond in the rough for the Lakers may have been the lightly regarded Earl Clark.  The 6'10" wing is averaging 10 points and nine rebounds in 28 minutes since Mike D'Antoni was forced to use him as a replacement for the sidelined Jordan Hill.