Culver City Observer -

By Mitch Chortkoff
Sports Editor 

Lakers May Be Doomed Until 2014


Lakers May Be Doomed Until 2014

It’s portrayed as stunning that Dwight Howard rejected the Lakers, with their grand history, and selected the Houston Rockets as his new employer.

But it’s really not a surprise if you’re aware of the Lakers’ recent steady decline.

They haven’t gotten very far in the playoffs for the last three years. New owner Jim Buss hired the wrong coach, Mike Brown, fired him and hired Mike d’Antoni over Phil Jackson, another poor decision.

Howard says he asked the Lakers to hire Jackson but his request was ignored. So did they really expect him to stay?

What else? Last season most of the budget for players was spent on the starters, leaving an aging team without quality reserves.

Now Howard, as a free agent, realized he wasn’t happy in D’Antoni’s offense which doesn’t make great use of the center, and had other choices.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that he chose Houston because the Rockets’ coach, Kevin McHale, was an outstanding post-up player and knows the value of Howard’s skills.

In addition, Howard gets to team with James Harden, a superb young scoring guard, instead of a 34-year-old Kobe Bryant, who has only a few years left.

So now the Lakers are planning for the upcoming 2013-’14 season, and it looks grim.

The Lakers rejected the option to trade Howard and simply let him leave. The reason they didn’t want a player in return is they’re saving salary cap space for the 2014-15 season when several big name free agents will be available.

They’ll target LeBron James, who would solve their problems. But James, as a free agent, may stay in Miami in an attempt to win more championships. Or he may go back to Cleveland, a better possibility than you may realize. He’s from that area, is fond of it and owns a home in Akron.

He left for Miami to win championships, but with that accomplished, going home is something we shouldn’t rule out.

Other free agents a year from now will be Dwayne Wade and Carmelo Anthony. The Lakers will have money to sign two premier players, but there’ll be a lot of competition.

So what about the coming season?

There’s a lot of time for teams to adjust rosters, but if the season was starting today here’s how the Western Conference would shape up.

I believe San Antonio and Oklahoma City should be the favorites. They’ve represented the West in the NBA Finals the last two years and most of their key players are back.

I think Golden State and the Clippers should be vying for third with the other being fourth.

Golden State tried to get Howard. Even though the Warriors didn’t succeed they have a young, swift nucleus and they’ve acquired Andre Iguadala from Denver, so they’re formidable.

The Clippers traded Eric Bledsoe, their outstanding reserve point guard, So who backs up Chris Paul? The Clippers this week answered the question by acquiring former UCLA star Darren Collison. It’s another in a series of wise moves the Clippers have made in recent years.

Bledsoe was valuable but the Clippers were deficient in three-point shooting last season. For Bledsoe they got guard J.J. Redick and forward Jared Dudley, both excellent marksmen.

I don’t think Howard elevates Houston to the top of the pack but the Rockets should make the playoffs, something they didn’t do last season.

I question how good the team is and how dominant Howard can be. This will be his third team in three years, so he may need time to adjust.

If I’m right about these five teams the best slot available to the Lakers will be No. 6. And there’s no assurance they’ll be that high.

There’s nothing very wrong about a rebuilding season, but it’s hard for a big market team such as the Lakers or New York Knicks to do it. Fans in LA and New York pay a lot for their tickets. And don’t expect a reduction because the team isn’t likely to be a title contender.

So, good luck, Lakers in explaining your situation to the fans.

I see Pau Gasol as the Lakers’ center with Bryant trying hard to recover from his Achilles tendon injury.

But where will the backcourt defense be with Bryant and Steve Nash having to cover the league’s growing array of swift, young guards?

The past is the past and the present is here. Right now these aren’t the Lakers of the storied past.

A year from now things could be considerably better. Or maybe not.


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