The first month of the 2013 offseason was one of turbulence, crisis and self-reflection in Los Angeles.
Don't let anyone fool you; Dwight Howard leaving for the Houston Rockets put the Lakers in perhaps the greatest state of crisis in recent franchise history. Never before had a superstar who wore purple and gold walked away on his own volition—at least not one in Howard's lofty strata.
Howard's decision was an indictment on the state of the Lakers franchise. From the players on the roster to the front office to the fanbase to the coaching staff. As much as D-12's only year in Los Angeles was a failure, he was the only building-block piece on the entire roster who wasn't more than a decade into his career.
So, it's safe to say the doldrums of August will be a welcome reprieve from the spotlight for the Lakers. They've already made their major acquisitions of the summer, insomuch as you can call Chris Kaman, Nick Young and others "major" players. Barring a completely out-of-left-field trade, the roster you see across the Interwebs is the one that will open the season in October.
What that leaves the remainder of the summer is the waiting game. The Lakers are waiting out Kobe Bryant's prognosis on his injured Achilles, Pau Gasol's knee issues and waiting to see whether chemistry issues from last season can be wiped away in training camp.
Luckily, some of those answers have come to the forefront in the news lately. Here is a quick breakdown of the latest news and notes from the City of Angels.
Nash Wants Better Ball Movement in 2013-14
Statistically speaking, offense wasn't the Lakers' biggest problem last season. They ranked sixth in the league in points per game (102.2) and eighth in efficiency per 100 possessions. When matched up against its bottom-10 defense, Los Angeles likely looked as its offensive presence as something of a net positive in 2012-13.
Then again, simply looking at the numbers would almost completely ignore how the team looked on the court.
On most nights—especially early in the season—the Lakers' offense looked like a pickup team thrown together. Gasol would hang 22 feet away from the basket, Bryant would work as a ball-stopper and Steve Nash was consigned to honorary spot-up shooter.
Things got better as the season went along, particularly when Bryant took over as pseudo-point guard, but flow was a real problem. While Howard's departure will solve one notable problem—Mike D'Antoni's seeming unwillingness to play with two big men—there were plenty of others still in need of fixing.
That fact isn't lost on Nash. The 39-year-old point guard, who tried out for soccer team Inter Milan this week, sat down with Grantland's Zach Lowe to discuss that tryout and plenty of other subjects. When Lowe broached subject of having two seven-footers being a problem, Nash seemed more concerned about the lack of ball movement:
But I think what Mike would have liked to have seen is just the ball move — quick decisions. Pick, dive, pass, make the defense collapse, and move the ball. We don’t have shooters, but we could still catch it, penetrate again, get a better shot, and get on the glass with two 7-footers. But I felt like we never quite got the ball humming like we really could have. And a lot of that obviously is just time on the court together. A lot of it is other things.
Further, Nash said he hopes the team can find a "middle ground" between Bryant's ball dominance and a more balanced attack:
I think it’d be nice to find a middle ground where he does his thing but the ball still can move for great parts of the game. Hopefully we can find that this season. But I knew it wasn’t going to be the same. When you play with Kobe Bryant, the ball is gonna be with him most of the time, which is understandable.
Here is the point where the ardent Kobe supporter goes on a tirade about "Who is Steve Nash to..." and so forth. Nash struggled mightily through injuries and had his worst season since the turn of the century during his first 82 in purple and gold. Bryant is a demigod or something. That's what people tell me.
But the fact remains, as it always has, that isoball is the least efficient way to play the sport.
When Bryant goes into his elbow vortex, it restricts the flow of the offense. Sometimes it leads to brilliance—Kobe averaged an impressive 0.93 points per possession on iso plays last season, per Synergy Sports. Other instances leave players standing around doing nothing.
As Bryant continues his recovery from his Achilles injury, perhaps now will be the time he finds that perfect middle ground.
Pau Gasol Hopes Bothersome Knees Allow Him to Return to Form
One of the men who can help the Lakers find an amenable offensive ground is Gasol, whose prominence spiked from the moment Howard decided to bolt SoCal for SoTex. The 33-year-old Spaniard was marginalized for much of last season, most famously getting the indignity of being benched for Earl Clark.
You want to make fun of the D'Antoni era? It starts with the fact he looks like the Pringles man. Second on that list is benching Gasol for Clark. That's like recasting a movie with Lindsay Lohan when you had Jennifer Lawrence signed on.
With Howard gone, however, Gasol will return to natural status as the Lakers' focal point on the low block. They signed Kaman—seemingly just to muck up the spacing—but Gasol should have his most offensive freedom possibly since his first championship in L.A.
At least he will if his health problems don't crop up again.
Gasol was one of many Lakers to spend time out with injury this season, and he had surgery followed by stem-cell treatments on both knees in May.
Speaking with The Associated Press (h/t USA Today), Gasol said he wasn't feeling pain and was looking forward to his return to prominence.
I think I have the most uncertain period behind me. The team has suffered a lot of changes, but as far as me, I am back in the position of a lot of responsibility, which I like, and I'm just going to focus on getting healthy.
Now, the only question will be whether Pringles man uses the Spaniard properly. He struggled through the worst season of his 12-year NBA career last year as a direct result of his misuse and injury problems.
One of those (role) is easily fixed. The other (injuries), not so much when the first digit in your height is seven and the first digit of your age is three.
Gasol's re-emergence into All-Star form will be key for these Lakers keeping the ship afloat.
It will be interesting to see what happens.
Mike D'Antoni Still Befuddled as to Why Dwight Howard Left
If there's one thing Lakers brass and players have done well this offseason, it's taking the high road after Howard's departure. Sure, Bryant unfollowed him on Twitter and sent a precious picture of him and Gasol on Instagram.
But there was nothing especially petty about the situation. Everyone wished Howard well on his way out the door, there weren't all that many horror stories leaked to the press and the franchise seemed to be looking forward and beyond this mess.
The summer of 2014 awaits, as does the season. The time for reflection has long since passed, with just about every question we needed to know the answer to answered.
Only, it's not so simple.
From now until at least the first time the Lakers and the Rockets meet on the court, the past will continue getting drudged up. Folks will ask what players think of the Howard situation, how this impacts the team and everything else until each member of the organization has answered the same question in hundreds of different ways.
Such was the case when D'Antoni appeared on ESPN Radio Tuesday. The Lakers coach was asked his take on why Howard bolted, and ESPN's Dave McMenamin reports that he still says he doesn't have a clue.
"It's hard for me to sit here and criticize or even to understand why he left a place like L.A.," D'Antoni said. "That's kind of mind-boggling a little bit, but that's in his DNA and what he wants to do."
Here's the thing: D'Antoni's mind shouldn't be boggled whatsoever by Howard's decision. He's given umpteen interviews stating his reasoning.
Howard left because he thinks he had a better chance to win championships playing with James Harden than Bryant. He would rather play for Kevin McHale than D'Antoni. Chandler Parsons is his new BFF. Hell, perhaps he prefers Slim Thug to Kendrick Lamar.
However, if there's one thing you can give credit Howard for post-decision, it's that he's been open and honest about the situation. He left $30 million on the table—even if it technically $30 million after tax considerations—to leave.
Departing Los Angeles may be unprecedented, but it's not like he left for Siberia.
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