The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in one of their most unique situations in franchise history.
For perhaps just the second time (the other being the first post-Shaq year) since 1975 (the year they acquired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), the Lakers aren't expected to make the postseason by most of the NBA's literati. The combo meal of Dwight Howard's departure, Kobe Bryant's Achilles injury and the decline of Pau Gasol and Steve Nash leave most tepid at best about next season.
Even the most optimistic Lakers fan—the one who views everything with purple and gold glasses, the one who thinks Kobe will be back in the preseason—has acknowledged a playoff berth would be a blessing. For a franchise that's seen May basketball as a rite of passage for the entirety of some fans' lives, the entire month of July was spent adjusting to also-ran status.
At least for now. There remains some hope that Bryant could return for all 82 games, that Gasol could be rejuvenated by an increased role and that Nash's downward-spiral season last year was a fluke. A No. 7 or No. 8 seed lurks within this roster—even if that's the apex of expectations.
For now, though, it's all a waiting game. A waiting game to see when Howard will make his first Staples Center appearance. To see when Bryant's likeliest return date is. For the answer to whether the Pringles man is the right potato chip spokesperson for this team.
Until those answers begin getting cleared up in June, the Lakers wait. Luckily, there's never much of a dull moment in Los Angeles—making for at least some headlines in the past couple days.
With that in mind, here's a quick check-in on the latest news and takeaways from Lakerland.
Mike Dunleavy Thinks Winning Will Calm Pressure on D'Antoni
While fans of their Staples Center co-tenants might know Mike Dunleavy as a bunch of things—many of them not exactly printable—he'll always be the man who replaced Pat Riley for the Purple and Gold.
Dunleavy, hired immediately after his playing career ended to succeed Riles (the 1990 version of Jason Kidd), lasted two seasons. He took the Lakers to the NBA Finals in his first campaign, losing to the Chicago Bulls in five games. The following season, of course, featured Magic Johnson's HIV diagnosis, which completely shadowed over everything and led to a first-round exit.
After 1991-92, Dunleavy left for the Milwaukee Bucks to make way for the immortal Randy Pfund era. While still more widely recognized for his ties to the Clippers organization, Dunleavy's name is still at least somewhat regarded in Lakers circles—he came up in the search to replace Phil Jackson, for instance.
Dunleavy (obviously) didn't get the job, but it appears he's kept up on the happenings in Lakerland. He appeared on ESPN LA 710 Thursday to talk about the club, specifically touching on Mike D'Antoni's status. The current Lakers coach isn't exactly held in the greatest esteem, but Dunleavy made it clear there was only one way to change that—win:
Dunleavy on coaching pressure on MDA: "Its the big elephant in the room that nobody wants to speak of...Winning solves everything."— ESPNLA 710 Radio (@ESPNLA710) August 1, 2013
Hello, coach speak. I'm pretty sure "winning solves everything" isn't an elephant in the room there, coach. I'm pretty sure it's just a cliche. A true cliche, but something that wouldn't create any awkwardness whatsoever.
All that aside, Dunleavy seemed more bullish than most about whether this roster can win basketball games. He both lauded the job general manager Mitch Kupchak did under fire this offseason and said the club's top threesome boasts too much talent to miss out on the postseason fun:
Dunleavy on next yr's Lakers: "They're a playoff team. They have too much talent not to be when you have those three guys (Kobe, Nash, Pau)"— ESPNLA 710 Radio (@ESPNLA710) August 1, 2013
Mike Dunleavy on offseason: "I thought Mitch did a great job in the offseason w/ the $ they had to go out & get the guys he got."— ESPNLA 710 Radio (@ESPNLA710) August 1, 2013
Fun fact: Dunleavy made the playoffs seven times in 16 seasons as a head coach. So that's no fun. But maybe he's better at analyzing what it takes to make a playoff team than actually pushing them there himself. After all, Matt Millen is one hell of an NFL analyst.
Lakers Sign Marcus Landry
Carl and Marcus Landry may be brothers, but their respective games are awfully different. Carl, who signed with the Sacramento Kings, is a solid offensive 4 who fits perfectly within the "role player" spectrum. He doesn't go beyond the arc or rebound whatsoever for a guy his size.
The same can't be said for Marcus, who has become known as one of the D-League's best long-range gunners. A former standout at Wisconsin, Landry made the Knicks in 2009 and was at least getting some cursory playing time. But a deal to the Celtics midway through that campaign all but ended Landry's NBA career, with him making just one more Association appearance before being sent Greyhounding.
Landry has spent the better part of the last three years gallivanting across the world.
He's played in Puerto Rico, Spain, China and Venezuela to collect checks before semi-settling in with the Reno Bighorns of the D-League last season. It proved to be a solid decision in terms of notoriety. Landry made the league's All-Star Game and won the three-point contest, though the Bighorns finished with the second-worst record in the league.
He parlayed that notoriety into an invite to the Lakers' summer league team, impressing the coaching staff by scoring a team-high 15.2 points and grabbing 4.2 rebounds per night. Earlier this week, Landry's hard work paid off, as the Lakers signed him to a one-year deal. ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported the contract has only a minimal guarantee, meaning it essentially equates to a training camp invite.
Marcus Landry's deal with the Lakers will have a small guarantee. More of a camp invite. But Lakers do like him— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) July 31, 2013
That said, there may be only one or two better teams to link up with for camp at this juncture. The Lakers only have 11 guaranteed contracts on their books at this point. While things can change, they carried the league maximum of 15 in 2012-13 and usually carry as many options as they can.
Los Angeles will likely wind up guaranteeing at least two or three more contracts between now and October, though having the non-guarantee option is likely tempting. Guys like Landry can be held on to until a certain date without their contract vesting into season-long deal, and smart teams will often take advantage of those loopholes for fringe players.
But Landry isn't looking for a $40 million contract. He's looking for an opportunity to come in, get a few minutes of playing time per night and impress with his ability to knock down spot-up jumpers. Considering Los Angeles is lacking a bit in that category, even with its offseason additions, Landry should have a real shot at making the roster.
Antawn Jamison Thinks He was Too Hasty Making Lakers Decision
While everyone spent their days and nights focusing on the relationship between Howard and D'Antoni, it was perhaps Antawn Jamison who had the rockiest relationship with the Lakers coach.
The veteran forward had his worst numbers across the board in his career. His points per game cut almost in half from 2011-12 down to 9.4 per game, and he set by far a career low with 4.6 rebounds nightly. Expected to play an integral role in the Lakers bench, Jamison was left to fight for table scraps, so to speak, once D'Antoni took over.
That led to Jamison becoming disenchanted and openly criticizing his place in D'Antoni's system, though he later apologized for taking his frustrations public. While relations between the two went more positively after that whole scuffle, it became clear that Jamison's stay in Los Angeles would be a one-off deal.
He hit the free-agency market again this summer, without even a whiff of mutual interest in him staying.
At age 37 and without a defensive bone left in his body, Jamison is still understandably unsigned. The Bulls, Clippers, Grizzlies and Bobcats have all expressed interest, per Sporting News' DeAntae Prince, but there is nothing tangible on that end to report.
Why is that, though? You'd think someone like Jamison would have already signed if there were offers on the table. Well, not so much. It seems while he doesn't regret signing with the Lakers so to speak, he does feel that situation taught him to weigh his options carefully:
I think last year, getting the opportunity to play for the Lakers and their organization, I really jumped into it. Didn't really view my options, but this year I really want to make sure I'm going to the right situation, where I have a good rapport with the coaching staff and also with management I'm able to communicate and get an understanding of what they want from me.
That seems like a bit of sour grapes, but it's understandable considering where Jamison was coming from. He took a massive pay cut from what he could have gotten on the market last season and took a big role hit in the process. To feel that he may have rushed the decision a year ago is understandable.
Nevertheless, Jamison is moving on, and that's the best result for everyone.
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